We need to look no further than the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to see how humane as applied to humans has evolved internationally. They state, “The actual meaning of ‘humane treatment’ is not spelled out, although some texts refer to respect for the ‘dignity’ of a person or the prohibition of ‘ill-treatment’ in this context. The requirement of humane treatment is an overarching concept. It is generally understood that the detailed rules found in international humanitarian law and human rights law give expression to the meaning of ‘humane treatment’. … However, these rules do not necessarily express the full meaning of what is meant by humane treatment, as this notion develops over time under the influence of changes in society. This is shown, for example, by the fact that the requirement of humane treatment has been mentioned in international instruments since the mid-19th century, but the detailed rules which stem from this requirement have developed since then, and may do so still further.”
This applies to the species’ rights movement as readily as it does the ICRC. The mission statements, policies, strategies, and actions of organizations must evolve to define humane as human behavior that is dedicated to the direct benefit of individuals from other species, is absent exploitation, harmful treatment and lethal outcomes, and is supported independent of benefit to humans. That means it is clearly not humane to endorse any practice or act that is purposed to make the killing of a sentient being acceptable or commercially successful. Importantly, “animal welfare” is not humane.
Animal welfare seeks to reduce suffering in other species but does not oppose their being exploited in the most extreme way possible, slaughter. We must not let the principle of being humane continue to be corrupted, intentionally and not, by animal welfare advocates. Humane and animal welfare must have separate definitions and meaning to us. Incremental animal welfare reforms enable the exploitative industries to adapt to growing public concerns about the injustices and unbelievably cruel human behaviors that assault other species. Animal welfare is animal welfare and humane is humane. We must oppose any strategy, policy, or act carried out by persons, businesses, or organizations that contribute to the harm and death of sentient life from another species, wild or domestic. This includes animal agriculture, fish and wildlife management (hunting, trapping), and other human institutions that exploit individuals from other species or destroy their ecosystems.
Some organizations have been around for a long time. Theirs is a history of animal welfare reforms that at one time seemed a good thing to most people. We now live in a different era. If their profile is not truly humane in the context of what we know today, then there’s need for organizations to change their names. A humane organization is characterized by their mission statements, policies, and strategies. That still leaves me uncomfortable with the way “animal welfare” is being used. It encourages bad human behavior towards other species and ecosystems. “Humanely-raised” labeling schemes are one example. It encourages animal agriculture as if animal welfare could do more than green-wash and humane-wash the industry. It is essential that we change public understanding of what is humane and what is not. We need this to stop the exploitation, speciesism, and slaughter of sentient individuals from other species.
Until we reclaim the meaning of humane we will remain mired in the dishonesty that animal agriculture on any scale—like hunting, trapping, and fishing—can be made acceptable by calling it humane because animal welfare reforms have been established. And as I describe in This Is Hope, this is true for nondomestic species. Wildlife managers have set up agency cultures that intentionally favor high populations of some huntable species (‘game” as they are disrespectfully called) while suppressing populations of natural predators. This causes human conflict with wildlife and alters ecosystems. The agencies then want to cure this “problem” their policies created. Under this intentional agenda, agencies collect license and tax revenues derived from the “recreation” of hunting, trapping, and fishing. They turn ecosystems into battlegrounds and encourage the use of horrific tools of war against wildlife. We must oppose this if we are to extend the updated definition of humane to other species in ecosystems and reform fish and wildlife management agencies. There is already a trend in management philosophy to manage on an ecosystem level and not just exploit single species. This won’t end their inflicting suffering.
The words humane and “inhumane” are deeply embedded in our culture. It will take effort to ensure, as the ICRC noted, “…that both the definition of humane and the appropriate courses of organizations must continue to evolve.” That is the task before us. Humane societies and animal welfare organizations need to advance the rights of species to be treated humanely in truth, not fiction. They and we must support their living a natural lifespan that is fulfilling to them if under our protection. If in the wild, our task is to protect and restore their ecosystems, end the war on wildlife, and practice a sustainable and humane vegan new human ecology.
Who owns the definition of humane lies at the core of what many of us are challenging: a corruption of the animal rights movement by many of the larger organizations (see www.humanemyth.org). We are undercut with outdated perceptions still in common use that a death is humane if the killing is done in a manner that prevents or diminishes suffering with instantaneous or near-instantaneous unconsciousness to render the individual insensate to pain. There is little accounting for the psychological state of suffering in confinement, little accounting for the suffering of others who lose the presence of the one killed, little accounting of the extensive cruelties that remain throughout their lives, and no weighing of the harm caused when domesticated and wild life are taken unnecessarily before their natural life ends.
As witnesses we know this harm well. The individual who was surprised by an unexpected death does not have to realize it was an injustice—because we do. We are responsible for that lethal act, so our knowing that injustice, that taking of a young unfinished life, is not humane. It wouldn’t be called humane if you killed me with a sudden death when I was ten, or now. It is an artificial distinction if you make it true for humans and not for individuals from other species (a case of speciesism). An unexploited right to life free of human violations is one of the “rights” we share with individuals from other species.
Let’s practice the updated understanding and definition of humane. I believe this moves us to legitimate questioning of the validity of organizations that call themselves or their actions humane when they are not. They are leading the public to believe one can slaughter all we want and still be humane. That no longer works. The definition of humane has changed and is no longer the property of inhumane organizations or people.
Next post: a proposed definition of humane.
Please share your views here. This is a moderated blog, a discussion. From it I will modify as a work in progress by many to reclaim the meaning of humane.