The most overlooked victory for animals of 2012
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, November/December 2012:
Dear Animal People,
The year 2012 has, like most years, brought the animal
movement gains on some fronts and losses on others.
Very noticeably, it brought more than the usual amount of
controversy among animal defenders over a proposed piece of federal
legislation which would attempt to regulate the caging of egg-laying
hens. Those in favor of the legislation made a good case for the
bill, and those against had rational reasons to oppose it becoming
law. But along with the facts came a great deal of confusion and
misinformation about what the bill would do and, most unfortunately,
there was impugning of motives on both sides.
What I can share with you after months of following the
debate, studying the bill, and asking numerous pointed questions
about the proposed law, is that while caged hens seem to be
considerably more comfortable in the colony caging that would be
phased in over a period of years than they are in the tiny battery
cages they are kept in by the egg industry today, it is not clear
that the law, if passed, would be amenable to further improvements
in hen welfare in the future. If a law sets into stone an improved
but still deficient standard for animals-rather than incrementally
advancing animal welfare in a way that leaves an opening for further
reform at some point in the future-then, long-term, the animals may
be better off without it.
Obstructing further progress for animals with only a partial
victory is not a winning situation. And collaboration as “partners
with industry” is unlikely to yield, in the end, as much gain for
the animals as engaging in clear negotiations as the opponent of
animal-industry (or at least the opponent of certain industry
practices). In other words, animal advocates should strike
compromises and engage in incrementalism with animal-use industries
while sitting on opposite sides of the table. There should be a line
drawn between the animals’ side and the animal-using side, with the
neutral zone approached warily: it is as mined with conflicts of
interest as any “no-man’s land” was ever mined with explosives.
Declaration on consciousness
However, in mid summer-amidst movement strife over the
hen-caging legislation-there was an astonishing victory for animals
that animal activists either didn’t notice or else failed to
comprehend in its significance. When I called it to the attention of
other animal advocates, they felt it was “too abstract” to gain
For decades, animal advocates have declared that we urgently
need a new paradigm that might bring animals into the moral circle of
concern…a new way of thinking that would admit that non-human
animals are endowed with minds capable of thought, emotion, and
senses of awareness that are comparable to the human state of mind,
and also deserving of compassion and consideration.
The earth shook (figuratively, of course) and that longed-for
paradigm came into being on July 7, 2012, when a prominent
international group of neuroscientists, biologists, and physicists
(including the eminent Stephen Hawking) gathered at the Francis Crick
Memorial Conference on Consciousness in Human and non-Human Animals,
and signed the Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness.
“We declare the following,” they wrote: “The absence of a
neocortex does not appear to preclude an organism from experiencing
affective states. Convergent evidence indicates that non-human
animals have the neuroanatomical, neurochemical, and
neurophysiological substrates of conscious states along with the
capacity to exhibit intentional behaviors. Consequently, the weight
of evidence indicates that humans are not unique in possessing the
neurological substrates that generate consciousness. Nonhuman
animals, including all mammals and birds, and many other creatures,
including octopuses, also possess these neurological substrates.”
In effect, a wooden stake has now been shoved into the heart
of the long-dead Rene Descartes, “the father of modern philosophy,”
whose still influential 17th century ideas resulted in cruelty-both
deliberate and incidental-that may seem comparable to the deeds of
Vlad the Impaler-the 15th century Transylvanian ruler whose
bloodthirst and sadism gave rise to the Count Dracula myth.
Descartes’ convenient and self-serving philosophy proclaimed
that animals are not conscious and thus have no interests or
well-being that humans need take into consideration. In the
Cartesian view of animals, which prevailed in science for more than
350 years, animals (who were believed incapable of thinking, and
therefore incapable of being) were “automata” who lacked minds and
emotional states and were even incapable of feeling sensations.
Descartes considered compassion for animals worthy of ridicule. He
declared that “the greatest of all the prejudices we have retained
from infancy is that of believing that brutes think.” When animals
acted as if they were suffering, it was-said Descartes and his
generations of followers-no different than a malfunctioning machine.
Cartesianism gave carte blanche to the budding profession of
vivisection to take apart living and fully conscious animals as if
they were pocket watches. Vivisectors were encouraged to laugh as
animals screamed and to make fun of the “sentimental” and “ignorant”
people who protested their barbaric activities.
Descartes formulated an idea of mind/body dualism, as had
Greek and Asian philosophers before him, but unlike earlier
thinkers, Descartes only granted minds to humans, designating
animals mere machines. “I think, therefore I am,” declared
Descartes. In his system, animals were incapable of thought and
therefore incapable of “being” in any way people should feel bound to
One prominent protester of Cartesian-justified cruelty was
the Enlightenment philosopher Voltaire, who famously demanded,
“You discover in it [the animal] all the same organs of feeling that
are in yourself. Answer me, mechanist, has nature arranged all the
means of feeling in this animal so that it may not feel?”
Descartes’ ideological reign over Western science was a dark
time for the animals and those who cared for them, and it lasted for
The new paradigm created by the Cambridge Declaration
on Consciousness thoroughly repudiates the philosophy of Descartes.
This new paradigm wasn’t built in a day, any more than Descartes’
ideological monolith can be knocked down in a day. Scientists
themselves have been rethinking Descartes for decades, as some
became increasingly uncomfortable with cruelty in laboratories. A
new wave of academic philosophers, such as Tom Regan and Peter
Singer, began poking holes in Cartesianism in the 1970s, in tandem
with the birth of the modern animal rights movement. At the same
time, studies of animals living in natural habitats, conducted by
animal behaviorists with clear and unprejudiced eyes led to the
understanding that animals are like us more than they are unlike us.
Anthropomorphizing began to be seen less and less as folly
after animals of multiple species and orders were documented to be
doing all the things that regressive scientific humanists had
maintained could only be done by Homo sapiens – a young species only
around 200,000 years old, who hardly evolved in a vacuum.
Among the first to fall, among arbitrarily established
criteria devised to separate human from beast, was tool-use,
followed by language, and most recently self-recognition.
Distinctive qualities and behaviors that were proposed as barriers to
set humans apart from the other animals became increasingly contrived
in recent years. All fell, one by one, in the 20th century, once
scientists began to observe animals instead of limiting their contact
with animals to experimenting on them.
It is no coincidence that physicists helped to draft and also
signed the Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness. Quantum physics
(a 20th century branch of physics that deals with matter and physical
phenomena at the subatomic level) has played a strong role in
creating a foundation for this new scientific paradigm.
You see, once it was theorized and then experimentally
demonstrated that conscious observation was capable of collapsing the
wave function of energy and fixing a particle in space – which is
what is necessary for the creation of matter – it was only a matter
of time until physicists began reaching the startling conclusion that
– humans having come late on the scene – the solidity of our physical
world may have been initiated by the observation or experience of
energy by consciousnesses other than our own. “Let there be light”
seems to ring true as the call to creation.
Parallels between quantum mechanics-which provides a
mathematical description of energy’s dualistic existence (it can move
from wave to matter and back again) – and the mind/body dualism that
philosophers and theologians have pondered were suggested in the
earliest hypotheses of quantum physics.
The “anthropic principle” of quantum mechanics is a badly
named theory that is nonetheless as philosophical (perhaps even
theological) as it is scientific, and a misnomer only because it
applies to any and all intelligent life and not exclusively human
(anthro) life or intelligence. The anthropic principle asserts that
conditions observed in the universe were preordained to allow
observers to exist (meaning that cosmic conditions were somehow
programmed for the development of life). The reason that conditions
may be assumed to have been programmed for life in a material
universe is that without the existence of conscious observers,
energy’s wave function would not be collapsed into the particles that
form the solid matter of a material universe.
Because humans are a young species, the original conscious
observers and co-creators of our world must have been the earliest
animals–if not microorganisms and plants. The anthropic principle
is not as of now accepted as scientific fact – for one reason,
because it implies an original and intrinsic cosmic
consciousness–but the theory is growing in popularity. On July 7,
2012, some of the most respected members of the scientific community
spoke with one voice in officially declaring that there is no
qualitative difference between the mental states of humans and
non-humans, including all mammals and birds, and many other
creatures, including some non-vertebrates.
This acknowledgment has no less potential to change the world
for animals than Galileo’s observations of the heavens led to the
eventual acceptance of the humbling fact that the earth is not the
center of the universe…and no less potential to change the world as
the idea that all humans were equal had potential for the eventual
acceptance of basic civil rights among secular democracies.
The job isn’t done for human civil rights, and it may well be
a century or more before animal rights are codified into laws. We can
expect delays when we consider the likely increase in upheavals as a
result of ecological, economic, and war-related crises looming right
over the horizon. All of this disorder – most of it self-inflicted –
distracts humanity from focusing on higher purposes. But there are
many milestones along the path to creating a humane world, and
meaningful official declarations – just like the passing of
laws-indicate how far we have come.
We have “arrived” in new theoretical territory. There has
been a sea change.
And while there are still oceans to traverse and mountains to
climb, and each meaningful change for animals will still be hard
won, holding onto the knowledge that theoretically and
philosophically we have already won should give us heart and strength
for each challenge ahead.
The end of a year is a time for reflection, and it is easy to
think of all the things we did not achieve. Sometimes our only
concrete accomplishment seems like a drop in the bucket. At the worse
of times we are filled with self-doubt. Sometimes there is confusion
– especially this year with such contentious debate within the animal
But something wonderful happened on July 7th of this year,
and it should be enough to infuse our hearts with hope in the closing
days of 2012.
The Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness can be credited to
scientists and academics, but the gravity of the ceremony was a
tribute to the philosophers and legal theorists of animal rights who
have been building and arguing their cases for decades, and to all
the animal rights activists and advocates whose passion for justice
brought animal rights into mainstream discussion and wrote it into
the public agenda.
The role of ANIMAL PEOPLE
With two decades behind ANIMAL PEOPLE, time in which we have
ceaselessly educated and inspired the animal movement, we believe we
played a part in moving forward the ideas of animal rights and making
people understand the critical need for a new way of thinking about
animals. But the truth is that there hasn’t been anyone involved in
animal advocacy who hasn’t played some part in building the new
paradigm which proclaims that consciousness is shared by humans and
As this year comes to a close, we believe that in spite of
all that remains undone…the knowledge of the animal suffering that
keeps us from sleeping well at night…the divisive controversies
that have clouded some of the issues…and the campaign strategies
that may have gone awry or been misconceived, there is still
something very important to celebrate, and we invite you to celebrate
it with ANIMAL PEOPLE, as we mark 20 years of work for the animals.
None of our efforts could have been undertaken without the
help of committed animal advocates like you. We want to thank you
very much for your past support of ANIMAL PEOPLE and for having the
vision to understand the need for the animals to have their own
It is only with the help of our readers that ANIMAL PEOPLE
has been able to provide the information and analysis that serious
animal people need, and to perform the “watchdogging” that helps
ensure contributions by animal welfare donors are well-used.
The donations of our readers help us to continue our work of
encouraging and supporting animal people wherever they are, and
stimulating the development of practical and effective responses to
With thanks and warm wishes for the holiday season,
Kim Bartlett, president