理性的考量——面對非人類世界的心態

作者: 
房曼琪(Mira Fong)/旅美作家 翻譯/姜林洋名

「是我們人類擅自決定,將動物和人類分割為不連續的物種……事實上,我們人類不僅是人猿,還是非洲人猿。」  ──理查‧道金斯 (Richard Dawkins)

公眾反應的 差別

最近美國公共電視台(PBS)播出一部關於黑猩猩的紀錄片,名為《黑猩猩──非人道歷史》(Chimpanzees-the Unnatural History)。紀錄片中的黑猩猩曾用於醫學研究,最終獲准退休,在保護區安享天年。退休前,其中某些黑猩猩也當過太空計劃的實驗品。然而,只有人類太空人才會被當成英雄。反之,黑猩猩則被轉送到醫學中心,進行侵入性研究──骨髓移植、肝臟活體組織切片檢查等等,不少因而感染了人類疾病,如愛滋病或肝炎。

每隻黑猩猩都被紋上數字,如同在納粹集中營的囚犯一般;沒有人理會牠們的呼喊抗議。影片的尾聲,有一幕看得我熱淚盈眶:一隻黑猩猩從實驗室被釋放出來,送到保護區,這是牠第一次能在戶外四處晃蕩,踩著柔軟的草地。當牠爬上樹梢時,視線遠眺數英里之外,我們滿心歡喜:牠終於被釋放了!

另一部PBS紀錄片《自殺遊客》(The Suicide Tourist),於今年(2010)年初播出,相較之下,激起了更多觀眾的情緒反應和公眾評論。顯然人的議題更重於非人類議題。故事講述患有運動神經元疾病的患者,在瑞典一家診所尋求安樂死。在家人的支持下,他平靜地在診所死去。故事激動人心,很多觀眾加入對協助自殺議題的討論,秉持宗教或倫理的立場切入。

對人類來說,他們無法眼睜睜看著一個人死去,而自殺行為更會讓人覺得不舒服,甚至不安,此乃威脅了他們對死亡的否認心理;但當涉及到動物的痛苦時,看到被捕獲的動物畏縮在獸籠內,雖感遺憾,但也會找理由來合理化牠們的厄運。因為在人類眼裡,動物不具道德意義。

我寫這篇文章的目的,是要藉由探索「深層倫理學」,詰問人類面對非人類世界的一般心態(深層倫理學是一種更廣泛且更具一致性,也是一種能作為真正健康基礎的倫理學)。

心理解離

先前提及的兩部紀錄片,證明了人類的心態:他們自認對其他動物沒有絲毫的道德使命。以下是幾個深植於心理、社會福利和法律制度層面的理由,來解釋為何人類斷然拒絕道德進步: 

第一,否認死亡──似乎人類能夠超越死亡,而動物的死亡是自然且無法避免。我們對於死亡實患有集體神經症,其主要徵候即為無止境、無限制的進行動物實驗。醫學研究進行各式各樣的動物實驗,以找出療法與死亡奮戰。原因何在?或許能在帕斯卡的《沉思錄》(Pensees)找到答案,他說:「我們來想像幾個人被鍊在一起,準備受死,每天都有人被殺。那些還活著的看到自己未來的命運,等著死亡臨身,面面相覷,哀愁而絕望。這就是人類情況的一幅意象。正因這樣的絕望,我們犧牲動物以求逃離一死。

第二,以自我宣告的所有權,為人與動物之間主從關係提供合法性。身為奴隸,非人動物沒有權利。在我們的法律制度中,動物沒有地位;我們否認牠們具有(獨立自主的個人地位),且可被當成私有財產。

第三,概念上,文化與自然之間存在著一種分界。人類活動主要是文化性的(歸功於擁有較多的大腦皮質)。而大自然則被視為資源,用來服務人類的福祉。此種心理解離正是使我們冷眼看待動物受苦及環境破壞的主因。我們的道德判斷染上了矛盾的情感主義。因此,黑猩猩節目獲得的關注和同情比不上自願安樂死,這一點也不令人意外。我們似乎忘了智人(homo sapiens)不過是約三百萬年前源自於非洲的一種大猿。

歷史告訴我們什麼

人類喜歡將自己理想化,說是神聖宇宙的一部份,然而歷史證明並非如此。大自然是殘酷的,所有動物必須基於一對一的原則下狩獵求生。相較之下,人類則是互相殘殺以獲得支配權,殺戮生命以百萬計,遠超過進化之目的。我們的歷史由戰爭所推動,如伯羅奔尼撒戰爭、羅馬擴張、十字軍東征和三十年戰爭,接著是各國國內的內戰,以及近代史的兩次世界大戰。修昔底德一邊觀察和記錄伯羅奔尼撒戰爭,一邊也對人類暴戾、好鬥的天性起了探索之情。

克里希那穆提,在他早期的會談中說道:「人類在整個歷史中黷武窮兵,無數人犧牲喪命。現代武器與戰爭科技是為了增加更強大的破壞力。此外,我們更在對自然的戰爭中屠殺了無以計數的非人類動物。二十世紀以來,有超過五萬條大鯨魚遭殺害……。」

所謂的英雄,如伯里克利、亞歷山大大帝、拿破崙和其他許多在史書上受到歌頌的戰爭英雄,其實幾乎都是戰爭販子,一心為爭權奪利。同樣的侵略行為亦見於殖民主義和帝國主義裡。人類並非用美德來征服對方,而是武力。

今日,人類挾著超級科技,正對自然發動一場更危險的戰爭,威脅著陸地、海洋和天空。被囚被殺的動物無可計數。但在遠古的舊石器時代,就像拉斯科的石洞壁畫所描繪,動物和人類的地位是平等一致的。

大自然會怎麼說?

在大自然的眼裡,所有的生命都是平等的,皆具有其內在的價值(對比於外在附價的價值)。生命沒有所謂優劣之分。動物是大自然偉大的表現。每個個體,身為獨立的存在體,都有其先天的知識,能在整個生態系統中自謀生計。就這方面來說,智人的行為已違反規則。我們忘了,正是地球氣溫特有的穩定性和適居性,才讓所有的物種都能順利進化和繁衍──且公平地。

若人類引以為傲的是道德、智慧和精神,那麼,為什麼文明從未做過任何協助大自然的民主實踐?反而在破壞它,視地球的所有群體為人類的附屬?我們剝奪動物的法律權利,將牠們變成家畜、實驗工具和財產以及商業投資,將其以經濟價值衡量。

而我們又如何對待野生動物?當人類入侵牠們自然棲息地後,牠們的下場不外乎被人類捕獵。山獅、熊、野馬、郊狼和土撥鼠,牠們是大地之魂,大自然運作的一份子。然而,只要牠們與我們有利益上的衝突,就會被視為害蟲而予以消滅。這是又一個我們對待非人類動物不公的例子。

道德使命

和早期人類一樣,其他社會性動物具有自己的部落文化,特別是大猿、鯨魚、海豚、大象、狼等等。牠們對於家族排名及社會關係的知識與儒家學說出奇地相似;牠們的家庭觀念也跟我們人類的很像。在自然史中,智人是動物生命連續體的一部分。每種動物都是獨特的個體,能充分意識到它所處的環境。

今天,隨著人類人口急劇增長,我們對肉類食品的需求不斷增加。每年超過五百八十億頭牛、豬和雞被囚禁在世界各地的工廠養殖場和屠宰。可想像,農產事業給動物帶來劇烈的痛苦。現今對動物的剝削已有一套系統化、制度化的運作方式。我們把一個曾經溫順、有意識的生物,以文字轉化整個概念,替牠們標上諸如火腿、牛排、或羊排此類名稱,方便我們掙脫對人類以外有情生物的道德感。

什麼是道德使命?根據康德:道德義務是基於理性,超越個人的考量。一個個體必須善待萬物,而不是將其當成工具使用。雖然康德的道德理論是針對一般人性而言,但道義責任自然也包括了對任何有痛覺(無論是肉體或情緒上的)的生物保有同情心 。因為當一個個體察覺到另一個體的痛苦時──無論是人類或非人類,基於善意的驅使之下,就已經負有道德義務需給予回應。

後現代虛無主義

只要人類不停止虐待動物,道德和精神的痛苦就不會止息。我們可曾想過,儘管我們有一切優渥的物質條件,人類還是得依賴鎮靜劑、安眠藥、酒精和毒品以逃避空虛?儘管我們擁有廣闊的知識,有最先進的藥物能治療幾乎所有的疾病,人類仍然需要幫助,來解開心靈上的折磨?古往今來,哲學家、宗教思想家和智者,都同意一件事:絕望是心靈的疾病,害怕死亡是無法經由動物實驗來獲得解藥。

從哲學觀點來看,叔本華解釋虛無主義的由來(其思想受佛教影響):「歷史訴說著民族的興衰,但內容盡是戰爭與混亂;和平年代只是短暫的停頓和插曲。同理,個人的一生不斷在搏鬥,不只是抽象地與欲念或無趣在搏鬥,也與他人搏鬥,在生活上不斷地產生衝突。」現代生活的風格心態與伊比鳩魯的觀點相似:「將個人的愉悅生活擴張到最大。」

但人逃得了心靈的疾病嗎?

諷刺的是,動物的棲息地持續縮小,喪失食物來源,而人類人口則不斷上升,還伴隨肥胖問題──主因是過度消費動物肉品,一如成功減肥的故事充斥於許多健康雜誌。

在這點上,只有一個最緊迫的問題:如何在人類長壽和健全地球之間,取得一個平衡點?當冰川融化速度快,海洋生命淹沒在厚厚的漏油之中,當其他物種正悄悄消失的此時,我們就要成為一種孤獨的生物,被罪惡和困惑所紛擾著,屆時我們要如何面對自己呢?

後現代世界的氛圍屬於一種無聲的哀悼。引用尤金薩克爾的話:「一種倒行逆施的紀念儀式,用以見證虛無誕生於世界的中心。」自然與科技之間的對立,造成了新環境虛無主義。

過時的模式

自工業革命以來,我們已達到的進步,大多是在物質面上。我們的正義感和道德使命仍然停滯不前。例如,即便如大猿,牠們和我們人類活性基因有百分之九十九以上相同,也逃不了被當成實驗品的命運。

目前,美國是世界上僅存大量使用黑猩猩來作研究的國家。主要用在實驗室裡研究心臟病。這只是一個例子,說明醫學研究的狹窄視野。心臟病,名列多數國家人民的主要死因,雖然與基因有關,但也跟肥胖、不良生活習慣、環境壓力、濫用藥物脫不了關係,還有因速食業的普及導致人類攝取過多的高動物脂肪。對抗心臟病,合理又經濟的策略應當著重於健康教育。耗費數百萬美元用健康動物來做研究不僅不道德,也在浪費錢。

在過去三百年來,西方醫學用機械模型以了解疾病。臨床研究主要集中在身體的個別部位、器官及系統,忽略一整個人的所有組成成份,包括社會、生物、心理和環境因素。按理說,利用動物來作研究的模式早已過時,但相關行業和研究機構仍抗拒改變。

一個物種的福祉要犧牲另一個物種才能獲得嗎?若另一個太陽系的智能生物決定把智人當成實驗品又該如何?比如說,囚禁人類來研究太空旅行、器官移植或人類行為/心理學?我們會爭取我們的尊嚴嗎?會拿道德來理論嗎?也許這就是為什麼史蒂芬‧霍金斯,物理學家及宇宙學家,建議我們最好不要與外太空可能存在的外星人接觸。

大多從事動物研究的科學家都有一個共同口號:拯救生命,努力造福人類,說得好像藥物最終可以治癒死亡一般。而我們最終真的贏得了這場戰役,死裡逃生嗎?

如果挽救人的生命是如此崇高的行為,任何人不得自行死亡,為何立法者還要花費數十億美元來開發大規模殺傷性武器?難道我們不應該妥善運用資金,用來推動人道主義?或用來保護環境?還是資助健康教育和或研發預防藥物?以醫療保健管理來說,這些花費豈不更低廉嗎?

科學研究生命的種種,才能發明事物及創造技術。但知識需要哲理性的檢視和沉思得來的智慧。科學研究必須加上根植於理性和深度倫理的新道德模式。

道德與健康

今日人類活得更健康、更長壽,但內心仍無法調和。商業時代維持健康的方式已變成在濫用藥物和補品,無止盡地餵養肉體本身。我們要如何來評估健康,而不受媒體宣傳所影響?當然身體健康極為重要,但每個個體、物種的健康,都必須仰賴運作健全的環境。究極言之,健康和道德的實踐是無法分開。

真正的健康不是單純由醫學測試就能檢驗出來的;也跟一個人的內在精神和道德和諧有關,其根基建立在與更大的生命存在和諧互惠的關係:一個人要活得健康,就必須將環境整體的生命健康納入考量。

縱觀古今,智者能過著平靜、道德的生活。他們深沉的內在平靜來自於一種超脫的態度。大思想家如釋迦牟尼、耶穌基督、畢達哥拉斯、柏拉圖、普魯塔克、托爾斯泰、甘地……都實踐和平,同時也吃素。在他們眼裡,追求權力和財富,反映了精神上的貧窮。倫理意為生命自我願意接納更廣大的生命體(無論生死一視同仁)。健康的意義,若不納入精神層面,則只是狹義地在維持身體機能罷了。黑暗的心對於幸福快樂一無所知。

何謂正義?是什麼讓一切生命變得平等?

快樂源自於一顆善良的心和正義感,早期希臘人普遍認同這個說法。何謂真正的正義?在柏拉圖的《理想國》(Republic)第二冊中,有一段蘇格拉底和格勞孔(柏拉圖的哥哥)的對話,探討「何謂正義」。格勞孔主張正義由當權者來定義,以他們自身利益為優先考量(這解釋了為什麼人類自認對其他動物無需負起道義責任)。蘇格拉底不同意,他堅信,一個公正的人不會傷害他人;表現公正有其意義,且非作為手段來實現個人利益。一個公正的人反映出善良、健全的靈魂,體現了三個基本美德:節制、智慧和勇氣。這些同時也是成熟倫理學的內在面。

事實上,我們已付出了沉重的代價,在堅持偏頗且不公正的道德觀上。到頭來,贏家反而是真正的輸家。真正能治癒疾病的,是精神要素。真正的健康來自於一個人的內心和諧,智慧和善意的培養。對蘇格拉底來說,活得健康和行事公正是同一件事。

若一個人能敞開心胸地活著,認知自己是大生命中的一部份,疾病和死亡將變得無關緊要,萬物的生命都是相通的。所有生命生而平等;每一種生物都有自己的價值,無需由其他生命來加以評判。無論是黑猩猩、牛或人,都具有解決問題的認知能力(即使是一隻小螞蟻),也能意識到自己所處的環境。每個動物都曉得如何用聲音和肢體來表達感受及想法:當感受到愛時,面部表情變得柔和;感受到危險和敵意時,心跳會加速,身體緊繃。跟人類幾乎無異。

道家思想,尊崇所有生命的莊嚴性,認為一切生物應該任由其天性自由發展,而不該強迫他們變成另一種東西。也就是說,牛不應該是牛排,小牛不應該是小牛肉,羔羊不是羊排,豬也不該變成豬肉。

何謂美德?

希臘悲劇所講述的盡是生活的苦難。薛西弗斯正反映了人類的情況。如何越過人生關卡?如何獲得幸福?早期希臘人和中國思想家認為,獲得幸福的方法,就是要活得和諧、有品德。幸福是由生活在和諧,良性的生活。亞里斯多德在《尼各馬科倫理學》(Nicomachean Ethics)中,認同蘇格拉底的想法,透過培養美德與理性,人能達到「幸福(Eudaimonia)」的境界,意即幸福與快樂。他還認為,如果一個人有理性與美德兼具的靈魂便可以在大難中平安地躲過災難。

蘇格拉底主張,人生要經過考驗才有價值。這意味著一個沒有經過考驗的倫理觀(無法得知其正確價值),不值得遵從。對蘇格拉底來說,美德是人類最重要的元素。一個有德者,會自然地行事公正,以善行事;這是幸福和真正健康的關鍵。「德」在中文裡意味著能直視入心的善行(據Ezra Pound翻譯)。另一個詞「compassion」,實際上包含兩個字:「慈」指的是仁慈,和「悲」指的是悲憫。一個人在直視受苦生物時會感到悲憫,而發自內心地施以善行。

史懷哲在1959年於布魯塞爾(Brussels)中的演講說道:「唯有放諸天下皆準的道德規範,才是完整、深刻且具意義。只有在那時候,我們才能與世界取得靈性的連結。不尊重這一點的哲學,不以廣義生命為根基的理論,必將消失……」還說:「我們發現自己處於新的行動思潮中……,我們拒絕人類主宰其他生物的念頭。」史懷哲認為,傳統的哲學忽略對動物道德地位的討論。

深度倫理學 ──新興靈性

我們若放眼動物世界,便能找到虛無主義的解藥。在人類領域之外,其他自由生活的動物總是能享受生活,無論天空或海洋,森林深處或偏遠沙漠,牠們都能自在快樂地活著。

浪漫理想主義的精神面向為何?是大自然的慶典,還能為藝術家、作家、哲學家及教育家提供靈感;他們知道動物是地球的形狀、眼睛和聲音。動物滿意於自己的生活環境,只取生命所需,即便是兇猛的掠食動物如獅子或老虎,不餓的時候就不會去侵擾獵物。

我們與動物分享喜悅,黎明聆聽鳥兒歌唱時,夜晚蟋蟀唧唧的催眠曲,或是附近山坡郊狼的嚎叫聲。牠們因自由而快樂!還有狗朋友的陪伴;牠們躺在身旁發出平靜的呼吸聲,傳達了深深的信賴感,這是我們難以在同類中尋得。

何謂動物精神?也就是,每天都是新的一天,每一刻都是永恆。不會因為過去而後悔,不會害怕未來。這是禪宗的本質,道家的哲理。這是「動物性」(animality) 的詩意面向,一個當代哲學討論的概念。它提供了人與非人之間的連結。「動物性」是新的「立足點」(locus),取代超越性的本體論。這新的立足點能讓我們人類立足於上,不再被機器所癱瘓。

動物性,意味著一種自然的靈性,引領我們進入一種思辯(contemplative)的範疇。海德格在他的《存在與時間》(Being and Time)裡,將事物(它們的模式為設備,猶如工具)及生命區隔了開來。對他來說,地球是一個「自我迎向廣闊道路」。進一步解釋,就是地球是動物的土地,它必須拒絕讓我們貼標籤、利用和擅用。

深度倫理學超越人類的利益,當我們被生命神秘脈動所感動、和記起自己是從何而來時,就能了解到這點。

希望我在這裡針對於道德責任、人類和非人類生物之間採用二分法及斷裂所提出的質疑,能夠激起在傳統哲學鮮少為人探索的想法。以合理勸服人類放棄支配大自然的控制。健康的意義可在大自然的遼闊中找到──無拘束的多樣化及未經馴化的存在。

後記

我寫這篇文章時,美國國家衛生研究院(The National Institute of Health)正打算將2001年退休、來自新墨西哥阿拉莫戈多(Alamogordo)的黑猩猩,轉送到德州的研究實驗室。此消息引起了公憤,同時間,「大猿保護法──HR1326」已重新送交議院審核,若通過,有1000隻黑猩猩不會再是美國實驗室大量生物研究的實驗品(www.releasechimps.org/mission/change-laws/the-great-ape-protection-act/)。

歐盟已禁止對大猿進行實驗。道德上諷刺的是,我們之所以使用大猿來進行生醫研究,正因我們的基因相似,但卻拒絕賦予牠們道德權利,我們辯稱這是兩碼子事。即便是詭辯家也會無法否認這種自相矛盾的論述毫無說服力可言。

(原文以英文發表,詳見作者網站www.moondesert.com本期網路版內容http://www.lca.org.tw/publish/avot

                                

                                A Rational Consideration

"It is we that choose to divide animals up into discontinuous species...In truth, not only are we apes, we are African apes."

 Richard Dawkins

Comparing the Public Response

Recently the PBS shown a program titled "Chimpanzees-the Unnatural History",  a documentary film about chimpanzees, once used for medical research, finally allowed to retire in sanctuary as their permanent home. Prior to retirement, some of these chimps were also used for pilot testing in the space program. Yet, only the human astronauts got the recognition as heroes. Instead, they were transferred to medical labs for invasive research-bone marrow transplant, liver biopsy...etc.  Many had been infected with diseases created by humans such as Aids and hepatitis.

Each chimp is tattooed with numbers just like the prisoners in Nazi concentration camps; their cries of protest only fell on deaf ears. At the end of the program. There was a scene that brought tears to my eyes; a chimp  released from the lab to a chimp sanctuary, wandered around in open air and on soft grass for the first time. Our hearts rejoiced as the chimp climbed up to the tree top; his eyes could look out for miles. He was freed at last!

Another PBS documentary film "The Suicide Tourist",  aired early this year, had received far more emotional response and comments from the public.  Apparently the human issue outweighs the non-human issue. The story is about a patient who suffered from motor neuron disease and was seeking assisted euthanasia at a clinic in Sweden. With the support of his family, he died peacefully at the clinic. It was an emotional story as many viewers joined the debates over the issue of assisted suicide, either from a religious or ethical standpoint.  

For human, the sight of a dying person is difficult to bear and the act of suicide makes people even more uncomfortable, or even disturbed, as it threatens their own denial of death. Yet, when it comes to animal suffering- seeing a captive animal cringing inside the cage, we feel sorry for the animal but find reasons to justify their doomed fate because animals are regarded as having no moral significance. My reason for this essay is to question the general mentality towards the non-human world by exploring the meaning of "deep ethics", a wider and more consistent meaning of ethics, as well as a new spirituality as the foundation for true health.

A Psychological Disassociation

The two documentary programs I mentioned here serve to demonstrate the mentality that humans have no moral duty to other animals. Here are few reasons to explain our resistance to moral progress with deep roots in psychology, social utility and the legal system:

First, the denial of death-It is as if humans are able to transcend mortality but death for animals is natural and inevitable. The main symptom of our collective neurosis towards death is clearly manifested in the persistent and  unrestricted experimentation on animals. Medical research conducts every kind of experiment on animals to find cures and fight death. Why? Perhaps Blaise Pascal has the answer in his "Pensees". He says:"Let us imagine a number of men in chains and condemned to death, where some are killed each day. Those who remain see their own fate in that of their fellows and wait their turn, looking at each other sorrowfully without hope. It is an image of the human condition." It is out of such desperation, we sacrifice animals in order to escape our own fate.

Second,  a self-proclaimed ownership provides the legality of a master and slave relationship between humans and other animals. As slaves, the non-humans have no rights and are under the mercy of their masters.  In our legal system, animals have no standing; they are denied of having personhood (as autonomous individuals) and can be owned as private property.

Third, conceptually, there is a division between culture and nature. Human activities are mainly cultural (as a result of having a larger cortex). Nature is regarded as resources to serve the human interest. Such psychological disassociation is the main cause of our insensitivity towards animal suffering and environmental destruction.

Our moral judgment is tainted with contradictory emotionalism. So it is not surprising that the chimpanzee program received far less attention and sympathy than the one on voluntary suicide. We seem to have forgotten that homo sapiens were originally from Africa, as one of the great apes about three million years ago.

What History Tells Us

Human beings like to idealize themselves as part of a divine universe, although history has proved otherwise. Nature is brutal and all animals must hunt to survive on a one to one basis. In contrast, humans fight among each other for dominance and can kill by the millions way beyond the purpose of evolution. Our history is propelled by wars, such as the Peloponnesian war, the Roman expansion, the Crusades and the 30 years war, followed by civil wars within nations and states, and the two world wars of recent history. While Thucydides was observing and recording the Peloponnesian war, he was also intrigued by the violent and hostile nature of man.

Krishnamurti, in one of his early talks, said that: "Human beings have been conducting warfare throughout the entire history, and had sacrificed millions and billion of human lives. Modern technology for weapons and warfare is aimed at the increasing capacity for greater destruction.  In addition, we have also massacred billions and billions of non-human animals as warfare against nature. Since the twentieth century, more than 50,000 great whales have been slaughtered..." 

So-called heroes such as Pericles, Alexander the Great, Napoleon and many other war heroes that are glorified in history books were mostly war-mongers; they were mainly competing for power. The same aggression is found in colonialism and imperialism. Man conquers not by virtue but with military might.

Today, with the aid of super technology, humans are waging dangerous wars against nature, threatening land, ocean and sky. The numbers of animals being imprisoned and slaughtered are astronomical.  Long ago, during the Paleolithic age, animals and humans were on equal footing as depicted in the cave paintings of Lascaux.

What Would Nature Say?

In nature's eye, all lives are equal and have intrinsic value (as oppose to imposed value). There is no such thing as being either superior or inferior. Animals are the expressions of nature's grandeur. Each, as autonomous being, has its innate knowledge to fend for itself within the whole eco-system. In this respect, the behavior of homo sapiens is far from being lawful. We have forgotten that it is the uniquely stable and favorable condition of the earth temperature that allows all species to evolve and flourish-EQUALLY.  

If humans pride themselves on being ethical, intelligent and spiritual, then  why has civilization never done anything to assist nature's democratic practice, but acted more against it and colonized all parts of the earth? By excluding other animals from legal protection, we turn them into domestic stocks, lab tools and property as well as business investments, equating them with economic values.

And how are we treating the wild life? They are often being trapped and hunted as humans intrude into their natural habitats. Mountain lions, bears, wild horses, coyotes and prairie dogs, they are the spirit of the land, nature's working order, and yet, as long as their interest is in conflict with ours, they are regarded as a nuisance to be eliminated. This is another example of our unjust treatment towards non-humans.

A Moral Imperative

Like early humans, other social animals have their own tribal culture, particularly among the great apes, whales, dolphins, elephants, wolves and many others. Their knowledge of proper ranking for family and social relations is surprisingly  similar to that of the Confucian ethics; their ways of forming  family bonding are also like ours.  In the natural history, homo sapiens is a part of the continuum of animal life. Every animal is a unique individual with a conscious mind, fully aware of its environment.

Today, as human population is exploding, so is the increasing demand of using animals as food supplies. Every year, over 58 billion cows, pigs, and chickens are imprisoned in the world's factory farms and slaughtered. One can imagine the intensity of animal suffering in agri-business. Their methods of animal exploitation is now a matter of systemized and institutionalized operation. A once docile and conscious creature can be conceptually altered through linguistic cover up when labeled as ham, steak or mutton, an effective way to disengage our  moral sensibility towards other sentient beings.

What is moral imperative? According to Kant, the philosopher of German Enlightenment, moral obligation is at the command of reason, surpassing personal deliberation. One must treat others as ends, not as means. Although Kant's moral theory is for humanity in general, a genuine sense of moral duty naturally involves the sympathy for any living being that is capable of suffering-physically or emotionally. Why is it an imperative? Because the moment one recognizes the suffering of another being, be it human or non-human, one is already morally obligated to respond, at the command of one's good will.

The Post Modern Nihilism

As there is no end to the ways humans mistreat other animals, so there is no end to our moral and spiritual suffering. Do we ever wonder why is that with all our material comfort, people are still relying on tranquilizers, sleeping pills, alcohol and drugs to get through their lives, to escape the feeling of meaninglessness? With the vast knowledge that we have accumulated about the world and with the most advanced medicine to treat just about all the illnesses, people are still in need of help to relief the mind's torment? Throughout the ages, philosophers, religious thinkers and wise men, they all agreed on one thing: Despair is the sickness of the soul, the sickness unto death in which animal experimenting can offer no cure.

Philosophically, the cause of nihilism explained Arthur  Schopenhauer (whose idea was influenced by Buddhism) is: "History shows us the life of nations and finds nothing to narrate but wars and tumults; the peaceful years appear only as occasional brief pauses and interludes.  In just the same way,  the life of the individual is a constant struggle, and not merely a metaphorical one against want or boredom, but also an actual struggle against other people. He discovers adversaries everywhere, lives in continual conflict."   The mentality of contemporary life style is similar to that of the Epicurean view: "To maximize one's pleasure in life", but can one escape the sickness of the soul?

Ironically, while animal habitats are shrinking, losing their food sources, human population is escalating along with the problem of obesity-the main reason is from over consuming animal flesh. Most health magazines are saturated with successful stories for weight loss; yet their efforts have been difficult.  

At this point, there is only one most urgent question: How to achieve a balance between human longevity and a healthy functioning planet? When glaciers are melting fast and marine lives are drowning in thick oil, when other species are quietly vanishing, how are we humans going to face ourselves, we will become a lone creature riddled with quilt and confusion? Why suicide is common among young people when their lives are supposed to full of hopes and dreams?

The atmosphere of the post modern world is one of silent mourning. To quote Eugene Thacker's words: "A kind of inverted memorial, to bear witness to the creation of a nothingness at the heart of the world".  The barrier that we had created between them and us, nature versus technology is the main cause of a new kind of environmental nihilism.

An Out of Date Paradigm

Since the industrial revolution, the progress we have achieved till present days, has been mostly on the material plane. Our sense of justice and moral obligation is still lagging behind. An example is that even the great apes, who share over 99% of our human active genes, are not spared from being used for medical research. 

Currently, the US is the only remaining large scale user of chimpanzees in research in the world. Many are used in labs to study heart disease. This is just one example of medical research's tunnel vision. Heart disease, the leading cause of death in most countries, has its genetic factors but is also associated with obesity, poor life style, environmental stress, substance abuse and high animal fat consumption due to the widespread of fast food industry. A rational and less costly strategy to combat heart disease would be to focus on health education and stress management. To spend millions of dollars on researching animals that do not have such disease is not only unethical but also a waste of money.

For the last three hundred years, western medicine has been primarily using a mechanical model to understand diseases. Clinical studies have been mainly focusing on isolated body parts, the organs and the systems, ignoring the organic components of a whole person, which include the social, biological, psychological and environmental factors.  Arguably, the use of animal model as research paradigm has been long out of date, yet both the industries and research institutes are resistant to change.  

Should the wellbeing of one species be obtained at the expense of another? What if other intelligent creatures from another solar system decide to use homo sapiens for lab research? Say, to study space travel, organ transplant or human behavior/psychology in a control setting? Would we fight for our dignity right? Would we argue for ethical reasons? Perhaps this is why Stephen Hawkins, a physicist and a cosmologist, advises others best not to make contact with possible aliens in outer space.

Most research scientists share one common claim for their work, that is: To save life and to work for the benefit of humanity as if medicine can eventually  prevent death. Can we ever win the battle against the inevitable end?

If saving human life is such a noble deed, and no one is allowed to die voluntarily, then why are the law makers spending billions of dollars to develop weapons of mass destruction? Shouldn't we appropriate the money for humanitarian efforts? To protect the environment? To fund health education and preventative medicine which is less costly in health care management?  

Science studies facts of life, invents things and creates technology. But knowledge requires philosophical investigation and the wisdom from contemplation.  Scientific research can only advance with a new ethical paradigm that is based on reason and deep ethics.

Ethics and Health

People are living healthier and longer today but they are still living in internal discord. The practice of health in a commercial age has become a practice of excessive use of drugs and supplements along with endless ways of serving the physical self. How do we evaluate health not influenced by propagandas? Surely physical health is essential to all life but the health of each individual, each species must relying on a healthy, functioning environment. Ultimately, the practice of health and ethics is inseparable.

Henry D. Thoreau in "Walden" wrote: "Our whole life is startlingly moral. There is never an instant's truce between virtue and vice. Goodness is the only investment that never fails." True health is not purely physiological- measured by medical tests. It also has to do with one's internal spiritual and moral harmony based on a reciprocal relations with a larger life: What one requires for one's personal well being must be considered in the context of the wellbeing of the whole.

Throughout ages, wise men have always lived a tranquil and ethical life. Their deep interior peace comes from a detached mind. Mystics and visionaries like Jesus Christ, Pythagoras, Plato, Plutarch,  Tolstoy, Gandhi...they all practiced non-violence and were also vegetarians. In their eyes, the pursuit of power and wealth reflects a spiritual poverty. Ethics means a profound good will, a vitality-self opening to a larger life (and to both life and death). The meaning of health, without incorporating a spiritual dimension, would be restricted to merely maintaining the bodily function. What about the mind? A heart of darkness does not know what happiness is.

What Is Justice? What makes all lives equal?

Happiness comes from a kind heart and a sense of justice, this view is generally agreed among the early Greeks. What is true justice? In Plato's Republic, book II, there is a dialogue between Socrates and Glaucon (Plato's brother) on "What is justice?" Glaucon, as the antagonist, argues that justice is defined by those in power in order to benefit themselves (this explains why humans see they have no moral duty towards other animals).   Socrates disagrees; he firmly believes that a just person would never harm others. He also thinks that being just is itself an end, not as means to achieve personal interest. A just person reflects a kind and well-ordered soul, the embodiment of the three cardinal virtues: temperance, wisdom and courage. These are also the inner aspects of a mature ethics.  

Indeed, we have been paying a heavy price by insisting on a partial and unjust moral view. In the end, the winner is the real loser. The real cure for our illnesses is essentially a spiritual matter. True health comes from one's inner harmony, the cultivation of wisdom and good will. For Socrates,  living well and justly are the same thing.

Diseases and death would matter less if one lives with a sense of connectedness, a sense of being a part of a larger life. For everything has a shared life.  All lives are born equal; each living being has its own worth, not to be judged by the will of another. Be it a chimpanzee, a cow or a human being, each has the cognitive ability to solve problems (even a tiny ant) and has self-awareness of its environment. Every individual animal knows how to use sound and gestures to communicate their feelings and thoughts with others. Their facial expressions soften when sensing affection, their hearts beat faster, bodies tense up when sensing danger and hostility very much  like those of humans.

Taoism, a naturalistic philosophy, honors the sanctity of all lives, in that every living being should be allowed to act according to its natural inclination without being forced to be something else. In other words, a cow is not beef, a calf is not veal, a lamb is not mutton, a pig is not pork.

What Is Virtue?

The Greek tragedies are full of stories about the wretchedness of life. The condemnation of Sisyphus is a reflection of the human condition. How to rise above one's existential peril? How to achieve happiness? For the early Greeks and Chinese thinkers, the way to happiness is by living a harmonious and virtuous life. In his Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle agrees with Socrates that by cultivating virtue and reason, one can achieve "Eudaimonia", meaning happiness and well-being. He also thinks that a person will not be affected by misfortunes even on a large scale if he is guided by a rational and a virtuous soul, for he will be able to rise above the disaster.  

Socrates asserts that an unexamined life is not worth living. It also implies that an unexamined ethical view (not knowing the right value), is not worth following. For Socrates, virtue is the most important element for humanity. Being virtuous, one naturally acts justly and with kindness; this is the key to happiness and true health. "Virtue" in Chinese implies a benevolent action from the straight gaze into the heart" (translated by Ezra Pound).  Another word "compassion", actually contains two words: "Chih" means kindness and "Bei" means sadness. One feels sad at the straight gaze of a suffering being and acts spontaneously from the heart.

Albert Schweitzer, in his 1959 Brussels lecture said: "Ethics are complete, profound, and alive only when addressed to all living beings. Only then are we in spiritual connection with the world. Any philosophy not respecting this, not based on the indefinite totality of life, is bound to disappear..."  He further said: "We find ourselves in a new movement of thought...and we reject the idea that man is the master of other creatures."  Schweitzer had thought that even traditional philosophy tends to ignore the discussions on the moral status of animals.

Deep Ethics-A New Spirituality

The cure for nihilism can be found if we look to the animal world. Outside the human domain, other free animals have always been able to enjoy their life, in sky and ocean, in deep forest and remote desert, they are the will and joy of life.

What was the spiritual aspect of Romantic Idealism? It's the celebration of nature and as inspiration for artists, writers, philosophers and educators; they see that animals are the shapes, eyes and voices of the earth. Animals are content in their own environment and take only what is needed to survive, even vicious predators like lions and tigers, they will leave their  prey in peace when they are not hungry.

We share the animal's joy when listening to the birds singing in the wake of dawn, the chirring lullaby of crickets at night, or the coyotes howling in nearby hills as if from a wild dream. They are happy because they are free! We also find companionship with canine friends; their calm breathing by our side tells of a deep trust that is hard to find among our own kind.

What is animal spirituality? That is, each day is a new day, each moment is eternity. Not living in the regret of the past, nor fearing the future. This is the essence of Zen, the way of Tao. These are the poetic aspects of  "Animality", a concept discussed in contemporary philosophy. It serve as the connecting link between humans and non-humans.  Animality is the new locus to replace the transcendental ontology.  This new locus is the ground of our beings, fully alive, visible and palpable, not paralyzed by machines.

Animality, implies a natural spirituality as it opens to a realm of contemplation. Heidegger, in his "Being and Time", differentiates between things (their modes are equipmental, as means to ends) and beings. For him, the earth is a living mystery, perceived as "the self opening into a broad path".  If I may take his view further, the earth is the ground of animal beingness and it must refuse our labeling, using and appropriation.

Deep ethics goes beyond human interest, it is when we are being touched by the impulse of life's mystery and the remembrance of where we all came from.

I hope the questions that I raise here concerning moral duty and the analysis of the dichotomy and dis-continuity between humans and non-human sentients are able to stimulate critical thinking in an arena less explored in conventional philosophy. A reasonable persuasion would be for humans to give up their sovereignty over nature's law abiding residents. The meaning of healthy living is to be found in nature's broad paths-its wild diversity and undomesticated existence. 

After words

As I am writing this essay, the National Institute of Health is planning to transfer 220 chimpanzees that have been retired since 2001 from Alamogordo, New Mexico to a research lab in Texas (. This news has generated public outrage in New Mexico, the U.S. and from people around the world. At the same time, "The Great Ape Protection Act-H.R.1326" has been reintroduced in the house, if passed, it will end invasive biomedical research and testing on about 1000 chimpanzees in US laboratories. (www.releasechimps.org/mission/change-laws/the-great-ape-protection-act/.).  The European Union has already banned the experimenting on the great apes. The moral irony is that we use great apes for bio-medical research because of our genetic similarity but we refuse to grant them moral rights because we argue from the differences. Even a sophist would find such self-contradictory argument unconvincing.

Mira Fong   

September 2010   

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