“When I look into the eyes of an animal, I do not see an animal. I see a living being. I see a friend. I feel a soul.” -Anthony Douglas Williams
How to See Animals
In an excerpt from Animals in Film, Jonathon Burt talks about the appropriateness of seeing animals. That in a way, animal imagery coincides with not only the way we view animals but also how we relate to them. As stated, if we see animals in a position below us it gives us an opportunity to exploit the animal. We then view the animal as nothing more but a means for human use. On the other hand, if we see animals as an intrinsic part of our lives, we allow for equal opportunities where our rights as well as the animals are established. It allows for a consideration of our needs as well as the needs of the animal.
This is why there must be a balance between entertainment and its interest to animal welfare in the media. For example, despite the fact that educational films play an important role in viewing animals in a more ethical way, there are a lot of intricacies that still need to be addressed. Intricacies like an underlying outlook beyond the animal that is presented and more on how that animals current condition came to be. This includes an understanding of the social and political issues that undermine the mistreatment of animals. Why do we hunt animals? Why do we domesticate them? Why do we destroy their habitats? These are questions that entrench economic concerns displayed beyond the scope of nature films. These are issues that can only be solved through considering a different worldview. 1
Alternative Ways of Seeing
My encounter with Asian elephants allowed me to recognize that the plight of the Asian elephant is intertwined with a history of injustice for the species but also its human counterparts. Yet, despite my direct contact with the Asian elephant and its involvement in fuelling further conservation efforts, that preexisting dedication to animal welfare was always with me. Essentially, I am arguing that my early experiences with animals is the real root to my current passion in helping them.
For instance, as someone who grew up surrounded with animals, I often found myself falling in love with them and always considering them a part of my family. My deep connection with them allowed me to realize that animals are very similar to us—they are also living things who have thoughts, feelings and most importantly, a soul. I will reiterate, for others who did not view animals this way, they took on a different view of animals. Animals who apparently lacked consciousness in efforts to continue and to justify their use and abuse of them. Yet, because I was conditioned to love animals and because I was taught that this was false, whenever I saw animals experience pain and suffering, I was propelled to help.
If we teach others to anthropomorphize animals it allows us to identify with them and to connect ourselves to the natural world. One where we realize that commonalities exist through similar experiences of happiness and suffering. This blurs the borders that separate humans and nonhumans, allowing for animals to be an entity beyond human pleasure and exploitation. 2
How to Really Help Animals Facing Extinction
Evidently, the conditions of animals today are rooted in preexisting notions of what an animal truly is. It is why I will continue to make living things more visible by expanding my human-animal experience with Asian elephants to all animals. I also hope that many will form alliances with the animal ‘other’. 3 That all humans can recognize that animals are not merely an external part of our lives as they can become an internal part of it. Therefore, to end their exploitation and extinction I will stress that we are all interconnected with animals. 4 That we are all related to this world, so who’s to say that animals don’t deserve to have a fulfilling place in it too.
- The illumination of the animal kingdom: The role of light and electricity in animal representation. (2001). In J. Burt (Author), Society and animals (pp. 289-301). Brill Academic Publishers. (Excerpted from Animals as symbols, The animal reader, pp. 249-302, by L. Kalof & A. Fitzgerald, Ed., 2014, London, UK: Bloomsbury Academic)
- Sowards, S. K. (2006). Identification through Orangutans: Destabilizing the Nature/Culture Dualism. Ethics & the Environment 11(2), 45-61. Indiana University Press. Retrieved April 6, 2017, from Project MUSE database.
- Duckert, L. (2012). Speaking stones, John Muir and a slower (non) humanities. In J.J. Cohen (Ed.), Animal, vegetable, mineral: Ethics and objects (pp. 273-278). Washington DC: Oliphant Books.
- Joy, E. (2012). You are here: A manifesto. In J. J. Cohen (Ed.), Animal, vegetable, mineral: Ethics and objects (pp. 153-171). Washington DC: Oliphant Books.