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The Question Of Existence: How Different Are We?

2102 words - 8 pages

Due to the fact that humans have developed a considerable dominion over the earth and its other inhabitants, we are often inclined to be anthropocentric. Backed up by cultural and religious tradition, we tend to subscribe to the theory that we are distinct among earth's creatures and that this affords us a certain right in how we interact with and use the others. Even champions of animal rights, such as J.M. Coetzee's fictional novelist Elizabeth Costello, tend to subscribe to this mentality of speciesism, albeit to a different end. Costello depicts human development as a war with the other animals that was, “won […] definitively only a few hundred years ago, when we invented guns. It is only since victory became absolute that we have been able to afford to cultivate compassion” (The Lives of Animals 59). While she believes our dominance should be used to spearhead the movement of sympathetic relations with other species rather than their exploitation, the fact remains that she views us as dominant, as having won the war. Perhaps there is a good case for human ascendency: we have clearly built complex civilizations, often at the expense of other creatures and habitats, and are able, through the various technologies Costello alludes to when she says we invented guns, to subjugate other animals to our needs and fancies. The crux of the matter, however, is not so much whether we are more powerful, more abundant, or more successfully manipulative than other animals, but whether or not these qualities indicate that we are distinct in any way. Do humans form a separate, higher form of existence than other animals or, like the lion that is able to capture and control the antelope, are we merely a more powerful predator of the same mold?
The basis of Darwin's theory of evolution seems to prescribe to the latter theory, that humans are merely another of the many variations of the structure belonging to all animals. He comes to this conclusion primarily through a system of comparative anatomy. Through observation he concludes that, “all the bones in [the human] skeleton can be compared with corresponding bones in a monkey, bat, or seal. So it is with [human] muscles, nerves, blood-vessels, and internal viscera” (The Descent of Man 22). He diminishes the possibility of interpreting these similarities as mere coincidence by exploring the implications of such likenesses. For example, humans are susceptible to many of the same illnesses as other animals, including noninfectious diseases that must develop independently in different creatures' systems. This is a strong testament to the similarity between humans' and other animals' blood and tissues, not only at the macroscopic level that Darwin first observed, but also at the microscopic and chemical levels. Further, these illnesses, being of the same kind, are cured equally well by our medicines in other animals as in humans (23).
As compelling as this evidence is, many humans seem inclined to dismiss its...

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