I consider myself an animal lover. I'm on the board of Friends of Bonobos, an NGO that supports bonobo conservation in Congo. I put out bird seed in winter. I have a spoiled dog.
So when Marc Beckoff sent me his new book The Animal Manifesto, I prepared to settle in for a smug read. It wasn't. Instead I was alarmed at how careless I was, not about animals I was surrounded with day to day, but about animals I couldn't see. For instance, where does my meat come from? I'm not a vegetarian, and previous to the Animal Manifesto, the only thought I put into buying meat was whether it tasted good. After reading Beckoff's book, I realised that by one tiny change - buying meat at the farmer's market that was grass fed, free range, and humanely slaughtered - I could make a difference. Not only that, but it meant my meat was anitibiotic and other hormone free, which recent research shows is super helpful to my health.
It's easy to get overwhelmed by the long list of our cruelty against animals, but by the end, Beckoff didn't make me feel sad or guilty. It made me determined to change my behaviors in small ways that can make a difference.
If you aren't an animal lover at all, Beckoff sets out a convincing argument for the sentience of animals. He synthesises a wonderful mix of evidence primary literature and personal stories that will leave the greatest skeptic reeling.
And even if you aren't convinced, (and I don't see how this is possible), there's the question of what kind of person you want to be, what kind of person you want your kids to be, what kind of person you want to be with. I once knew someone who used to crush chicks in his hands. He didn't think they couldn't feel, he didn't enjoy their pain, he just didn't care. It was something he did when he was bored.
Treating animals with kindness and compassion is like treating our fellow human beings with compassion. It takes effort, courage at times, and thought. And most importantly, we are taught to be this way, not for the benefit it brings to others, but to the benefit it brings ourselves. Happy people are usually kind people. Aggressive sadistic bullies are usually unhappy people.
The greatest sin of animals is that they have no voice. They can't ask us to treat them with dignity and respect. Luckily Beckoff is their voice.
Read the Animal Manifesto. It will change your life for the better.