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The Five Universal Taboos and Animal Use ~ Dr. Will Tuttle

Built-in Fairness Meters

The more biologists and psychologists delve into understanding innate behavioral drives, the more they find that we humans seem to be hard-wired to be highly sensitive to fairness in social interactions. Interestingly, this universal taboo against unfairness in human relationships is also found throughout the nonhuman animal realm as well, especially in mammals and birds. It seems that the better we get to know animals, and ourselves, the more we realize that equity, justice, and fairness are not just intellectual concepts or noble ideals, but are actually embedded in the psycho-social fabric of consciousness that manifests as human and animal life on this planet.

The great liberation movements are examples, with, for instance, many 18th- and early 19th-century British people devoting their lives to ending the enslavement of African people—people they neither knew personally, and who were of a different race. Despite these factors, the blatant unfairness of the slave trade drove them to action. There have been many more examples we can all think of since then. The burgeoning Occupy Wall Street movement is one of the contemporary manifestations of our essential sense of repugnance and outrage when witnessing flagrant unfairness.

Our sense of fairness results from our intuition of our interconnectedness with other human beings, and of our basic equality with each other. While it is violently repressed in our culture in many ways through the exclusivist and competitive official stories pervading our media and our religious, economic, educational, and governmental institutions, this fundamental sense of fairness and justice continually reasserts itself and easily extends to our relationships with nonhuman animals as well. The vast majority (around 95 – 98%) of people polled in the U.S., for example, agree that people who engage in self-serving cruel treatment of animals should be held accountable for their actions, and face social consequences for this behavior.


Universally-Recognized Taboos

In light of all this it is not surprising that all cultures in the world recognize certain behavioral taboos. Anyone engaging in these forbidden and unfair actions toward other people in the community faces consequences for doing so. There seem to be five universal taboos:



Dr. Will Tuttle, educator, author, pianist, and composer, presents 150 lectures, workshops, and concerts yearly throughout North America and Europe. Author of the acclaimed best-seller, The World Peace Diet, he is a recipient of the Peace Abbey’s Courage of Conscience Award, and is the co-founder of Circle of Compassion ministry. A vegan since 1980, he is a Dharma Master in the Zen tradition, and has created eight CD albums of uplifting original piano music.


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