The Animals that We are

Compassion is triggered when we see eye to eye. When we fall deeply in the gaze of the other. In these eyes, we can see ourselves. In the eyes of the other, we see ourselves being seen. We see ourselves being seen in our nudity and vulnerability. The fact that we can suffer makes us compassionate. We are united in suffering with everyone including animals. The question is not whether animals can think, reason and speak. The question is, can animals suffer? The animal that I am, therefore shares suffering with everyone without sharing. Each of us suffers uniquely. It is an unshareable sharing. This sharing without sharing produces compassion in us. Hence, we all suffer. We can suffer for each other and suffer with each other.

We may turn Descarte’s cogito to mean I suffer, therefore we are. We can suffer with each other but each of us experiences suffering uniquely. It is an unshareable experience. But the very unsharable side of our suffering leads us to share in the sufferings of the other. We suffer with the other without suffering. We live compassion with the suffering other. When we cannot see ourselves in the suffering other, when we are unable to see in the eyes of the other, we become heartless and can close our eyes to violence, torture and killings of humans, plants as well as animals. This is why we have to remind ourselves about the animals that we are. As animals that we are, we suffer and therefore we are able to suffer with others. Animals do manifest this ability to suffer with their own kind. But humans can suffer with plants, animals and other humans. Although Animals do fight for their territory, food and self-protection, they usually do not leave alone the suffering other of their own kind. Humans on the other hand can become insensitive and hard-hearted offering cold responses to the suffering other.

Humans can inflict violence and suffering on the earth, plants, animals and other humans themselves. Violation of the earth, plants, animals and humans have a long history as well as the care of the earth, plants, animals and humans also have manifested equally long history. Violence and care are human. It is challenging for the animals that we are to become compassionate. It can arise when we see eye to eye with the suffering other. When we see ourselves in the eyes of the suffering other, we become compassionate and caring. It produces an effect of being seen. The effect of being seen in our nakedness calls us to a response of compassion. We can see ourselves as being seen the way we are. It is this moment and the point at which we experience compassion and become compassionate. Compassion gives up power over and embraces the power without power and lives solidarity, care and charity. It makes me ‘the other me therefore I am’. We, therefore, become the other we/ the animal we, therefore we are. This is why we cannot sacrifice our animality. Such a sacrifice can kill all our compassion for the suffering other.

By privileging reason over the animal, we are sacrificing our own animality. We think that animals cannot think and thus oppose them against rational humans. Thus we forget that animals have the ability to suffer. This forgetting seems to have led to the sacrifice of sensibility to moral reason. Sensibility can sense suffering. Unfortunately, we have sacrificed pathos to the logos and have become less compassionate to the planet earth, plants, animals and humans. This may have led us to desensitize ourselves about our cruelties to human and planetary ecologies. In several ways in the name of civilization, we seem to have become uncivilized and lost our hearts. This is why we have to think together our animality and rationality. Animality is not the other of rationality. It is a non-other of rationality. Both rationality and animality belong together. We cannot oppose the power to think with the power to suffer. We do not passively and mindlessly suffer. We are mindful of our suffering and that of others. Compassion enables us to increase this radius of mindfulness. Sacrificing of animality in favour of rationality leads to the sacrificing of compassion. Hence, we need to open the animality foreclosed by rationality and think together both reason and animality in us and set us free to live compassion. Otherwise, we cannot sense how we treat otherness under the guise of exclusive and excluding nationalisms, faiths and economics etc. The other then belongs to the subhuman gangs of apes and loses all human dignity and ethical rights and no conscience is pricked with heinous violations of these rights occurring right in front of our eyes.

We need to rise above the de-animalizing reason and embrace both animality and reason. We have to animalize our reason. We have the challenge to bring heart to its head. Our hearts and heads need to come together to lead us to become embodied compassion. We have the imperative to listen and respond to the cry of the earth and that of the poor. Otherwise, nothing can save us from the self-destructive path that we have embraced so far. So far we have symbolically killed the animal in us by privileging reason and ethics based on reason alone. Walking this path without any critical thinking may free us from the human animal. This is why we have to remember the animals that we are. The animals that we are make us become compassionate. The acceptance of the animals that we are will ignite streams of compassion in us that will listen and respond to the cry of the other. It is only this way that we can wipe the tears flowing from the cheeks of the earth, plants, animals and human. Accepting our animality alongside our reason in a non-hierarchical way will bring care, love and compassion. We can usher in a new world. This world is in the coming on the backs of love, care and compassion. Let’s see eye to eye and the world will live again.

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Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

- Fr Victor Ferrao