AR Philosophy > Morality Index

Putting The Alleviation of Suffering First

Or, "Rescue the Rabbit Trapped in the Drainpipe Before Attending to My Headache"

Not that I go through this formula in my head all the time; like anyone, I'm, often moved by the moment or go with my gut. But if I had to lay out
very general guidelines for which creatures (including humans) I choose to help...

      What is the severity of their suffering?

      How much are they being helped?

      Of what help can I be? (How much effort, time, or money is required, and to what effect? Do I have some talent or character trait that would be particularly useful? Or would I get in the way or be an impediment?)

      Are they family or friends?

Of course, sometimes this means the beneficiaries (I hope) of my efforts to help are humans. They might be members of my own family or an unknown quantity of strangers halfway across the world.

But being human doesn't automatically put you at the top of the list. I'll take my companion animals to the vet. I'll acknowledge my neighbor's dismay at having his grass soiled by the stray cat, but my greater sympathies will lie with the lost pet who may have been abandoned by her human family, is probably frightened and hungry, and is possibly plagued by painful infections. I'll refuse to take a child to see an animal circus, no matter how badly he wants to go. He and I can have a great time at an animal sanctuary or the park; the elephants are kidnapped, beaten, and chained. When the child is older, he will learn the extent to which elephants in the circus are mistreated, and be horrified, and be thankful I never took him there.

If I did find myself in the proverbial scenario where I was forced to hit the pedestrian or the dog with my car, I imagine I would swerve to save the pedestrian. Although this may only indicate that we are naturally predisposed to help our own. Fortunately, up until now, I've been able to spare both the dog and the pedestrian, and help them and many other species, and most likely this will continue for the rest of my days. Especially considering that one of the most effective ways to help animals is simply to adopt a vegetarian diet, and thus avoid foods that, according to hundreds of studies, cause heart disease and cancer. That works out great: For no money or extra time, I can do a world of good for animals, and be healthier in the process which lets me be more of a contributor to society in general.

What I like is that each of us helps who we can in our own way. We each have unique skills and access to various groups in need. The volunteers at the animal shelter and the soup kitchen are both alleviating suffering and increasing peace on earth. My veterinarian and physician are both healers, and all of the humans and animals in my household appreciate and feel the benefit of their efforts. The undercover investigators who videotape ugly human cruelties toward animals in slaughterhouses and research labs help us all; they inform us of victims we might not otherwise know about, and they expose parts of us that we sorely need to exorcise. Even seemingly tiny acts can be transformative: letting the spider live, or putting out a little house for the toads, cultivates a decency in us that we can compound and share without limit. So let's not spend too much time devising how to divide up our kindnesses, let's see how we can multiply them so that the entire world thrives.