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Animals, People and the Humane

Source | LinkedIn : By David L. Katz, MD, MPH, FACPM, FACP, FACLM

To say that I had an exchange with New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof on the narrow topic of “humanity” might, I suppose, be overstating the case. Back on May 14, Mr. Kristof published a column about the evolving inclination to treat animals better that either he, or his editor, entitled “A Humane Revolution.”

I tweeted: “given treatment of other species, perhaps wrong to call right thing ‘HUMane’ ?” Mr. Kristof retweeted me. I am not sure whether that satisfies the new-age definition of an exchange.   Moving on.

The issue, arguably one of mere semantics, could be seen to run in deeper channels, extending to the view we favor of our place in the natural world. There is something aspirational, and something perilously biased, in using the word we rely on to differentiate our own kind from all others to designate the best way to be, the most estimable conduct.

For starters, people are animals. This is true for some rather fundamental reasons. First, all life is connected, part of a single continuum, cousins at one remove or another. This story of the extended family of life is quite beautifully told by Richard Dawkins in The Ancestor’s Tale. If you have not already experienced what happens when the Canterbury Tales encounters Darwin and his greatest successors, I highly commend the book to you.

For another, we are animals for actuarial reasons. We have carved the cosmos into inventories of only animal, vegetable, and mineral, and choosing our place in that catalogue is far from challenging. We are animals, because there is nothing else at all suitable for us to be.

I am not convinced we are especially nice animals.

Yes, we care for those we love- but so do most if not all members of the mammalian class, and no small number of species in other classes as well. Some other mammals are as devoted in their fulfillment of parental obligation as the very best of us.

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