The Issue of Animal Rights and Animal Feelings

13 Jan

From beasts we scorn as soulless,
In forest, field and den,
The cry goes up to witness
The soullessness of men.

~ M. Frida Hartley

So the whole dog culling issue that threw the animal lovers of Sri Lanka into a tizzy has now passed over as nothing more than a storm in a tea cup. However what this storm did achieve was to blow over surface calm and apparent harmony, thereby uncovering a lot of strongly felt feelings for or against on the issue.
To this writer who has lived on three different countries on this subcontinent, and who has been exposed to various others through media and books, Sri Lanka has always seemed to tower several notches over neighbouring countries when it comes to the issue of animal rights. In terms of compassion and regard for animals, Sri Lanka doesn’t really have too bad a track record, comparatively speaking.

No doubt many ardent animal rights activists would disagree and could provide me with various instances of cruelty to animals that happened previously or are happening now. And I would agree. But for me Colombo is a spiritual home because when I relocated here seven years ago, I was surprised to be left alone when I fed dogs on the street instead of being scolded by strangers. As someone who got abused for feeding strays in other cities and countries, both by people I knew as well as didn’t know, it was a haven to finally be in a place where most other people seemed like-minded; the only reaction I get here if I get any at all is an indulgent smile. And I never can pass by a carefully opened packet of rice and curry so often to be found all over our otherwise clean roads without an inner glow. People were taking the trouble to feed strays. Other people were taking the trouble to sidestep those parcels without getting angry or flinging them away with curses. There was not a skeletal cat or dog in the throes of hunger to be seen anywhere.

In other places I’ve lived where scenes like these are the norm, I have had the added guilt of wondering if I was prolonging a stray’s agony by feeding it. Was it not better off dead? A pang I’ve never felt in Colombo though. Being a vegetarian myself, the vegetarian offerings I occasionally left out here were spurned by the strays – something else that warmed my heart. They had so many people looking out for their welfare, they could afford to be choosy. After so many years of feeling at odds with the rest of humanity, I finally came ‘home’ when I settled down in Colombo. There are other reasons for that of course but the most defining one was due to how the rest of the populace seemed to feel about animals in general and strays in particular. I finally, finally, finally lived in a city where they were not considered pests and I, an anachronism for not thinking them so.

After so many years of not hearing how strays were pests and ought to be exterminated, I had a rather rude awakening from my complacency when this furore opened up. Suddenly facebook, twitter and the blogsphere were teeming with posts – both for or against the culling solution. It was rather heartening to see that the pro-culling group was a definite minority but I was shaken to see quite a few close friends amongst their number.
Otherwise intelligent and seemingly humane people were advocating the culling of dogs on the basis that human life was more important than animal life. Over the years, I have had several interesting and intelligent (or so their votaries thought) responses to my stance on animal rights:

“You are vegetarian because you don’t like to kill life? Well, plants too have life!”

“Why are you feeding the strays? That’s a waste of good food.”

“You are perpetuating pests and disease in the neighbourhood.”

“Animals kill too; it’s the law of nature! You are going against nature by being herbivorous instead of omnivorous.”

“Man is obviously at the acme of all species on earth. God / Nature obviously intended animals only for our consumption and comfort.”

“Animals don’t really have feelings; that’s why they are called animals!”

And the biggest clincher yet:

“How dare you feed animals here while your human brethren might be starving in the Wanni?” (During the war years).

I never figured out how my not feeding animals in Colombo would have helped my fellow humans in the Wanni or why feeding them was such an offence to humanity but I knew better than to ask. That particular comment has come to me various time in various guises – the gist of it being how inhumane or frivolous it was to care about animal rights while there were humans suffering somewhere, be it Somalia, Ethiopia or Jaffna.

And all these intelligent and pseudo intelligent questions I had mostly had a respite from raised their head all over again in the past week. I do not have any intelligent answers myself for all these highly intellectual people. But below are a few comebacks from other well known intellectuals. Perhaps they might help. Then again they might not. People seem rather rigid in their opinions. But in closing, may I say how glad I am to be living here in this space and time, when so many people rushed to the rescue of their ‘dumb’ brethren; to raise their voices for the voiceless! Short of living in the Utopia described by Arthur C. Clarke in his short story “Food of the Gods,” I suppose this is the best bet I have in the contemporary world. It makes me proud to be a Sri Lankan.

People must have renounced, it seems to me, all natural intelligence to dare to advance that animals are but animated machines…. It appears to me, besides, that [such people] can never have observed with attention the character of animals, not to have distinguished among them the different voices of need, of suffering, of joy, of pain, of love, of anger, and of all their affections. It would be very strange that they should express so well what they could not feel. ~ Voltaire

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

Why should man expect his prayer for mercy to be heard by What is above him when he shows no mercy to what is under him? ~ Pierre Troubetzkoy

The love for all living creatures is the most noble attribute of man. ~ Charles Darwin

A human being is a part of the whole, called by us the ‘Universe’, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separate from the rest – a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. Nobody is able to achieve this completely, but the striving for such achievement is in itself a part of the liberation and a foundation for inner security. ~ Albert Einstein

If a man aspires towards a righteous life, his first act of abstinence is from injury to animals. ~ Albert Einstein

I am not interested to know whether vivisection produces results that are profitable to the human race or doesn’t…. The pain which it inflicts upon unconsenting animals is the basis of my enmity toward it, and it is to me sufficient justification of the enmity without looking further. ~ Mark Twain

During my medical education at the University of Basle I found vivisection horrible, barbarous and above all unnecessary ~ C.G.Jung

Anyone who has accustomed himself to regard the life of any living creature as worthless is in danger of arriving also at the idea of worthless human lives. ~ Albert Schweitzer

The worst sin toward our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them; that’s the essence of humanity. ~ George Bernard Shaw

Very little of the great cruelty shown by men can really be attributed to cruel instinct. Most of it comes from thoughtlessness or inherited habit. The roots of cruelty, therefore, are not so much strong as widespread. But the time must come when inhumanity protected by custom and thoughtlessness will succumb before humanity championed by thought. Let us work that this time may come. ~ Albert Schweitzer

Now I can look at you in peace; I don’t eat you anymore. ~ Franz Kafka

Non-violence leads to the highest ethics, which is the goal of all evolution. Until we stop harming all other living beings, we are still savages. ~ Thomas A. Edison

I care not much for a man’s religion whose dog and cat are not the better for it. ~ Abraham Lincoln

Ever occur to you why some of us can be this much concerned with animals suffering? Because government is not. Why not? Animals don’t vote. ~ Paul Harvey

Think occasionally of the suffering of which you spare yourself the sight. ~ Albert Schweitzer

Life is life – whether in a cat, or dog or man. There is no difference there between a cat or a man. The idea of difference is a human conception for man’s own advantage. ~ Sri Aurobindo

It is just like man’s vanity and impertinence to call an animal dumb because it is dumb to his dull perceptions. ~ Mark Twain

In an earlier stage of our development most human groups held to a tribal ethic. Members of the tribe were protected, but people of other tribes could be robbed or killed as one pleased. Gradually the circle of protection expanded, but as recently as 150 years ago we did not include blacks. So African human beings could be captured, shipped to America and sold. In Australia white settlers regarded Aborigines as a pest and hunted them down, much as kangaroos are hunted down today. Just as we have progressed beyond the blatantly racist ethic of the era of slavery and colonialism, so we must now progress beyond the speciesist ethic of the era of factory farming, of the use of animals as mere research tools, of whaling, seal hunting, kangaroo slaughter and the destruction of wilderness. We must take the final step in expanding the circle of ethics. ~ Pete Singer

If a group of beings from another planet were to land on Earth – beings who considered themselves as superior to you as you feel yourself to be to other animals – would you concede them the rights over you that you assume over other animals? ~ George Bernard Shaw

The time will come when men such as I will look upon the murder of animals as they now look upon the murder of men. ~ Leonardo Da Vinci

It is the fate of every truth to be an object of ridicule when it is first acclaimed. It was once considered foolish to suppose that black men were really human beings and ought to be treated as such. What was once foolish has now become a recognized truth. Today it is considered as exaggeration to proclaim constant respect for every form of life as being the serious demand of a rational ethic. But the time is coming when people will be amazed that the human race existed so long before it recognized that thoughtless injury to life is incompatible with real ethics. Ethics is in its unqualified form extended responsibility to everything that has life. ~ Albert Schweitzer

If only we can overcome cruelty, to human and animal, with love and compassion we shall stand at the threshold of a new era in human moral and spiritual evolution – and realize, at last, our most unique quality: humanity. ~ Jane Goodall

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. ~ Immanuel Kant

If you don’t want to be beaten, imprisoned, mutilated, killed or tortured, then you shouldn’t condone such behaviour towards anyone, be they human or not. ~ Moby

Nothing will benefit human health and increase the chances for survival of life on earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet. ~ Albert Einstein

The wild, cruel animal is not behind the bars of a cage. He is in front of it. ~ Axel Munthe

The soul is the same in all living creatures, although the body of each is different. ~ Hippocrates

All creatures have the same source as we have. Like us, they derive the life of thought, love, and will from the Creator. Not to hurt our humble brethren is our first duty to them; but to stop there is a complete misapprehension of the intentions of Providence. We have a higher mission. God wishes that we should succour them whenever they require it. ~ St Francis of Assisi

All beings tremble before violence.
All fear death, all love life.
See yourself in others.
Then whom can you hurt? What harm can you do?

The Buddha


3 Responses to “The Issue of Animal Rights and Animal Feelings”

  1. Chavie January 13, 2012 at 2:21 pm #

    Brilliant post Thulasi! 😀 Love it!

  2. Tulie January 13, 2012 at 4:02 pm #

    Thanks Chavs 😀

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