[Viewpoint]Do unto animalsThe ability to reason is humankind’s biggest and most unique power. Reason is a combination of the brain, with its pure logic and factual judgment, and the heart, which combines practical logic and value judgment. Humans have dominated all other animals on earth and developed civilizations thanks to their brains. However, what makes humankind human is not the brain but the heart. A clever person who lacks heart is merely a smart animal. The heart is the driving force of history.
Before the establishment of modern liberal states, people were used to the idea of discrimination based on class, race, gender and religion for several millennia. The concept of human rights was also notably lacking. The biggest and most important improvement in the history of humankind is that we have tried to break with old and evil practices and spread equality and liberty.
The proposition that all men are completely equal in terms of basic human rights and individuality is the core of modernity. Universal equality is so self-evident that it does not require reasoning or proof. It is a social norm that has become the basis of value judgments on all social phenomena. Individual liberty is derived from universal equality. Since all men are equal, no one has the right to suppress another person.
In the development of history, the heart recognizes the faults of a society and offers a direction, and the brain seeks the means to accomplish the change. The brain does not automatically know that all men are equal. Instead, our hearts feel it. Because we have the heart to distinguish right from wrong, humankind has been able to make the strides that it has.
In modern society, universal equality has established itself as common sense. Although some might secretly reject the idea, open denial would make someone an outcast. Those who have raised dogs, cats, cows, horses or birds know that these animals feel joy, anger, sorrow, happiness and pain like humans. Just because they are not human, is it all right to kill them thoughtlessly?
Korea and most other developed countries currently have animal protection laws to prevent animal cruelty. But in reality, the law is not strictly observed. The biggest reason is that many people still think they can treat animals cruelly and kill them without mercy.
If someone has a great power that no one else has, it is his responsibility not to use it for himself, but for the benefit of all. Similarly, it is the responsibility of humankind to make the world a better place for all other animals, for we have overwhelming power over them. Just as we feel with our hearts that other people are valuable, our hearts know that other creatures are equally valuable.
We might not be able to strictly follow the Buddhist prohibition against killing. But shouldn’t we at least kill prudently? As Islam teaches, we should carefully raise animals, pray for them and express gratitude, and kill them without inflicting pain. Some might have to eat meat and fish to live, and others might have to kill animals and fish to make a living. But shouldn’t we refrain from killing for fun? Fishing might be a great hobby, but it is cruel from the point of view of the fish. Imagine your mouth getting pierced with a needle.
Korean animal protection law states that we should recognize the dignity and value of life when we raise animals, making efforts to allow them to maintain their natural habits and live normally. Immanuel Kant said we should treat all people as an end, not as a means. If he were alive today and saw animals being killed indiscriminately, he would say we should treat all creatures similarly.
The original sin of humankind might not be stealing apples from the Garden of Eden, but the killing of other creatures. When we treat all living beings with kindness, true peace will come to the world.
The nation is in uproar over worries of mad cow disease. On Buddha’s Birthday, I thought of what it would feel like to be a cow.
*The writer is a professor of economics at the University of Seoul and a co-president of The Citizens’ Coalition for Economic Justice. Translation by JoongAng Daily staff.
by Lee Keun-sik