Humanity: Evolved Creatures?

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Guest Blogger Sandra Kyle, University Lecturer and SAFE member, writes about her relationship with animals.

Back in the day I did some zoology papers at university, attending a class taught by the late Professor John Morton, a marine biologist. The distinguished but loveable professor would fill the blackboard with coloured chalk drawings, and amuse students with his animal imitations. I can see him now, glasses perched on his nose, hopping across the floor or lifting the back of his black gown and waggling his rear end.     In those days, photocopiers weren’t in common use, and we were expected to draw the organisms we wrote about. Not nearly as artistically endowed as Prof Morton, my most faithful likenesses were single-celled animals such as amoeba or paramecium, but I could label body parts with the best of them: the nucleus in the middle, the movement cilia around the edge, the contractile vacuole (to eject waste) the circular patch of light-sensitive cells.   It was with a sense of awe that I learned that those same light-sensitive cells became the prototype for every eye of every animal alive today. As I grew to understand more about evolution, I marveled at the residual gill slits still visible in the developing human embryo, and how the three small bones responsible for our hearing started life as a jaw bone in a distant reptilian ancestor. My understanding of the deep connecting lines between all species was forged as a young woman studying evolutionary biology.

The two years I spent studying zoology gave me the scientific basis for the kinship I had felt from childhood for all animals, including birds and insects. I used to love butterflies and bees, and even then, could never squish a spider –something about the startled way it reacted when its web was cleared from an inconvenient spot in our home.   I spent hours at the local pond watching dragonflies hover, and water boatmen skip across the surface. I counted tadpoles, and saw them turn into frogs.   I looked out for chrysalises, and watched as the emerging, transformed caterpillars spread their wet wings for the first time. Orphaned or injured birds could rely on me, and as far as our family pets were concerned, “I killed them with kindness”, to use my mother’s words. I also loved trees, flowers and clouds, but if something was motile, or if it could perceive the world with a pair of eyes, then I felt close to it, and could never consider doing it harm.   If I had been as compassionate to people as I was to animals, then maybe I wouldn’t have gotten into so much strife as a young person, but that’s another story!Chicken raised for meat

The compassion and sense of justice that I share with people who read animal rights’ blogs – people like you – also leaves me with a permanently sorrowful heart when I contemplate what is routinely done to our fellow creatures.   I have to fight a sense of panic, for instance, when I pass a cattle transport truck on the road, or watch a video of terrified rodeo horse being shocked with an electric prod, or see a pig in a sow crate unable to move, or watch day-old male chicks being placed by indifferent workers on a conveyor belt to face/meet their doom.

Isaac Bashevis Singer, the famous 20th century Jewish writer, was right when he said, “For the animals, every day is Treblinka”.     We who have deliberately immersed ourselves in this world of animal abuse in order to change and heal it know it does not only include factory farming, but all systematic cruelty towards animals; all meat and dairy production, all experimentation, all hunting, all use of animals for sport and entertainment. Every instance of the way we deprive animals of their rights must be called into question and changed.     There can never be any rationale for such treatment; animals feel pain, pleasure, loneliness, fear and motherly and filial love just as we do.   If we don’t fight the good fight on their behalf, then who will?   Who, if not us, will defend their right to live free from inflicted pain and suffering, their very right to live at all?

My long interest in evolution has led me to ask the question: ‘Are humans still evolving?” and the answer, I have discovered, is that we are. Natural selection is a slow process, but there is evidence that homo sapiens has undergone a number of changes in our 200,000 years of our history. For example, our teeth have halved in size, and our foreheads have become wider. There are many other illustrations, such as the broader arteries and capillaries that Nepalese Sherpas have, Nature’s way of maximizing the amount of oxygen available to them in the high mountains.possum

The story of evolution is the story of our connection to other animals, and while we have developed along the same lines as all previous atomic, chemical and biological systems on earth, all that may be about to change. We have for the first time in history achieved the unimaginable, reaching a stage where we are able to take charge of our own evolution.  This is truly a mind-boggling thought!   Speaking personally, I have a mysterious sense that our progression towards the unknown has seeds of the future already in it, and that a reverence for life, a deep empathy, compassion and affinity for all living creatures, is contained within those seeds.  While we cannot at this stage know ultimate reality, and maybe never will, to work to release sentient beings from injustice and suffering involves more than to create a better future for other animals. It is also to work for the evolution of consciousness and the betterment of humanity.   I for one, will spare no effort until the goal is achieved.

Sandra Kyle

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