Today I got into a discussion on another forum about whether, if we were to find an animal and a human both in the same degree of pain, whom would you help first. I had said that I would try to help both but ultimately, stick with the animal as a human has some chance of helping itself. The backlash and anger I received as a result was quite surprising for suggesting I’d help the animal first, being accused of being irrational, immoral, a horrible person, and insane as “I should save the human because a human’s life is worth more than the animal’s”. When asked if I was the one hurt, would I urge my rescuer to save the animal and when I replied I would, I was met with sneers and shock and accused of being a liar and delusional, despite me knowing myself.
So that’s the back story but it lead me to wonder… why do we put human life ahead of an animals? Why do we, as a race, believe ourselves so superior that we would get angry at those who value all life as equal? Why is it, that when faced with a dilemma such as the above, that we accuse others of being irrational yet making gut reactions? Have I got it wrong and the life of a human is worth more than an animal? If so, how and why? Is it because we are of one species that we need to choose our own species, despite the fact our species has adapted to make decisions and become more in control of a situation than an animal?
I understand that some people don’t quite understand the mindset of an animal but when explain to them, they’re still vicious in their attack so therefore, I don’t understand this and wondering if anyone here could shed light on it without viciously attacking me and not actually explaining it :)
@caoimhesweeney, I think it’s because we’ve been conditioned to value human life over(most) animals. We live in a world where animals are systematically and brutally exploited. There’s no way this paradigm could continue if we were to see these beings as equals.
I wouldn’t say we were “conditioned” to value human life over animals so much as we are biologically programmed to do so. It is an evolutionary trait that I’d wager all animals share (valuing themselves over others).
It’s the same reason we value our family over strangers. And strangers who live in the same community/country as us over foreigners, etc, etc. It is quite literally built into our biology and evolutionarily advantageous to our survival.
I’d say the mindset of “this random animal is just as valuable as a human” is itself a developing evolutionary trait necessary for our survival on a grander scale. And only begins to develop as we become more self aware and able to perceive life (and the universe in general) on a grander, more “zoomed out” scale. But it is a trait that is much weaker than the more ingrained survival instinct of self over others. That so called “human bias”.
The long view you are demonstrating of equality will almost always be weaker when compared head on with something much more immediate. The desire to favor human life is simply seeded deeper in our very biology. When push comes to shove, there will always be some form of “us vs them” as it is a part of survival. This is just one manifestation of that instinct.
I agree with this argument, if we didn’t value our own species above others, we wouldn’t have survived. But now that we have almost infinite power in this world (for good or bad) we can afford to treat other species with a different mentality.
On another note, I’ve been thinking lately that it’s strange that we value some animals more then others. Like, why do we care so much about whales being harpooned off in some ocean but have no problem killing a fly that is just a small nuisance to us? Is it because a whale is more likely to biologically feel the pain? Because they have some air of mysterious grandeur about them? Because we sympathize more wight the mammal species? Whatever the reason, I find it oddly irrational that we think this way. Anyways, good question.
I think one strong idea behind reactions like this is that a human being has more “higher” potential than an animal: people create art, paintings, music, stories, etc. While one admittedly doesn’t often see dogs or deer wielding brushes, however, I don’t think it should affect the perceived value of the being’s life.
@alljuicedup, I definitely agree about the idea of seeing all life as equal as being progress from an evolutionary standpoint. Trees and wildlife help keep the atmosphere in balance while predator and prey populations keep each other in check. In the grand scheme of things we would survive no better on our own than a global population composed entirely of cheetahs with no prey to hunt. We (all forms of life) are all in this together, in other words.
We are all alive and feel pain in the same way. If we are to value our own feelings, I don’t see why the feelings of animals should be treated any differently.
English is not my first language, but I will try my best to explain my thoughts so please bear with me ;)
I believe we should not even compare humans and animals because they have two completely different purposes. They exist/are made because of completely different reasons. If we know the purpose and the reason of the human being, this question may not even be asked.
Let me explain:
An animal is not worthless, jus the same as the human being. They are both useful in order to fulfill their purposes. If you, however, think of a human being, you know he is necessary for various things – depending on its gender, age, profession, culture, perception, etc (‘perception’ because if I think of someone like Hitler, I would consider his perception as wrong). The human being is there to uphold and promote the human race. If we wouldn’t have humans, we wouldn’t have people to take care of this world. To build it, cultivate it, make it thrive, etc. And yes, we can now discuss that apparently this does not happen as we can see, but first of all, I believe this *does* happen, but is not recognized well enough by the *mainstream society* and second of all, this is not the topic of this post.
So, to make a long story short:
The human is important, and the animal is too. You can’t compare them though cause they have different functions. Same as in a company, there are roles each and every one has to play according to his position. A manager (and this is a very basic and superficial approach) has his position because he oversees the company, creates a structure for the employees to work. An employee is not worth less, but he cannot take the manager’s place cause he has different qualities = a different purpose.
In my opinion, this question is therefore wrongly composed or as I said, should not be asked (like that). When it comes to maintaining this world, the human being is the most important cause this is his task (and he may or may not fulfill it, but it does not change the latter). A dog doesn’t care, he just lives according to how he is being instructed (=no consciousness). He may be caring, helpful, sweet, and all that – but he is not necessary when it comes to solving problems, building houses where others can live in, giving answers, communicating, cooking, etc. etc. I guess it makes sense now.
Love this topic though, thanks for opening up this thread!
“And in all your getting, get understanding.” (Proverbs 4)
‘human being is necessary for various things.’ – only to other human being maybe. to any other animal human being is necessary for eating its shit. so why should human perspective be THE CHOSEN ONE? well it isnt no matter what stupid reason you can come up with.
nothing has a purpose, it just is.
in my opinion and from my own experience, I feel that people in general are always full of themselves. this planet seems big because it takes you about a day to travel to the US to a certain country in Asia but they are oblivious about the fact that to the ever-expanding universe, this planet is just a small dot. they are always full of themselves because our brains are programmed to help us survive through by generating feelings and emotions such as fear, disguise and isolation which somehow enhances their significance. knowing that you are unique isn’t at all a bad thing but sometimes we need to know that we are related and interconnected with each other and at the end of the day, we are all humans and this planet is our home, so we aren’t that different from each other at all.
I also feel that we value our fellow humans above all others is because we are able to communicate with each other. we have the ability to speak and form sentences instead of just making noises and signalling like animals. it is also because of communication that we understand each other which strengthens our bonds with fellow humans. plus, we are the smartest animal on the planet as we create smart phones, computers and all that other animals can’t. we have power, so we rule. we are so blinded by our power that we forget that we are also an animal. we separate ourselves from other species just like we separate the white people from the black. we are ignorant and fearful to what we don’t understand and hatred (sometimes) follows.
that was my point of view. you are a very big-hearted person. there should be more people like you in this ignorant society and never give a fuck about whether they think you are irrational or stupid.
The idea of an evolutionary trait is an interesting one, particularly since I can quote this:
“The result of this poll confirms that most boards members are psychopaths.”
“No just young, quirky, middle-class tosspots who think they are smarter than what they truly are. ”
Unfortunately, this is the mentality we have to deal with on a daily basis, which is why animal cruelty cases are so high. I often hold to the idea that a good judge of a person’s character is to leave them with something vulnerable and dependent on them and see how they treat it. That thread had left me despairing somewhat, however this thread has relieved me. There are some interesting ideas here, thanks guys :)
I think your wording of the question illustrates the problem. ‘Why do we put human life ahead of animals’? We are animals. We bleed and shit and fuck just like animals. Our lives are no more important than the lives of trees or prairie dogs. In fact, I believe humans are unique in that we are the only species on Earth that are not carrying out our ecological function. Once we step into our rightful position of stewards of this Earth, we will once again see that we are a strand in a complex web of organisms. Our culture promotes a pyramidal, hierarchical structure and humans (especially males) are relentlessly put at the top. But it’s all a story. We are one among many.
There reason that humans worth more is that they can understand more.
Humans can understand kindness, compassion, forgiveness, justice, patience, sacrifice, … and ultimately love.
They only reason that we are in this world is to learn the above values; and animals by no means can get close to it.
You, my friend, are suffering from materialism which disgracefully reduces the human value to an animal.
I would say, that yes humans hold more potential (as we understand/perceive it), and that’s why many people would value a human over an animal.
Though I think on an emotional level (as your ‘opponent’ was thinking in this other forum), I think its our ability to empathize with other humans that adds value. Perhaps animals are more intelligent or emotional capable than we give them credit, but that’s irrelevant for most people because we can’t see it. The ability to empathize, give, and receive with other humans means they hold more value in our lives.
Perhaps it is selfish to value a human over an animal — certainly all life holds value. Yet the better we can relate and empathize to the potential of another being, the more worth we are inclined to assign them. An example being, you’ll likely never hold a philosophical discussion (such as this) with a dog, yet most people have the potential for this, so you can trade ideas, learn, and grow together in a way that a dog would never fulfill (though a dog may make a wonderfully loyal companion), and thus a human holds more value to you personally. By that train of thought I’d say its fair to say that assigning ANY value to life is in some way a little self centered (though not necessarily selfish).
Hope that made sense. Any thoughts?
I’m obviously late discovering this post and had decided to move on without comment but..
CaomiheS, thank you for bringing this issue to the fore. Some valuable points were made in the comments and you forced me, at least, to put some thought into it. I admire your courage in holding to your own values and principles; most of your critics could use some of your strength. In fact, I like a quote by Anais Nin that seems pertinent: “We do not see things as they are, we see things as we are.” Humanity tends to be like that – the rude, insensitive and angry included. Many of us are not prone to spending much time or energy attempting to understand the other. You probably have heard Nietzsche’s remark that, “Those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.”
I’ll say thank you again but want to say, I’ve been thinking for the past few years that people of Earth are fast losing any value for human life; countless lives every day end at the hand of another, as if he or she were of absolutely no worth. Come to think of it, we treat our animals much the same these days. There seems very little of life that we hold as valuable or sacred anymore.
The people who “attacked” you and became angry weren’t discussing a philosophical question regarding the relative value of a human life to a non-human life. The only animals in your audience were of the human type…and what they” herd” was you saying that you would let them die in order to save an animal. Were you really surprised by the reaction?
Humans have the ability to rationalize pain and suffering and form coping skills (“I stubbed my toe. It sucks but it’s not life threatening”), whereas far as we know, animals lack this ability (“I stubbed my toe. I AM LITERALLY GOING TO DIE!”). So in a situation where both feel the same pain, the animal is going to be suffering more.
Well quite frankly I agree with you’ all lives are equal. I could say if you make comparisons to an animal and human species it’ll not be comprehended to the fact that they are both completely of different purposes. People will take offence most likely because so.
Why should us humans be superior, simply because we’re created to be sensitive at least I believe not every person will want to admit it to themselves but also just because some people are incapable of understanding putting themselves second to any, so to ask if an animal is more “important” or “valued” over a human because we are more likely to vogue for ourselves being as most are selfish but’ people will want to debate because we are in focus of belief that we are rare just as rare, god created humanity just as he created animals’ but with very opposite fulfilments.
It hurts to have to say an animal is more in a pride to get savor if in position. To defend the imaginable i’ll say how can you choose, to see the look in the eyes of the beholders of possible death or even “pain” just causes cringe..
Humans are in understanding of our strengths and straining pains we fight with sin, against our own kind. It’s really in comparison’ I do understand and feel sorry because we are in more “control” and have more of an over see than animals but doesn’t mean they are any less important.
Well as for people getting offended, it’s probably because we’re creators, we’re multi taskers. THINK of your most hurtful experience’ everything you have sacrificed in a day. To compare isn’t “sensible” I guess but understandable at the same time. You can talk for an animal, but it can not do so in return so I CAN understand your emotions, touching yes.
I’m heartfelt so I feel like I can’t give you a who deserves the imagenable save. I guess that’s just my part not much of an answer.
Also to defend animals or for example “dogs” If you just drop all the sensible obvious mankind are doers thinking you’ll be in brief conclusion that it’s exactly THAT we have the consciousness to get things done. So it makes sense to want to save the animal before yourself because you’re viewing it as letting such a innocent, i’ll say “incapable” just wait for attention before the “dominant” human.
The idea is that as a species, we look out for what is familiar to us, just as we do race and so forth. What your answer says to me is that you feel more connected to animals than you do people. (just a postulation!) I don’t believe any life is worth more than the other, but i do believe that we’ve all been made humans to assist in human development, and if we were meant to assist dogs, we would be dogs. Our own evolution as souls effects the lives of every other living creature.