‘dominion over the animals’? I don’t think so

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{link url=”http://www.flickr.com/people/carsten_tb/” target=”_blank” rel=”nofollow”}Carsten ten Brink{/link} (Flickr, used under a {link url=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0″ target=”_blank” rel=”nofollow”}CC BY-NC-SA 3.0{/link})

Like many people who are engaged in any kind of campaigning in social or eco-activism, I feel much of the time a mix of hope and utter despair.

I do believe that slowly, slowly there is a movement towards transformation taking place, an evolution of consciousness.

When I look around, though, at the terrible cruelty and suffering we inflict on others – our own species, and the other-than-human – and the way we are trashing the planet, it’s hard to feel much other than despair at the fact that it may all be too little too late. Can we really change so much desperate stuff?

I know that what is happening is rarely intended to be cruel; it’s not deliberate evil. It’s out of ignorance, and a kind of blindness because our desire-bodies, as they say in esoteric teachings, want what they want to the exclusion of the needs of others.

Then there’s our unexamined assumptions, beliefs, values – often things that are sanctioned by our family, our nation, our society as a whole.

And too the fact that we are not always taught the much wider and often invisible consequences of our actions.

Most of all, perhaps, we forget we live in a web of interconnectedness, where everything is essential and has its integral place, and where any rip anywhere in the fabric of things ripples through the whole.

A week or two ago I blew off at a kind, lovely, intelligent and talented friend. His crime? He said: ‘But what about the fact of our dominion over the animals?’

This phrase (belief) really presses all my buttons, and has done for a very long time. Because he is who he is, and because of the circles I move in, he could hardly have shocked me more if he’d turned out to be a climate change denier, or to exhibit Nazi sympathies, for instance.

I’m aware that I didn’t handle it skillfully. A better way to relate to what he said might have been to ask him why he felt what he did: ‘That’s interesting. Why do you feel that we have dominion over the animals?’

Trouble is, I know only too well why people – many people – feel that. Our Western culture espouses a hierarchical view of planetary relations, with us, humans, at the top (as I’ve no doubt said many times on this blog before). Everything else ‘below’ us is there as a – red rag to me – ‘resource’.

I don’t know how long this has operated in at least the Western psyche. (I’m not saying it doesn’t happen elsewhere; I’m simply not qualified to judge that, but historically at least in the Far East the web model of Indra’s Net [a Buddhist model, also occurring in Hindu philosophy] has held more sway for longer; this is a more ‘horizontal’ view of interrelationship.)

My own hobby horse is that our sense that we ‘own’ the earth, and that its fruits and animal species are ours to use as we see fit, as ‘resources’, crept into our ideology with the Neolithic farming revolution, where we moved away from the hunter-gatherer model and started to co-opt land, annex animals for our benefit, and grow crops.

Plato has to shoulder some of the responsibility. And then the entrenched bulk of it comes from Judeo-Christian teachings based on (mis?)translations and (mis?)interpretations of the Bible.

It is THE NORM for (at least Western) humans to view everything else on the planet as being put here for us.

The worst thing is that we dissociate from other species; forget we’re all in this together. The Enlightenment has a lot to answer for, too – underlining this view, stressing the importance of reason and cultivating a suspicioun of feeling. Without feeling, how can we empathise enough as to change our ways?

What happens, in this worldview? Bit by bit everything else is co-opted for our benefit (64 billion land mammals and birds killed for us to eat every year, mostly reared and killed in conditions of terrible suffering, and a trillion aquatic animals), or is simply extinguished (like the many many species lost each week).

And we don’t even want to know, or examine our habits; if we did, we might need to change.

That’s what I’m angry about.

I’ve been thinking a lot the last few weeks of a heartbreaking poem by W S Merwin. Here’s the opening; do read the rest.

For a Coming Extinction

Gray whale
Now that we are sending you to The End
That great god
Tell him 
That we who follow you invented forgiveness
And forgive nothing

it ends like this:

Tell him
It is we who are important.

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