BOOKS: Animalkind

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, April 2010:

Animalkind by Jean Kazez
Wiley-Blackwell (111 River Street, Hoboken, NJ 07030), 2010.
216 pages, paperback. $24.95.

Immanuel Kant theorized in the Metaphysic of Morals that
practicing cruelty toward animals produces cruelty toward humans.
That was in 1785, and the same is still true, argues Jean Kazez in
Animalkind.
Animalkind blends philosophy, history, spirituality and
conjecture about our history with animals. Some of that history is
utterly cruel and appalling, but some appears to be misrepresented.


For example, according to Kazez, the Blackfoot tribe hunted
bison by “corralling them on the top of a cliff and then scaring them
into throwing themselves, en masse, off the edge.” This is a common
but erroneous folk explanation of Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump, near
Fort Macleod, Alberta, and similar archaeological sites, where
steep cliffs drop off suddenly along ancient bison migratory paths
toward water sources.
For about 5,500 years before the Plains tribes had horses and
could successfully follow bison herds, they lived near “buffalo
jumps” and scavenged bison who fell to their deaths in stampedes
toward the water. But either herding or corraling bison was well
beyond their technology, and is difficult even with the technology
of our time.
Kazez raises the religious aspect of animal suffering. If
God is all-loving, why does animal suffering exist? Four hundred
years after Rene Descartes theorized that animals are automatons
incapable of suffering, some philosophers still argue for the
Cartesian position, by now completely contrary to the findings of
science. Agribusiness would like the public to believe that animals
are immune to pain so they can continue factory farming without
protest or objection. But animals do feel pain and do suffer.
The Bible has been used to rationalize slavery,
discrimination against gays, and other aspects of the social order.
Did the Bible say humans shall eat and dominate animals? That
depends on how literally one interprets which translation of the
book. Genesis 1:28 is often taken to mean, “Rule over the fish of
the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that
moves on the ground.” Kazez, a vegetarian, considers whether that
includes serving animals for lunch. Prophets including Isaiah
believed animals were not to be eaten.
Animals had many philosopher friends both before and after
Kant. Kazez cites Jeremy Bentham, who wrote about animals, “The
question is not can they reason nor can they talk, but can they
suffer?”
Kazez weaves in contemporary viewpoints from writers and
scholars including Temple Grandin of Colorado State Univ-ersity,
Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert, and Tom Regan, author of The
Case for Animal Rights. Kazez wonders how we get past the cruelty
involved in the manufacture of our dogs’ food. So do I.
Kazez looks at the future. Humans have wiped out a number of
species already. Others are on the endangered list, but that does
not guarantee effective protection. In the developed world, affluent
interests try to weaken protections. Elsewhere protective measures
are often just ignored.
If global warming destroys vulnerable species’ habitat,
legally protecting the species may be academic anyhow. Few people
see the connection between meat consumption and climate change.
Convincing them it’s not propaganda is nearly impossible.
Kazez says we will be torn over animal and human rights
issues for years to come. Yes, we should become vegetarians. We
should respect animals because they are sentient beings. But what
about lab testing? Finding cures for diseases, including preventive
measures, presents real dilemmas, Kazez finds. She admits that she
does not have the answer to all of the relevant questions.
–Debra J. White

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