We too are animals, and we create our world within our own minds writes End Animal Slaughter Contributor PAUL STEVENSON. When we begin to extend our circle of compassion to include all beings we will transform not only ourselves, but the world we live in.
For millennia we have treated other species of animals as if they were unthinking, unfeeling automata. Descartes believed that because animals lacked a soul they could not feel pain or anxiety, and although his views were not universally accepted they did gain widespread influence.
The tragedy is that they helped to provide people with an excuse for treating animals with impunity on a vast scale, and that attitude has persisted right up to the present day. However, we have known since 1859, when Darwin’s “Origin of Species” was published, that we are all related and have all descended by the process of natural selection from one common ancestor. We too are animals, no better and no worse than any other species, just different.
The similarities between us and other animals are vastly greater than the differences, especially the similarities between all species of vertebrates. We all share the same skeletal body plan and possess similar organs. We share similar nervous, endocrine, circulatory and digestive systems, all of which operate in much the same way. It cannot be denied that other species experience pain as we do. Similarly, a great many of them experience similar feelings and emotions as us. We are also discovering by the day how complex their societies are. Given the above it is hardly surprising that we share so much in common; in fact it would be astonishing if we didn’t. In view of this we must radically revise our treatment of them.
I believe that we have an obligation to treat other animals with respect and avoid causing them unnecessary suffering. The way we treat others has profound implications for us for the following reasons.
There are two aspects to our behaviour – its effect on others and its effect on ourselves. This is similar to Newton’s Third Law in physics, “for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction”. However, although the reaction may well be opposite in behavioural terms, its effect may be very unequal because of the influence of the mind. Our world is not so much a geographic place as a cognitive one. All we ever know is the product of our own mind, so the meanings our mind makes are our world. It is a world of our own making, our own personal, subjective and cognitive world.
The way we treat others therefore has profound implications for our own state of mind. Like produces like, and when we treat others well we similarly treat ourselves well, and come to like ourselves more. However, the opposite is also true – when we ill-treat others we ill-treat ourselves and come to dislike ourselves. This has an enormous effect on our personal sense of well being, as in order to feel happy we must like ourselves.
When we ill-treat others we cannot like ourselves and thereby deprive ourselves of peace in our heart. When we speak of “others” we must necessarily include other species of animals for the reasons described above. Now that we know they experience life very much like us we cannot continue to callously exploit them. We cannot permit ourselves to respect and cherish other animals when our sole reason for keeping them is to steal their products and their lives. We cannot allow ourselves to know them and their suffering. We are forced to treat them with contempt rather than respect. As in wartime, we have to deny the enemy’s humanity in order to destroy him.
But in hardening our hearts to their suffering we harden ourselves. In refusing to see and hear them we reduce ourselves into small, hard, cold people. This then becomes our world. We live in a small, hard, and cold world.
It should therefore come as no surprise to discover that so many people live deeply unsatisfying lives. Yet when we cease abusing other creatures and begin treating them with kindness and respect, the opposite becomes true. Our hard hearts soften as we begin to extend our circle of compassion to include every living being. We do not have to cross oceans to find the New World. Our mind becomes our own New World, our personal Paradise Garden.