Are human lives worth more than other lives?

February 19, 2022

Last night, for some reason unknown, this thought came into my head: if I was put in a position where I could save a human being, or save another animal, say a whale or a dolphin, which would I try to save?

The answer is quite clear to most of us - you would save the human! Of course, you would, because humans are... humans and animals are ... animals.

Since I have been more intensively studying the Tao Te Ching in the recent months (and yes, I just hear the paradox of writing studying and Tao in the same sentence, for: "The Name that can be Named will never be the Eternal Name "), the hierarchy in species has become more and more blurry in my mind.

Is human life really worth more than the life of an animal? And if so, why?

I am not trying to write some more Vegan propaganda here. I do eat meat sometimes - this is irrelevant to the subject at hand here: to eat meat is natural - to kill for fun is unnaturally human.

The argument might be that a human life is more precious because a human being has consciousness and can think communicate. A human being has feelings.

My son is 2 years old, and we try to avoid watching too much TV. Because of the pandemic, we can't go out as much as we would like to, and so we have chosen a few shows that he can watch from time to time. His two favorites are one long documentary about elephants traveling on a journey of 1000 miles. He absolutely loves that documentary. It's beautifully filmed, the image quality is outstanding. He loves to see all the elephants - the big ones, the medium ones, and the tiny baby ones.

His other favorite show is equally, if not more impressive. There is a series about whales on the national geographic channel - one episode per species. He loves seeing them jump in the air and make a huge splash.

The reason I am telling you this is not a little commercial break for the Disney channel. In both of these documentaries, you learn that these animals have all of the above: they have culture, they have feelings, emotions, they have consciousness, and they communicate in a unique language. A pod of Orcas in Norway will have a different language than the pods in New Zealand or Antarctica. They have different cultures different ways of gathering food. They have a different diet and other pods "politics." It is quite extraordinary, really. The way they interact with Nature is way more evolved than the way we do - and they don't destroy it in the process. On the contrary, they are such an essential part of our ecosystem that scientists have discovered that whales are as crucial as trees to create clean, breathable oxygen.

There is a part that is heartbreaking in the episode with the Elephants when a young one gets killed by Lions. (don't be upset at Lions, they were hungry). You can see the Elephant's parents crying and morning their loss. The whole group mourns, and they have their rituals (culture) on leaving the body there.

The same is true for the whales. In the first episode, they talk about Orcas. Orcas are known as killer whales, which I don't find the term fair - unless we humans are also called killer monkeys.

There you can see a mother Orca that has lost her baby. Her mourning process is so intense that she pushes him in the water for weeks - that's hundreds and hundreds of miles, struggling with her loss.

I know that my arguments for making life and death decisions should not be based on what I watch on the Disney channel. And these arguments are indeed a little bit oversimplified. I appreciate that. But the truth is that animals, too, have consciousness. In fact, plants also do. We might not think that a tree has consciousness and that it can communicate, but of course, they have, and of course, they do. It is not because we cannot hear or understand them that we cannot.

Ok, for whales and elephants, you might get my point. But trees? I hope I'm not losing you and that you don't think I have completely lost it - just hear me out.

We, humans, are stuck between two rocks; first, we only believe what we see. But then, we invent a word, faith, to explain as rationally as possible things that we cannot see. And so to believe in a God that is invisible in the sky, detached from us with his beautiful white beard (how can we know his facial hair choices when he's invisible?) is perfectly ok. It's common. In fact, there are more believers in some form of detached from man Deity(ies) than not. But to imagine that trees have consciousness and communicate makes me a hippy or a weirdo. That is indeed mind-blowing.

In fact, I would suggest that a tree might have an even more, evolved consciousness than we humans do. They can communicate in perceived silence to other consciousness. Trees are not stuck in the illusion of the Self. They know that their consciousness doesn't stop at their bark-like we think our self is separated from others with the walls of our (actually not solid) skins. To transcend the illusion of the Self is what is commonly known as enlightenment - awakening to the truth of the One.

And so, for us humans, we don't consider the sun that gives us light or the river that provides us with water, part of who we are. We believe our heart, lungs, and liver are part of who we are. Not the air we need to breathe or the food we need to survive. We separate what is in our skin from what is out.

A tree is much more reasonable: it knows that the soil is part of who he is, for, without it, he would die. He knows that the humidity helps him survive. He knows that the light of the sun is what makes him thrive, his fruits ripen, and his flowers bloom.

A tree also knows that he is interdependent to other consciousness - like bees and the wind to reproduce.

And so to the conclusion of this article - I don't have one. I will let you make your own choice and your own decisions. I know that if I were to read about this a few years ago, I would have blocked myself from the arguments above - I was very into humanist philosophy.

I am not asking for you to be convinced about my truth, but to open your mind to the possibility that there is more to life than just who we think we are as human beings. That love is not only expressed by our ability to make delicious chocolates, write beautiful poetry, create beautiful art, or play beautiful sounds.

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