When the trees are gone the sky will fall
Much suffering we bring upon ourselves, our families, communities and other animals wild and domesticated when we are not mindful of the consequences of our actions and of our selfishness, indifference, rationalization and denial. We are challenged to live as harmlessly as possible in a culture of consumerism where life is treated as a commodity along with Nature’s resources. We are all challenged by the dire consequences of overpopulation, the energy crisis and its linkage with climate change and pollution, exacerbated by various industrial activities, agriculture in particular, and by declining food, water and air quality and accelerating loss of biological and cultural diversity and ethical sensibility.
While natural disasters, many aggravated by various human activities, along with famine and pestilence, take their toll, we humans and other species with whom we share the Earth as members of one life-community, will continue to be victims in this quantum field of human-caused suffering from generation to generation. That is until we put compassion into action and venerate all living beings, plant and animal, who express and sustain the life and beauty of our planet home. Their well-being is integral to our own in body, mind and spirit. As my wife Deanna Krantz contends, “When people do not suffer for the Earth and for the animals, and concern does not translate into compassionate action, there is no hope.”
Some people unwittingly, but many very deliberately, harm the spirits of other beings in the process of ‘domesticating’ ( animals) and of ‘civilizing’ ( children).The liberation of both from the shackles of mindless conformity and from the spiritual and physical deformities so evident when sentient beings are crippled by becoming disconnected from their true natures and innate potential, should be the concern of all humanitarians; from educational reformists to health care professionals and animal doctors and scientists.
What is normative within these and related professional circles of the dominant culture may be seen as abnormal, pathogenic, from a more impartial, ‘feral’ or uncivilized perspective that is liberated from the value and belief-based conventions and consensus of cultural distortions of perception and ethics. That organized veterinary medicine has never confronted the scientifically (ethologically) documented inherent cruelties of factory farms (CAFOs or concentrated animal feeding operations) is one example of the pathogenic consequences of consensus acceptance of such mistreatment as normative. To me as a veterinarian this is a moral injury.
The increasingly recognized condition of moral injury needs to be cast in a broader perspective to include those harmed by a dominant culture that is destroying native lands, which are held sacred by many, as well as the culture and sustainable economies of indigenous peoples. Moral injury is inflicted on people who have a particular affinity for or kinship with any particular species, plant or animal, and natural habitats that are being destroyed as a community or caused to suffer needlessly by the dominant culture’s profit-driven acceptance of industrial and commercial activities from virtually unregulated logging, mining and fracking to sport/trophy hunting, the commercial fur trade and international whaling and ivory industries.
Human survival and the fate of the Earth may now be more dependent than ever upon our prescience than on scientific solutions and better technologies. But if we are to have any degree of prescience we must be prepared to suffer the future. This visionary human capacity arises from our concerns for the well-being of others, human and non-human; for the sufferings and harmful consequences of our inhumanity including the moral injuries to those who are witness to and inexorably bound to systems of exploitation and unable to prevent cruelty in all its myriad forms that the human species continues to bring upon itself and other sentient beings along with destruction of the natural world
Human nature is not likely to evolve soon enough for our own good and for the good of the planet so long as anthropocentrism (human-centeredness) prevails. This state of mind will only change when it is realized that it is enlightened self-interest not to put people first. The nascent One Health movement sees the integration of public health, animal rights and health and environmental health as the way to improving the human condition for generations to come. This means that equal consideration must be given to human rights, animal rights and environmental ethics/eco-justice, applying sound science, reason and bioethics to help heal and restore the life community.
Dr. Alan Wittbecker observes in his book One Earth Many Worlds, “The vivisection of the world depletes our ability to feel compassion for it. We are destroying the voices of existence.” The desecration of planet Earth by the destructive activities and appetites of Homo sapiens, compounded by invasive species and genetically modified organisms, is causing irreparable harm to ecosystems terrestrial and aquatic. This has created a quantum field of dis-ease, suffering and extinctions from which we have questionable immunity but unquestionable responsibility to rectify for our own good which is inseparable from the greater good of all planetary life.
The Earth will be more secure when there is a critical mass of public concern and initiative to give revolutionary momentum to our evolutionary path from becoming a planetary parasitic infestation that is poisoning the Earth and altering its metabolism with catastrophic climatic consequences, to flourish as responsible, creative and compassion- guided planetary citizens. All children would be educated and inspired by example to respect and treat all living beings as original blessings, as feeling-beings ( rats can empathize) who have an equal place in the web of life, some as companions, healers, teachers, and many others as co-creators, helping maintain a healthy environment for us all. Such sensitive regard is the foundation for bioethical sensibility. This is the flame of enlightened self-interest to guide a sane and civil society toward a more viable future, for when we demean or harm animals or the environment we do no less to ourselves.
When the fires of conscience and compassion are ignited by the spark of truth illuming the reality of animal suffering and environmental desecration around the world which we humans cause, we may begin to see how we harm ourselves in the process and begin to heal all our relationships for our own good and for the good of all. Evolve or perish!
Poet Emily Dickinson wrote:
“Tell the Truth
But tell is slant—
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind.”
But time and life for the animals and for billions of our own kind are running out, and being blind to the Truth is a choice no sane society, viable community or truly civilized world can afford if the nemesis of non-sustainable population and market economy growth is to be averted. For the rule of law and justice to prevail, politics, commerce and industries must all be in accord with the public will to respect and protect the rights of all members of the Earth community, both the human and the non-human. The greater good for the good of all may be then better served.
From a bioethical and metaphysical perspective, it is evident that the life and beauty of the Earth cannot blossom, nor heal itself, when the co-inhering empathetic resonances of atomic, molecular, genetic and conscious, sentient and sapient elements of manifest reality are disrupted and harmed by human activities. At the human level of symbiotic co-evolution, (symbiogenesis), the ‘spiritual’ element of loving kindness motivated by respect for all life is the integrative element for our continued evolution and adaptation, and in its absence, to our devolution and demise.
The mythic quest for infinite economic growth and the reality of an ever-increasing population have combined to trigger and accelerate climate change and the annihilation of the Earth’s biodiversity and metabolic, ecologic and other natural systems and processes. Yet it is precisely and only upon the functional integrity and interdependence of these natural, organic systems and our consonance with them that the health of our economy and species are secured.
My colleague the late Dr. Barry Commoner, who invited me to join the Center for the Biology of Natural Systems while I was at Washington University St. Louis as a tenured professor of psychology in the late 1960’s, sought to make this symbiotic consonance a reality.
One of Commoner’s lasting legacies is his four laws of ecology, as written in The Closing Circle in 1971. The four laws are:
When our politics and economics, health care, education, agriculture and all other commercial and industrial activities are designed to be integrated mindfully in concord with natural organic systems, we may yet save us from ourselves and the nemesis of socio-economic and ecological collapse. Responsible self-governance in harmony with natural systems is a keystone bioethical principle for a viable future. “At present we are stealing the future, selling it in the present, and calling it gross domestic product. We can just as easily have an economy that is based on healing the future instead of stealing it. We can either create assets for the future or take the assets of the future. One is called restoration and the other exploitation. And whenever we exploit the earth we exploit people and cause untold suffering. Working for the earth is not a way to get rich, it is a way to be rich.”—Paul Hawken, Theoretical physicist.
[ The term bioethics was first used by Van Rensellaer Potter, MD, in 1971 in his book Bioethics, Bridge to the Future, Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall. See also his 1988 book Global Bioethics: Building on the Leopold Legacy, East Lansing: Michigan State University Press. For further reading, see my book Bringing Life to Ethics: Global Bioethics for a Humane Society (2001). Albany: State University of New York Press. Commoner, Barry. The Closing Circle: Man, Nature and Technology. New York, Knopf, 1971]
The road to peace and the end of terrorism converges with the road to the end of our terrorizing animals. The end will be reached with a radical shift on our collective consciousness and conscience. Our children and the non-human ones whom we unjustly exploit for pleasure and profit, will no longer be victims of terrorism, systemic terrorization, crippling injuries and slaughter while being exploited and their plight ignored by the corrupted politics of profit and pleasure.
This radical, transformative shift means what Dr. Albert Schweitzer called living in “Reverence for all life.” This is indeed a challenge, but one that calls on all of us to achieve and connect deeply the plight of our own children around the world to those of all other species, plant and animal, who contribute more to the life and beauty and functional integrity of planet Earth than we.
To not make this shift, which translates into addressing the best interests and first priorities of civil society and the Earth community, and instead either ignore the tragedy of reality and our responsibilities, or focus just on our children while neglecting those of other species, will simply worsen the state of the world. It will make the future ever more bleak for the health and well-being our children’s children and those of other species whose inherent rights and intrinsic and ecological value the judicial system have yet to be fully acknowledged. Animals are treated as commodities, objects of property and commerce. Such objectivism, which dehumanizes our relationships with each other fosters the delusion of separateness (but no man is an island), and also the hubris of superiority and control. Science runs the risk here, like religion before it, of committing such hubris especially when the ends justify the means as with interrogative human torture, invasive animal experimentation and indiscriminate and cruel methods of pest and animal control. The corporate sector, with its control of state and federal legislators and long history of ecological terrorism and of terrorizing animals, has succeed in establishing laws to protect the status quo and shield the livestock and other animal industries from public scrutiny and accountability.
We need better laws and effective enforcement and justice for all beings. While we strive to end the child sex trade, organ trafficking, female genital mutilation and disenfranchisement of indigenous peoples (genocide) the end of other forms of terrorizing and harming the children of other species, including whaling, trophy hunting, fur trapping, bull fighting, and dog fights, along with puppy breeding mills, factory farms, commercial laboratory animal testing, wildlife poaching, trafficking, trade and habitat destruction (ecocide) must also be addressed nationally and internationally. Progress on one front (the human) will not succeed without progress on the other front— animals and the environment— because respect for life is a boundless ethic. It must be absolute, or it is not at all. Our indebtedness to all life on Earth that helps sustain our own calls for trans-species egalitarianism and accepting the moral duty of responsible care for the health and well-being of that Earth community of which our own is an interdependent part.
[For further reading on this subject, see the author’s book Animals & Nature First (2014) CreateSpace publ., Amazon.com].
As an evolving species we humans are in the Anthropocene age, which began with the ability to make fire (then to develop pyrotechnologies), followed by selective breeding of plants for cultivation and consumption and the domestication of a few animal species. Soon after, with the dawn of science, came the fossil-fuel-based industrial and petrochemical era. We are now in the information era of biotechnology and global trade and consumption for an ever expanding population. Overpopulation and overconsumption, along with pestilence, poverty and hunger, threaten to bring not only more wars, turmoil and suffering but also the economic and ecological collapse of what the late Fr. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin called the “hominization” of planet Earth.
The apocalyptic consequences which we are witness to today include climate change, ocean acidification, deforestation, loss of biodiversity with accelerating extinction of wild plant and animal species and their Earth- sustaining and rejuvenating terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. Awakening to these anthropogenic (human-caused) concerns, which affect our health, security and quality of life, is giving birth to what my friend the late Fr. Thomas Berry called the ecozoic: The era of ecological/environmental awareness and responsibility which transcends the prior human-centered world view with active planetary CPR—urgently needed conservation, preservation and restoration.
The heart of this redeeming era, which some see as vital to our specie’s future well-being if not also survival, is in bioethics. Bioethics essentially expands the empathic and egalitarian principle of the Golden Rule to embrace all sentient beings, plant and animal, wild and domestic. It is enlightened self-interest to do so, as the One Health movement, which connects animal and environmental health with human health and well-being is advocating.
Form a One Health perspective no sane society can continue to justify violating this Golden Rule in its treatment of animals raised for human consumption in cruel factory farms across the Americas and most of the “civilized” world. In these so called “CAFOs”—concentrated animal feeding operations— which cause serious ground water and air pollution and are a major contributor to climate change and loss of biodiversity. Good soils, wildlife and their habitats and precious fresh water are sacrificed to produce the feed for these animals: Feed increasingly from impoverished, plant-nutrient-deficient and petrochemical-saturated soils and genetically engineered, insecticide-producing, herbicide-contaminated crops.
The animals are stressed by extreme confinement in overcrowded conditions that cause suffering and stress-promoting disease. Some of their diseases, many brought on by stress affect consumers who are also put at risk by the antibiotics and other drugs used to prevent and treat animal diseases and to boost productivity/profits.
Millions of animals live under the constant torment of having no relief, escape or diversion from the hyperstimulation of being crowded together in cages and pens or crated or tethered and deprived of any control over their immediate environment and of freedom to express normal behaviors.. Then they fall victim to live transportation to mass slaughter processing plants. Their cries of pain and terror are natural signals of distress which have evolved because they are socially and emotionally conscious and responsive beings. To treat then without regard for this high degree of reciprocal sentient awareness (which ethologists and other scientists have researched and documented) is the industrial norm: Farmed animals, (like animals exploited in other contexts) are seen as property, objects of possession, mere commodities. Such “objectivism” is the objectionable product of anthropocentrism and is its nemesis. Objectivity is impartiality, a virtue and the antithesis of objectivism which is the separation of empathy and compassion from perception and action.
The net results of objectivism include dehumanization, inhumane exploitation of other sentient beings who are more similar to us than different affectively and cognitively, abuse and waste of natural resources and dysbiosis: ecological dysfunction. This extends from the decimation of wildlife habitat and biodiversity to the microbiome of our own digestive systems. The health of this bacterial “garden of internal health” which helps nourish our bodies and protect us from disease, depends in large measure on what we consume and feed to the animals under our care. This recognition is a first significant cognitive leap into the ecozoic era, where ecological awareness translates into bioethically directed and inspired behavior.
With their control of state and federal legislators, corporations, guilty of ecological terrorism and of terrorizing animals, have succeeded in securing laws that can mean those who decry such acts of violence could be prosecuted as terrorists and a threat to national security.
The links between humane and organic farmers, the One Health movement and informed consumers give me some hope, while the main-stream livestock and poultry industries continue to defend the status quo, along with their legislators who provide them subsidies and price supports. Opposition to the enactment and enforcement of farmed animal welfare and environmental protection laws and resisting the adoption of more humane and ecologically sound animal husbandry practices call for public opposition in the market place where concerned consumers vote with their dollars and sense of responsibility and compassion as well as for their own health. It is no coincidence that the highest cancer rates are in those who farm and harm the land and the animals.
[For more details see M.W.Fox Inhumane Society: The American Way of Exploiting Animals (1990) New York St Martin’s Press].
We are not the only animals on Earth who dream, have memories, engage in greeting and other social rituals, have displays of affection and pleasure and participate in often elaborate and exuberant games. Some species seek to become inebriated by consuming fermented fruits and certain herbs, medicate themselves when sick and empathically help each other when injured or ill. They mourn when a close-one dies, their grief indicative of a deep affection shared. Some will die from depression following such loss or when separated and held captive. Just as tender care can help restore a person’s will to live and facilitate recovery from trauma or illness, so it is with animals when their recovery is not hampered by extreme pain and fear. Trust, fidelity, protectiveness and altruistic, heroic self-sacrifice are virtues seen in species other than human, notably in wolves whom people have persecuted relentlessly for generations and in Asian elephants who have been enslaved for centuries.
The design and functional sophistication of woven nests, communal hives and other creations of some species often rival the finest of human art and architecture. In their ritualized displays, instinct-choreographed movements, songs and scents, various species find their esthetic and pleasurable equivalents of what we enjoy in theatre, dance, music and perfumery.
While we do not yet know if other animals have any sensibility of what we may call the spiritual, many species show attributes of moral awareness and sense of fair play. Clearly they are none the less conscious beings like we experiencing life in human form as they do in other forms. They enable our spiritual and ethical sensibilities to expand and embrace them in awe and gratitude. They not only enrich our lives in countless ways but also contribute to the greater good of society and the natural environment, wild species helping maintain the health of ecosystems and domesticated species serving our emotional, commercial and other needs and desires.
As we contemplate the rich diversity of animal and plant life on planet Earth we cannot deny the miracle of such creation which some regard as sacred. In accepting that we too are part of that creation and that animals are more similar to us in countless ways than they are different, regardless of their outer physical appearance, we may yet evolve into a more compassionate species and see an end to all forms of cruel and unnecessary forms of animal exploitation, cruelty and abuse.
[For further reading, see my book The Boundless Circle: Caring for Creatures and Creation.(1996) Quest Books, Wheaton IL]
Let us embrace our gift of life and then give more than we take to live in balance and harmony in a world of takers so that our legacy honors who we were and all whom we embraced.
In our respecting and protecting other sentient beings we elevate our own. In our loving concern we affirm the sanctity of life including the lives of those who are demeaned and exploited by those of our own kind who bring ever more suffering and chaos into the world which they justify in the name of progress and necessity.
We and all living beings are interconnected, interdependent and interrelated in the co-evolving matrix of the earth community, which, as my friend the late Fr. Thomas Berry asserted, is “not a collection of objects but a communion of subjects”.
When we disrupt these connections, which some call sacred, just as when we harm other interdependent life forms in this community, we ultimately harm ourselves, setting in motion processes of devolution and dis-ease.
Beyond all that may cause despair and hopelessness and make us rage against the dying of the light, the illuming power of compassion in action is our gift to redeem humankind, recover our sanity and purpose in life and heal the Earth and all our relations.