Tuesday is the official publication date for my new book, Phoenix Zones: Where Strength Is Born and Resilience Lives. I’m so excited to share it with you! With the book, I aim to acknowledge the painful realities so many face, as well as the honest hope many steadfastly maintain even in the worst circumstances. As one reviewer suggested, the book’s stories of survivors – both people and animals – prove that violence can be defeated. I love that idea.
I’m equally excited to share another new adventure with you – one I hope you’ll join. Using nonviolent principles found in the book, I am confident we can work together to create a Phoenix Zones Movement that addresses the root causes of violence and injustice to help create more resilient, empathic communities of people and animals. By tackling the structure of violence at multiple levels, from individual choices to the social, economic, and cultural forces that inform and influence behavior, I believe we can create a world in which Phoenix Zones are no longer necessary – a world that is itself a Phoenix Zone.
In my last post, I included a few responses to questions people often ask me. Here, I’d like to share a few more – especially some that show how it’s possible for us to create a better world for people and animals. As I’ve learned through my work as a physician and human rights and animal protection advocate, progress is not a zero-sum game. We can create a win-win situation for people and animals. Here are a few responses to some of the questions people often ask me along these lines:
Has there ever been a time when human rights and animal rights have been linked?
At times throughout history, human rights and animal rights have been treated as one cause. For example, in the nineteenth century, among religious and secular advocates in the United Kingdom and the United States, efforts to protect people and animals united over a common moral vision. Organizations slowly emerged to protect the most vulnerable members of society – particularly children and animals – often focusing on compassion for animals as a first step toward progress against violence. Leaders like Henry Bergh, founder of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, realized that cruelty against children and animals shared common origins.
In fact, in 1874, Henry Bergh was one of the first people to step forward to help a young girl named Mary Ellen who was, in every sense of the word, a survivor. At the age of nine, she stood up to her abuser – her adopted mother – and told a courtroom full of adults about how she was confined, beaten, and starved. At the time, children had no real legal rights. With help from Henry Bergh and others, Mary Ellen eventually went on to live a full life, raise her own children, and live in relative obscurity. Henry Bergh took Mary Ellen’s case because he realized that her experiences mirrored the grim sagas of the animals he cared about. He was drawn to Mary Ellen’s story in the same way he was drawn to saving horses from neglect and abuse, dogs from dogfighting rings, and chickens from being boiled alive. He and other advocates of his time knew that violence against people and animals required similar responses.
In Phoenix Zones, you talk about how animals are used in society are reminiscent of how humans have been mistreated throughout history. Why is it important to include animals in key protections usually reserved for human rights?
As a human rights physician, I’ve struggled to understand how our propensity for mass crimes like genocide and torture emerged, as well as why so many people stand by while others perish, ignoring their dignity and suffering. As I’ve carefully examined the links between violence against people and animals, I’ve realized it’s possible that some answers to these questions lie in our treatment of animals.
For example, Holocaust historian Charles Patterson and others have shown how the domestication and exploitation of animals became the model and inspiration for many forms of human oppression that followed. Before domestication, human societies commonly held a deep kinship with other people and animals living around them. This bond unraveled with the exploitation of animals for their meat, milk, and skin – practices that emerged about eleven thousand years ago in the Middle East. Over time, humans developed more methods to control the lives of animals, using whips, chains, spears, and knives, as well as castration, insemination, and branding. Those in power soon adopted the same practices to control oppressed, imprisoned, and enslaved humans.
The hierarchy and great divide built on the domestication of animals also planted a seed that some people could be reduced to something “less than human” – “beasts,” “brutes,” and “savages” – an ethic that historians suggest has encouraged colonialism and genocide. I, too, see these connections. If we don’t value the identity of an animal, it makes it easier to disvalue other humans in their most naked, vulnerable forms. It is far more difficult to empathize with those we don’t find worthy or valuable – for example, those denigrated to the status of an animal. It sets people up for humiliation and exploitation, which often leads to murder and mass bloodshed – as it did for those referred to as “Rajah” (cattle) during the Armenian genocide, Jews called “Ratten” (rats) in Nazi Germany, and Tutsis labeled “Inyenzi” (cockroaches) before they were killed during the Rwandan genocide.
How does opening up our views on how other species live and experience life change how we treat other humans? Why does that matter?
Just as the hierarchy and great divide built on the domestication and exploitation of animals has fostered an idea that some humans can be reduced in worth, recognizing the dignity of animals could also lead to a more dignified existence for humans.
Scientists have already established that there aren’t “higher” and “lower” species, but instead individuals adapted to their own natural environments. Like us, animals have varying degrees of rationality and language. They are intelligent, have sensitive social instincts, and display a sense of morality and justice. They can be empathic and altruistic. Nevertheless, humans and other animals differ – but it is important to remember that there are differences within species, too, whether because of differences at birth or changes in capacities over the course of a lifetime. These distinctions say absolutely nothing of an individual’s intrinsic value. Respect for dignity should be rooted in the value that originates in each one of us – not in how much money we have or even our individual competencies. Regard for human dignity should be grounded in our animality, our vulnerabilities, and the ways we can each thrive in the bodies we live in, if given the chance.
What do you think – how can we infuse principles like freedom, love, tolerance, and justice throughout society to foster more empathy and resilience among people and animals?
If you would like to join others in creating a better world, please sign up to hear more about the Phoenix Zones Movement. Let’s show the rest of the world how we can ALL thrive – together!