By Izzy Almasi
“It’s not about how smart animals are. It’s about whether they can feel,” says author and animal-rights advocate Marc Bekoff in a recent interview with Skaana podcast host Mark Leiren-Young. “It’s not whether they can talk or think, it’s whether they can suffer.”
A professor emeritus at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and Fellow of the Animal Behaviour Society, Bekoff has published 31 books exploring the inner lives of animals. He has worked closely with Jane Goodall and the two co-authored the book, The Ten Trusts: What We Must Do to Care for The Animals We Love.
He told Leiren-Young that he’s always been interested in the lives and emotions of wildlife and domestic pets or, as he refers to them, “non-human animals.” Throughout his career, Bekoff has become a champion for recognizing the rights and personhood of animals.
“Across the world, animals are not seen as subjects of life. They’re seen as objects… For example, legal systems say the word ‘person’ only applies to human individuals. So you’re trying to dismantle long-lasting and well-accepted legal standards if you will,” he says. “I tell people ‘don’t give up.’ The minute you give up, you’re feeding into the people who want you to give up.”
One of Bekoff’s key arguments for recognizing the rights and individuality of animals is to change the language we use when discussing them. By using a discourse that is similar to the way we talk about people, we acknowledge animals as living, feeling, sentient beings. “It’s a matter of who we eat, not what we eat. Who’s for dinner, not what’s for dinner,” says Bekoff. “It’s the animals who eat the animals, who we keep in cages, who we keep in aquariums… Words matter.”
Bekoff maintains that change is always possible if we remain hopeful and diligent. “I just am a glass half full person. I know some people think I’m crazy, but that’s just who I am… What gives me hope is that there are good things happening,” says Bekoff. “And I always say, ‘without hope you’re screwed.’ If you believe that everything you’re doing has no potential benefits or means that things are hopeless, then they will be hopeless.”
To listen to the full interview, visit www.skaana.org, Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or Stitcher. Be sure to tune in to Skaana for upcoming episodes with guests like renowned ichthyologist Daniel Pauly, author and environmentalist Isabelle Groc and inspiring young eco-hero, Robbie Bond. To read more about Bekoff’s work and essays, check out his website and his stories in Psychology Today.