The wrong trial of indecency - Mathieu Ricard

, by Estela Torres

The wrong trial of indecency – Mathieu Ricard

August 2016 Article published in Le Monde
Excerpt from a conference given on December 16, 2014

Animal advocates do not forget the suffering of human beings. To love animals is also to gain in humanity.

Following the publication of The Case for Animals in October, one of the criticisms I heard most often was that it was indecent to turn our attention to animals and want to improve their lot when so much suffering afflicts humans in Syria, Sudan and elsewhere. To even have consideration for animals would be an insult to the human race. This argument may sound like it is based on the highest virtues, but once you examine it, you will see that it is completely devoid of logic.

If devoting some of our thoughts, words, and actions to reducing the unspeakable suffering we deliberately inflict on other sentient beings such as animals is an offense against human suffering, what about listening to France Musique, playing sports, and sunbathing on a beach? Would those who engage in these and other activities become abominable individuals because they do not devote all their time to alleviating the famine in Somalia?

As Luc Ferry rightly remarks: “I would like someone to explain to me how torturing animals would help humans. Is the fate of Christians in Iraq improved because thousands of dogs are skinned alive in China every year and left to die for hours, since the more excruciating their pain, the better their flesh? Is it because we mistreat dogs here that we are more sensitive to the misfortune of the Kurds? (...) Each of us can take care of our own, our family, our job and also get involved in politics or in community life without slaughtering animals.”

@Jo-Anne McArthur, We Animals Media

If someone were to devote 100% of their time to humanitarian work, one could only encourage them to continue. In fact, it is a safe bet that a person with such altruism would also be kind to animals. Kindness is not a commodity to be distributed sparingly like chocolate cake. It is a way of being, an attitude, an intention to do good to all those who come within our scope of attention and to remedy their suffering. By loving animals as well, we do not love people less, we love them better because our benevolence is wider and therefore of better quality. Whoever loves only a small part of sentient beings, or even of humanity, shows a partial and narrow benevolence.
For those who do not work day and night to alleviate human misery, what harm would there be in alleviating the suffering of animals rather than playing cards? The fallacy of indecency that it is immoral to care about animals when millions of humans are starving is usually an easy cop-out by those who do little for either. To someone who was ironic about the ultimate usefulness of her charitable actions, Sister Emmanuelle replied, “And you, sir, what are you doing for humanity?”

@Jo-Anne McArthur, We Animals Media

Fighting on all fronts
In my humble case, the bad argument of indecency is rather incongruous since the humanitarian organization I founded, Karuna-Shechen, treats 100,000 patients a year and 25,000 children study in the schools we have built. Working to save animals from immense suffering does not diminish my determination to remedy human misery one iota. Unnecessary suffering must be hunted down wherever it is, whatever it is. The fight must be waged on all fronts, and it can be.

Concern for the fate of the 1.6 million other species on the planet is neither unrealistic nor indecent, because usually it is not necessary to choose between human and animal welfare. We live in an essentially interdependent world, where the fate of each being is intimately linked to that of the others. It is not a matter of caring only for animals, but also for animals. In truth, we will all lose or win together because the over-consumption of meat in rich countries due to industrial breeding maintains hunger in the world. It is also the second largest cause of greenhouse gas emissions (after buildings and before transportation) and, moreover, it is also harmful to human health.

By being concerned about the mass slaughter of animals, we are not forgetting the fate of the Syrians, we are simply showing benevolence.

By Matthieu Ricard
Matthieu Ricard is a Buddhist monk and writer.
His latest book, "Plaidoyer pour les animaux" is published by Allary Editions, 370 pages.