Reasons for Hope: What Went Right for Animals in 2022 – Psychology Today

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During the past month, many people have written to me and asked me to summarize some good news for the plight of nonhuman animals (animals) from the past year of 2022. It’s far too easy to focus on the downside of animal well-being and many people are tired of hearing all the bad things—there are many—but, as it turns out, there were many victories for other animals during the past year.1 This is not to say that much more can’t be done—there is and we need look way beyond ourselves—but let’s look at some of what happened and why there are reasons for hope, in addition to those offered by Jane Goodall in her book Reason for Hope.
New Year’s message from Jane Goodall to Minister Ben Weyts: “Stop keeping dolphins in captivity
Largest US Fur Farm, Recently Raided by ALF, Closes
These are but a few of many 2022 successes. The list is long but can easily be longer in the future. In fact, today, California’s statewide ban on animal fur products goes into effect.
Being deeply concerned about protecting the lives and interests of other animals—the belief that each individual has the right to live the best life possible and wants to do so—is the right thing to do and not a radical animal rights position. Indeed, just look to what solid research tells us. An ever-growing database in animal behavior, behavioral ecology, and cognitive ethology—the study of animal intelligence, emotions, consciousness, and sentience—provides numerous reasons for respecting and protecting the lives of other animals.
All one has to do is pick up a book on animal behavior or watch some of the myriad documentaries that are readily available to see how a wide range of animals—from great apes to carnivores to rodents to birds to fishes to reptiles, amphibians, and countless insects and invertebrates—have evolved different life-saving patterns of behavior including various antipredatory strategies, different styles of care-giving by mothers, fathers, and other adults to ensure their children survive, social displays to lessen the likelihood of harmful aggression, and different types of social organization that allow individuals to display empathy and compassion for others in need and to help them along.
By looking at how other animals behave prosocially, we see that our caring for their well-being is the right thing to do. Of course, nonhumans also harm one another and so do we, but that isn’t a reason for us to harm them or other humans.
Caring crosses species borders. The One Health initiative provides good reasons for working on behalf of other animals because when we care for them, we’re also caring for ourselves.
Caring for other animals also will allow some people to rid themselves of the cognitive dissonance—the inner turmoil—they experience because they know that they and others are causing harm—all sorts of pain, suffering, and death—when they use or allow other animals to be used for food, invasive research, or entertainment.
Two emails I received in the past month made it clear how two different people who couldn’t resolve the dissonance they felt did so by beginning to eliminate animals from their meal plans and by working to help improve their lives. Mary, a well-known psychologist, told me, “I can’t stand myself any longer! I know the way I live harms other animals and the dissonance I feel has become unbearable. As of today, I’m cutting back on eating animals and animal products and will no longer go to zoos. That’s all I can do right now but will continue along this path.”
Jonas, a “top-drawer businessman,” as he puts it, told me, “I feel better when I care for other animals and when people dismiss my concern, empathy, and compassion as ‘too touchy-feely’ I tell them that solid science supports my changing attitudes and behavior and I am also helping humans by caring for animals. They ought to try it too.”
The bottom line is simple: Look into the eyes of other animals including household companions and you’ll see how they’re feeling and what they’re trying to tell us.
Caring for other animals can easily become a mainstream concern for all humans. It doesn’t make someone a radical and as a result, other animals, and we ourselves, can benefit from more universal empathy, kindness, respect, and compassion.
There’s no downside to recognizing that animal sentience matters to numerous and diverse nonhumans and that it also should matter to us. What a great way to welcome in 2023 and the years ahead, what an easy way to deal with internal conflicts between what we feel and what we do, and what a wonderful model for future generations to follow. It’s a win-win for all.
1) A more complete list of victories for animals can be seen in Veda Stram’s Fantastic Wins for Animals 2022, from which some of the ones here have been extracted.
Rewilding 2023 Demands Expanding Our Self-Centered Mindsets.
It’s Time To Stop Wondering if Animals Are Sentient—They Are.
Animal Rights Advocates Aren’t Lefties Who Don’t Like Humans.
Why People Should Care About Animal and Human Suffering.
The Future of Animal Sentience: Colorado can Lead the Way. (Colorado can become the first state to declare animals to be sentient beings.)
Marc Bekoff, Ph.D., is professor emeritus of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder.
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