Thursday, May 2, 2024

The New York Declaration on Animal Consciousness

The NY Declaration on Animal Consciousness was announced on 19 April 2024 at New York University. Although the Declaration does not assert certainty in consciousness across all species there is strong support for the claim and therefore a call to consider consciousness when making policy decisions regarding animals. While some might say that any announcement about animal consciousness is not news or might shrug off the “realistic possibility” of consciousness in, for example, fish, the Declaration has wide-ranging implications in areas of teaching, medical research, suburban and rural development, wildlife conservation, etc.

For instance, while many of the signatories are research scientists, what care is henceforth required for “animals” used in experiments? Should animals be excluded from lab experiments, given computer generated imaging and other forms of visual effects and artificial intelligence? Should animal experiments that simply replicate known results cease? Beyond the university lab, what about animals, from mice to monkeys, used in experiments for the corporate beauty, pharmaceutical, or medical industries? What happens to businesses that breed animals simply for the purpose of sale as human food or research bodies in labs? At the conference, one audience member inquired about the fate of animals at the close of an experiment. The person who answered the question, and a primary signatory to the Declaration, said she does not dispose of animals when an experiment is done; but that begs the question about practices of “euthanasia” among other scientists. If you stop and look around, you will realize how animals are ingrained into our lives as pets, companions, workers, food, or objects of entertainment. So, the crystallization of meaning in the Declaration boils down to how we treat the lives of others.

The original 40 signatories don’t call for animal rights but “welfare,” which implies that animals can be used “humanely” for our use. Should animals be objects of experimentation in the first place? Activists would object to the welfare reference and insist on animal rights. The presentation at the start of the conference made clear that among the 40 primary signatories there was discussion and disagreement, so it’s likely that some lean more to rights while others rest on welfare. That’s not a criticism but a reflection of the reality about how animals are currently viewed. Though a declaration, much of the language admits “uncertainty” (as of now) and opens with a question about which animals have a “capacity” for consciousness. To their credit, the signatories imply that many organisms including fish have such a capacity in various degrees based on their evolutionary adaptations. Clearly then, the Declaration is an important development and tool for researchers and animal activists alike. For example, in advancing concerns about welfare or rights, many people can raise legitimate claims about how animals are treated with reference to this document.

The statement of animal consciousness is brief but includes background material, which highlights (in simplified form here) how crows can learn, octopuses evade pain, cuttlefish have memories, cleaner wrasse fish can identify themselves, bees engage in free play, etc. The point is that a consensus of leaders in this arena of inquiry, from scientists to philosophers, confirm that more species have subjective awareness than has been recognized heretofore. Ongoing evidence firmly suggests that more animals have phenomenal consciousness or sentience exhibited in a range of behaviors, from self-consciousness, problem solving, planning, etc. This evidence, so far based on different species, posits a range of “more likely” to the “realistic possibility” and “strong scientific support” of consciousness across a broad range of species.

However one thinks, the New York Declaration on Animal Consciousness is yet another important step forward regarding how humans interact with the living world. Assuming our human ethics of caring, animal rights are linked with human rights, so this pronouncement is a crucial development in establishing rights for all living organisms. To bolster the authority and credibility of the Declaration, the announcement has been covered by many outlets large and small, from Nature News to The Hill

For academic references used by the writers of the New York Declaration, go HERE

The New York Declaration comes almost twelve years after the Cambridge Declaration of Consciousness, HERE

Readers might also be interested in the PETA argument for animal sentience and emotions, HERE

There’s also a declaration of animal personhood by the University of Toulon, France, HERE

Additional resources for the curious can be found on the Literary Veganism site, HERE

-Gregory F. Tague, Ph.D. and Fredericka A. Jacks

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Animals as Medical Experiments

What are the ethics of using animals as a means for human ends? While we deplore the word “animal” since it reduces other living organisms to objects, we’ll use it for shorthand. As for medical experiments, in this context we mean advancing “humanity” at the expense of animals. In the never-ending periods of political turmoil, civil unrest, and war, it’s easy to ignore the inherent rights of animals. Nevertheless, we cannot luxuriate in humanity while the rest of the world – wildlife and animals raised as food or for human experimentation – suffer and die for our pleasure or gain. Recently, we noticed an article in Wired1 entitled “A Monkey Got a New Kidney from a Pig – and lived for 2 Years.” The article prompts us to question our moral duty toward animals.

Let’s take a closer look at the article under consideration. For instance, the word “got” appears in the title. That word makes it sound as if the monkey just reached into the pig’s body to procure an organ willingly relinquished. Or, “got” as in gotcha! Or, as in “got” what was deserved. Language about animals shapes our perceptions of them. Additionally, what’s meant by “a monkey” – just any monkey? Did he or she not have a name or personality like your dog or cat? The monkey surely had an identity – they, like pigs, are genetically close to humans. The expression “new kidney” is equally puzzling. That kidney was not new – it belonged to the pig. What makes the kidney “new” in the eyes of the reporter and scientists is that it was artificially engineered to function in a monkey; this is not natural selection. Finally, we are supposed to revel in how the monkey recipient lived for two years after the jerry-rigged transplant. The primate in question was a cynomolgus monkey with an average lifespan of twenty-five years. Considering that the transplant was not made on an aged monkey, years were erased from his or her life. This species of monkey’s small size and compliance render them desirable for lab experimentation. Of course, as our readers might know, monkeys used for lab tests are produced like cabbages and shipped globally, as if disposable and replaceable commodities. Worth noting, these primates often live confined and barren lives in university and medical laboratory cages. 

The pig in question was a Yucatan miniature pig, with an average lifespan of about thirteen years. They are popular laboratory animals since they are docile and become tolerant of human handling. There’s one line in the Wired article that resonates disturbingly: “… pigs are already raised for agriculture.” In other words, since some animals have already been designated as objects of commercial use by humans, why not also expose them to medical experiments. We already raise animals as our food – fatten them with hormones and fill them with antibiotics before slaughter and packaging. So, it seems, as the logic of the Wired writer suggests, if we can eat them, why not employ them for invasive trials benefiting emerging medical technologies. The fact that animals suffer in the human obsession for advancement is just collateral damage, it seems. Bear in mind that as usual this experiment was not a transaction between one pig and one monkey; dozens are used, and then magnify that number by how many other researchers race to achieve similar results elsewhere and then how many more animals perish when the tests are replicated over and again.

Certainly, humans benefit financially and socially from animals in a multitude of ways. Consider our long history of using horses, whether in work or war. There are dogs who guide the blind and enhance law enforcement. Rabbits and a host of rodents used in the cosmetic or pharmaceutical industries help us smell sweet or live comfortably. Since we’ve been using animals as objects, and not recognizing them as subjects of their own lives, it only seems reasonable, so the logic goes, to harvest their organs for human transplant. The argument is that we can artificially engineer pig organs and experiment on primates because they are “like us”; but that likeness claim should be a reason for us to treat them humanely. Have we learned nothing since the dark days of Old Testament animal sacrifices or Descartes’ vivisections? The pig kidney in question, otherwise fully functional for its owner, was genetically re-engineered using Crispr2 to make the organ compatible for xenotransplantation. The kidney of the Yucatan miniature pig is similar in size to a human’s organ, and the genomic edits promoted graft endurance and minimized rejection in a primate body like ours.

The scientists who managed this complex process provide some interesting language in the title of their paper. They state to have “designed” a “humanized” pig donor. Humanized design seems rather strange phraseology but suggests that the gene-editing protocol on animals is only for human advantage; or, it’s as if other species that evolved adaptations over eons to survive and reproduce in their own ecological niches don’t even really exist for themselves. We doubt medical ethicists would condone performing these procedures on herds of humans confined to a research facility. More to the point, one sees the word “plantation” in the language of this animal medical research, conjuring expansive farms of donor pigs bred to lose their internal organs.

Without having to cite sources, it’s well known that like many animals, monkeys and pigs are extremely sapient and sentient, so it seems unethical and cruel to conduct Frankenstein experiments on them solely for the benefit of “humanity,” especially in this highly technical era assisted by artificial intelligence and computer-generated imaging. We realize that medical research is dependent to some extent on animal experimentation, but where are the lines to be drawn and at what cost to nonhuman life? The Hippocratic Oath3 reads, in part, as follows: “I will soothe the pain of anyone…. Never will I betray them…. Under no circumstances I will use his body to advance my knowledge or fame…” Not surprisingly, the oath and much medical research is anthropocentric: there are few limits to the breeding of and experimentation on multitudes of test animals if the results benefit humans.

- Gregory F. Tague, Ph.D. and Fredericka Jacks, Editors, ASEBL (animal studies ethical behavior literacy)

References and Notes

1. Mullen, Emily. 2023. “A Monkey Got a New Kidney from a Pig – and Lived for 2 Years.” 11 October, Wired.

2. Anand, Ranjith, et al. 2023. “Design and Testing of a Humanized Porcine Donor for Xenotransplantation.” Nature 622: 393-401.

3. Arenas, Amelia, trans. 2010. “Hippocrates’ Oath.” Arion 17.3.

Biospecimen monkey image from IQ Biosciences  

Biospecimen pig image from Sinclair Bio Resources

Copyright©2023 by Gregory F. Tague and ASEBL. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, July 3, 2023

An Open Letter to Peter Godfrey-Smith

An Open Letter to Peter Godfrey-Smith in response to his essay, “If Not Vegan, Then What?” (Aeon 10 February 2023) 

Dear Dr. Godfrey-Smith:


As an “experiment” you tried a “near-vegan” diet for one month and then stopped. Most vegans would probably say their transition was gradual and over a longer period of time. They’d also likely indicate how careful choices with some guidance were made about which foods to eat. You imagine an ethical person but one for whom a plant-based diet “does not work.” This conclusion fails to see the many vegan options for most people in developed and even in some developing countries. You look for a “defensible” compromise to veganism when we don’t see any. Ethical vegans make a willful choice and don’t experiment; if it’s a trial, one is bordering on a popular trend that is doomed to fail.


Near-vegan for you included eggs, butter, and fish oil – that prescription is not even close to a vegan diet. However, with willpower and changes to routines, you could have weaned yourself away from animal products gradually. Instantaneously proclaiming “near-vegan” promotes a misconception about ethical vegans who make a concerted effort to avoid whenever possible harming or eating animals or purchasing products tested on or containing animal ingredients. You say you wanted the eggs for protein without having considered other choices. Many beans and leafy plants are protein rich. Besides, most modern humans take in too much animal protein, which can be harmful. You say you opted for eggs from “free range” chickens, but as Alice Crary and Lori Gruen1 have noted, terms like free range, grass fed, cage free, etc. are more about marketing gimmicks and less about animal welfare. Eating “free range” or “cage free” products is an excuse conjured by corporate agriculture to make carnivores feel better; or, as you literally suggest, to justify killing and eating animals. While you mention ethics a few paragraphs into your essay, you indicate a move toward veganism because of motives regarding “animal welfare.” As you know, welfare issues for farmed animals are far different than advocating for their rights or liberation. At the same time, you claim that animal suffering is a primary concern, as if any farm-raised animal does not experience psychological or physical pain at the point of death and perhaps before then.


You go on to note how your experiment turned out to be an “illuminating failure.” How much light has been shed on which issues, even from reader comments on the Aeon site? You say the “regime” was too difficult, that you felt cold and “unsettled.” These were likely psychosomatic responses that even farm animals feel. You say that by the tenth day you added dairy into your diet and felt well. We consider that a dodge. Ten days? It seems that you tried to go vegan for mistaken reasons if you now justify eating animal flesh. While you do question your lack of perseverance, you nevertheless defend how you felt “unsettled.” In fairness, we’ve all been brainwashed from an early age to love our pets but to eat cows, pigs, sheep, fish, chickens, etc., so you were no doubt reckoning with an uncompromising and steely mindset. You obliquely admit that there might have been some psychological resistance on your part as you feared vulnerability to pathogens during Covid. Consider how Covid, and other such global pandemics, began in wet markets where live animals are slaughtered on demand, to say nothing of potential bacteria like salmonella, e-coli, and yersinia in meats.


Then, you seem to get to the heart of your essay and propose what you believe are three justifiable options for those concerned about animal welfare. 1. Eating “humanely farmed” meats, including beef. 2. Eating fish caught in the wild. 3. Eating conventionally-farmed dairy products.


You proceed to go into some detail about these three options, as if they are the only ones. For example, regarding number 1, you seem inclined to consume cows who live a “good life” and are killed by “specialist butchers” because the killing is “inevitable.” This pronouncement neglects how cows are forcibly impregnated to produce milk for humans, not for their babies sold as meat. Their lives are short and their demise is engineered by humans, not nature. Biology, not the human marketplace, makes cows lactate and hens lay eggs. Synthetic hormones are used to force cows to produce large quantities of milk for human use. Forced production results in infected udders that yield pus mixing into milk drunk by humans. Growth hormones are used to fatten cows and steer and thus ultimately ingested by humans. This artificial feeding chain is amplified by the use of antibiotics in the farming industry, which might account for increased resistance in humans. The calves are taken away almost immediately, to the distress of the cow. Male calves are literally starved so that they have tender, white flesh sold as veal. These are just a few examples of the paucity of “animal welfare” in the beef industry.


For number 2, you justify killing wild fish because, in your calculus, they’d die anyway. Would that justify killing and eating one’s pets? You claim that victims of commercial fishing don’t experience an “especially awful” death. Fish can suffer2, and kill methods include ice chilling, bleeding out, suffocation, CO2 stunning, etc. Worse, the vast number of what is called bykill trapped in commercial fishing nets is staggering and ranges from dolphins to turtles and even birds. Endangered species are also killed in these fishing nets. How, then, is this serving animal welfare? As for wild fishing, you say it’s part of human history in a “natural food web.” This is oversimplistic and ignores a few key points. First, going back in history to human settlements around the Mediterranean Sea, fishing would not have depleted resources, as is now the case. Second, deeper in history our hominin ancestors were likely geared to a plant-based diet4. Third, nowhere in your essay do you indicate that humans are omnivores. As one of our friends is fond of saying, “I’ll eat anything.” That means one can survive well from a diet rich in vegetables (root and green), legumes and beans, fruits, grains, seeds, nuts, tofu, tempeh, etc. You use the term “food web” to suggest that we must eat meat and dairy. That is untrue. Some animals (large cats, for instance) evolved as obligate carnivores. Humans, like our great ape cousins and even baboons, did not.


In terms of number 3, you admit serious welfare anxiety for cows on dairy farms, unless the farm is “humane.” Humanity is an outdated and anthropocentric notion. When you say “humane” you imply animals are used as a means for human ends (e.g., humanely killed). In the course of history up to the present, humans have not treated each other humanely, and they certainly do not routinely treat work or farm animals with the care and concern given to their children or pets. In a twist of logic, you suggest that the farmed cow should exist since it produces food we eat. Animal milk is produced for their offspring, not humans. This fact is evident by our lactose intolerance to cow’s milk.


You wonder, next, which of the three options is the most justifiable. In our opinion, none, and the only option is to choose ethical veganism. Worth noting is how most modern humans eat far more than needed and more often than necessary. You say about dairy offspring that their “bodies will be put to some use.” Male chicks are ground in wood chippers to become fertilizer. You find “humane” beef as more defensible and even as a “positive good.” Surely this is not good for the cow, and without citing the scientific literature readily available beef is the most deleterious to human health and the environment. A look at Our World in Data3 indicates how there is growing demand for meat worldwide, especially beef. Grains are produced in trillions of pounds and fed to farm animals when that food could be used for humans, to say nothing of the water waste and fossil fuel emissions from slaughterhouses, meatpacking facilities, and transport vehicles. Worse, those grains fed to farmed animals are wasted twofold since the animal uses the nutrients to grow body parts (e.g., beaks or horns) not farmed as human food. It’s not in the service of anyone’s welfare to feed and fatten animals who cycle calories that could feed those humans already malnourished. Which choice is more humane? Massive amounts of cattle cannot be “humanely” raised since forests are cleared to produce food for them. That’s poor land use for all forms of life and reduces rainforest biodiversity that cleanses and hydrates the air we breathe. The devastation to the climate is pervasive in the cattle feeding/ranching scenario, and one only needs to look at satellite images of the Amazon to see what we mean.


You justify eating cows by saying that because they exist, we can eat them. Farm animals, as any reader of Darwin5 knows, have been artificially bred and selected for certain traits. Many farm animals are, historically and evolutionarily speaking, recent developments. Sheep, for instance, must be sheared since we have bred them to have wooly fleece. Your argument reminds us of one by Nick Zangwill6: raise farm animals, assume they are happy, and then it’s okay to kill, butcher, and eat them. The “logic” is that for there to be happy cows and other animals they must be farmed and “humanely” killed as human food. The conclusion is that you are a beef eater, but you say that numbers 2 (fish) and 3 (dairy) are also defensible. Whether on a small or factory farm, animal bodies and offspring, as well as food they naturally produce for young, are all packaged for human profit by the pound. Selling animal body parts does not seem to be about welfare. No farm animal, unless she has been rescued and placed in a sanctuary, is considered as an individual; regrettably, that anthropocentric attitude comes across in your essay very strongly.


You conclude by asking that one should “calculate” what’s best, balancing opposites like utilitarianism and rights theory. Noted earlier, you leave out of the equation virtue ethics. As a prominent professor who has written extensively on animal minds and consciousness, you exercise immense influence your peers and legions of students in your classroom. What’s the message you’d like to communicate? Is it the distorted view about “animal welfare” that justifies meat eating and dairy consumption? Why publicize your failed and short-lived dietary experiment, which ends on a note of moral relativism (utilitarianism v. Kantianism, yes/no/maybe, it depends), while ignoring how the majority of vegans make an ethical choice not to support businesses that harm animals and not partake in exploiting animals as human food. This is not to say vegans are perfect. For one, animal products appear everywhere and are hard to avoid. More importantly, being vegan is an act of faith that’s always tested and requires constant attention as one strives toward an ethical goal.


- Gregory F. Tague, Ph.D. and Fredericka Jacks, Editors, Literary Veganism 




1. Crary, Alice and Lori Gruen. 2022. Animal Crisis. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.

2. Chandroo, K.P., I.J.H Duncan, R.D Moccia. 2004. “Can Fish Suffer?: Perspectives on Sentience, Pain, Fear and Stress.” Applied Animal Behaviour Science. 86 (3–4): 225-250.

3. Our World in Data. 2017. Also, see, Ritchie, Hannah and Max Roser. 2019. “Meat and Dairy Production.” Our World in Data.

4. Tague, Gregory F. 2022. The Vegan Evolution. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge.

5. Darwin, Charles. 1859. On the Origin of Species. Joseph Carroll, ed. Ontario, CN: Broadview P. 2003.

6. Zangwill, Nick (2021) “Our Moral Duty to Eat Meat.” Journal of the American Philosophical Association.295-311. Doi: 10.1017/apa.2020.21. For a response to Zangwill, see: Tague, Gregory F. 2023. “Is There Moral Justification to Eat Meat?” The Ecological Citizen. 6 (1): epub-082. There’s a related video on this subject (15 minutes) here:

Copyright©2023 by Gregory F. Tague and Fredericka Jacks. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Moral Sense Colloquium V: Sustainability and Ethics

On Monday, 16 May, we held our fifth Moral Sense Colloquium as part of the Evolutionary Studies Collaborative. The theme of this colloquium was sustainability and ethics. Speakers featured faculty members Gregory F. Tague, Kristy Biolsi, John Dilyard, Alison Dell, and Clayton Shoppa. There were two student panelists, Ashtyn Van Horn and Luis E. Banegas. You can read the full program here. By following the tabs at the top of this site you can learn more about The Evolutionary Studies Collaborative (ESC) and the Moral Sense Colloquium. 

Dr. Alison Dell speaking remotely

Ashtyn Van Horn and Luis E. Banegas

From left to right (standing): Dr. Virginia Franklin, Dr. Clayton Shoppa, Dr. Gregory Tague, Dr. Kristy Biolsi, Alexis Winters, Dr. Kathy Nolan. Seated: Ashtyn Van Horn and Luis E. Banegas

Dr. Gregory F. Tague, Luis E. Banegas, Dr. Virginia Franklin, Ashtyn Van Horn, and Dr. Athena Devlin

Alexis Winters was the Literary Veganism intern for the academic year 2021-2022 working with Dr. Gregory F. Tague

Sunday, October 24, 2021

Saving Orangutans, Saving Our Future - Sari Fitriani

Saving Orangutans, Saving Our Future 

By Sari Fitriani

Travelling to rural areas, understanding the life of local people and orangutans, has transformed me from an ordinary person into an activist. I was born and raised in Jakarta and did my undergraduate in Bandung. The two cities brought me into an environment where people are busy with their own lives. Getting money, a respectful position in a reputable company, and getting married were the top three priorities of most people in the city. Let alone thinking about the society, environment, or even animals. I was as innocent and indifferent as the majority of people, until I decided to take a job that was out of my comfort zone after I graduated.

I started my professional journey as a facilitator in a rural area in 2016. It was a life-changing experience because it taught me how it feels to be a forest-dependent person. While money can solve most any problem in an urban area, the rural area is a different story. I still remember how much I struggled to live there even though I had money. There were no grocery stores, no electricity, no signal coverage, no water unless it was raining, and no gas stove, only a wood-burning stove. It impressed me how the local people were living effortlessly without much money. They grow, gather, and hunt for what they need to fulfil their livelihood. They’d get everything they needed to survive without spending a single penny. But I also saw their vulnerability by depending entirely on nature. When I was in Mentawai, I wouldn’t have enough water for my daily needs in the dry season because the only water source was rainwater. The only option was to use brown-colored water from the river in Borneo for drinking, washing, and cooking. It was such a surprise that it wasn’t a problem for me or for them, but it’s a whole different story when something is happening with their land, forest, or sea. In Borneo, people fought over their lands when a company came in. But sometimes, they did nothing and grumbled over how hard it is to grow productive crops or find prey in the forest after losing their lands. I wish I could do something, but the only thing I could do back then was listen to them.

I started working for orangutans in 2018 after my contract as a facilitator in Borneo ended. I met the Centre for Orangutan Protection and got along with them as we had the same working area in Borneo. I adored them for their passion and commitment to orangutans. Most of the people I met from COP were about my age, mid-20s, and some graduated from respected universities. They spent their youth taking care of orangutans in the middle of the jungle with limited access to electricity, network coverage, or to the ‘normal life’ that most people have at that age. But actually, it was not my intention to work for wildlife. I spent two years working for humans, and I questioned how people could prioritize animals over humans. When I was curious to learn about how Dayak people hunt for food, COP was campaigning against air rifles for hunting. I mean, if not hunting, how could they fulfil their livelihood? Should they shift their life to be like ‘modern people’ in the city where everything requires money? I don’t think that’s a better solution.

During my time with COP, I had many of my firsts. First time being a highly mobile person, first time directly encountering orangutans, first time getting lost in plantations, first time being a tour organizer and a guide to visitors, first time developing volunteer programs, first time being incorporated in wildlife and forestry-related meetings and conferences, and many more. Then I realized what I was doing wasn’t different from my previous job. I still took care of the local community by helping them develop ecotourism programs, seeing them challenge each other in preserving their culture and nature, hearing complaints, and being asked for help when there are land conflicts. But this time, I had the power to do something. The power to help local communities preserve their lands and forest while still maintaining their livelihood. The power to make an issue bigger, be heard by a wider scope of people, and create mass movements toward better regulation and action. And that is all because of the power of the orangutans.

I also saw the local people’s way of living from a broader perspective. Many of the hunters ended up hunting animals that were not supposed to be eaten. They unintentionally ‘invited’ a wildlife trade market that risks their own life and the life of the forest. I was once offered to buy a sun bear because an old woman caught it and wanted to trade it for money. She was innocent because she didn’t know that it was prohibited to catch and trade a sun bear. But what if I saw that as an opportunity to gain money? What if I were a wildlife broker and asked them to catch more cubs and other wildlife in the forest? And what if it were an orangutan and later it became a popular commodity?  Will the old woman be accused and jailed for doing that? That was how my inner turmoil arose.

In 2019, I spent a lot of my time on the road, travelling all around East Borneo, checking the existence of wild orangutans in their habitat. We— my team and I—drove up to 300 km a day, using a double cabin car or trail motorcycles, travelling around East Borneo. It was pretty much like a road trip. The roads we took mostly couldn’t be found on Google Maps and were too arduous to pass through. The scenery was either green or brown-black from plantations, dirt roads, and coal mining areas. I could hardly see any rainforest along the way, but we did spot orangutans effortlessly from the road. Some were female orangutans with their babies in their nests in a tree, while others were old male orangutans sleeping on a tree branch. And it was all happening in plantations and mining areas. We were overwhelmed by all reports and viral social media posts from the public capturing orangutans in such areas. And even more, devastated by the reality we got directly from the field.

The further away, the more I see, the more I question myself. Is it more important to consider the life of humans over wildlife? Or the other way around? Aren’t humans and wildlife the same in surviving life? Then why does it always seem like they’re conflicting with each other, and we have to choose one life over another? I kept questioning until I realized that it was no one’s fault in particular but a collection of misguided actions.  In fact, we—me, you, humans, animals, and any living beings—all face the same problem. We are losing our lands and forest. We are losing our habitat. And soon enough, we might be losing our earth and everything that we take for granted at the moment.

All the dots were connected, and I knew that this was the path that I should take. I knew that our work for orangutans is not only for orangutans but for the whole ecosystem. I am sure now that both humans and wildlife urgently need a safe place to live. And by saving orangutan habitats we could save humans altogether from destruction, poverty, and disasters. It is not about choosing one over another but how we as humans want to live in harmony with the other living beings without harming each other. I know that is not an easy task to accomplish, but it has to be done. It has only been three years since I walked in an orangutan’s steps, and I will keep walking on this path. For me, fighting for orangutans means fighting for humanity, fighting for the whole ecosystem, and fighting for our future.

Copyright©2021 by Sari Fitriani. All Right Reserved.

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Bruce McLeod on Environmental Stewardship

Environmental Stewardship
Healing Our Broken Relationship With Nature
By Bruce McLeod

The World Wildlife Fund’s mission is “To stop the degradation of the Earth’s natural environment and to build a future in which humans live in harmony with nature…”  In their Living Planet Report published in 2020 it is reported that global mammal, fish, bird and amphibian populations have declined by 68% in less than 50 years. Genetic degradation isn’t covered in the report.

People the world over donate billions of dollars to WWF each year. Despite which, the reality is that after 60 years at the forefront of conservation WWF (and professional conservation in general) have  entirely failed to achieve their stated objective. Degradation of the natural environment, together with declines in genetic integrity across all species, resulting directly from environmentally hostile and destructive human activities, is both ubiquitous and of such severity as to suggest the distinct possibility that animals in their natural habitats will be largely if not entirely wiped out within another one or two decades.                      

This is not to say that the position might not have been worse without the efforts of conservation agencies, or that their failure to stem the tide of destruction is not to some extent understandable. Human numbers in my lifetime have gone from 2.5 billion to a staggering 8 billion, and in 2020 alone (notwithstanding COVID-19) births exceeded deaths by 80 million.

And if you don’t recognize in all of this clear evidence of disease in the social organism, and get a glimpse of the joyless, polluted, dangerous and unsustainable world that will be occupied by our children, should they survive of course, then as lawyers are inclined to say, I rest my case.

It’s insane, and the approach to the unfolding catastrophe by conservation professionals appears to consist of what the medical profession might describe as symptomatic diagnosis and treatment. In other words, cause unknown and remedial treatment aimed at easing pain and symptoms – rather than eradicating underlying cause.

Carl Jung proposed that all human neurosis and psychosis stems from division from nature. And if Jung has it right, then does it not follow that in-depth understanding of the human condition that gives rise to environmental destruction, must precede and dictate remedial action? Neurosis doesn’t mean barking mad but rather a relatively mild altered state of reality. I’m not a psychologist but it would seem to me that division from Nature essentially triggers a loss of synchronicity between two distinct faculties of memory. The first of these being instinct and the second being reason.

Instinct can be defined as prenatal, genetic, evolutionary or ancestral memory function. Reason is postnatal, experiential or socially acquired memory function, and in Nature this dual memory function combines seamlessly to optimize survival prospects and transfer of advantageous genes. Division from Nature disrupts brain function synchronicity, resulting in suppression of instinct and elevated levels of dependence or dominance of reason. Homo sapiens sapiens or wise wise Man is how we see ourselves. IQ is measured by reasoning ability alone. Instinct is generally seen as primitive if not superfluous.          

What it amounts to is a muting of the guiding influence of an ancestral lineage that transcends species barriers – as a result of which we are disoriented and essentially lost. Domination of reason is also recognizable in the concept of dominion which in turn, is the soil in which the roots of private property lie buried, and out of which extends a spider’s web of dividing lines on maps that identify reason-based assumptions of superiority, and license to exploit and abuse our animal companions.

Nelson Mandela once said, “…love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” It is so – for the simple reason that love is innate and derives from immutable genetic hardwiring or instinct. Dominion is the polar opposite of love. It is a socially acquired and consequently mutable worldview that, in the absence of counterbalancing instinct amounts to a reprehensible idea, passed on through childhood conditioning from one generation to the next. With symptoms known variously as a contest between good and evil; love and hate; male and female energy, or as an imbalance between reason and instinct - what is beyond doubt and crystal clear is the deep fracturing of the human psyche that springs directly from the tail of division from Nature.   

Exacerbating this altered state of consciousness and loss of balance is a similarly debilitating condition that in the natural world promotes survival – but threatens survival when natural conditions are supplanted by artificial or virtual circumstances. What I’m alluding to is the inherently acquisitive nature of all primates. A monkey trap consists of a simple cage, baited with fruit and a hole in the top big enough to allow passage of the animals hand, but too small to allow withdrawal of hand clutching the fruit. Under such conditions greed overcomes reason and the monkey’s fate is sealed. And if a monkey  will choose life at the end of a chain or death for the sake of a banana – then what chance do we humans have of moderating or abandoning our desire for houses, cars and smartphones? Material possessions we would literally die for – and almost certainly will.  

Is there any hope? Probably not. But in the wake of COVID-19 coupled to increasing awareness of environmental destruction and climate change, is an emergent grassroots impulse to establish a new normal and in that resides a glimmer of hope. Some years ago CapeNature (Western Cape Government) launched a highly successful land acquisition programme called stewardship. It offers incentives to land owners to make land available for conservation. These Contract Nature Reserves are designed to establish areas and inter-linked corridors of land to promote conservation – and it works.

To be a steward means to look after something. It also has a theological definition which means roughly the same thing – taking care of God’s work. A slogan for stewardship is “partnerships make it happen.” What the CapeNature model lacks is a grassroots format, a united front whereby everyone (not just farmers) can become directly involved with conservation through various forms of collaboration.

This might include joint ownership of land for dual conservation and social purposes, with attendant recreational and residential (work from home) opportunities. A new normal where people can reconnect with Nature; partner with conservation professionals if necessary; work together to find ways of achieving harmony rather than conflict with Nature, and in doing so aspire to their true and full human potential. Healing the divisions of the past you might say – one barbed wire fence at a time.     

As co-founder of an independent stewardship initiative some 20 years ago, that preceded the CapeNature model and successfully converted a 700 hectare commercial farm in the Cederberg area of the Western Cape to social and conservation purposes, my observations with respect to the potential of grassroots stewardship stem from hands-on experience. It’s a concept that has enormous potential for growth and facilitation of positive change. Despite which, professional conservation entities, sadly, tend to also conserve a preference for a top-down, leave-it-to-us-we-know-best approach and are resistant to unconventional ideas from outside the ranks of their profession.

Humans share a common ancestor with chimpanzees. All primates are highly intelligent and, just like us, their first response to anxiety, fear and insecurity tends to be psychological denial. Held captive in a monkey trap a primate’s life is often forfeited through its inability to accept the reality of its predicament. In the human domain it is frequently suggested that our relationship with Nature is “complex,” and it’s important to recognize that what lies behind this suggestion is denial, arising from an unwillingness or inability to accept the inconvenient truth of selfishness and obsessive need for materialistic gratification.      

Grassroots stewardship might be described as the antithesis of the divide and conquer approach. It’s a holistic approach that seeks to unify the land and restore an ethical and respectful relationship between humans and all other life forms – in the context of ever-expanding farmlands, habitat destruction and genetic degradation that undermines the process of evolution itself.

There is no one-size-fits-all formula for stewardship projects and it is also not possible to touch on more than a few salient features in this essay. The Cederberg initiative referred to above was registered as a trust. Objective of the trust was to acquire land for social and conservation purposes. The 700 hectare farm acquired was on two titles which, in terms of compliance with agricultural zoning regulations, allowed for construction of 12 dwellings.  

There were accordingly 12 beneficiaries who had access to the land as an undivided whole. Internal fencing was removed. Beneficiaries were allocated areas for their personal use and were entitled to build a house and establish a garden or practice micro farming if they chose to do so. Personal use could be recreational or permanent occupation at the entire discretion of the beneficiary.  

These “plots” did not have separate title and on resignation by a beneficiary, immovable assets could be sold on but not the land occupied. In short, a moderation in terms of profit incentive, but full investment security and access through the power of partnership to a magnificent property abutting a wilderness area for a very modest and fully refundable contribution.  

Obvious benefits to the natural environment aside, the participants in this project had few if any disadvantages in comparison to a more conventional “development” scheme. What they did have were several distinct and unique advantages – not least amongst which was becoming part of an exciting pioneering project, committed to positive social change and restoration of integrity with respect to humankind’s generally dysfunctional relationship with Nature.               

Retaining the land as one undivided whole is perhaps the most fundamental requirement in any grassroots stewardship project. It is also possible in the Western Cape (through CapeNature) to rezone land as a Contract Nature Reserve. This secures the same protection status as a national park. Such rezoning in perpetuity means that the land is permanently safeguarded against usage for anything other than conservation purposes and, in the event of abutment with another conservation area, it opens the door for further unification and expansion of conservation land.

The term “economics” is defined in my dictionary as “a branch of knowledge concerned with the production, consumption, and transfer of wealth.” Arising as it does from a mind divided on itself and being also a product of socially acquired knowledge, largely devoid of counterbalancing wisdom and empathy, it is equally true to say that the business of economics is an anthropomorphic, supremacist, morally challenged branch of knowledge that views Nature as a commodity, composed of “resources” and “game” serving no purpose greater than consumerism and monetary profit.

Shaking off the spell cast by denial related to the destruction of 3.5 billion years of evolutionary progress and development (or what might equally be called God’s creation) and our collective complicity in that event, requires a long hard look in the mirror and conscious application of reason – followed by immediate and appropriate corrective action.

Prevailing economic models are neither ethical, immutable, nor sacrosanct. Stewardship represents a viable and immediate means of expanding conservation areas. It affords the opportunity for people, at their own pace and discretion, to adopt simpler, less materialistic lifestyles and to acquire more responsible attitudes and values. It represents a starting point for progressive social restructuring and a means of healing our broken relationship with Nature.       

Grassroots stewardship is not only viable but offers ordinary people an extraordinary opportunity to “Be the change you want to see in the world” as Gandhi once proposed. It’s the right thing to do. It provides sanctuary for our animal companions. It makes you feel good about yourself; makes the ancestors happy and it’s a giant leap forward with respect to transcending good intentions, and actually accomplishing a world in which humans live in harmony with Nature. It can be done and if ever there was a time to engage our allegedly superior faculties of reason and partner for change then that time is now!    

- Bruce McLeod co-founded a pioneering stewardship initiative some 20 years ago that successfully converted a 700 hectare commercial farm in the Cederberg area of the Western Cape for dual conservation and social purposes.

Text Copyright© 2021 by Bruce McLeod. All Rights Reserved.
Image Copyright© 2021 by Dr. Jack. All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, May 1, 2021

Animal Pain and Suffering - by Athena Milios

Pain and Suffering:
Moral Concerns Surrounding Human Consumption of Animals

By Athena Milios

In “Consider the Lobster,” David Foster Wallace provides a comprehensive overview of the Maine Lobster festival, then presents historical and cultural context for the practice of lobster consumption. Finally, he tackles important dilemmas surrounding the ethics of lobster killing, such as whether lobsters are able to feel pain considering the anatomy of their nervous systems, and whether certain means of killing lobsters are perhaps more ethical than others (Wallace 63). Wallace contrasts the neurological experience of pain with “actual suffering, which seems crucially to involve an emotional component, an awareness of pain as unpleasant, as something to fear/dislike/want to avoid” (63). Wallace provides several compelling arguments as to why killing lobsters is morally inappropriate, which extend to other sentient beings that humans consume. Overall, I believe that eating any animal is morally inappropriate, and will use lobsters, cows, pigs, and chickens as my main examples to build a case for why humans ought not to eat animals since it is morally unjustifiable.

Humans have a tendency to look for ways to morally justify to themselves the consumption of animals, because this justification is easier than having to change their behavior by omitting animals from their diet. One way many people do this is by telling themselves that animals are “less morally important than human beings” (64). However even Wallace acknowledges that he has “not succeeded in working out any sort of personal ethical system in which this belief is truly defensible instead of just selfishly convenient” (64). The two main criteria that ethicists use when considering suffering are the physiological capacity of the animal to feel pain and whether the animal acts as though it is in pain (63). In the case of mammals that humans kill, both of these criteria are clearly met, since pigs, cows, and chickens all have central and peripheral nervous systems, meaning they have mechanisms to register pain including nociceptors (pain-receptors), prostaglandins, and neuronal opioid receptors (63). In addition, they can make sounds that denote suffering when they are in distress/pain, such as whimpering, squealing, and moaning.

There are other behaviors associated with pain exhibited by mammals that are also present in lobsters, such as struggling and thrashing. In terms of the physiological mechanisms of pain, lobsters have an extremely refined tactile sense, partly due to the fact that they are covered in tiny hairs that penetrate their outer shells (63). What this means is that “although encased in what seems like a solid, impenetrable armor, the lobster can receive stimuli and impressions from without as readily as if it possessed a soft and delicate skin” (63). Even though they are invertebrates, they do possess “nociceptors, as well as invertebrate versions of the prostaglandins and major neurotransmitters via which our own brains register pain” (63).  Furthermore, lobsters do not have an endogenous opioid system, which is the body’s way of decreasing pain intensity, and is present in many other animals. This lack of natural painkillers means that lobsters’ perception of pain may actually be heightened (63).

Given that the animals that humans kill for consumption have the capacity to feel pain and to suffer, I believe that they do have moral status, meaning that humans should not have the right to inflict pain and suffering on them simply for their culinary experience. Inflicting pain on animals in order to kill them for human consumption is morally wrong because this killing is currently unnecessary for human survival, and therefore avoidable. Although society is more removed from the killing of mammal livestock, which are killed in slaughterhouses and factory farms instead of in people’s kitchens as lobsters are, the former death is not more justifiable or any less cruel than the latter. Due to the way cows, pigs, and chickens are killed and sold, it is easier for people to eat these animals “without having to consider that they were once conscious, sentient creatures to whom horrible things were done” (62).

In conclusion, pain is a complex experience involving a neurological component as well as a subjective component, which is manifested externally through behaviors indicating extreme discomfort and a clear desire to avoid the painful stimulus (63). The subjective experience and feeling of pain is unique to every individual, whether it be an animal or a human, and is a critical determinant of sentience. As a general premise, killing animals for human consumption is morally unjustified because they are subjected to unnecessary, avoidable pain and suffering, whether that be in a factory farm, a slaughterhouse, or in a pot of boiling water. Furthermore, given that the reasons humans have for consuming animals are primarily selfish in nature (63), humans continuing to kill animals for consumption is not truly necessary, therefore it is unethical and unjustified.

Works Cited

Foster Wallace, David. “Consider the Lobster.” Gourmet, August 2004, pp. 50–64. 

- Athena Milios is a Greek-Canadian psychiatric researcher and writer based in Nova Scotia, Canada. She holds an undergraduate Degree in Medical Science and a Master’s in Psychiatry Research, both from Dalhousie University. She is passionate about psychology and mental health. Athena has been living with mental illness since the age of fifteen. She strongly advocates for mental health in her community. She is the author of several psychiatric publications as well as some creative writing pieces, including poetry and short stories.

Copyright©2021 by Athena Milios. All Rights Reserved.