BIG IDEAS: Animal Rights and Re-Wilding

Do animals have rights and sovereignty? What does humanity owe them? Which animals count?

It took me a very long time to notice that dogs smile. They do. When they are happy, it can be seen and noticed. This was demonstrated to me by my dog loving friends who showed pictures on Facebook of dogs in distress followed by photos of the same dogs once they had been given homes where they had their needs, including their many and complex social needs, met. When they have needs met, they smile.

In fact, many animals outwardly signal emotional sentience, and demonstrate a complex emotional life. Humans may possess the largest emotional range, but we are only at the tip of the animal kingdom; the bulk of the rest of life on earth is not us. Humans are a powerful animal elite,  and while we possess the most power, it is in the long term interest of people to allow some portion of the other parts of the kingdom rights and freedoms, more so than we allow for now.

Michael Pollan has the idea that it’s ethical to eat animals as long as we allow them to live their lives as what they are. We, humans, may be the dominate species, but that dominance can’t express itself as putting animals with some sense of sentience in the position of complete slavery. Raising a chicken in a box doesn’t allow for the chicken to be a chicken for a time.

To alter the treatment of animals will alter the food supply, but altering the food supply in the United States is, in this eater’s POV, one of the most fundamental societal goods we could undertake. There are surely lifetimes of unintended consequence of altering the food supply, including the possibility of food shortages, but as it stands, we have overabundance of cheap calories paired with a science and chemistry based supply that depends on treating animals as plants.

Most countries have wild spaces and land set aside for nature to take its course. The time may come when the majority of the land mass of the earth is turned back over to the natural world and the animals again assume superiority. In many places, people like the idea of nature asserting itself again. Pushing back the boundaries of nature was important when we were at its mercy, but we have so thoroughly beaten and harnessed the natural world that now, we want to root for it again, and marvel at its determination and power.

Like most people, I don’t have to see a tiger in the wild to want for there to BE tigers in the wild. It is the same with bears and wolves and other predators. Let there be places where humans go at great risk. The world was busy evolving and growing long before humans came along and took control of the process. Nature’s experimental plans produced tremendous beauty and wonders. The earth needs enough space to continue its work and we can allow for that while also perfecting our human spaces. These are essentially engineering problems with elegant solutions.

Germs and viruses are different, however. They evolved recently and not in tandem with us as the animal kingdom did. And, they are opportunistic killers who cheat. We owe them nothing. Pests threaten us and invade our world and can be killed with impunity.

Many have argued over the years that we only have one earth, the earth is our mother, resources are limited and we’re ‘killing the planet.’ I’ve read so many times that the Amazon rain forests the ‘lungs of the planet’ that I suspect some kids think the earth really has lungs (it doesn’t). Even if a few of these examples are true, none will have the power of the idea that humans are simply elegant and advanced animals, and as a consensus, because other animals have inherent worth, we’re going to continue on our path and let them continue on theirs.

It is already said that some of the other apes have entered the Bronze Age, meaning that have learned from humans how to use tools and are sharing the knowledge with each other. They, like us, are learning and feeling devices and we can, should, and will, without starving humans or losing our religions, allow for their expressions and enjoyment of this large and generous world.

Rewilding in London:

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