This post is a result of a conversation from the Animal Welfare and Social Change Google+ community. Specifically the statement “a main issue is with the way we treat animals in general. There is such cruelty in our world.” I almost used this as the first blog post for a new website I am working on called Life In The Garden. But I decided that I will wait until I that project is up and running before I start doing blog posts there.
When I think about cruelty and the indifference of people I think about a Greek Philosopher. The philosopher I am referring to is Epicurus. A guiding principle of Epicurean philosophy is that we should minimize harm to oneself and others as the way to maximize happiness.
The big question is what or who do we consider a suitable other? Are others, other people, as in other people of my In Group? Perhaps we would include all other people. Does it include other members of my household and family and exclude strangers? Perhaps it includes other life forms like a pet. Suitable others may even include a wide range of others, such as all mammals or mammals and birds. Some people may even include all higher life forms. If we carry this to its extreme we will reach a point where not harming others is harming ourselves. How do we justify this?
What is Other? Is there a distinction between suitable others and unsuitable others?
One point that was brought up in the discussion is that we should avoid hasty emotional reactions. In general I would agree with this advice. Also with this was the suggestion that we need to be more understanding. Both of these ideas are part of the philosophy of ancient Stoics. Stoicism is another school of Greek Philosophy.
Emotions short circuit critical thought. Often acting with an emotional knee jerk reaction leads to harming others and/or ourselves. Passively reacting to external events is giving up control. Giving up control means you have abandoned your Will to Freely choose a response. It seems the Stoics were quite concerned with a free will.
Even people who think they make their decisions based on critical thought are still controlled by emotions. Sometimes it is so subtle we don’t even realize it. I believe it is helpful if we can catch ourselves and examine the nature of our responses.
The Stoics believed that not only must we control ourselves but we need to understand. In particular we need to understand the processes of nature. This idea was adopted from the Cynics. Cynicism was yet another school of Greek Philosophy. It is interesting to note that the Cynics were also called dog-like. So originally Cynicism was the dog-like philosophy.
Not only must we understand but we need to accept. I see some similarities in Stoicisms idea of universal understanding and the phase “I seek a unity all-pervading” from the Confucian Analects. I may be a bit more familiar with the writings of Eastern traditions. However, many of the ancient Greek and Roman tradition are an everyday part of the culture I was born into. From the teaching of an all-pervading understanding I have developed an ideal of all-pervading acceptance. Acceptance is the key ingredient to love and happiness.
To accept is very hard to do. What is you tolerance level for acceptance. I must admit tolerance has not always been the best social strategy for success. We can see ancient examples of intolerance as the most successful social strategy as well as very recent examples.
Courteous and considerate behavior are both the glue and the lubricant needed for social harmony.
Courteous behavior is an impotent intermediate stage to a more permanent change toward overall goodness. The problem with courteous behavior is that it’s usually bound by cultural norms. Being courteous and knowing about different cultures is important. However, in the long run being considerate may be more valuable.
Being courteous is not enough. It has been my observation that courteous behavior is usually part of a pattern of ritualized aggression. While it makes for a more harmonious society, it does have some limitation. The next level is trust and acceptance. If we believe the other person means no harm and they act in a way that is not respectful of local customs, has it done any harm? Perhaps so or perhaps not.
If it has done harm then we get into another important and possibly related discussion. When courteous behavior leads to group conformity it can also create and us and them scenario. One of the biggest problems humans will face in the future will be the competitive forces of us verse them. This competition isn’t so bad when humans are killing each other with a chunk of stone. But when modern technology is introduced into the mix, you move toward an apocalyptic end. It is logical that societies would be better off if they did not glorify an apocalyptic end of time.
Wishing you the very best in dogs and in life,