Animals are sentient beings. Mammals, birds, fish and many other creatures possess the ability to feel and perceive; they experience the world subjectively. The weight of evidence indicates that humans are not unique in possessing the neurological substrates that generate consciousness. As fellow participants in sentient and conscious life, animals experience fear and pain, excitement and joy. What happens to them matters to them. What happens to them should also matter to us.
Our interactions with animals often lack compassion. Compassion lies at the heart of moral behaviour, impelling us to alleviate suffering and treat others as we wish to be treated ourselves. Born of our deep interdependence, compassion calls on us to unseat our species from the centre of the world so that other species can flourish. It seeks the wellbeing of all creatures and respects the integrity of animal life. It is the heart of our humanity, the expression of an evolved empathy.
Empathy is the art of perspective taking, the ability to see through the eyes of another, to step imaginatively into their skin. Empathy takes us beyond ourselves. Through empathy we participate in experiences and feelings that are not our own. We understand the world as a plurality of points of view, prolific with different forms of intelligence. Empathy can carry us into feather and fur, into non-human minds, albeit imperfectly. Empathy makes possible the practice of animal compassion.
We call upon all people to act compassionately towards animals. In this age of habitat loss and wildlife destruction, as species slip into extinction and billions of sentient beings suffer in intensive farms, we urgently need to kindle a shared commitment to animal compassion. This begins by paying heed to animal perspectives in how we feed ourselves, organise our society, and interact with our natural environment. It begins with the belief that a more equitable world is possible.
We call upon artists and scientists to collaborate in bringing animal perspectives to life. As a society we find that we are alienated from animal points of view, stranded beyond an ‘empathy gap’. We struggle to understand the experiences and feelings of our mammalian, avian, reptilian, invertebrate, amphibian and aquatic kin. The science of animal sentience must be translated and carried into popular consciousness if it is to inspire compassion. We call on artists and writers to take up this challenge.