Humans have long held themselves as a species apart. It’s a cross-cultural theory of exceptionalism, held as tightly in Chengdu, China as Chicago, United States. As the canniest, most productive and most dominant species on the planet, we allow ourselves dominion over all other creatures, great and small. We spray great swaths of land with insecticides to kill mosquitoes that threaten our health. We live-capture juvenile whales to be trained for our entertainment. After all, human welfare is paramount, and those other creatures aren’t believed capable of feeling depressed, isolated or endangered.
This point was driven home with a strangely retrograde vote in the UK’s House of Commons last November. In the course of Brexit negotiations, Members of Parliament were tasked with choosing which EU policies they will adhere to as the UK withdraws from the EU. They elected to bow out of a law recognizing animal sentience. MPs later called this claim a mischaracterization, because public outrage was dramatic — denying sentience denies that animals can feel pain, form thoughts, or experience any emotion.