Photo: Flickr/InkHog

For a long time humans believed we were the only species with feelings. We know now that this is not so. I believe the next stage in removing ourselves from the center of creation is to recognize that there are probably other species who feel some emotions that we do not even know, and among those we know, some animals may feel those same feelings more deeply than we do. 

I am thinking, just for obvious examples, that when it comes to feeling friendly, no human is as open to friendliness as dogs. I consider myself hyper-social, but I am a mere beginner when I compare myself to my golden lab, Benjy. He wags his tail in delight when I stroke our cats. He sniffs our rats and shows pleasure. He loves to meet people he knows, and people he doesn’t know. Dogs are of course, his favorite. They know how to play. (There is another area in which humans cannot compare to dogs). Have you ever seen anyone as relaxed and contented as your cat on a daily basis, as it basks in the sun? You may think these are trivial examples, but what about elephants who seem more attune to death and mourning than humans? We would also like to believe that when it comes to kindness, surely no other animal can approach us. I beg to differ. The kindest person I know is still not as kind as the kindest dog I know. I realize that it may sound strange to use the word “kind” for a dog. It is not an adjective that comes to mind when describing the personality of a dog. But I believe it should. The only reason it does not is because we find it difficult to acknowledge our inferiority in the face of another animal.

But I have recently become intrigued with something even deeper. It may well turn out that when it comes to a sense of morality, we also lag behind not just some species, but just about every other animal on the planet. I am referring to just how dangerous we are as a species, not just to every other animal, but also to ourselves. Every other animal seems to know limits when it comes to violence, only we don’t. Torture, genocide, slavery, child abuse, and especially all-out warfare, these seem to mark our species when other animals know nothing of it. This is something humans have always known, but kept out of deliberate awareness. I believe the time has come to attempt both an explanation and a re-appraisal. There is no shame in recognizing how unmoored we have become from a more natural order IF we are prepared to take steps to recover something we seem to have lost along the way. For I believe, as do many anthropologists of war, that we have not always been a species obsessed with violence. If this is true, then there is some hope, however dim, that we can recover what we lost. The effort, in any event, is the most important thing we can do as a species at the present time.