Alex, the parrot studied by Irene Pepperberg, is dead. I don’t know why this story – among all the other news in the world – brings up sadness, but it is probably because I have an especially soft spot for the lives of animals, and how they have been and still are treated by humans. The other species we share this planet with are one of the remaining groups to be included into the circle of us.
Alex, and many other animals studied these days, show us that many other species are not only very similar to us emotionally (why wouldn’t they be, when we share ancestors, when we share biology related to emotions, and when we display similar signs of emotions in similar situations?) but also cognitively.
In science, we justify experiments on animals (as substitute for humans) scientifically because they biologically are so similar to us, and yet justify it ethically because they are different from us. In science or society at large, very few point to that discrepancy, probably because it is convenient to not look at it too closely.
And including other species into the circle of us does not mean that we all need to become vegetarians or that we release all animals from captivity. It only means moving in the direction of treating them with more respect, remembering that they too have emotions and some cognitive abilities, and that they too want to avoid suffering. They are not so different from us in that way.
The golden rule applies here too. How would I have wanted to be treated if the roles were reversed, if I was that cow out on pasture, or that rabbit in the science lab, or those elephants losing their territory to humans?
How specifically will this look in real life? How will it influence how we treat animals in a range of different settings? That is something that will look different in different circumstances, and something that will evolve and change as we do.