Note: This is a preview essay from “The Conscious Resistance: Reflections on Anarchy and Spirituality” coming 2014. The book is being co-written by author J.G. Vibes and Derrick Broze. The book will explore a synthesis between Anarchy, Agorism, Shamanism, and Buddhism.
The topic of Consciousness is a controversial one in the fields of philosophy, and science. For hundreds of years the debate has raged to find a commonly accepted definition of what exactly we mean when we say “Consciousness”. The term has been associated with or defined at various times as subjectivity, awareness, sentience, or possessing the ability to experience or to feel.
While the topic of Consciousness in regards to humans spurs on debates, the idea that animals possess some level of sentience or have the ability to feel pain and express themselves in a way that humans can measure, has proven even more difficult to discuss in the mainstream realms of science.
Despite a growing body of evidence indicating that animals have awareness at varying levels the mainline thought has been to deny the possibilities and implications of such a thought. Scientist Victoria Braithwaite wrote a book titled “Do fish feel pain?” exploring the topic and offering compelling evidence of the fact that fish do indeed feel pain.
Marc Bekoff, emeritus professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder, is one of the pioneering cognitive ethologist in the United States. Bekoff has worked tirelessly in this field and compiled a review of the literature on sentience in fish and other animals who live beneath the surface. The World Society for the Protection of Animals released an essay written by Helen Proctor and her colleagues that provides a systematic review of the scientific literature on sentience. The effort used a list of 174 keywords and the team reviewed more than 2,500 articles on animal sentience. The findings overwhelmingly indicate evidence of animal consciousness.
On July 7, 2012, a prominent international group of cognitive neuroscientists, neuropharmacologists, neurophysiologists, neuroanatomists and computational neuroscientists gathered at The University of Cambridge to reassess the conscious experience and related behaviors in human and non-human animals. The statement is known as The Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness. The team of international scientists stated that they agree “Convergent evidence indicates that non-human animals have the neuroanatomical, neurochemical, and neurophysiological substrates of conscious states along with the capacity to exhibit intentional behaviors. Consequently, the weight of evidence indicates that humans are not unique in possessing the neurological substrates that generate consciousness. Non-human animals, including all mammals and birds, and many other creatures, including octopuses, also possess these neurological substrates.”
Most recently researchers at the Wolf Science Center in Austria demonstrated that animals seem to have a choice in their vocal communications. Specifically, wolves have some voluntary control over their howling and barking. The accepted thought in science is that animals communicate, and make vocalizations related to physiological effects, such as stress which leads to higher cortisol levels.
The scientists would separate one wolf at a time from the remaining wolves in their enclosures. The wolves would always howl whenever separated. To study the physiological stress response due to social separation the teams would collect saliva from the remaining pack mates 20 minutes after removing the first wolf. During this period all the animals vocalizations were also recorded.
The researchers found that the wolves would howl more often for a close friend than they had for the removed socially dominant wolf. Although the stress was measurable with an increase in salivary cortisol increase the stress did not correspond with the wolves’ actions. The event was stressful regardless but the wolves seemed to focus on friendship over social dominance which indicates some level of cognition and choice rather than an automatic, inflexible response.
If animals can feel pain, use tools, and make choices about how often they communicate with one another, is it that difficult to imagine them as aware, complex, living beings with emotions and thought processes?
My interest in Shamanism has shown me that life exists in all forms: plant, stone, human, inanimate and animal. I believe the closer we move to respecting all life as equal to our own the deeper our understanding of liberty becomes. Not only freedom as applied in the sense of our individual paths but recognizing the importance of allowing those around us to operate under their own freedom of action.
I am not asking everyone to become vegetarian or vegan (although, it wouldn’t hurt) but rather to reconsider the level of respect you show to the life that exists all around you at all times. I find it preferable for humans to take an active part in their diet if they choose to be carnivores. If you have the option, hunt your meal yourself. Spend the time, sweat and energy it takes to claim your meal. Take the time to give thanks to the life that is passing to allow you to continue to exist. At the very least buy your meat from a local vendor that you know or can visit.
There is a huge disconnect in the modern western world with our diets and treatment of animals. Whether it comes to growing your own food, hunting your animal on your own, or simply showing respect to the animals we encounter on a daily basis, I believe a stronger relationship with the life that surrounds us will strengthen the bonds with our human family and push us closer to a more Free, interconnected planet.
Many of us already speak to our pets as children or companions. Why not recognize the life in all animals and plants waiting to be acknowledged?