Matador Torero Alvaro Muñera had a promising career as a bullfighter. But in the middle of a bullfight, with the bull already wounded, awaiting only the fatal thrust by the matador (matador means killer), he had an experience that changed everything. “And suddenly, I looked at the bull. He had this innocence that all animals have in their eyes, and he looked at me with this pleading. It was like a cry for justice, deep down inside of me. I describe it as being like a prayer – because if one confesses, it is hoped, that one is forgiven. I felt like the worst shit on earth.” He quit at that moment, and became a vocal opponent of bullfighting.
Many people have found a soul connection while looking into the eyes of an ape or other animal, and many say it changed their lives. “When I look into the eyes of an animal I do not see an animal. I see a living being. I see a friend. I feel a soul.” (A.D. Williams) People who are around animals in daily life readily come to see them as sentient creatures not unlike themselves. That’s why farmers don’t dare give names to the animals they raise for slaughter, and even then many are disturbed by the practices of factory farming they are forced to use.
What defines the difference between humans and other animals? It’s not so obvious. Over the past century or so, we have suggested that the difference is that animals cannot do this or that. Use tools, solve problems, count. But then we find that there are animals who can do these things that supposedly set us apart. So we find something else they can’t do, and then we find that some animals can do that too. That’s called the rubber ruler, which expands as necessary to make us unique. We’re still looking, and so far it doesn’t look like we’re unique.
We are superior in some ways, not in others. Birds have far better eyes, dogs have far better noses. Some parrots have the intelligence of grade schoolers, and can carry on pretty good conversations. Elephants have elaborate family relations, and can hear other elephants miles away. Various animals have rather striking musical abilities, or artistic skills. A number are tool users. Many are excellent parents. Many love to play in all sorts of ways. Our pets become like family members, and we sincerely grieve their loss.
Humans are unique only by degree. Whether that’s superior—with our endless wars and violence—is a matter of opinion. We have overpopulated the planet and endangered all life, but we do make some pretty cool gadgets, music, and food.
Here’s my question: If we can recognize this deep connection between ourselves and an other not even of our own species, what is it that prevents us from recognizing the soul connection we have with other humans? All humans.
There are European-Americans who are unable to see people of different races, different colors, different religions, and so on, as humans like themselves. Some judge whole classes of people as naturally inferior to themselves, not even deserving of equal treatment.
My belief is that one must be taught this kind of deep intolerance, that it is not an inherent part of being human. But the teaching is not overcome without long effort, and maybe even a moment of epiphany. In the US, blacks are the most common subject of this discrimination, obviously because of hundreds of years of brutal slavery, followed by many decades in which they were held back in every way imaginable, which has not ended even now, a century and a half after slavery.
Perhaps the most unfortunate consequence of such treatment is that the maligned population becomes mired in this treatment, and the treatment, although officially ended, continues by itself. The schools are inferior, so the students are seen as inferior, and therefore can’t find good work at decent pay, and the poverty carries to the next generation. The same happens to the Romani (aka Gypsies). They have a reputation as thieves, which prevents them from finding work at fair pay, which perpetuates their reputation.
But there are others. The caste system of India, although outlawed for over a half century, is still used to discriminate. In the US, First Nations people (Indians) have been treated horribly since 1492. Immigrants of every sort have been hated, until a generation passed, and they were absorbed into the national fabric. The Chinese were not allowed to emigrate, and were confined to ghettos. Japanese-Americans were tossed into concentration camps during WWII, everything they owned confiscated. And now many of us bring this same attitude to Muslims who want to become citizens.
We learned from Hitler that a population can rather easily be turned against an ethnic group. In WWII Germany it was Jews, and the population was too easily corrupted under Hitler’s guidance, with consequences more horrible than anything before or since.
Some who have studied these conditions believe they descend from very ancient times in which suspicion of others may have served as protection against groups that may have had plans to harm the tribe and steal valuables. But the long term trend seems to be away from attitudes of hatred and discrimination. The majority of people in any given population today do not hate others.
But the question is, once a person has a discriminatory attitude toward a group of people, is it possible for that person to overcome that attitude, or must it take at least another generation? If change is possible, what are the conditions under which it can occur? These are important questions, unanswered so far.