By: Paul Murano – May, 2010
My Fellow Talking Animals . . .
I am increasingly confronted with signs that remind me we have crossed the Rubicon, the threshold of sanity, and our only collective hope is a deep conversion of mind and heart. Every semester I take an informal poll in my college Ethics classes and each time I am jolted into recognizing a basic fundamental shift in thinking. The poll goes something like this:
Suppose you are driving down a narrow country road too fast on a rainy slippery night, and up ahead you see two objects. You quickly realize one is your pet dog (that you love) and the other is a stranger walking. You also realize you’re driving fast enough to kill them, and you must swerve your wheel to hit only one while saving the other. You’ve got several seconds to decide which way to swerve it: If you turn the wheel to the right you will kill your dog while sparing the stranger; if you turn it to the left you will save your dog and kill the stranger. No one would ever know what happened except for you. What do you do?
Almost invariably more than half of the students admit they would save their pet at the expense of the stranger. If it were a secret poll it would probably be even more than that. Curiously they all agree that if this poll were taken a generation or two ago it would have been lopsided in favor of the stranger. They realize this, but still choose to save the animal. The minority is often shocked, and after several years of doing this I should probably stop being surprised. But this is a serious problem: Why all of a sudden have animals become more popular than humans?
One reason I take this poll before we cover the topics of animal rights, abortion, and euthanasia among others is to let the students see for themselves how far our society has moved from respecting the sacredness of human life to viewing ourselves as equals with other animals. As the value of animals has ascended the value of human life has diminished; as we personalize animals we animalize persons. Speciesism is now part of the educational lexicon, supported by many professors and activists. Soon you may not only fear being called the regulars of racist or sexist, but also speciesist.
Well, I’ll say it right here and now: I am a proud speciesist. I still recognize that the human person is made in the divine image with the spiritual faculties of intellect and will within a soul that can survive bodily death. I still hold that, while we should never needlessly inflict pain on any creature, animals may be ethically used for our benefit. Today I ate one, I am wearing part of one around my waist, I cohorted with an enslaved one (a pet), and I wouldn’t mind experimenting on one if it could help find a cure for cancer. One day such a statement might keep someone from being employed.
I was again confronted with this topic last night from one of my agnostic friends that I debate regularly on facebook. After telling him that as a human being he is a unique and unrepeatable creature of infinite value that would have left a gaping hole in the universe had he not existed or had been aborted before birth, he came back at me with this, verbatim:
“I see human beings as another species on this planet, with no more intrinsic value than any other. That’s not to say I don’t value life, but I find films of slaughterhouses just as disturbing as films of later stage abortions”
He was very serious, and so are my students. Underneath the surface we can see that we live in fragile, if not scary, times. When we stopped seeing humans as intrinsically good with infinite worth, not only for what they can do but in who they are, we lost our sense of identity. We became simply walking, talking animals that happen to be at the top of the food chain; and who discriminate against other species’ because of the thickness of their fur. We became the white male of the animal kingdom. Animals are good, and there may be no greater dog-lover than me, but if we lose sight of our dignity as special and unique creatures on earth we will inevitably treat ourselves and each other like animals, as objects to be used rather than persons to be loved.
Paul Murano taught theology and philosophy at Assumption College and Northshore Com. College. He is also a co-host of The Paying Attention! radio program on WCAP and Host “Beneath the Surface” on Burlington Cable Access. You can E-mail Paul at PJDM@aol.com