It used to be an assumption, and a very convenient one, at that, that only human beings have that esoteric quality we call ‘soul.’ But how do we recognize a soul? What are its signs in a personality? What assumptions was that assumption built on?
Descartes shaped the notion back when Reason was all the rage, and spirituality not so much, that animals are basically meat mechanisms, all their actions based on reflex. He asserted further that the mechanical understanding of animals absolved people of any guilt for killing and eating animals.
We went with that in Western, ‘civilized’ thought generally, for several centuries, never much pondering on the nature of consciousness, of suffering, of whether animals have emotions or any kind of awareness that goes beyond instinct and reflex. This made imperialism so much simpler, ethically and morally, it was so easy to declare that so-called primitive people were not actually human. Of course, these lesser humans included anyone not of European descent and coloring, Jews, Romani, as well. The foundational belief was there for people like Hitler to exploit an increment at a time.
What we know now through observing what every dog-owner has always known, that animals have awareness, emotions, some even have cognition at very high levels. This being so, we have to re-evaluate what has been assumed, taken for true without further consideration, for generations, in the ethics and morality of our interactions with animals.
This article is about elephants particularly. It is a clear statement that it is time not to focus on whether animals have human qualities, but to recognize that human qualities we have are not just human, but animal qualities as well.
Yes, it is a long article. It is a meaty article, and meat takes more chewing, more digesting than cream puffs and croissants. I found it worth the investment.