Two days ago we responded to a post on Treehugger titled “Is genetically engineering animals to not feel pain really the solution to factory farming?” Treehugger in turn was responding to an op-ed piece in the New York Times. Our response both here on Animal Architecture and on Treehugger was focused mostly around the erroneous relationship to pain and suffering assumed by Mr. Shriver. But, now that we think about it, there’s quite a lot more to say.
What caught our ear first was actually a quote from Treehugger’s Matthew McDermott…
Last week the New York Times ran an op-ed piece by PhD-to-be philosopher-neuroscientist-psychologist Adam Shriver, from Washington University in St Louis, that really cuts to the heart of one of the deepest issues in the green movement: How does humanity best relate to the other animals on the planet?
The deepest issue in the green movement. I just want to let that sink in for a second. Hopefully anyone who’s been reading Animal Architecture will see that we feel it’s absolutely true — truer than Treehugger might ever have guessed…
Firstly we feel that how we relate to our animal companions is the most important issue to face humanity at large, not just those worried about the green movement. But, more to the point, an improved relationship between humans and animals would (ideally) completely redefine the green movement and in the process render it pointless.
Let’s say for the moment that the best way to treat animals is with the same respect and attention with which we treat human life (though I can’t say with much confidence that this is ideal…but you get the idea) and that an ideal “relationship” with animals is that we humans would not see ourselves as different, distinct or outside of the rest of the living world. These are lofty goals for sure, but I think a Treehugger audience would agree with them.
The catch here is that such an arrangement makes it rather difficult to blame humans for how they’re treating the planet. Here’s the logic: If we’re all animals, then just as we might not blame locusts for devastating a crop field (I mean, we would be angry and blame them for the action but we wouldn’t view them as intentionally malicious or devious) or bacteria for giving us a cold, it might be argued that well, this way (the current way) of living is simply what the human species does. And for the most part we’re just like any other animal, greedily consuming everything around us regardless of future ramifications. It seems that the only difference is that we, now, feel bad about it (maybe this should be the empirical difference between man and beast. Only one species of animal is ashamed of its presence on the planet).Of course the hope is that somehow there would be a kind of balance stuck between all forms of life on the planet, but again, it’s hard to know what this would look like, and hard to say that it doesn’t already exist…
But…back to the “deepest issue in the green movement.” A situation where there is a responsible relationship between all animal species — where there is no guilt — would pretty much null and void the need for the “green movement.” We wouldn’t need low VOC paints, low E glass, and victimless meat. We’d have already adopted materials and patterns of life to effectively respond to the environment. Moreover none of these products would salve our environmental guilt since that too would already be assuaged by our new and improved living habits.
Our fear is that the green movement, like so many other movements, is geared towards solving problems with commodities rather than policy, ethics, and philosophy. Matthew McDermott, has indeed hit the nail on the head here. Our relationship to animals is THE central question to the green movement, as we argue here, it’s the central question of our time. Hopefully more people will come to see this question in its fullest light and to ask it in new and more provocative ways.
photo credit: W. Wegman