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Personhood Beyond the Human: On The Signature Cry of our Species

On December 8, 2013 Michael Mountain spoke on ““I Am Not an Animal”—The Signature Cry of our Species” at the Personhood Beyond the Human conference at Yale University.

Michael Mountain is Past President and one of the founders of Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, the nation’s largest sanctuary for abused and abandoned animals.

Best Friends was a driving force behind the growth of the no-kill movement in the 1990s, at a time when more than 15 million homeless dogs and cats were being killed in shelters every year. Today, that number has dropped to about 3 million each year.

In 2008, Michael stepped down from Best Friends to devote his time to the needs of other animals. Today, he is Communications Director for the Nonhuman Rights Project, which is working to achieve legal personhood for certain nonhuman animals, and is on the board of the Kimmela Center for Animal Advocacy. He also maintains a blog at www.earthintransition.org, where he comments on animal and environmental-related news and issues.

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The Personhood Beyond the Human conference was organized by the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, the Interdisciplinary Center for Bioethics at Yale University, Yale’s Animal Ethics Group and Yale’s Technology and Ethics Group.
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Abstract: The past 50 years have seen enormous growth in the animal protection movement. But the situation for nonhuman animals in every sphere, with the exception of homeless pets, continues to deteriorate. Any small advances remain incremental. Animal rights and welfare groups find themselves at a loss to explain their inability to influence the general public. But the work of Ernest Becker (The Denial of Death) and of psychologists in the field of Terror Management Theory (TMT) offer essential insight.

In this talk, we discuss how our need, as humans, to proclaim that “I am not an animal!” and to deny personhood to other animals affects our relationship with them at a fundamental level. We argue that to be effective, the animal protection movement needs to understand TMT and take it into account. And we conclude that a new kind of relationship to the world of nature in the 21st Century is not only essential to the mitigation of the catastrophic effects of the Sixth Great Extinction, but that it also holds the key to Becker’s still-unanswered question of how we can begin to relate positively to our own terror of personal mortality—and therefore our own future as a species.




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