You Are All Animals!

Posted by on January 28, 2011 in Thoughts | 5 comments

It’s undeniable; we are the single most advanced species of animal that we have identified to have ever existed on earth. Our social structures, brain power, our technologies, our innovations and our language is unrepeated in any other species on the planet.

We are self-aware, we are group aware, and we are of the imminence of death. We understand the basic needs for life, we understand the fundaments of procreation and birth, and we can manipulate material to our needs. We have free will, the ability to abstract unrelated ideas, and the ability to philosophise about the very nature of being.

And we evolved from a great ape somewhere along the line.

The Tree Of Life

The Tree Of Life

It is precisely because of this, our abilities and understandings, that we have a tendency to remove ourselves from the rest of the world, placing humanity above all other creatures on earth. True, we have taken a very interesting evolutionary turn, one that no other creature has taken en masse, and the resulting creature is us. Humanity.

Humans tend to focus on what separates us from the other creatures on earth rather than what we have in common; we share most of our DNA with all living species. We also tend to see our evolutionary successes rather than our evolutionary failings; the eye of a cephalopod or eagle is far better evolved than that of a human.

We think we are the only animals capable of creating an organised society; ants have a far more ordered social order than humans. We think we are the only creature capable of manipulating other species to do our bidding, creating food for us; again, ants “farm” aphids and fungus for food supplies.

We think we are the only creatures capable of empathy and grief; empathy and grief has been observed in several species on earth including chimpanzees and dolphins. We tend to think that because we are so complex that all other creatures are less worthy to be here than us.

In fact, we tend to only think of ourselves despite being only one of millions of different and varied species on the planet.

Take a look at the planet as a whole. Humanity’s numbers have skyrocketed in the last 200 years, improved medicine and hygiene being the main causal factors, and we have become indisputably the dominant creature here. We have increased in numbers so much so that I sometimes can’t help but think of humanity as a cancer on the earth, one that grows and multiplies, all the while destroying the host, earth.

But let’s not go down that path just now.

There is one thing I think every human must do in order for us to survive and prosper as a species far into the future. We need to embrace our place in the animal kingdom. We need to admit that we are animals, albeit animals with higher brain functions than most other animals, but flesh and blood animals nonetheless. We need to see our planet, our home, as the only home we have. We need to see that the home we have is also home to every other creature alive today, or that will ever be alive here. We need to see ourselves as custodians of the planet, protectors of it’s resources and inhabitants, rather than temporary lodgers hellbent on using everything up before moving on. We need to see the legacy we leave behind for the future inhabitants, and we need to strive to make that legacy one that we would want for ourselves.

This is not an Utopian vision of unicorns and fluffy kittens playing in fields of flowers. The world of the future will not reflect the heaven that so many aspire for. It can, however be a place that is better than what we currently have. It will take a lot of work and cooperation, but it can be done. This should be our legacy.

What’s the incentive for this? What’s the payoff?

Herein lies one of the biggest problems. If we expect a reward for our work, and then find out there is none except to maintain what we have, how many people do you think will work to achieve this future? The religious don’t have this problem, they have been promised a reward afterward, an afterlife and eternal happiness, so where is the incentive to help sustain and make better this planet? The legacy here means little or nothing when you believe you have a god given future.

Once we realize our place on this planet is not that of a higher being, one with greater rights than the rest of the creatures here, once we realize we are just another animal in the chain of evolution, and once we admit to being animals with animal-like characteristics, we start to see plainly where we really fit into the scheme of the universe.

You are an animal. Your right to be here is no greater than that of another animal (or plant for that matter). It seems trite, but denialism around this fact is rife, so I see it as a point of importance in our striving toward a brighter future.

Chart via Wikipedia

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5 Comments

  1. I tried to explain that issue to some Jehovah Witnesses one time, but it went totally over their head. They believe we are god made and the only special thing on earth. How arrogant and selfish of them. I’m sure this probably applies to most seriously religious people.

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  2. There has never been any doubt in my mind that homo (in?)sapiens is nothing more than an animal. And has sometimes been attributed to the Oxford Debate “I would far rather be related to a chimpanzee than to the gentleman opposite!”.

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  3. “We need to see ourselves as custodians of the planet, protectors of it’s resources and inhabitants, rather than temporary lodgers hellbent on using everything up before moving on. We need to see the legacy we leave behind for the future inhabitants, and we need to strive to make that legacy one that we would want for ourselves.

    This is not an Utopian vision of unicorns and fluffy kittens playing in fields of flowers. The world of the future will not reflect the heaven that so many aspire for. It can, however be a place that is better than what we currently have. It will take a lot of work and cooperation, but it can be done. This should be our legacy.”

    It is a joy to see that the teachings of the Catholic Church have found expression from a secular source. With such a unity of direction, perhaps progress is possible after all!

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  4. Does it not then follow that we humans,having no more right to be here than any other animal (which I myself believe), should treat our fellow earth family members with respect and kindness, which we ourselves want? That we should not then wear their skins or eat their flesh, or use them for entertainment however we see fit? Are they not sentient beings, as we are?

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    • The problem I face is that the ultimate breakdown this realisation is to become a vegan, become completely self-sustained, drop out of the grid and live in the forest foraging for nuts and berries. Unfortunately that’s not a very realistic proposition for most of us.

      It is true that we SHOULD offer up this same level of respect for other animals on this planet. But it takes a lot more than just respect to change the way we do things on this planet.

      At the same time, it’s not as thought humans only ate meat once animals were domesticated. we have been doing it for millions of years. And I think it’s folly to anthropomorphise animals also, they are NOT human, therefore the level of sentience in them is not as complex as us.

      My point here was not to say that all animals are equal in all ways, but that it’s folly to deny that we a re animals. As so many do deny the fact of our animal histories, and therefore place humankind on a level above the other animals, I think this realisation is key to a wider understanding of the world and the way we evolved. I will leave the moral decisions about what we eat up to an ethicist rather than a hack like myself.

      Thanks for your comment!

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