Why ARA writers should not fear accusations of “Anthropomorphism!” “Sentimentality!”
“Man is not the pedestalled individual pictured by his imagination – a being glittering with prerogatives, and towering apart from and above all other beings. He is a pain-shunning, pleasure-seeking, death-dreading organism, differing in particulars, but not in kind, from the pain-shunning, pleasure-seeking, death-dreading organisms below and around him.” (J. Howard Moore, The Universal Kinship)
“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” (Mahatma Gandhi)
Animals have no voice in our wilfully deaf and conveniently anthropocentric, speciesist culture. Despite their clearly having consciousness (for those with eyes to see and ears to hear) and high levels of sapiency as well as sentiency, (which any of us who have had any sort of genuine relationship with a non-human being cannot fail to recognize,) their many languages are not understood by the majority of our fellow humans.
The failure is not on the animals’ part; it is on ours. Not even familiar canine, feline and equine languages, or methods of communication, are comprehended by the vast majority, after all these many aeons of loyal, devoted companionship, friendship and service. And this despite the fact that our fellow beings, (and especially those who are in close relationship with us,) have more than managed to learn our own languages. They understand and interpret not only our many, different verbal requests, whether in French, Russian, Japanese, Arabic or Spanish, (all too frequently delivered as arrogant, dominionist commands, unfortunately,) but also our physical body languages and our energetic, non-verbal (if you like, telepathic) communications. They read our emotions.
But, tragically, our determined, utilitarianist habits of exploitative thinking and living, deny them any right of response or recognition. We have reduced our highly evolved, non-human kin to mere “things,” to “live stock”, to “experimental subjects,” to “specimens,” – to commodities, to so many “its.” Our blatantly self-serving reductionism has deliberately negated their individuality, their conscious existence and experience, their personalities and their souls. We have disingenuously dismissed all their emotional, psychological and spiritual complexities (which we have barely even begun to fathom, having not wanted to look for so long,) to a simplistic, mechanized “instinct.”
Ours is the herd mentality.
How guilty and remorseful we would all feel if they spoke back to us in a language we couldn’t fail to understand, and we were actually forced to listen! (The Bible’s story about Balaam’s ass makes just this point. And the Divine is clearly on the poor ass’s side. )
It is here that the enlightened writer needs to come in. Our moral and our creative duty is to convey their point of view; to translate it for those who seem unable (or unwilling) to comprehend it otherwise.
The writer is by nature and disposition an empath. The writer is sensitive, observant and importantly able to engage with the experience of another. The writer’s heart is mostly wide open. (Very few respond to the writings of a closed heart. Clever, clever, mind-only writings simply don’t touch us. They pass through our own minds as just another load of ego-centric baloney; ‘intelligent’ perhaps, but abstract, cold. The world is not transformed by them in any way at all.) A good writer feels, sees fully, hears everything, actually dares to bear witness to what is, on all levels – and thus, thankfully, has a different, more developed lens of perception to share.
Writers who write about animals, about their fellow beings, care. We care very deeply. Our compassion and understanding, our capacity to connect, are highly developed. That is why we write. Because we cannot just remain silent. Having uncovered, having discovered, having born witness to the living hell that is most animals’ experience at our hands, we have to make use of so often inadequate, man-made words to pierce through the cold walls of human indifference.
We have to touch. We have to bring viscerally to life. We have to use the power of truthfully observed detail, noticing everything, (inside and out) feeling everything, to rekindle the embers of better being in us all, to remind us of our tragically long-forgotten inter-species unity, of our sameness, (and not our petty differences). We have to break down centuries of hardened, calloused indifference.
Abstractions and vast statistics simply don’t touch the majority. If they cannot, as readers, imagine themselves inside the experience of the suffering other, if they cannot identify, they will not be motivated to make personal changes, and to fight for change. Reading is a co-creative process – and it requires the writer to have gone there fully first; to powerfully evoke.
Writers who have the conscience, kindness and commitment to actually write about animals, who have the courage to look their suffering directly in the eye, (a tough, torturous path, though very necessary,) who have the devotion to their animal brothers and sisters to dedicate themselves to ending all the terrible oppression, all the atrocity, abuse and pain – must never be held back by that old, bitter and selfishly motivated accusation of “anthropomorphism!”
To empathise is not to fantasize or to project at all – but rather to recognise fellow suffering when we see, hear, smell, know and touch it. To empathise is to connect to the vivid reality of another. It is to make real, to embody the cosmic Golden Rule to “Do as you would be done by” and the Silver Rule to “Not do as you would not be done by.” It is love in action.
There is nothing sentimental whatsoever about this compulsion at all. It is, in fact, our highest calling. And there should be no apologies for it either.
Where would we be if we had failed to empathize with the many victims of the slave-trade, of vicious, racist and sexist attacks, of war, terrorism and famine? Where would all the children be, all the people with learning difficulties and mental health problems, all the political prisoners who suffered so long at human hands, if we had failed to finally empathize with their plight, to bring it to light so that others could feel it for themselves – and thus demand change?
By contrast, sentimentality is to imagine what is not there. It is to dump idealized longings onto others for our own selfish sakes. It is to bypass reality.
That is not what writers who empathize with their fellow beings do at all. Writers who empathize connect again, (where most have disconnected,) and report back. We do this in order to wake ourselves and others up, to shake us all out of our self-centred reveries, to pour a cold bucket of water over our conveniently slumbering consciences. We cry out with everything we have in us: “Have you seen what’s going on here? Will you please look! How can you bear it? Do something! We each have a moral responsibility! They are just like us – how can you not care?”
Writers who empathize force us all to look at what we each are doing, what we are colluding in, what we are contributing to. We are forced to take responsibility for our negative day-to-day choices that directly correlate, incrementally, to immense, unimaginable, abominable animal suffering. Empathic writing cuts through all those guilt-filled attempts at avoidance and dismissal, the desperate pleas of “don’t tell me, don’t tell me – I don’t want to know!”
I say it again, there must be no apologies. It is our violent culture that is so wrong, not the courageous writers who dare to expose this violence. It is not the writer who should modify his or her approach for fear of upsetting the oppressors, the animal abusers, the exploiters and the colluders, for fear of public ridicule – but rather the oppressors, the animal abusers, the exploiters and the colluders who should hang their heads in shame.
The time will come when we will look back on this longest of struggles, this most devilish of slaveries – the enslavement of our vulnerable, innocent, animal kin, (who should have had our protection,) as we now do on human slavers, on human murderers, on rapists and paedophiles. (Let’s not forget all the ‘licensed’ animal brothels currently open across the world, and the crush video sadists who are making a fortune in this twenty-first century). It is the unenlightened who need to apologize and repent for their cruel abominations – not the empathic writers who seek to understand and communicate the hidden truth.
I would rather be accused of “anthropomorphism!” and “sentimentality!” any day, than of animal rape or animal murder. I would rather care too deeply, (is there such a thing?) than not enough. I would rather be accused of being over-soft, than over-hard. I would rather love, than hate. And I would far rather be defined as a bunny-hugger than a bunny vivisector, a bunny killer, a bunny torturer, an angora wool-puller, a blood-covered, live animal skinner.
Let us never be ashamed. Let us write passionately and movingly on behalf of our suffering, animal kin, in order to shine the most powerful light we possibly can, the Divine light of creativity, on the world’s man-made darkness. Let us break open hearts in the process, so that healing can begin. As Francis of Assisi said, “A single sunbeam is enough to drive away many shadows.”
Let us write without any fear of retribution or of societal reprimand. Let us remember the billions of animal victims instead, and forget our human accusers.
One day they will thank us for it. One day they will try and claim they too were part of the resistance.
1 “No Apolgies” Borrowed in part from Kurt Cobain who turned me from pescetarian to vegan, when I finally heard the painful irony in his lyrics: “It’s OK to eat fish because they don’t have any feelings.”