There is a mounting body of evidence that shows that many species of animals have incredible intelligence, sentience, and depth of emotion long misunderstood. But, as a society, we continue to exploit them for fashion, entertainment, food, and other human-centric purposes. And that’s what Drs. Marc Bekoff and Jessica Pierce hope to highlight and change in their most recent book.
The Animals’ Agenda: Freedom, Compassion, and Coexistence in the Human Age was published by Beacon Press in April, and is the latest from the two experts. Dr. Bekoff is a field biologist who specializes in non-human animal behaviour, and Dr. Jessica Pierce is a leading bio-ethicist – and no subject is off limits in this book.
Whether the reader is a devout vegan, or someone just learning the truth about the fur trade, the duo provide them easy-to-digest observations on the failings of science to affect change for animals, why animal welfare isn’t enough, but animal well-being could change the lives of millions of animals, and the difference between needs and wants, and how that impacts what we view as freedom.
The book is broken into the broad categories in which non-human animals are treated in our society: agricultural, entertainment, research, pets and domestication, and wildlife. The pair also take on subjects like humane washing, and pinpoint failings in our everyday language that impact animals.
“This is as good a place as any to discuss the use of the word 'humane,' one of the most overused and meaningless in our current vocabulary,” they note in one chapter. "If you hear the word ‘humane,’ you can pretty well bet that something bad is happening to animals and somebody is trying to clean it up and make it look less ugly.”
In the wildlife chapter cases of compassion, coexistence, and convenience over ethics are outlined, including cases familiar with supporters of The Fur-Bearers, such as Bryce Casavant's decision to not kill two healthy bear cubs, and the killing of wolves in an unscientific bid to protect endangered caribou.
The statements are at times uncomfortable, and always challenging of current beliefs and the status quo. Bekoff and Pierce outline much of their argument in one paragraph:
“Just as it is wrong, in our view, to deny the reality of climate science in shaping government policy, industry, and personal behavior, it is wrong to deny the reality of the science of animal cognition and emotion. The reality of climate change is, as Al Gore says, an inconvenient truth, because it urges us to move beyond our highly profitable reliance on fossil fuels and alter our daily lives, to give up things like conspicuous consumption. The truth of animal feelings is similarly inconvenient, in that it challenges our highly profitable animal industries and our personal habits.”
Anyone with an interest in wildlife, animal well-being, or even have a passion for pets, would do well to read The Animals’ Agenda and begin their role in moving our society toward the aptly dubbed Compassionocene, or age of compassion, that Bekoff and Pierce believe is possible.
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