Dignity Beyond the Human World

Arran Stibbe and George Jacobs, Directors and Coordinators

HumanDHS is primarily grounded in academic work. We are independent of any religious or political agenda. However, we wish to bring academic work into "real life." Our research focuses on topics such as dignity (with humiliation as its violation), or, more precisely, on respect for equal dignity for all human beings in the world, as well as raise awareness for the topic of dignity for nonhumans.

Please see Arne Næss on our Advisory Board, the founder of Deep Ecology and one of Norway's best known Philosophers.

Please consider also the Centre for Language and Ecology, founded by Arran Stibbe, Ph.D., Associate lecturer, Open University and Chikushi Jogakuen University, Japan. We thank Francisco Gomes de Matos for bringing us together with the Centre for Language and Ecology.

We would like to warmly thank Arran Stibbe for accepting the invitation by Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies to co-operate on this Dignity Beyond the Human World project. This joint project with the Center for Language and Ecology explores how the concepts of dignity and humiliation can be extended beyond the human world. Comments and articles of any length are welcome and will be published on http://www.ecoling.net/dignity.html.

Dignity Beyond the Human World.

by Arran Stibbe, 6th December 2004

An elephant is made to stand on one leg in front of hundreds of laughing and applauding circus goers. A dachshund is made to wear a frilly red coat over her over-bred, distorted body. A mother pig is placed in a farrowing crate so she cannot move or interact with her piglets. Do these animals have a sense of dignity? Do they feel humiliated? Undoubtedly there are situations where animals feel emotions similar to humans feelings of humiliation, but it seems anthropomorphic to assume that other animals experience dignity and its loss in the same way that humans do. Perhaps, in many cases, the animal in question is feeling pain and distress rather than a loss of dignity.

However, looking at the other side, the human side, it is clear that strategic attempts to humiliate another party differ little whether that party is human or not. It is the same cultural script found throughout the human world: words and actions are used to systematically lower the social status of one party in order to feed the other party's desire for superiority. The mastery and control of animals, demonstrated through confining them, distorting their bodies, or making them perform unnatural feats, delivers at best a very fragile sense of self worth. The fragility occurs because the very act of having to humiliate another in order to gain a sense of self-worth simultaneously reveals deep insecurity.

Why consider dignity and humiliation beyond the human world? Not because the same emotional responses to humiliation are necessarily shared by other life-forms, but because the mentality behind denying the dignity of others is the same whoever is being humiliated, and the physical and emotional consequences for the humiliated party are very real. The reason for using the framework of humiliation in exploring relationships between humans and other beings rather than simply one of abuse , is because of the detrimental psychological effects of basing a sense of self worth on the humiliation of other species. The humilator is also in need of a compassionate response. If humilators realise that they could get a far more solid sense of self worth by affirming the lives of others rather than humiliating them, they could find healing, while their victims could find relief.

The elephant in the circus is a highly visible and obvious case, but the psychology of humiliating other species to gain a feeling of self worth goes far deeper than this, and may be a root cause of human alienation and the destruction of the planet. Why genetically modify organisms, confine animals in high intensity farms, cut down forests, monoculture vast expanses of land? It is all too easy to blame money or the quest for efficiency, but these may not be the only reasons or even the most important ones. The ultimate cause may be deeper - the continuous quest to conquer and humiliate in order to gain a fragile sense of self-worth.

An important question arises as to the scope within which the framework of dignity and humiliation could be usefully applied. Is the concept useful only in considering relationships between humans and other mammals, or between humans and all animals including mosquitoes, or between humans and all life-forms including plants, or even to humans and rivers, or forests? Drawing a neat dividing line between those who it is meaningful to consider as having dignity and those who do not deserve it could be considered arbitrary or presumptuous. It is also unnecessary to draw lines if focus is placed on the humans who are engaged in acts of humiliation rather than on questions of whether the other party feels emotionally humiliated or only physically damaged.

In the end, the framework of dignity and humiliation could be usefully applied to any situation where humans are basing their self-worth on subjugating another, whoever or whatever that other may be. Moving away from humiliation towards affirmation of dignity, in ever wider spheres, may provide the wellspring of healing for all concerned.

Arran Stibbe
Centre for Language and Ecology

Comments and articles of any length are welcome and will be published on http://www.ecoling.net/dignity.html.

Arran Stibbe (2012). Animals Erased: Discourse, Ecology, and Reconnection with the Natural World. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press




Please note that the entire HumanDHS website is maintained by volunteers, since its inception in 2003, and this is mainly done by Evelin Lindner. Until 2012, she usually pasted interesting news into this Links section. From July 2012 until 2017, she tagged interesting information on delicious.com. From 2017 onward, you see Evelin's personal list of interesting web links on Twitter:

Hilal Sezgin
Author of the book Artgerecht ist nur die Freiheit: Eine Ethik für Tiere oder warum wir umdenken müssen. (Munich, Germany: C.H.Beck, 2014)
See page 233 (translated with the permission of the author):
"To create a less violent society without all this animal suffering, we must therefore find new ways of producing, of consuming, and of enjoyment. In some areas, the consequences seem quite radical at first glance. But many consequences only seem so radical because we have developed a very comprehensive, very close-knit and very cruel system of animal use. 65 billion 525 million animals are slaughtered each year worldwide. (Laboratory animals, fish, and hunted animals are therefore not included in the calculation.) If it helps to illustrate: In the thirty largest wars of humankind a total of about 600 million people perished  About 100 billion people have ever lived on Earth since the Stone Age. In one and a half years we slaughter as many animals as people ever lived on the planet - a true massacre. Let us remember the mirror neurons , and let us make use of our capacity for empathy. So, what is radical here: the carnage, or the plea to end this carnage?"
See also SPIEGEL-GESPRÄCH - "Tiere sind ein Zweck an sich": Haben wir das Recht, Tiere für unsere Bedürfnisse zu nutzen und zu töten? Die Autorin und Philosophin Hilal Sezgin hält ein radikales Plädoyer gegen eine Sonderstellung der menschlichen Spezies, Seite/page 110:
German original:
"Seit 150 Jahren, mindestens, brauchen wir Tiere nicht mehr in diesem Masse zu töten, zu benutzen, auszubeuten, wie wir es tun. Wir verfügen über diesen Luxus. Stattdessen haben wir die Industrialisierung, die technische Entwicklung eingesetzt, um die Gewalt gegen Tiere zu multiplizieren".
Englisch translation (with the permission of the author):
"Since 150 years, at least, we no longer have the need to use, exploit, and kill animals in the kind of mass killings that we carry out. We do have that luxury of choice now. Instead, we have applied industrialization, the technological development, to multiply the violence against animals."

Die Hofreitschule/The Princely School of Riding Art in Bückeburg
Die Hofreitschule/The Princely School of Riding Art in Bückeburg stands for a philosophy of respect for living creatures. This becomes apparent in their presentations. See pictures from 20th October 2013.

Henry David Thoreau
I have no doubt that it is a part of the destiny of the human race, in its gradual improvement, to leave off eating animals.
- Henry David Thoreau. We thank Michael W. Fox for making us aware of this quote.

Chimps Beat Humans in Memory Test
By Helen Briggs
Science reporter, BBC News
Counting test Number memory test: Chimpanzees have an extraordinary photographic memory that is far superior to ours, research suggests.Young chimps outperformed university students in memory tests devised by Japanese scientists. The tasks involved remembering the location of numbers on a screen, and correctly recalling the sequence...
Please read more at http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/1/hi/sci/tech/7124156.stm.