Rethinking our relationship with animals

Rethinking our relationship with animals
Rethinking our relationship with animals

During the month of august, time when the Andean people in Bolivia celebrate the month of Pachamama, we witnessed a news story about the confiscation of several quirquinchos -Andean armadillos-, a species in danger of extinction, by the environmental police POFOMA to a group of people that were about to sacrifice them in a ritual to Pachamama. The news story made emphasis not on the confiscation but on the possibility that these animals could be forcibly returned to their executioners due to apparent contradictions in law no.700 that prohibits animal abuse on one side and allows animal sacrifice on native medicine traditions on the other, as long as they don’t suffer. I couldn’t avoid being horrified to think that several, not one, of these animals classified by the IUCN as vulnerable (in other words in danger of extinction) were going to be sacrificed in the name of mother earth.

The story makes me want to think and share my own vision and opinion about our relationship with animals, wanting to touch several sensitive points as is the native worldview, veganism and even religion, so we can decant and clarify what seems to be so obscure and confusing. The relevance of this news article and this column of opinion in development reflects a bright light that begins to illuminate the dark corners of the occidental modern civilisation, where animals begin to bee seen as equals and were La Senda Verde plays a fundamental role.

We begin seeing small changes in the relationship modern humans (and specially Latin Americans) have with animals, were the rights of these beings begin to gain grounds in the aplicable law of society. It is not for less that these changes have giant philosophical and legal implications in the model of society that clumsily takes shape and is resumed in the following sentence that I learned from the maya elders as the sacred most principle: The respect of life in all its forms and manifestations. A small example of these changes are the recent prohibitions to taurine festivals in three states of Mexico.

The law no.700 in Bolivia on the other hand, even with its limitation on the final disposition that allows animal sacrifices in rituals, is an unprecedented step around the world where animals and specially domestic animals have now legal rights as subjects, living beings. This law contrasts for example with Mexican legislation where pets have the legal status that of a possession (object) and are not subject to rights. The process of illumination is not limited to laws and legislation, it is a process of transformation that happens in every person that gets to know La Senda Verde, where for the first time they become aware that having a parrot or a monkey as a pet means brutally killing their whole family and other 9 families of the same species, amongst other barbarities.

If an animal is sacrificed in a ritual it is not subject to rights? would be a question where we begin to board deeply philosophical, ethical and sensitive issues.  Beyond racism, there is a widely practiced concept called anthropocentrism, that believes that humans are superior to other species and therefore the other species do not deserve the same rights. This has allowed the insensitive practice of concentrated animal feeding operations which have influenced partially in people believing that eating animals is being anthropocentric. Personally I avoid eating animals that are raised this way, but do not believe in the vegan dogma that eating animals is evil or unhealthy. To me and to many renowned thinkers, the modern-capitalist paradigm is the real problem and the solution is changing this paradigm in all senses, which is, rethinking all of our relations.

In the Andean philosophy to give a clarifying example of a different paradigm, the pronounced diastasis in the object-subject concepts does not exist, which somehow gives a subject -living being- character to everything that to modern man is an object. Nothing is inanimate, the mountains, the earth, the house, the animals, they are all subjects. This does not imply that the nature of these subjects must be broken, which is that of life and death, simbiosis and mutual harnessing. All of these beings live by eating other beings, be them animals or plants. The relationships between species and between living beings implies that they need to eat each other. True evil occurs when balance is lost, when one species begins to disappear because of other species or when one species makes another suffer. The law no.700 in fact contemplates this adequately by being a law focused on avoiding suffering for the animals, especially domestic animals, and it is not an environmental law that seeks to protect endangered species such as the quirquincho.

But beyond laws I would like to evoque those people that were disposing of several of the last quirquinchos and were about to kill them in a ritual. Were they going to save mother earth by doing such a ritual? If so, maybe I wouldn’t oppose to it, maybe even the quriquinchos wouldn’t have a problem dying if it meant saving the continuity of life. But this is probably not the case. The principle of reciprocity in Andean worldview is today interpreted in a way that people believe that the more exquisite their offering is, the more blessings they will receive from mother earth. So when people want to have success in a great project where they have made a large investment, they do a ritual so that their business will work and prosper. It’s a native ritual practiced out of context, out of all sensibility and with capitalist goals.

I consider the phenomenon of the deformation and modernisation (like a way of prostitution) of native practices (often by natives) is one of the great problems and challenges that Bolivia faces today. It is a way of philosophical and discursive corruption that replicates itself in all strands of society including the government, and that affects everyone and everything, specially animals. I don’t think that those people that were offering to pachamama were doing it thinking for her best interest, if so, they would have had consideration of sacrificing many of the last remaining specimens of a species that is about to disappear.

Rethinking our relationship with the animals means rethinking all of our relationships, that with our partners, our family, our neighbours and even spiritual relationships, with the divine. Where does animal abuse come from? The answer is long and it deserves a dedicated and extensive investigation. But my brief enquiries point to the Egyptian, Sumerian and Babylonian civilisations, where sports hunting began, that is, the idea that killing animals, specially fierce ones like lions, is fun.  Curiously, this is the same place and time where monotheism began, which later became Christianity, Islamism and Judaism. Who introduced sports hunting, exotic animal trophies, taurine celebrations and the appreciation of exotic animals in cages?

There are people that love animals  and are racist. There are people who love animals, are not racist, but have terrible relationships with their concubines. Any type of hate, of unbalance, of ignorance, is part of the same problem, and animals won’t stop suffering until we solve all of this problems as a whole. This will take a while since we are barely beginning to shift away from what I believe is a very unbalanced and sick point in time.

Imágen de quirquincho tomada de

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