And so yesterday was World Animal Day. As with every other day that marks an important cause/event, don’t we all wish it didn’t just matter that one day in a year.
Some thoughts I penned down after attending the social sciences capstone seminar last week (how rare it is that I get motivated enough by one of these sessions to pen thoughts. Hurhur).
In the session, Professor Farber, Professor Jordaan and Professor Vogel touched on the topics of compassion and suffering. Who we feel sorry for, who we care for, and whose suffering we empathize with seem to relate to the idea of consciousness – we feel compassion for those we believe to have “human consciousness”. If evolutionary altruism dictates that we only care for those who look, smell or behave like us as a form of kin selection, it would seem as if compassion for animals would be unnecessary as they often do not look like us or bear the genes we wish to preserve. Another dominant argument against practicing animal rights would be that animals exist to serve Man, implying that we have the right to lord over them and decide their fates.
The trends affecting attitudes towards human rights have managed to leave an impact on the general discourse on compassion towards nonhuman animals. The questioning of the morality behind one group exerting privilege over another has extended to how Man exerts privilege over animals. Moral philosophers and public opinion agree that it is morally impermissible to be cruel to animals (Passmore, 1975). While it may be unrealistic to expect everyone to not eat meat, it is wrong to inflict suffering onto animals when procuring meats for our consumption. The problem then lies in the need to define what constitutes as suffering.
The criteria for moral status perhaps attempt to address the issue of suffering, focusing on what qualifies as having consciousness for suffering. If animals have the capability to not only physically detect pain but also to be aware of what it is that makes them feel pain, they are deemed to have the capacity for suffering. We are quick to judge atrocities against humans as immoral because we are deemed to possess the ability to not just feel but also know pain. The People for The Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has constantly come under fire for the style and content of its campaigns, particularly those involving Holocaust comparisons. While some label the move as “outrageous” and “offensive” (Teather, 2003), is it wrong for such comparisons to be drawn when we consider that some animals do possess the same capacity for suffering as we do?
The question then extends to animals that may seem to lack the capacity for suffering. Fish feel pain but may not know pain. Does that mean it is acceptable for us to harvest them however we want, regardless of the amount of pain we inflict on them? What does it say of us when we practice cruel acts against animals, justifying those acts with the argument that they do not have the capacity for suffering?
What does it say of us when we treat dogs/cats/other animals however we like whenever we fancy just because they aren’t “human” and don’t have as developed a brain as we do? What does it say of us when after hearing that fish only feel pain because it is an inbuilt mechanism (very much like our reflexes which don’t require much thought), we tell ourselves it’s okay to have that bowl of shark’s fin? Do we really know the world inside out like we think we do? Has science really solved almost all mystery there is about nature?
So many questions, so little attention.
“The very same mindset that made the Holocaust possible – that we can do anything we want to those we decide are ‘different or inferior’ – is what allows us to commit atrocities against animals every single day.” – Prescott, Matt
P.S. In case you were wondering how this is all related to possible serial killers, it has been researched and proven that those who grow up torturing animals have a very high tendency to become murderers or commit violent crimes. It’s almost a perfect indicator. Sounds unbelievable? Google it.