coromandal


The difference between man and animal is one of degree and not of kind

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Image: Henri Rousseau

I walked into the bathroom to see what my dad was doing. He was drowning Pixie’s pups because no one in Visag would take them. They looked  up desperately through the clear water and bubbles. He set their limp bodies aside and later buried them in the yard. This was wrong, but I had almost no emotion. My dad was so assured of the issue of animals and I believed him. We ate meat at meals and we were taught that animals are dumb, and the people who worship them, Hindus, were wrong to do so. Pixie herself, who I still love after all these years, was euthanized and buried in the yard when we left the country.

I put out traps in my apartment during the winter when the mice come in and start to bother me. This was before I found out there are more humanitarian ways of getting rid of them – moth balls work, they hate the smell. Once, I found a mouse caught in a trap behind the TV and he was still alive and terrified. The wire had pinched his lower body but not the vital organs. I worried how long he had been there. I picked him up and filled a bucket as my dad had done and drowned him. The same thing happened: he looked up at me as he expelled his last breath. I was more emotional; I believed the assurances of my father less and felt the pain of the mouse more.

Darwin said humans are different from animals ‘in degree not kind;’ significant difference but fully related. And since he said it, we have basically believed the opposite, that animals are completely different and fully inferior. We believed the opposite so we could conquer and use animals and not feel bad about it. We did the same with slaves, they were mere chattel.

What inconvenience would result, and what new world emerge, if we began to think as Darwin did? A recognition in the eyes of a mouse his short life is ending with regret, longing and pain. The extension of the human condition to include the animal kingdom. As Barnes says below, a revolution in how we live and organize the planet – or allow it to organize us.

Carl Safina, a professor of nature and humanity at Stony Brook University, New York, wrote:

“Suggesting that other animals can feel anything wasn’t just a conversation stopper; it was a career killer. In 1992, readers of the exclusive journal Science were warned by one academic writer that studying animal perceptions ‘isn’t a project I’d recommend to anyone without tenure’.”

It is odd that scientists, who claim to work only from data, and philosophers, who, like Wittgenstein, might speculate without anything as sordid as data but still love a good bit of logic, operate on the certainty that, while all placental mammals are put together in the same way physiologically, one of them is somehow completely different from all the other 4,000-odd – so different that we don’t even need evidence to prove it. Are we talking about the soul here? I ask only for information.

Throughout the years, people have sought to isolate and identify humanity’s USP, and every time they have done so, they discover that some animal – some non-human animal – has it, too. All the barriers we have erected between ourselves and other animals turn out to be frail and porous: emotion, thought, problem-solving, tool use, culture, an understanding of death, an awareness of the self, consciousness, language, syntax, sport, mercy, magnanimity, individuality, names, personality, reason, planning, insight, foresight, imagination, moral choice… even art, religion and jokes.

It’s all in Darwin, but we have spent getting on for two centuries ignoring or distorting the stuff he taught us. In The Descent of Man, he wrote: “The difference in mind between man and the higher animals, great as it is, certainly is one of degree and not of kind.” If you accept evolution by means of natural selection, that must be true.

Why, then, are humans so resistant to the idea? We can find the answer in human history. For many years it was important to uphold the notion of the moral and mental inferiority of non-white people, because without such a certainty colonialism and slavery would be immoral. And that would never do: they were so convenient.

To change our views on the uniqueness of human beings would require recalibrating 5,000 years or so of human thought, which would in turn require revolutionary changes in the way we live our lives and manage the planet we all live on.

And that would be highly inconvenient.

Simon Barnes, Why humans need to rethink their place in the animal kingdom: Books by Elena Passarello, Peter Wohlleben and Lucy Cooke explore our relationship with wildlife, The New Statesman



pati, pashu, pasha

Image result for Beautiful Photos of Lord Shiva

Shiva’s flock is all living beings: gods, animal, human. Each of the three differ by role and level (in a hierarchy) but aspects of each are evident in each of the other two.

Pati are people in which the god element predominates. Pashu are people in which the animal element predominates. Pasha is the bond that connects all living things.

Pasha is the natural divine law to which all other human laws and conventions must bend. All morality hinges on the pasha which is the bond between god, human, animal and vegetable species.

Wherever the Shiva Dionysus cult spread the pasha respect for the animal and vegetable worlds can be seen.

“Rudra lives in forests and jungles. He is called Pashupati, Lord of the wild beasts.” (Shatapatha Brahmana, XII, 7, 3, 20.) Shiva’s flock comprises all living beings, including man. The difference between beasts, men and gods is only one of role and level in a continuous hierarchy. The various aspects of being are present in varying degrees in all forms of existence. No god is without animality, no animal without humanity, no man without a part of divinity. Three components are distinguishable in all men: pati, pashu and pasha. Those in whom the pati (master) element is dominant are the wise, who are close to the gods, understand the rules of divine activity and creation, and take part in it. Men in whom the animal element predominates are called pashu (cattle). The abstract element, pasha (bond or snare), expresses the unity and interdependence off all forms of life. Pasha, the bond is the body of laws connecting the various elements of matter and living being bound up in creation.

There is no morality other than that of respecting the pasha, or bond, meaning the interdependence of the animal world, the divine and ourselves, and of realizing the place we occupy in the overall plan of the divine work, the affinities which bind us to the animal and vegetable species and the responsibilities which are implicated thereby. Pasha may be defined as the natural law, which is divine law. All other moral law is only social convention, which can have no value on a universal level. All true morality must confirm to these basic laws on which creation is founded. Social conventions established by human laws have nothing to do with religion. Wherever the influence of the Shiva-Dionysus cult has spread, great importance is given to the animal and vegetable world. The aspect of religious history seems often to have escaped the modern scholars of the ancient world.

Gods of Love and Esctasy, The Traditions of Shiva and Dionysus, Alain Danielou



the wild, barely articulate being of clouds

The profit, progress, accumulation, growth, tech, market, oil ideology is old and doesn’t give us meaning. The instinct for meaning is strong and will circumvent this old idea. But then we will need a new language and a new way of seeing to make a new world: to look through the eyes of the ‘other,’: human, animal, vegetable, mineral; the eyes of birds, the being of clouds, seas, rocks, stars:

Yet it’s at just this moment of crisis that our human drive to make meaning reappears as our only salvation … if we’re willing to reflect consciously on the ways we make life meaningful — on how we decide what is good, what our goals are, what’s worth living or dying for, and what we do every day, day to day, and how we do it. Because if it’s true that we make our lives meaningful ourselves and not through revealed wisdom handed down by God or the Market or History, then it’s also true that we hold within ourselves the power to change our lives — wholly, utterly — by changing what our lives mean. Our drive to make meaning is more powerful than oil, the atom, and the market, and it’s up to us to harness that power to secure the future of the human species.

We can’t do it by clinging to the progressivist, profit-seeking, technology-can-fix-it ideology of fossil-fueled capitalism. We can’t do it by trying to control the future. We need to learn to let our current civilization die, to accept our mortality and practice humility. We need to work together to transform a global order of meaning focused on accumulation into a new order of meaning that knows the value of limits, transience and restraint.

Most important, we need to give up defending and protecting our truth, our perspective, our Western values, and understand that truth is found not in one perspective but in their multiplication, not in one point of view but in the aggregate, not in opposition but in the whole. We need to learn to see not just with Western eyes but with Islamic eyes and Inuit eyes, not just with human eyes but with golden-cheeked warbler eyes, coho salmon eyes, and polar bear eyes, and not even just with eyes at all but with the wild, barely articulate being of clouds and seas and rocks and trees and stars.

Opinionator, We’re Doomed, Now What? Roy Scranton