Being Humane

There are differences.

Humans can transcend their biological lives in ways that other animals cannot. Humans can study, understand and challenge nature by means of technological might, in ways other animals cannot. Humans can store knowledge in perpetual form and secure its benefits for all future generations, in ways other animals cannot.

Evolution resulted in our species developing the skills to be the stewards of our planet, its environment and all living creatures within it.   This realization carries a tremendous responsibility that we must accept and face.  It seem clear that both human and non-human animals stand to gain from such recognition.

Human abilities also challenge us with ethical dilemmas we cannot ignore.

When confronted with the incredible suffering caused by disease on one hand and faced with the ability to challenge such maladies on the other, humans can feel morally compelled to act.

Under normal circumstances nobody wants to cause unnecessary harm to animals.  But anyone who has seen a loved one suffering recognizes that human patients and their families live extraordinary circumstances. In some instances, we do not see any other way to help without advancing medical knowledge and science through regulated and responsible research with animals.

To attack the acceptance of our differences and the associated responsibilities as discriminatory, or more specifically, as speciesist, is misguided.

As Bernard Williams  wrote:

 The word “speciesism” has been used for an attitude some regard as our ultimate prejudice, that in favor of humanity. It is more revealingly called “humanism,” and its is not a prejudice. To see the world from a human point of view is not an absurd thing for human beings to do. It is sometimes said that such a view implies that we regard human beings as the most important or valuable creatures in the universe. This would be an absurd thing to do, but it is not implied. To suppose that it is, is to make the mistake of identifying the point of view of the universe and the human point of view. No one should make any claims about the importance of human beings to the universe: the point is about the importance of human beings to human beings.

A concern for nonhuman animals is indeed a proper part of human life, but we can acquire it, cultivate it, and teach it only in terms or our understanding of ourselves. Human beings both have that understanding and are the objects of it, and this is one of the basic respects in which our ethical relations to each other must always be different from our relations to other animals. Before one gets to the question of how animals should be treated, there is the fundamental point that this is the only question there can be: how they should be treated. The choice can only be whether animals benefit from our practices or are harmed by them. This is why speciesism is falsely modeled on racism and sexism, which really are prejudices. To suppose that there is an ineliminable white or male understanding of the world, and to think that the only choice is whether blacks or women should benefit from “our” (white, male) practices or be shared by them: this is already to be prejudiced. But in the case of human relations to animals, the analogues to such thoughts are simply correct.

Our arguments have to be grounded in a human point of view; they cannot be derived from a point of view that is no one’s point of view at all. It is not, as the strongest forms of ethical theory would have it, that reason drives us to get beyond humanity. The most urgent requirements of humanity are, as they always have been, that we should assemble as many resources as we can to help us to respect it. 

In other words, being humane means, in large part, being capable of treating others in ways that other animals cannot.  It means seeing the world through human eyes from a human perspective. It means accepting our role and responsibility as stewards of the animals and our planet.

Begin humane is to assume the responsibility endowed by our human condition.

It is not speciesism.

2 responses to “Being Humane

  1. The following interview took place several years ago (2008), but it is interesting to read Gary Francione’s answer to the question of what he feeds his dogs. His reply was as follows:

    “GF[Gary Francione]: I feed them vegan food. I feed them a mixture of lentils, grains, and vegetables.”

    If there is such a thing as speciesism, requiring a pet dog to follow a human’s vegan philosophy or ethic of food consumption must surely fall in that category.

    • He is also anti-vaccination… which came up in my debate with him. I forgot to ask if he vaccinates his dogs. I do not see how he would do it, given that he said he was against one of his friends with HIV/AIDS taking medication derived from animal research.