As meat consumption skyrockets, German writers and philosophers Peter Wohlleben and Richard David Precht insist that animals – and plants – have feelings, too, writes Antar Marc.
Meat production in Germany has risen rapidly over the last 20 years, with the manufacture of pork and poultry for instance, growing by 50 and 75 percent, respectively. Yet as fewer farms produce more and more meat for the world market, increasing numbers of people – including meat eaters – feel very uneasy about industrial meat farming techniques that cause so much pain to animals.
Peter Wohlleben and Richard David Precht
Such dilemmas have been addressed in two recent books by German authors Peter Wohlleben, also a forester, and Richard David Precht, best-known for his philosophical works.
Animals are closer to us than we think, says Wohlleben in his second bestseller, The Inner Life of Animals, published in 2016. How could it be that we hunt, imprison, torture and kill animals and deny them any feelings, even the capacity to suffer? For one of Germany’s most popular philosophers, Richard David Precht (widely known for his book, Who Am I?: And If So, How Many?), our ignorant and cruel treatment of animals must be made more emotionally comprehensible – a point argued in his latest book, Animals Think: on Animal Rights and Human Limitation (2016), so far only available in German (Tiere Denken: Vom Recht der Tiere und den Grenzen des Menschen).
The notion that animals have feelings is not new. It has been proven that animals, like humans, speak to each other and that some species, such as ravens and swans, cultivate lifelong relationships and friendships.
But who would have believed that fruit flies dream? That roosters can tell lies? That there is no fundamental difference between fauna and flora? That plant organisms communicate with one another, sometimes over long distances, forming networks and adapting themselves to changing environmental conditions in order, for example, to combat pests? That trees can count and have feelings? We must break out of our “thought prison,” Wohlleben demands. “Nature has not devised an extra path for us humans.” The success of The Hidden Life of Trees (2015), his other bestseller, shows that many people engage and agree.
Animals feel – just like humans
According to Berlin-based philosopher Precht, our love for animals is fixed around aesthetic standards and the fact that certain animals please us or have endearing names. However, we take little trouble to acknowledge the pain experienced by animals like cattle, pigs, chickens, turkeys or fish that satisfy our hunger for animal protein but are generally shunned from public view.
“Since the Enlightenment, we’ve viewed us as stimulus reflex machines,” says Precht, but the history of the Enlightenment is the excessive exaggeration of reason.” [The Age of Enlightenment was an intellectual and philosophical movement that dominated the world of ideas in Europe during the 18th century.] Feelings are hard to prove, even human feelings. “When someone says, I love you – how can they prove it? With animals, we look for evidence that we don’t call for among humans.”
Evidence that animals feel pain is inconclusive for some. But although a lack of scientific clarity partly informs our approach to animals, Precht says that our attitudes are ultimately shaped by economics, not science.
“We live in the Anthropocene, in an age shaped by man,” he says. “But we should actually speak of the Monetocene, the age of money, of voracious capitalism. It is very difficult to convince a person of something that goes against their economic interests.”
Ethically and environmentally friendly meat?
While factory farming poses a fundamental ethical and moral question, the consumption of meat is a personal one. Neither Precht nor Wohlleben want to become nutrition consultants. But solutions to barbaric and environmentally polluting farming conditions must be solved as a matter of policy, they say.
One decisive way to address this dilemma is through a new kind of meat production using gene technology that is currently undergoing scientific testing. “In 20 years we will eat burgers that were bred from the neck cells of a calf,” says Precht. “Slaughterhouses will then only exist as memorials.”
Peter Wohlleben shares the hope of increasing awareness about the treatment of animals. “More and more people are feeling respect for our fellow creatures and are resisting the dictates of money and big industry.”
None of the authors mention Osho’s views, although he speaks on the subject many times:
In Japan there is a saying: “Flowers don’t talk.” That saying is utterly wrong – they talk. Of course they speak their own language. The Tibetan speaks his language; will you say that he does not talk? The Chinese speaks his own language; will you say he does not talk? Just because you cannot understand, will you say he is not talking? The Chinese has his own language, so does the sun, so do the flowers, so do the animals, the birds, the rocks. In millions of languages the whole world asserts itself.
The Book of Wisdom, Ch 6, Q 1
No one is special, or, everyone is special. No one is ordinary, or everyone is ordinary. Whatsoever you think about yourself, please think the same about everyone else, and the problem will be solved. You can choose. If you want the word ‘special’, you can think you are special – but then everybody is special. Not only people, but trees, birds, animals, rocks – the whole existence is special, because you come out of this existence and you will dissolve into this existence. But if you love the word ‘ordinary’ – which is a beautiful word, more relaxed – then know that everybody is ordinary. Then the whole existence is ordinary.
One thing to be remembered: whatsoever you think about yourself, think the same for everybody else and the ego will disappear. The ego is the illusion that is created by thinking about yourself in one way and thinking about others in another. It is double thinking. If you drop the double thinking, ego dies of its own accord.
The Dhammapada: The Way of the Buddha Vol 1, Ch 4, Q 4
A meditator – who is neither a Christian, nor a Hindu, nor a Mohammedan, nor a Jaina, nor a Buddhist, but simply an inquirer into his subjectivity: “Who am I? What is this life?” – the moment he comes to know this life, he also comes to know all life, because it is the same. Then he sees life not only in other human beings, he sees life in animals, he sees life in trees, he sees life all around. The whole existence is alive; we are not living in a dead existence. Out of a dead existence, life cannot arise.
From Bondage to Freedom, Ch 19, Q 3
I highly recommend these books by the two authors.
Marc is a regular contributor
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