About the Hopeful Foundation

“We need another and a wiser and perhaps more mystical concept of animals. Remote from universal nature and living by complicated artifice, man in civilization surveys the creature through the glass of his knowledge and sees thereby a feather magnified and the whole image in distortion. We patronize them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate for having taken form so far below ourselves. And therein do we err. For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours, they move finished and complete, gifted with the extension of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings: they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.” ~ Henry Beston

“Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect.” ~Chief Seattle

As I have grown older and understood better this world in which we live, I have moved further and further away from what I now consider to be an astonishingly arrogant assumption: the idea that humans ‘own’ the planet or have some special right to be here, as if the world was created with humans in the forefront, as if they are the reason why it exists. We have interpreted dominion, little more than an ability to control others, as having some sort of objective, universal, even spiritual meaning.

It’s difficult to see a logical rationale for the degree to which humans attempt to separate themselves from nature, as if they are not part of it, as if they did not evolve from it. It’s as if we believe we are not animals ourselves, as if we have graduated from animalhood to a higher plane, and now we look down on the ‘subjects’ of our empire with contempt.

Our disdain is unjustified. For every superiority we have, we can find an inherent individual inferiority to non-human animals; indeed, when Beston speaks of their being ‘gifted with the extension of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear’, we cannot even compare ourselves, since in many cases we have nothing even approaching their abilities.

Of more concern, however, is the moral position we take with regard to non-human animals; we see them as means to our ends, and consider only our own ‘rights’ to be important. Non-human animals have no rights because we think them inferior – no matter how we attempt to rationalise our position, it really boils down to this assertion, and any intelligent person surely sees that this is not morally defensible, since an application of the same rationale with regard to humans would be considered discrimination.

We discriminate, then, on the basis of species – they are not us, and therefore we can do with them as we like – irrespective of the suffering caused, the disruption to their culture, the deprivation resulting from destruction of their habitat. Do we have the right to do this because we can? Are we not tyrants who use the dubious ethic of Might is Right in order to meet our own needs, like biological psychopaths?

I see non-human animals as alien nations, ‘caught with ourselves’ in the ‘web of life’, companions with us in the mystery of existence, like us never quite knowing why but nevertheless determined to live. I question whether we have the right to interfere with their place in this world.

I remember my friend Jane, who first exposed me to the idea of animal rights, telling me that she grew up on a farm and that the animals were her companions. She could not possibly eat her companions and so she was a vegetarian. If we all grew up with non-human animal companions, we might see them all as companions.

When I see a lion or a cow or an elephant, I do not see a target, food, or a circus performer, I see a creature locked into an existence it did not choose to inhabit, like myself not knowing that existences’ meaning, but unlike myself not being able to contemplate it and resolve the ethics of a given set of circumstances and actions. If we are truly ‘superior’, such supremacy should manifest itself in our morality towards relatively defenceless and vulnerable creatures who cannot tell us of their suffering at our hands. If we are truly intelligent, we should be able to discern for ourselves and take responsibility…

The butterfly, as the Companions and Hopeful icon, represents transformation, one which I believe is necessary, not only to bring change for non-human animals, but also if we are to make life sustainable for all. It also represents the fragility of our living environment and the beauty we threaten when we act without consideration of other animals and the future.


Derek du Toit
Hopeful Foundation