A Realization of Compassion

Written by Meg Susong
Megaphone Columnist

When at home, I often watch the show “Animal Cops,” which is essentially “Cops,” but where the violators commit crimes against animals. The crimes can range from starving an animal to leaving it chained to a fence, for a long enough period of time that the collar has become embedded in the animal’s neck.

I, like many of the viewers (including my mother), are distraught and visibly upset at the visual of inhumane acts. But those are not the only acts of violence committed against animals by far. And many acts committed against animals are not by “bad eggs” either.

Animals are treated inconsiderately, which leaves them open to be manipulated by human beings. We as a race exert power over animals in our lives, whether we realize it or not. We control our pets lives, from when they may use the restroom to when they can eat. We control populations in the wild with human-derived methods. We control what animals are good for.

Yet we also utilize animals in our daily lives, sometimes in ways that are not always apparent without a closer look. Our products are “safety tested” on rabbits and mice. Our food is flesh. Our shoes and our coats are the skins of many different but equally feeling creatures. Humans have power over animals, and so we use them, day-to-day, day-by-day.

It is common knowledge that animals are treated differently than humans. This is evidenced in our culture and lives. But the important question is not how we treat animals differently, but why? It is because when we watch TV shows like “Animal Cops,” we think that we are not like “those” people? Or is the problem a larger one, where the blame has been shifted around and our actions so indirect that we know it can’t possibly be us that is causing all the violence? Do we mistreat animals because it is more convenient in maintaining our lives?

To achieve equality, you often have to treat certain groups and individuals differently, in order to give them what they need. The problem occurs when different treatment becomes inconsiderate treatment.

Inconsiderate treatment, in this case, is treatment that sets apart animals solely on the basis of their species.

However, like the joke about being politically correct and never making everyone satisfied, you can not always take everyone’s interests into account equally. The problem is that inconsiderate treatment of animals constantly places them under humans. This is justified by human needs and human wants, trumping any ethical consideration for animals. Certainly there are differences between humans and animals. Being different should not be justification for mistreatment.

Because human needs and especially wants are human-constructed, in order to appease our sense of compassion, we have organized animals into categories of pertinence to human use and desire. It is illegal to mistreat a dog. People can and have been prosecuted for such blatant acts of cruelty. But is it illegal to mistreat a mouse? A chicken? Currently (and unfortunately), no.

In our quest to appear ethical, humans merely impose a system of human values on animals. A dog or cat is desirable because they are cute, and can be given human traits (which has gone so far as to dress-up one’s pet in human clothes). A cow is useful only when it becomes an edible substance. A rat is only useful when it is being injected with drugs. Certain animals are only valuable under certain contexts.

We need to call attention to the inconsistencies in our treatment of animals in general and among one animal compared to another. But in order to even begin to take animals under the fold of humane treatment, we need to stop making excuses about why we do something and instead take personal action. What goes on behind closed doors is often never probed. The slaughterhouse violations, the laboratory violations, the pet store violations – let’s probe them. The odds are stacked against animals, and we are the ones that stacked them. If that is so, then we have to be the ones to undo our damage.

I would be thrilled to assert that the majority of acts committed on animals were acts of compassion and concern. However, I don’t believe such a statement. What I do believe in is the untouched compassion of humankind, a compassion that has been misguided by companies that tell us their products are tested for our safety, our food is produced for our consumption, our clothing is made with our needs in mind, and our entertainment outlets such as television bring us shows with acts of cruelty to animals because the viewers want it.

I don’t want another creature to needlessly suffer because I liked the way something looks or tastes. I imagine that I am not alone in hoping for a more considerate and peaceful coexistence between humans and animals. There are other living beings on this planet who have just as much vested interest in their lives as we have in ours. But because of many factors, from our culture to our personal influences and lives, we have misplaced compassion as a priority.

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One Response to A Realization of Compassion

  1. Robynne says:

    I think this is an important issue, because it applies to all animals including humans.

    something i read lately brought this home to me in a very real and important way.

    On the United Poultry Concerns Website (http://www.upc-online.org/chickens/chickensbro.html), which is a wonderful educational tool, one of the founders states this:

    “The argument that a group of individuals is ‘all alike’ has been used throughout human history as a justification for the oppression of that group. If all the individuals are alike, then they become impersonal and killing them seems less wrong or horrendous. Chickens, whether intelligent or stupid, individual or identical, are sentient beings. They feel pain and experience fear. This, in itself, is enough to make it wrong to cause them pain and suffering.” – Jennifer Raymond.

    I think that its ok not to think animals are on the same intelligence level or emotional level as humans, but it is also important to realize that careless consumerism affects ALL OF US.

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