Guest Opinion: All Earth’s creatures woven together
In the 55 years I’ve been working with animals, I’ve seen enormous changes in how we regard them, bending toward a much greater, more subtle and complex recognition of our commonalities. One surprising discovery after another rewards our setting aside assumptions and relying on careful observations. These support an expanding empathy for the beings with whom we share the Earth, our home.
What we’ve learned about learning and about the disproportionate power of reward over punishment when teaching any being is revolutionary in its impacts. When taught without violence or coercion, learners make quantum leaps in achievement, while bonds between teachers and learners are strengthened and made both more fruitful and more pleasurable. The principles apply pretty much to all creatures, from bacteria to mammals.
Chief Seattle is said to have warned that exterminating the plants and animals would lead to our own extinction, from an isolation he called the long loneliness. Now that we’re finally, seriously making progress addressing the damage our profligate industrial practices inflict on the natural world, we find that taking these steps toward repairing the harm is an unexpectedly powerful antidote to despair. The whole world took heart when the Paris accords were confirmed.
So how did our country revert to such primitive behavior as electing a demagogue on a rage-driven path to repudiate everything the better angels of our nature have taught us to cherish? Why would people who have been hurt and betrayed by one system decide the way forward must embrace blame? And why vent their rage on the innocent Earth, closing their eyes to the distress signals of our only home in this universe?
We primates are impatient, quick-tempered and prone to violence when in the throes of rage or frustration. We can be vindictive for long afterward, cherishing grievances. But every human culture contains mechanisms for reconciliation and restoring normal relations, whose templates also reside in our DNA. With such a broad repertoire of conflict-resolving strategies at our disposal, why did we choose this terrible backward leap?
Well, we are the most lethal of the primate species known to make war. Ours has done this before, nearly bringing about the apocalypse in the middle of the last century. One of the most acute thinkers, Hannah Arendt, wrote after long reflection and direct experience of the Nazi era, “Totalitarian solutions may well survive the fall of totalitarian regimes in the form of strong temptations which will come up whenever it seems impossible to alleviate political, social or economic misery in a manner worthy of man.”
The rule of law, which is grounded in respect for verifiable evidence, can be turned on its head if only lawmakers are persuaded it’s “necessary.” So, the agribusiness response to demands that livestock be treated humanely under existing law is to lobby for and pass “ag-gag” laws, under which violators of animal cruelty laws are not punished, but whoever gathers the evidence to expose their crimes will be.
We’ve connected enough of the dots to see the emerging picture. Sciences, on their separate quests, keep illuminating the great truth of all spiritual traditions: that we are one. It’s futile to pretend we can save one species — our own — by sacrificing one after another of our fellows. Sad and terrifying as it is to see so many of our countrymen under this delusion, it may stiffen our resolve to move in the direction of regeneration and solidarity.
All the outrage and resentment vented in this campaign, against inequality, unfairness, corruption and undeserved suffering demand acknowledgment and response. But surely nothing is gained by indulging in a cataclysmic tantrum that jeopardizes the entire living world. Wherever this whirlwind we’ve unleashed finally drops us, I hope we still have some non-human companions with us. And I hope we have learned enough humility to strive to deserve their company. Death by loneliness might be the worst of fates we could bring upon ourselves.
Laurie Raymond owns High Tails Dog & Cat Outfitters in Glenwood Springs. She writes a monthly column about animal companions that ordinarily appears on Community pages.
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