One compassion

One compassion

The links between our treatment of non-human animals and each other have been clear to many thinkers over time. They see what so many see once they have broken down the artificial intellectual wall between humans and the rest of the animal kingdom. We do not in our psyche have separate systems governing compassion towards one species or another. There is one compassion within us and only once we embrace that fact will we start to live true to our potential as the most constructive of beings rather than the most destructive.

So long as there are slaughterhouses, there will be battlefields

Leo Tolstoy

Tolstoy was a deeply religious man, yet his view is at odds with his Christian religion which holds humanity up as the only being with any real consequence to God. Many religions believe that the world exists purely as some sort of morality play for human beings, with all other living beings merely part of the background. It is little surprise that children, who generally seem to be born with compassion for animals, raised in these religions would come to view other animals as little more than soulless machines. Even in our modern world every year millions of animals are slaughtered to please gods who apparently delight in such things.

The rise of secularism however hasn't shaken our belief in humankind as the “raison d’etre” of the universe. Darwin's On the Origin of Species should have shown us that we are related to all life, and intimately so to the more complex creatures. Evolutionary theory utterly refutes the image of humanity as "the meaning of existence", as radically as Copernicus had done for our conception of the Earth’s place in our solar system. Despite this, little in our relationship with other animals has changed. If anything the rise of modern science has not made us less arrogant, less sure of our absolute right to do as we will with other species.

Regardless of whether it is science or religion from which we source our highest truths, all along it has been the very thing which we think makes us superior, our domination of others, that shows how little we have intellectually and morally evolved.

In seeking to feel powerful and superior, we have intellectually striven to lower the standing of those outside of our self-identity.  This unconscious behaviour has always had terrible consequences whether its target was other species or other groups of humans.

Compassion for animals is intimately connected with goodness of character; and it may be confidently asserted that he who is cruel to animals cannot be a good man

Arthur Schopenhauer

The links between human violence towards each other, and violence towards other animals have been well documented. These links should come as no surprise. Anyone who has spent time with animals knows as Darwin said, “there is no fundamental difference between man and the higher animals in their mental faculties”. Our consciousness is not a difference in kind, but rather a difference of degree.

Abusers instinctively feel the relatedness of all sentient creatures, that their emotional suffering has a commonality they wish to exploit. One cannot feel powerful threatening a non-sentient object. They would get little payoff without seeing the same terror in the eyes, the same cowering from fear, the same powerlessness of escaping the situation they are in.

We too know this commonality when we seek to befriend animals, play games with them and caress them. One cannot feel loving being kind to a non-sentient object. We speak in a common language of emotion with them, something we wouldn't bother with if we didn't think that language was understood.

Whether we are working on respect towards people or respect towards the other animals, we strive towards a common goal. The healing and evolution of the human psyche. This healing must relate to how we use our power over all sentient beings, or it is likely to relate to none at all.

Until he extends the circle of compassion to all living things, man will not himself find peace

Albert Schweitzer

The individual abuse of non-human animals is terrible, but statistically, it is a small part of the total suffering they endure at our hands. Every day modern intensive farming sends hundreds of millions of animals, their bodies bred and twisted to be efficient machines, to endure a life of regular brutalities which only ends in their premature death.

Few people know the full extent of this suffering and if you try to draw their attention to it, they will often respond with anger. Whether this is from a sense of guilt or a knee jerk defensiveness to having their morals questioned, anger seems a strange response to those who call mainly for compassion. People concerned with animal rights may be wrong, but surely it should be respected that their hearts are in the right place. The fact that people react so aggressively gives us some hint as to what is going on in the subconscious mind.

What have people lost of themselves when they turn away from suffering they are complicit in? What better angel of their nature is hardened or atrophied? Aristotle said virtue is a habit, one that is strengthened by common use. If this is true, what happens to our virtue when we consciously ignore the suffering of so many, multiple times every day?

For as long as men massacre animals, they will kill each other

Pythagoras

Slaughterhouses are often pushed to the edge of our communities. We want neither the sight nor smell of these animals and their untimely deaths to trouble us. However, they are not the only ones mistreated far from our eyes for the products we consume.  Just as striving for cheap animal products directly increases animal cruelty, our need for cheap consumer products leads to inhumane working conditions and environmental destruction.

Clothes, electronics, household items, our industrial systems are able to turn out things that seem impossibly cheap. This cheapness allows them to be bought with little thought and discarded with even less. We don't think about the poor, powerless people around the world who labour in conditions we would never need to accept ourselves. We don't think about the environmental pollution and destruction caused at every stage of the mining, manufacture, packaging and transportation of the things we use.   

Just as with animal products, the focus on our own desires clouds our thinking about the full ramifications of our consumption. Just as with the livestock industry, it requires some personal effort to even uncover the reality of the living conditions endured by workers involved in creating our products. In the stores of the wealthiest countries in the world, people who have never known significant hardship purchase products which have included slave and child labour in their production.  Things we buy also fund oppressive regimes and war, yet even our governments may not be able to do anything about this.  The global trade laws which corporations have striven to introduce often specifically ban countries from stopping imports or placing high tariffs on goods because of environmental and human rights concerns.

The treatment of humans and animals in our system of consumption are part of the same system of complicity and silence. 

We are the living graves of murdered beasts, slaughtered to satisfy our appetites. How can we hope in this world to attain the peace we say we are so anxious for?

George Bernard Shaw

Capitalism's greatest failing is that it has no morality. We seek in vain for morality in systems when it comes only from our minds.

The world is an amoral place. Fairness, karma, compassion, these things are just perceptions of sentient beings, they are not part of the makeup of the universe. As comforting as it would be to believe that there was fundamental goodness and fairness underlying reality, and as much as we are drawn to religions and ways of thinking that sell this enticing illusion to us, even a cursory look over history shows how unlikely this is to be true. An injured being is not going to receive help because it has led a good life, or because it would be unfair for it to suffer. It is only going to receive help from someone who, perceiving its plight and wanting to intervene, makes a conscious decision to help it. If we want to exist within a universe in which there are greater compassion and fairness, it is only our individual actions that will bring that universe into being.

People often feel powerless against the large forces that sweep over our world, but in our small lives, we have tremendous potential to do good, to change the experience of the universe for other sentient beings. A consequence of the many things unjust and wrong in the world is that there are an almost limitless amount of positive actions we can take in response to that. There is no reason for us to sit helpless and idle. Instead of just hoping for a more compassionate world, we can make a small part of it.

If you have men who will exclude any of god's creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow men

St. Francis of Assisi

One of the ways in which we can choose to withdraw our consent from the many human-caused sufferings in the world is to move towards a vegan lifestyle.

I join in this with many people who aspire to withdraw their economic and intellectual consent from the exploitation of our kindred animal species. We boycott industries that are cruel, environmentally unsustainable or ethically unfair. Industries where sentient beings are robbed of freedom and reduced to being a commodity.

As a community we have generally only talked about non-human animals in our beliefs, however, drawing a wall away from humans. We have in some way fallen victim to a similar logical flaw of the religions and the scientists.  This limits the scope of the appeal of our ideas.

I believe there should be a more expansive understanding of veganism, which sees the links between the suffering of humanity and other sentient creatures.

Despite being accused of only caring about non-human animals, in reality, most vegans already practise this compassion for all.  They commonly care more than the average person about the environment, the treatment of workers, the suffering in the poorer regions of the world and other social concerns because they make subconsciously make the connections between them. Vegans are more consistent advocates than most of peace and nonviolence wherever it is found.

Still, I believe we need to be explicit about the inclusion of humanity in our ethic if veganism is really the philosophy which will guide us into the future.

He who is cruel to animals becomes hard also in his dealings with men. We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals

Emmanuel Kant

The question may be asked, by expanding the scope of veganism would we not risk weakening the calls for compassion for non-human animals? 

The great struggles for justice have found their most eloquent advocates within the oppressed groups themselves. Though there were many noble and tireless helpers from outside of the oppressed groups, the foundations of the movement were people most directly affected by injustice. The Pankhurst family for women's suffrage, Frederick Douglass against slavery, Gandhi against imperialism, Martin Luther King Jnr for civil rights, Nelson Mandela against apartheid and so on. With the struggle for animal rights, however, the oppressed do not have the language to advocate for their own liberation. They rely purely on the empathy of others, who will take a stand for justice even though it doesn’t affect them directly.

One of the surest ways to disengage anyone from your beliefs is to have beliefs in which they feel not included or relevant.  By defining veganism as being only about non-human animals, we have ensured in many ways we have fewer people who will self identify, who will be swayed by personally feeling the compassion we hope to extend into the world.

We have also opened our movement up to misanthropes and even a small number of racists, all of whom bring shame and disrepute on us. By expanding the definition of veganism we would hope to intellectually and morally exclude such people from our movement. 

Veganism should be a political statement, against selfishness, against violence, for compassion, for the environment, for solidarity with all of the oppressed, whatever their species.

Only when we have become nonviolent towards all life will we have learned to live well with others

Cesar Chavez

Environmentalism too is often seen as external to the concept of veganism.

Like many people, my own environmentalism began with a fascination and compassion for the wild creatures of the world. The more I learned, the more I realised that the wild places of the world were diminishing from human encroachment.  It is not only habitat destruction we cause, but also water, air, noise and soil pollution. What perhaps makes it more condemning of us as a species, is that what we do to the captive animals of the world, is in a large part responsible for the sixth great global extinction event we are currently in the process of inflicting on the wild animals of the world.

We can see the effects of our toxic assault on the environment in humans as well, especially those living in more disadvantaged areas.  In this way perhaps more clearly than any other, the fate of all species is tied up with the progression of human compassion.

Deep ecology is an environmental philosophy which says that the species of the world have their own reasons for being.  They do not have a purpose because they are useful or beautiful to humankind. This resonates so strongly with my concept of veganism I find it hard to think both that deep ecologists often eat the products of factory farms, and that vegans do not think that environmentalism is part of our ethic.  If it is too difficult to redefine veganism or deep ecology to embrace the other, perhaps we need something like "deep vegan" to describe the merger of two jilted lovers.

Our task must be to free ourselves … by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty

Albert Einstein

To participate in a system of oppression damages the soul of the oppressor almost as much as it does the bodies of the oppressed. A society which tries to base happiness and meaning on individuality and selfishness, will only ever offer happiness to an elite class if even that, and meaning to none. The world we envisage of equality amongst peoples is logically difficult to perceive when it is based upon the oppression of all other beings. Whilst we participate in the denial of freedom to others we stifle some better part within ourselves. Animal liberation is therefore also our own liberation.

Freedom is a basic right all creatures yearn for. Your own freedom and theirs are bound together. Seeing an expansive view of veganism to apply to all animals, including the humans, is I believe the only real rational basis for the world we yearn to be. One where kindness and compassion are the norm regardless of the artificial lines that have been drawn between us over history.

There is only one compassion within us. By understanding that we might heal the world and ourselves.