In common with most of my generation in Britain, when I see the title of this column, I hear in my mind the unmistakable, anxious voice of Harry Secombe, singing that song: “If I ruled the world—every day would be the first day of spring…” Actually, the second verse goes like this :
“If I ruled the world, every man would be as free as a bird, Every voice would be a voice to be heard.”
For me, that’s a pretty good starting point (thanks go to the lyricist Leslie Bricusse and the conductor Cyril Ornadel).
For a very long time now I have felt that there is enough suffering in the world without any of us introducing more of it on purpose. I hate injustice. I hate inequality. I hate to see the degradation of the life of any human or other animal. That’s why I founded Common Decency, a campaign organisation which aims to drive forward real democracy, through political and social change—toward a more compassionate Britain, and ultimately a more compassionate world.
Causing the unnecessary suffering of any creature is morally a crime—irrespective of whether the laws of a particular nation have caught up or not. I believe every creature owns the right to freedom and that every single life matters. This is way beyond ecology—way beyond counting the number of animals left in any species and deciding whether the species is endangered or not. This is about respect for every living being. Of course that begins with respect for one’s fellow man. But I have never been shown any evidence to indicate that man is the only important species on this once gloriously fecund planet. Why would we assume that? Lord knows, for centuries humans believed that the Earth was at the centre of the whole universe and everything revolved around it—around us. What an attractive hypothesis for an ignorant, arrogant species! Of course, now we know that this anthropocentric idea was rubbish—our planet is just one of many rocks orbiting a pretty average yellow star, itself just one among billions in a quite ordinary spiral galaxy—and not even close to the centre of that.
This Milky Way galaxy, as we call it, is just one in countless billions scattered throughout the known universe. We are not the centre of everything—and there actually is no centre. Similarly, in evolutionary terms we now know that we are not the “pinnacle” we once thought we were; every species on Earth could claim that title just for surviving to the present day.
So why have we decided we can use and abuse the rest of creation—just because we can? Where is the logic? Where is the justice, the justification? I believe there is none. Animals deserve, need and must have rights. In my world animal welfare would be above politics.
If I ruled the world we would restart completely. We would rewrite a famous declaration. It would go like this: “We hold it self-evident that every creature on Earth is worthy of respect: is born with the right to freedom from persecution, the right to raise its offspring in peace, and lead a decent life under the sun. It follows that every creature has the right to a full life span and a decent death with as little pain and indignity as can be managed.”
My world would have some tough decisions to make—this I will admit—because making decency and compassion our guiding principles (instead of economics) would revolutionise everything—food production, habitat sharing, science, medicine—and there would be zero tolerance for torturing or killing any creature just for “fun,” or just to make someone feel powerful.
There will be food for every child—because the world does have the capacity to make enough food for all; it just needs proper redistribution. Education will be entirely free for all—a basic human right. And that education will include how to raise a family, and how the human race can self-limit its growth before it totally destroys the planet by sheer weight of numbers.
The word “vermin” will not exist in my world, for this in itself is a violation of the principle of the Dignity of Life—that every creature is worthy of respect. Once you have put such an ugly label on a creature you can justify abusing it on the grounds that vermin have no feelings. That’s a dangerous and disgusting distortion of the truth. The word “anthropomorphic” will become redundant for the same reasons. In my opinion human beings cause more trouble than any other creature on this planet.
Once this is all sorted, there will be no need to keep campaigning for Common Decency. We, as a reformed human race will then be free to sleep easy at night, knowing our karma is good, and we are headed to a better place. The world will be full of music, art, pure science, dancing, poetry, sport decently and lightly conducted, and... of course, Love. Is there anybody out there who’s against this?
Yep—sure there is. But our day will come. It all starts with slug pellets—banning them, that is.