Friday, December 14, 2012

Why the intelligence of animals is important, and why it isn't

Many of us have come across videos on Youtube that depict the intelligence of certain animals (or a collection of different animals) in a positive way. Many of these videos are meant to surprise us by showing how ingenious a pig, crow, etc. can be. These videos often state that the animal being portrayed is even "smarter than a dog", or "as smart as a human".

First let’s discuss why it’s important to raise awareness of animal intelligence. The majority of the world still views most animals as nothing more than beasts with little or no emotions, intelligence, etc. Videos such as these show that animals do, in fact possess intelligence, and that they are capable of doing things that we might not have thought they were able to do. This, consequently, will lead some people who might not have respected these animals before, to start respecting them. Will this lead to a complete turnaround in the way they treat other animals? Probably not. But it might lead to subtle changes in their perception thereof, which, in turn, might lead to a more compassionate approach to other animals. After all, it’s arguably a little harder to mistreat and/or eat something that is both sentient and intelligent. In countries that have a strong pet culture, and people have learned to love their domestic animals, these videos are important in that they draw parallels to our pets, showing us for example, that a pig can be as smart as a dog. This may get someone to at least consider showing a bit more respect for the lives of these animals as they do for that of their beloved pooch.

Every coin has a flip-side, and this issue does too. The phenomenon described in the first paragraph really refers to the initial phases of learning to respect other animals. As I said above, for people who have little or no respect for other animals, these types of videos may lead to a greater respect for the latter. As we move deeper into improving our relationship with other animals, however, and start developing true compassion towards them, we begin to realize that the intelligence of an animal is not as important as the life of that animal. This is why we should be careful not to be too divisive when we discuss the intelligence of other animals – dividing them between "smart" and "dumb". Although it is true that some animals are smarter than others, we must remember that all sentient beings have a right to live. This is really the card that trumps the rest. Placing too much importance on intelligence will inevitably lead us to conclude that it is OK to kill certain animals because they’re simply "stupid". We don’t kill people because one is smarter than the other, or because they might have mental deficiencies, so we shouldn't do this with other animals either.

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