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Human’s loving and killing of other animals

“On 25th October, the cultural anthropologist and philosopher Ton Lemaire held a lecture on his recently published book ‘Onder dieren’ (Among animals), wherein he advocates a growing respect for animals and the abolition of the bio-industry. The lecture was completely sold out, and everyone listened attentively and curiously to Lemaire’s reflections on the relation between humans and other animals – a topic, which seemingly unites people across the generations as proven by the intergenerative audience. Lemaire, once a Professor of Cultural Philosophy at Radboud University, migrated years ago as an ecological refugee to France in order to live in a closer relationship with animals and nature.”

Animals in our society: serviceable function vs. protected subjects

Animals play a huge role in our society. We hold them as pets; we consume their milk or their meat. Opposed to that serviceable function of animals in our society, Lemaire also mentioned the tendency of a new awareness for animals and nature. People start realizing that the problems connected to the instrumental usage of animals and nature, like the massive extinction of biodiversity are serious. Animal rights are strengthened, and the resistance against the matter of course of animal experiments, hunting, and eating meat increases.

Human image of animals and its tradition

“What does the relation between humans and other animals reveal about our human self-image?” Lemaire stated that if our image of animals changes, our self-image necessarily changes as well. They are connected. In the Judeo-Christian tradition humans were seen as the crown on creation, made in the image and likeness of God. Humans were superior to animals, and were therefore allowed to rule over them. Making use of animals’ labour or meat for their purposes was permissible. The superiority of humans over animals was also argued for by the Greco-Roman tradition, since only humans possess logos/ratio, which means reason, language and apprehension. These traditions had great impact on our self-image and still affect our everyday practice with animals. According to Lemaire, every argument for a distinction between humans and other animals is based on these traditional roots.

The fundament slowly begins to crumble

According to Lemaire, the discovery of the theory of evolution by means of natural selection has been of decisive relevance. We humans originate from the animal realm. Thus, a fundamental distinction between humans and other animals does not exist. From ethological inquiries on animal’s behaviour in their free, natural environment we have learned that our closest relatives, chimpanzees, are able to construct tools, which hints at animal culture. They are also able to recognize themselves in a mirror, which hints at a form of self-consciousness. They moreover are able to feign, mourn and have a sense of death. Furthermore, Lemaire argued that philosophical anthropology also has contributed to a decentralisation of humans. In that discipline it is common to define man as a ‘Mängelwesen’ – a creature that fundamentally lacks something. This lack was compensated by culture, so that humans were naturally forced to be cultural. As a consequence, humans were deprived of their superior position. Both, ethology and philosophical anthropology undermined the traditional anthropocentrism, which arrogantly overrated the human being.

Completing Humanism

According to Lemaire, we will have to ‘complete’ humanism by overcoming anthropocentrism. He argued as follows: Humanism exhibits a blind spot, namely animals. In Western history, we overcame different kinds of centrism, like ethnocentrism or viricentrism. Rights were given to formerly oppressed beings such as slaves or women, whereby we set an end to barbarism and realized the value of every human. In order to complete humanism and the history of emancipation, we need to broaden our moral horizon by becoming aware of our kinship with other animals. As a result, we will be able to recognize animals as individuals, rather than as things.

Three classes of animals

Our dealing with animals is characterized by a human cognitive dissonance: we humanize animals and reify them; we love animals and kill them, or better said – let them be killed for their meat. Lemaire illustrated this with a distinction between three positions of animals in our society: Wild animals are barely able to find a place to live and are frequently threatened with extinction because of human impact on nature. Pets are the humanized elite of animals, while livestock is the reified ‘proletariat’. Thereby, Lemaire observed that the massive production of livestock is interwoven with our entire capitalist system. Industry, technology, chemistry, pharmacy and banking created a bio-industry. The whole process of production and massive slaughter is banned behind the scenes, so that the daily carnage goes on with efficiency and profit as the highest values.

The misfortune of being born as an animal

Animals did not do anything wrong; they just had the misfortune of being born as animals under the control of humans. For this reason, Lemaire demanded the overcoming of anthropocentrism and end of the bio-industry. His main argument was the enlightened self-interest; the collateral damage caused by the bio-industry is just too huge with global warming, erosion, wastage of natural resources as water, deforestation, CO2 emission, the threat of hormones and antibiotics in meat as unwelcome side effects In addition to rational arguments, Lemaire appealed to emotions. We should be convinced by our transposition into the anxiety of an animal that is about to be slaughtered. Our ability to have empathy and compassion has evolutionary roots and is shared with other animals. By looking into the eyes of an animal, we realize the animal’s individuality. With the help of empathy and compassion, we should abolish the barbaric abuse of other animals by extending humanism to humanimalism, including all living beings in our moral ties.

Completion of civilisation and moralisation

Lemaire concluded that biology showcased our shared roots and kinship with other animals. For a necessary change we do not only need scientific theories, but also practical empathy and compassion with other animals. This, in order to defeat the bio-industrial complex with its dictatorship of closed up, technical and industrial rationality. Real wisdom manifests itself in the sympathy and respect for the Earth and all living beings inhabiting it.

This report was written by Valérie Klöpper, as part of the Research Master Philosophy of the Radboud University.