Earlier this week, news broke that one of Africa’s largest elephants had been killed – just three months after the killing of Cecil the lion sparked international outrage. A German hunter shot and killed the elephant who has not yet been identified.
Just before or soon after, news broke of Blaze the bear being killed when she defended her young ones, another bear (called “Bear 317”) being killed because she and her cubs were trying to survive in a human-dominated area of Boulder, and a Danish zoo killing a young lion and dissecting her body in front of children.
The breaking news also accompanied more news of endless wars, the bombing of a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Afghanistan, indiscriminate drone attacks, concerns about executing innocent death row inmates, and a disproportionate number of African-Americans fatally shot by police officers.
Last week, I attended a talk given by my friend, Marc Bekoff. Marc, who also cares deeply about human rights, is one of the world’s foremost experts on animal behavior. Marc’s message was simple: Stop the killing.
As a physician who is troubled by the plight of people and animals, I couldn’t agree more. As I’ve written before, the links between violence against people and animals are clear.
We desperately need a commitment to end indiscriminate killing – of people and animals. Here are five ways we could begin to end the killing:
1. Stop thinking of sentient beings as dispensable objects – and instead practice reverence for life.
In the early part of the twentieth century, the physician and medical missionary Albert Schweitzer wrote about the importance of a universal “reverence for life” ethic.
He wrote, “Ethics thus consists in this, that I experience the necessity of practicing the same reverence for life toward all will-to-live, as toward my own. Therein I have already the needed fundamental principle of morality. It is good to maintain and cherish life; it is evil to destroy and to check life.”
2. Stop seeing other people and animals as “the other.”
Demonizing other beings is a technique used in war and torture propaganda, and in other calculated ways to eliminate humans and nonhumans from the moral equation. It is an indefensible prejudice and runs counter to creating peace.
3. Abandon our preoccupation with domination and predation.
During Marc’s talk, one person commented that some hunters kill other beings because they love the feeling of being a predator. Sadly, this is similar to what I’ve heard from sexual predators and torturers in my human rights work.
Domination requires ongoing oppression and teaches people to embrace power as an ideology and strategy. In An Unnatural Order: Uncovering the Roots of Our Domination of Nature and Each Other, author Jim Mason argues that we ought to accept that our “penchants for violence, dominance, and hate are strictly cultural.” These acts are not necessary. Instead “they tend to encourage violence, suffering, detachment, ruthlessness, and mastery – the very values that twist and harden the human soul.”
Violence fosters an illusion that social order can be broken and remade at will, destabilizing society. It becomes a cancer that metastasizes uncontrollably.
4. Stop rationalizing bad behavior.
Some people argue that killing some people and animals to help others – even when it’s not in self-defense – is excusable.
This argument resembles those made by policymakers defending US torture policy. But when Senator John McCain delivered his speech about the Senate Intelligence report on torture, he said, “I know from personal experience that the abuse of prisoners will produce more bad than good intelligence…I know they will say whatever they think their torturers want them to say if they believe it will stop their suffering.” “But,” he said, pointedly: “[I]n the end, torture’s failure to serve its intended purpose isn’t the main reason to oppose its use. I have often said, and will always maintain, that this question isn’t about our enemies; it’s about us. It’s about who we were, who we are, and who we aspire to be.”
Simply put, the ends do not justify the means.
Instead, experts like Marc Bekoff have suggested a “compassionate conservation” approach in decisions about how to address conflicts among multiple species of animals (including humans).
5. Just do it. Just stop killing.
In reality, it will take one person after another refusing to kill. Indiscriminate killing will only stop when each one of us stands up and refuses to be part of this malignant extermination ideology. The end can start with each one of us.
Wouldn’t you want someone else to make the same choice about your life?