Between Human and Sub-human.

From: The Creed of Kinship (1935)
Author: Henry S. Salt
Published: Constable & Co Ltd 1935 London


  “Be kind to animals. You are one yourself.” (School of Arts Magazine, Massachusetts.)

  I have so far mainly spoken of the acknowledgment of Kinship as the one valid bond in human society, but it is not human society alone that is here concerned; for the non-humans, whom we indifferently class together as “the animals” (as if we were not animals ourselves!) have also to be considered. I wish to speak less of the actual wrongs that we inflict on them than of the injustice of what Schopenhauer called “the assumption, despite all evidence to the contrary, of a radical difference between man and beast.”1 When once it is realised that the more highly organised animals are closely related to ourselves, it will become impossible to ill-use them as is now done; but their treatment is not likely to improve while the great mass of people think and speak about them in a manner that is almost nonsensical. We are, in fact,

“A little more than kin, and less than kind.”

  To whom, then, are the people generally to look for right guidance in this matter? Not always, I fear, to those known as “scientists,” for there are occasions when sheer nonsense about animals is talked in scientific circles. At a meeting of the British Association (September 2nd, 1932) a member gravely argued that nonhumans are nothing more than machines. We have been warned not to let our hearts run away with us, but to give our heads also an opportunity; as if humanitarian hopes were not held by persons whose heads are quite as sound as that of any scientist living, and a good deal sounder than that of the one to whom I have just referred. It is, in fact, only the awe felt by the public for anything supposed to be “scientific” that permits such silly stuff to be talked and printed.

  But here I must admit that nonsense is not talked on one side only. There are “friends of animals” who injure their own cause by use of an overstrained and exaggerated tone, and by such mistaken appeals to compassion, as in the common but foolish expression “dumb animals,” which attributes a defect, an imperfection, where in truth there is none, and just at a time when it is of importance to show that the gulf dividing human from non-human is one of mankind’s imagination.

  The kinship of human and sub-human, and the obligations which that fact lays upon mankind, are indeed a subject on which the great authorities speak plainly enough. Let two or three of them here be quoted.

  “The theory of animal automatism,” said G. J. Romanes (in his Animal Intelligence), “can never be accepted by commonsense.”

  “At one time,” according to Lecky,2 “the benevolent affections embrace merely the family: soon the circle expanding includes first a class, then a nation, then a coalition of nations, then all humanity; and finally its influence is felt in the dealings of man with the animal world.”

  “Why,” asks Bentham (in his Introduction to Principles of Morals and Legislation), “should the law refuse its protection to any sensitive being? The time will come when humanity will extend its mantle over everything which breathes.”

  At present, in what we are pleased to regard as our civilisation, the moral aspects of the question are mainly overlooked. As Mr. Howard Moore wrote: “It is scarcely possible to commit crimes upon any beings in this world except men. There are no beings in the universe, according to human beings, except themselves. All others are commodities.”3 That does not hold true of certain domestic animals; but it really is so of many of them, and of the rest, the wild and unowned, it is hardly an exaggeration. Consider some of the practices of which they are the victims.

  The most obvious barbarity is that of “sport,” or rather it should be said, of “bloodsport.” Hunting and shooting are patronised to-day by many educated and well-to-do persons, who might be expected to know better; and the Church, instead of making some protest, is unwilling or afraid to say a word. Indeed, there was an occasion4 when at the little old church of Moor Monkton, in Yorkshire, an Archbishop actually dedicated a stained window, “a very stained window,” as someone aptly remarked, to the memory of an old blood-sporting parson who had been killed when hunting. We advise anyone who would care to know what truly amazing excuses the apologists of a cruel practice are capable of uttering to look up that address.

  I am not, of course, accusing sportsmen, or anyone else, of being personally or purposely cruel. One of the chief difficulties in bringing home responsibility in these matters is that things are so mixed up—that a man called to account for some very gross and barbarous practice may truly plead that it is “no worse” than something else. The trade in live caged birds, for instance, was described, and doubtless quite truly, as “one of the worst forms of habitual cruelty allowed in our country,”5 yet the men who actually trapped and sold these poor captives may in other respects have been good fellows enough, supporting an aged parent, perhaps, or fulfilling some domestic duty! The public who buy are just as much to blame as the snarers who sell; and it is only when such questions are considered impartially (which they rarely are) that a way is seen to solve them.

  So, in dealing with wrongs inflicted on our sub-human fellow-beings, we come back again and again to this same point, that it is a mistake to lay excessive stress, as so many of our friends do, on one particular subject, as transcending the rest in importance, and as demanding earlier attention. They are, in fact, so interwoven as to be in the end inseparable, and needing attention equally and together.

  We are accustomed in this country to pride ourselves on having prohibited certain savage pastimes which are still permitted elsewhere; but it is to be feared that the advance in culture is only skin-deep. There was lately published a book on the art of bull-fighting, which frankly treated that pastime as a science worthy of respect, and drew the admiration of critics as containing an element of “mysticism.” I like better the story, lately told me by a friend, of an old waterman, who years ago, when in the service of a titled lady, had attended a bull-fight in Spain. The duchess turned sick, and had to leave: “but I,” said the old fellow, “was going to wait till I saw a man killed, and I did.” Was not that more honest, and in the long run more humane, than the quibbles that are so frequent?

  I dislike Zoological Gardens; for popular though these places have now become, and great as are the improvements adopted in the best of them, they probably do much to delay a right understanding of sub-humans, and in the minds not of children only, but also of grown-up persons, who in the scarcity (it must be admitted) of sensible forms of amusement, are glad to see inferior or unworthy sights. We must hope for better things hereafter. Two or three generations ago, pauper-lunatics used to be caged where passers-by—nurses perhaps with children in their charge—could see them as they passed, and the spectacle was sometimes enjoyed.6 We marvel now at such a story; and it may be that a future generation will equally wonder that the sight of caged animals could attract us. There is the further fact that the modern “Zoo,” whatever improvements have been wrought in it, has been built up with cruelties, not only in the manner in which many of the inmates have been captured, but in the feeding of snakes on live animals, practices which were only abandoned with reluctance and under protest from outside.

  Again, respect for maternity is a maxim which, in everything that pertains to the human, is very properly inculcated, as an essential part alike of manners and of morals. What becomes of this chivalrous feeling in man’s attitude to the extra-human races? Maternity does not seem to be greatly reverenced in the hunting of gravid hinds and hares; in the butchery of “big game” without regard to their cubs; in the treatment of mother-bird, shot on her nest by some prowling game-keeper, or robbed of her eggs for some foolish collector’s whim; or in numerous other misdeeds that might be cited.

  In the use of language, too, there is much that is amiss where the non-humans are concerned. Words and names are not without their effect upon conduct; and to apply to intelligent beings such terms as “brute,” “beast,” “live-stock,” “dumb,” etc., or the neuter pronouns “it,” and “which,” as if they had no sex, is a practical incitement to ill-usage, and certainly a proof of misunderstanding. For example, the Morning Post (September 26th, 1933) thus described a case of cruelty to a cow. He, the culprit, “struck the cow with a milking-stool. It fell to the ground and died.” It! One’s thoughts turn to the milking-stool, but the allusion was to the cowl

  By all, then, who accept the creed of Kinship, it will be held that while it may often be necessary to kill, it is never necessary to torture. To that extent the duty of mankind towards the lower animals is clear; and seeing how great has been the power of human inventiveness in the past we can hardly doubt that the difficulties which at present stand in the path of humane reform will in the future prove less insoluble than they are represented. Of one thing we may feel certain- that it would be a great joy to Man himself, if he could see “the animals” (of whom he is one) living around him in peace, instead of fleeing in every direction when they meet the presence that they have now such reason to dread.

I quote, in conclusion, from a letter which I received from Mr. M. K. Gandhi in 1932:

“One rarely finds people outside India recognising nonhuman beings as fellow-beings. Millennium will have come when mankind generally recognises and acts up to this grand truth.”

1 In The Basis of Morality, translated by Arthur Brodrick Bullock, 1903.
2 History of European Morals.
3 In The Whole World Kin.
4 November 16th, 1914.
5 In an address given before the Cumberland Federation of Women’s Institutes by Lord Howard of Penrith.
6 I remember hearing from my mother that such was the case at Shrewsbury. The nurse would say, “Where shall we go to-day, children?” and the cry would be, “Oh, to see the madmen, please!”

All Sub-Works of The Creed of Kinship (1935):
PDF Sub-Works open in a new tab. Close the tab when done viewing to return here.