In the last 50 years or so, I have seen a gradual but definite fall in the levels of respect of humans for their own humanity. People seem to equate humanity with the animal kingdom, comparing us to greater apes with an opposable thumb, seeing our more bestial side (wars, genocide, suicide bombings, etc. have made this only too easy), and –with the rise of reality TV, there is now an open theatre for humanity’s stupidity, ignorance and vanity which gives credence to the theory that we humans are just another form of animal. What people forget to see is the good, thoughtful, nurturing side of their fellow humans, the part of us that is uniquely able to reason and to change our environment, and so they do not take into account the dignity of being Human. Whether one takes the view that humans have inherent dignity because it is God-given, or because of our innate ability for creativity, morality, justice and self-knowledge, it is plain that humans ARE different from animals. Yes, we share their physiology, we can be classed as mammals, but to me this shows only that we have a common creator, not that we belong to the Animal world. The difference between even the smartest chimpanzee and the dumbest 3rd grader is even greater than the difference between that chimpanzee and an amoeba.
While I sympathize with animal rights activists, I can also see the harm their work is capable of—yes, it is sad that rats and monkeys must be afflicted with diseases and experimented upon, however, if that experimentation saves the lives of our children, that makes the necessity a moot point. Activists tend to emphasize the likenesses between ourselves and the animal kingdom as a way of promoting sympathy for their own cause, which is, essentially, a good one—nothing shows the dignity and intelligence of a man or woman like the way in which they treat animals and even their fellow humans. If someone is cruel to an animal, or to another human, especially those who are helpless, such as children, the elderly or the disabled, it will lower them in the estimation of their fellows. However, it is a failure of those activists that they often equate the value of animals and humans, and in doing so make us all doubt our own specialness.
When an animal looks up at the sky, it does not ponder the greatness of the universe, wonder about the composition of stars or see his own puniness in comparison to the infinity of space. Humans are unique in this aspect. A chimpanzee, when it uses a stick to dig ants out of a rotten log, indeed uses a tool, but that tool will never change—it will not become iron or bronze, or be improved mechanically or sold to make more tools. A male peacock, for all his gorgeous feathery display, does not think to improve the beauty of his surroundings, he simply shows himself for the benefit of finding a mate. A dog who uses his different tones of barks, growls and howls, does so to gain food, protect his space, or communicates his physical needs to his owner—he is not able to improve his growls into a song, compose music to howl by or write a novel to show how he feels about his environment and family; his verbal ability is extremely limited and has specific goals which will continue his existence and health. Improvements and innovations are the domain of humanity alone.
Another aspect of our two species is that an animal, other than moving to a new area of the woods or ocean, does not change his environment in any meaningful way—he remains trapped by his inabilities. Human kind can build a new house, design a better environment, if only by planting a garden, and can dream of better surroundings. Animals do not dream in the way of humans—they may reenact their daily activities during sleep—hunting, running, mating, fighting—but they do not have the complex psychological theatrics running through their brain that humans do. Our dreams, both as we sleep and as we daydream, can also cause major changes in our lives—to obtain a better job, find a new partner, live in a different country or develop latent skills and talents—our dreams, infinite and varied as they are, are both impetus for change and a catalyst which can transform our daily lives and perceptions.
It is to our credit as humans that we can even consider the ‘feelings’ of animals, that we can work to make their lives better or their time on earth more meaningful—to love an animal, to care for it, to empathize with it, is to bring that animal into a higher state of being: Love changes. Animals can develop deep attachments to those humans who are kind, who actually care about them, and, I believe, in doing so, they lift themselves from the animal group soul to a higher place—interacting with humans can be a way to improve both their own lives and the lives of those who love them. This is a great Gift. I have been asked over and over when a beloved pet dies if their owner will see them in the afterlife, and I always answer with a resounding YES—because in loving and attaching themselves to a particular human, those pets have risen above their simple daily survival mode and been transformed—they can move beyond incarnation from the animal group soul to abide with that beloved human. Our dignity as humans is only enhanced by the care and love with give to our animals.
We live in a world where our interactions with other humans and animals can both upgrade our own lives or bring them into brutal alliances where both are lowered by cruelty and exploitation. This capacity for true good or true evil is OUR unique Gift. We must learn to see the higher level where we exist as special position, apart from our physiological likeness to the animal world—a place where improvements to our species, our creativity and generosity, our awareness of Creation can better the lives of our fellow humans. We must accept that that innate dignity gives us a responsibility to use our differences wisely and well. Animals are trapped by their own instincts for survival but we humans can do much to make their lives and the lives of those around us, more satisfying—we cannot do this if we lower ourselves to the standards of the animal world—we can only improve and make innovations to this world through our own dignity and specialness as Humans.