Most people love animals. But how much really? Enough to have a pet? Enough to go the zoo… or NOT go to the zoo? Enough to not eat them? Enough to avidly advocate their freedom?
We use different ways to identify with animals and to separate ourselves from them. Really, we’re all animals, just different species of them. And as humans, we have created a society, a hierarchy, where we believe that we have the power to control these animals– to take them away from each other, to lock them up, use them as entertainment, kill them, wear them, eat them. We often think we’re the most intelligent species, but I disagree. I think that sometimes, we put a bunch of humans together, and our morals start to slide. The line between what is right and wrong gets blurred because we have big ideas to benefit ourselves. We forget that living things have emotions, they feel pain.
I feel guilty when I delve into the mechanics of this. I love and appreciate animals. But I still eat them. I suppose this really does come down to language, and how we use this to avoid feeling something. I’d never realised this before. To create the barrier between us and them, we use the inanimate pronoun it (something I personally never do), refer to them as meat, seafood, livestock, or the type of meat, pork, beef, etc. (Bekoff, 2010) We do whatever we can to remove ourselves from the horrific reality of animal agriculture.
But then, we use the media, film industry, and literature to form a bond with other species. I can’t remember the last children’s movie I watched that doesn’t have a talking animal in it. We use anthropomorphism as a way to create this connection– we give other species, human like qualities. “In its most extreme form, uncritical anthropomorphism can mean animals being “personified”, or treated as if they actually were humans. In less extreme form, uncritical anthropomorphism may lead to misinterpreting an animal’s behaviour and hence to misunderstanding that animal’s needs and emotional state…” (Morton, Burghardt and Smith, 1990)
After watching Blackfish in class last week, this whole concept became very real. It’s not to say there is no connection between a human and an animal– you watch the film and you can truly see that these orcas and trainers had a real bond, a friendship, if you will. This made the orcas seem more human-like, and we tend to forget that they are a completely different species, with different capabilities. A neuroscientist in the film discusses that these killer whales had the same emotional capability as humans, if not more. But it was cooping them up in small, dark places– separating them from their mothers and their babies– all things that we wouldn’t do to humans (although, that isn’t to say we haven’t– please see WW2 and the Stolen Generation for more info), that forced them to act out in aggressive ways. It is not until then that we see the line, the difference between us and them. Not because we are humans and they are animals, but because we are different species. That’s all it comes down to. We don’t need anthropomorphism to identify– you will find similarities between other animals and humans all the time, but we are still different.
In the other controversial documentary, The Cove we are positioned in the opposition. While in Blackfish we feel for the animals and know their act of aggression is a result of captivation by humans, in The Cove the humans become animals in our eyes. The Japanese lure dolphins into a small cove, by sticking metal poles into the ocean and tapping on them, sending the dolphins into a flurry (dolphins use sound to create images)– and then they slaughter them here. Selling their meat as food, often in disguise as another type of fish. The film properly villainises the humans, asking society what we have become, that we think it’s morally okay to murder these dolphins for personal gain.
Richard O’Barry, the founder and director of this film and project has worked both sides of the dolphin industry– 10 years with dolphins in captivity, and 44 years working against it. He learned that captivity of these marine creatures is wrong, that it is detrimental to their system and environment. In reference to captivity and the use of these creatures for entertainment, he says this:
“Any intelligent person who sees a trained dolphin show whether it’s Shamu or Flipper or Keiko or whatever, would have to conclude if they were honest, that what they just witnessed was a spectacle of dominance. That’s what’s wrong with it. It teaches us that dominance is good. Dominance is right, dominance works and that’s the problem.” (Pbs.org, 2017)
I suppose that’s all what it comes down to. We use other species in the ways that we want to, because we can and we will exert dominance over them. We as humans have the means and the power to do that, and many of us aren’t afraid to use it. While there are so many different levels of animal abuse, from domesticated to wild captivation to animal agriculture and consumption, we use speciesism as a right to entertain this dominance. We need to look at our similarities with these species– but not try and make them look like us– to question what we’re doing.
Bekoff, M. (2010). Animals in media: Righting the wrongs. [online] Psychology Today. Available at: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/animal-emotions/201001/animals-in-media-righting-the-wrongs [Accessed 27 Mar. 2017].
Morton, D., Burghardt, G. and Smith, J. (1990). Animals, Science, and Ethics–Section III. Critical Anthropomorphism, Animal Suffering, and the Ecological Context. The Hastings Center Report, 20(3), p.13.
Pbs.org. (2017). Interviews – Richard O’barry | A Whale Of A Business | FRONTLINE | PBS. [online] Available at: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/whales/interviews/obarry1.html [Accessed 27 Mar. 2017].