Dead cats hang on a string in Yonkers, New York while a mutilated brown pelican with its jaw pouch cut out is in critical condition in San Pedro, California. Both are extreme cases of animal cruelty discovered by authorities just this week. The dead cats and stabbed pelican are not the result of someone harmlessly venting his or her anger but instead, red flags that people should be aware of. The animals that were harmed in this week’s crimes are sentient beings that felt fear, pain, and suffering while the acts of violence were committed against them. But, how does this disconnection happen? How do we willingly cause pain, harm, and exploit other beings that are more vulnerable such in the case of the dead cats and mutilated pelican? After reading the book, A Language Older Than Words by Derrick Jensen, some thoughts come to mind.
In A Language Older than Words, Jensen makes a compelling argument that the urge to dominate and disconnect is deeply embedded in the social system and is expressed in the philosophy of Rene Descartes. Although his narcissist philosophy was fatally flawed, Descartes became successful in instilling the justification for exploitation into Western culture with his most famous philosophy, “I think, therefore I am.” With these five simple words, Descartes philosophized that all things that he saw and felt were false and that nothing he had experienced through his senses ever existed. He believed that all things existing in physical reality: body, figure, extension, movement and place were but fictions of the mind. However, Descartes reasoned that, because he was thinking doubtful thoughts about the existence of the universe that he must exist to be doing the doubting.
This philosophy of certainty of the universe greatly altered Western Civilization in that it opened the gates to detaching one’s self from one’s action-if they could not feel it, it did not happen. Thus, Descartes provided Western Civilization with the rationale for controlling, dominating, and reproducing nature so it effectively became separate from culture and embodied in all of us the belief that we are, “the lords and possessors of nature.” There is no denying that the 25 to 30 cat bodies that had been hung in plastics bags and the brutal mutilation of a female pelican, may be indicators of perpetrators who believe they too, are the lords and possessors of nature. The cats had been reduced to nothing but bags of bones dangling from a string, while the brown pelican’s jaw pouch had been cut open so that the bird was left to starve to death.
Unfortunately, Descartes was not alienated as being a lunatic but instead the entire Western Civilization embraced his psychopathological philosophy as a means for social dominance. Society grants communal responsibility and esteem to those who have accumulated and maintained power; but the primary motivation for those who are responsible for decisions affecting the larger community lies in the accumulation and maintenance of power.
In time, the community takes on the character of those in power. Animal cruelty is similar to rape in that they both are characterized by an intense need to dominate and require a detachment from that which they are hurting. This works as a barrier of truth blocking their actions from their consciousness. The inability to feel for the world around them often causes them to inflict pain in order to snap out of their numbness. However, this numbness is not limited to human abuse but can be seen in exploitation everywhere. Because people believe they are better than nature, they lack the respect that is necessary to have a positively beneficial relationship with the sentient beings around them.
In revealing the flawed nature of Descartes philosophy, one hopes to illuminate the innate interconnectedness of civilization in an effort to encourage people to prevent this false sense of separation from impacting their lives. Society struggles to live in harmony with its surroundings as people worry that their demands will not be met; they create a “false-front world” that mirrors their fears and reinforces destructive behaviors in an effort to preserve their perceptions of the animate world.
Unaware that these false perceptions are blinding them from the truth, they fail to understand the full realm of implications that occur as a result of their own inability to stand trial to these injustices. Because they do not understand them, they choose to believe they do not exist. People will continue to deny truth so long as it remains easier to live in the illusion. As for the dead cats in New York and the mutilated pelican in California, let the pain and suffering of innocent beings be a red flag for engaging in such a disconnect.
Opinon by Amiya Moretta