Animal Cruelty

 Posted by on 2 April 2004 at 1:04 am  Uncategorized
Apr 022004

Tonight, I watched the new Penn & Teller’s Bullshit on PETA. Sadly, the episode was only so-so, but they did point me towards the National Animal Interest Alliance, a group which promotes animal welfare but opposes animal rights. There is also the Animal Welfare Council. I’m sure there are others… and I wonder how influential they are.

I’m presently writing on (or rather, against) animal rights for my environmental philosophy paper. One thorny question for me to address in the paper is whether animals deserve the legal protection of anti-cruelty laws.

For a variety of reasons, I would regard genuinely free market mechanisms as sufficient protection for animal used for commercial purposes. One of the pernicious side-effects of the present system of government regulation is that people minimize their own responsibility for buying morally-made products because the government is seen as looking after such matters. (This is particularly true of the products of human slavery imported from China.) At present, concerned consumers generally have few options, since government regulation discourages the development of private organizations for inspection and certification of proper treatment of animals. (One option is to buy kosher meat, as the animals are at least slaughtered more humanely, as far as I understand. According to the fine folks at Cook’s Illustrated, kosher chicken is also the yummiest type of supermarket chicken due to the methods used during slaughter and processing. Another option is to shop at a place like my beloved Trader Joe’s, which apparently checks into the animal products they sell.)

Private animal neglect is also not much of a worry, as concerned neighbors or passersby can often easily rescue an animal simply by offering to adopt it. Cases of sadistic abuse of animals are quite another story, however, since the sadist wishes to retain the animal so as to torture it. Perhaps the only valid justification for animal cruelty laws is that such sadistic behavior towards animals reveals a person to be deeply psychologically and morally disturbed — to the point that he also poses a very real danger to human life. So the very same rage and helplessness which motivates a man to beat a dog senseless for failure to obey his every thought will also drive him to beat up weaker humans, particularly women and children. The very same pathology of delight in another’s fear and pain which induces a girl to set fire to a cat will be all the more satisfied by seeing a human in fear and pain. I’m not denying free will here, just asserting some substantial degree of psychological and moral consistency.

Also, I’m not claiming that cruelty to animals ought to be outlawed since it is part of the triad of markers of serial killers along with late bedwetting and arson. Even taken together, the elements of that triad are necessary correlates to a rare type of criminal, not sufficient causes of abusers. Rather, my (tentative) claim is that wanton animal cruelty reveals something so profoundly wrong and fundamentally dangerous about a person’s inner life that it warrants further investigation and perhaps even coerced psychological treatment. (Hrmph: Whether such treatment would be effective, particularly if coerced, is quite a question.)

That argument is the only possible potential justification I see of laws against animal cruelty. Although I have no doubt that a sadistic animal torturer is a grave danger to myself, other humans, and beloved pets everywhere, the question of state intervention is not a trivial one. Even given my doubts, I might try to develop this argument in my paper, just to see where it leads. It will be happy hunting, so to speak!

Update: I should have mentioned that Tibor Machan has a brand-new book on the subject of animal rights, liberation, and welfare entitled Putting Humans First. It’s already on its way from Amazon, so I hope to make good use of it for my paper.

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