Dr. Marino, a bio-psychologist formerly on the faculty of Emory University, is the Executive Director of the Kimmela Center for Animal Advocacy. She is internationally known for her work on brain evolution and intelligence in dolphins and whales, and was featured in the acclaimed film "Blackfish."
Michael Mountain was the president and co-founder of Best Friends Animal Society, which helped launch the no-kill movement in the 1990's. Today, he is the editor of EarthInTransition.org and serves as an advisor to several animal protection and environmental groups.
Marino and Mountain begin their paper by dismantling the popular 21st Century notion that we've turned the tide on animal welfare. And then they explore the underlying psychological cause of the situation.
Despite recent decades having seen the growth of thousands of animal protection organizations, they write, "... with the single exception of homeless pets, the situation for nonhuman animals in every sphere has actually deteriorated dramatically."
According to Marino and Mountain, "The small achievements in animal protection are largely incremental, like, for example, the efforts to get factory farms to provide a few extra inches of space in cages where, nonetheless, the animals will still spend their entire lives." Meanwhile, the factory farming and vivisection industries are larger and more entrenched than ever.
In the case of wildlife, the two authors note that of 63,837 species assessed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, 19,817 are threatened with extinction, and that the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization has concluded that more than 85 percent of the world's fisheries have been pushed to or beyond their biological limits.
As Marino and Mountain see it, "While people are certainly more aware of issues to do with animal abuse and exploitation, our relationship with the whole natural world remains fraught with contradictions and abuses to the point where it threatens our own health and safety, and even human civilization."
"I Am Not An Animal!"
What, then, are the psychological issues that underlie our inability to make progress? Marino and Mountain say that French novelist Albert Camus summed it up best when he wrote: "Humans are the only creatures who don't want to be what they are."
And what we absolutely don't want to be is an animal.
Rooted deeply in the human condition is our awareness that while we reach for the stars and create profoundly beautiful works of art, we cannot escape the knowledge that, just like all the other animals, we are destined to die.
And so, to alleviate the anxiety we feel over our animal nature, we try to separate ourselves from our fellow animals and to exert control over the natural world. We tell ourselves that we're superior to the other animals and that they exist for our benefit. We treat them as commodities and resources, use them as biomedical "models" or "systems" in research, and force them to perform for our entertainment (companion animals fare better, but Marino and Mountain point out that we treat them as part of our human "in-group" and relate to them a bit like children).
We also hold belief systems that offer us humans hope in some form of immortality that's not accorded the other animals. These and other ways of distancing ourselves from the rest of nature are so embedded in our cultures that they're typically not even questioned, much less stopped.
But, like all forms of denial, we cannot escape what we are. And the more we try to bend nature to our will, the more we end up harming the planet and all its living creatures, quite possibly beyond repair.
While Marino and Mountain don't pretend to have a simple solution to the abuse so many animals endure at our hands, they argue that awareness is always the first step in bringing about change.
As they conclude in their Anthrozoos paper, "Our relationship to the other animals and to the planet overall is arguably the single most important issue facing humankind ... The only viable future for humankind lies in achieving some level of acceptance of our own nature as animals and developing a more humble, and ultimately more satisfying, relationship to our fellow animals and the natural world."
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