If an individual had to answer the question posed in this topic by thinking rationally, the answer may seem pretty straightforward to most of them. But if you think on a deeper level, many a time, our choices are made on morals and emotions, rather than just being rational.
The Incident That Shook Us All
Very recently a 17-year-old western lowland gorilla named Harambe was shot dead at the Cincinnati Zoo because a small child had fallen into his enclosure. Zookeepers feared the life of the child and thought the best would be to shoot the gorilla and save the human. This incident created a furore worldwide and forced the people to think if the lives of animals were so cheap that we could end it whenever we felt threatened? Isn’t this somewhere a failure on our part that lead to the death of this majestic creature who symbolizes our own nature? Humans reared him in captivity and raised him in an environment which may be built to be as close to home, but really wasn’t home. Humans kept him inadequately secure and human carelessness resulted in a young child to enter the animal’s enclosure. And then human fear got him killed. Surely the situation reeks of incompetence.
However, not everyone thought the same way. As it always is, there are proponents and exponents to every story. Columnist Dave Bry published an article in The Guardian where he said, “As much as I love animals – and I love them very much – the idea that the life of a cat or a dog or a lion or a gorilla is as important as the life of a human is a terrible one, a wrong one, an insulting one. [There] are powerful, important things about being a human being … Yes, I would save the life of Ted Kaczynski, Idi Amin or Donald Trump over any animal you could name. (Yes, even my beloved childhood pets: the cats Love and Honey, the dog, Yvette. Sorry, guys, RIP.)”
A Moral Dilemma
A group of psychologists and researchers conducted a study that involved 573 participants aged between 18 and more than 75 years of age. These participants were tested in a variety of settings by using scenarios that explored how their relationships affected their moral decisions. They were each presented with a moral dilemma in which two lives were in danger, one human and one animal and only one of them could be saved. For example, you have a pet and he runs out to the front of a bus that is fast approaching. At the same time, there is a foreign tourist who is also about to step in front of the bus. Who would you save?
The study changed the variables of the foreign tourist to a stranger, a cousin, your best buddy, or someone close in the family. And on the other end, the pet could be yours or the pet could be changed to being someone else’s pet. These changing scenarios each presented the participants with a different set of moral dilemmas and the results were quite astonishing. In the case of foreign tourist versus saving own pet, 40% chose the pet. When it came to a stranger versus own pet 37% chose to save their pet’s life. Change the pet from your own to someone else’s and the percentage of people opting to save fell further down to 12%. Only a little over 2% of the people chose to save the pet when it was pitted against someone from the close family.
Over the years, many animal rights movements like PETA have devoted themselves to the safety of animals. One of the main principles of these organizations is that there are no fundamental differences between the lives of humans and animals. Animals should have a right to life and freedom and not be used by humans. The well-being of humans should not be put above the well-being of animals. No man is an island in itself. We are just a piece of the continent just like the rest of the species.
But the fact that today we can at least ask the question whether human life is more important than animal life shows that our moral sensibilities have expanded over the years and we have begun to care for species other than our own. Animal rights organizations in the U.S. fought for the legal personhood status of chimpanzees, PETA persuaded 15 universities to abandon animal dissections and experimenting on animals, these are all examples of how we are progressing towards a better future where the animals can be as safe as humans. It’s time we stop considering ourselves to be the pinnacle of evolution and become more compassionate towards animals.