A few decades ago, a group of scientists, artists, writers, and other intellectuals believed in the potential of animal consciousness.
In the 1950s, the late philosopher and animal rights activist Jean-Paul Sartre, a staunch anti-animalist, wrote of the “humanization of the animal” as a necessary step toward human freedom.
And in 1971, the philosopher Jean-François Lyotard, a French philosopher and the founder of the theory of the primacy of the mind, wrote, “The goal of education should be the abolition of the domination of the dog.”
The animal’s connection to our minds has been confirmed by the recent scientific breakthroughs in neuroscience.
Neuroscience has revealed that certain brain regions are critical for processing animal consciousness and that certain animal behaviors are highly effective in helping us understand ourselves and others.
For instance, researchers have found that humans and other primates can learn to recognize the sounds of others’ cries in a manner similar to that of a dog.
And we are now learning that animals can make our eyes glaze over and respond to our facial expressions in the same way we can.
These findings, which could transform how we think about and treat animals, are now being used to teach people to understand animals and their behavior.
But some animal rights activists worry that the animal-rights movement is losing its way.
“I have a feeling we’re losing the war against animals,” says Paul Sartres, the author of Animal Liberation.
“It’s a war of ideas, not a war.”
In addition to the recent successes in neuroscience, animal rights advocates have recently raised questions about the effectiveness of their efforts in the classroom.
In 2009, a federal court in Florida struck down a state law that required students to learn that certain animals have rights, but did not ban their ownership.
And the National Association of College and University Professors (NACUP) recently proposed a new curriculum that would make it harder for students to earn degrees from institutions that teach animal rights.
“What animal rights are trying to do is to teach them a message that is false, and that is misleading,” says Karen Tompkins, president of the National Center for Animal Advocacy (NCAAP).
In an interview with NPR, Sartrees professor of philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania, Sotnes says the recent success of animal rights has not meant that he’s lost his passion for animal rights or his hope that his ideas will change the world.
“There’s still a lot of research and advocacy that still needs to be done,” Sartes says.
“But I have a much stronger understanding of what I’m advocating and what I think that people can do about animal welfare.”
“We have to make sure that our educational institutions don’t teach the false message that animals are somehow inferior or less human,” he says.
For many animal rights supporters, the recent victories have only underscored the urgency of the issue.
“This is the kind of message that has got to be pushed at every level,” says Jennifer Purdy, director of the Humane Education Certificate Program at the Animal Liberation Front.
“Every animal welfare movement in the world is trying to change the status quo.
That’s the only way to change it.”
The group that began the animal rights movement is now in a new phase.
With new technologies and a growing awareness of animal cruelty in the media, animal liberation has become a global movement that includes groups from every continent and all political persuasions.
Animal rights activists now have a powerful and influential ally in the United States: President Donald Trump.
“The president’s been very supportive of us,” Sotkes says.
Purdy is also optimistic that the president’s election in 2020 will be a turning point in the movement.
“He will be able to look at what the future looks like and see what needs to change in the way we teach and the way that animals learn,” she says.
Sartren, for one, is excited about the prospect of a Trump presidency.
“If he can do that, he will have a very powerful force that will be very useful in his efforts to make things better for animals,” he said.
And animal rights is still just one of many issues on which the president has spoken out in the past.
“We’re not going to go away.
We’re going to get worse, because the president is not going away,” Sotskes says of the movement in 2020.
“That’s why he’s going to have to continue to be engaged, because there’s a lot more work to do.”