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  • Writer's pictureCrone

A peculiar inequality

If a human were to approach this rather pretty Highland cow, unsheathe a knife and administer slashes across her body, watching with fascination as the blood seeped out... No, no need to go that far. Say the human just punched her in the nose. Or flicked a whip toward her eye. Or nicked her ear. Or strapped up one of her legs so she had to hobble about. Anything, or rather, any cruel act.


Now, if we witness animal cruelty like this, we don't tend to think, oh well, he's probably kind to orphan children and refugees. We tend to assume he's cruel full stop.


Now imagine this. A human takes injured muntjac deer to the vet or rescues a field mouse nest from where she was working and places it, with the little blind pups inside, somewhere safe. Of has seven stray cats. Or feeds crows in the park and speaks to them.


What is the assumption here? Again, we don't tend to assume she's kind to orphan children and refugees. We think her kindness stops at animals. That she has her priorities wrong. That she cares more about animals than people. We don't think she is kind full stop. We think she is kind to animals.


It seems to me that these likely assumptions suggest that what matter when we judge how people relate to animals is how this could negatively impact humans. We feel only a kind of limited concern about cruelty to animals as animals; victimised in the face of kindness to animals. We have to assert, all the time, that all that matters is being kind to US.


I was going to say it's the same with any out-group, but it's not. A Nazi might not attribute cruelty to (Aryan) orphans if a man were cruel to a Jew. While kindness to a Jew would be seen not so much as craziness or misplaced priorities but treason.


So it seems to depend on how OUT the out group is. If the out group is very out, then cruelty to them doesn't matter at all - while kindness to them is punishable. If the out group is just looked down upon - as some middle class people might do with the long-term unemployed - then cruelty to them suggests a bad disposition entirely, kindness to them a foolish mistake.


The ones we pity, condescend to, feel we are above are seen entirely through the lens of our perceived superiority.


BUT there is another mistake we make when we consider 'non-human animals' as in some metaphysical way equal. That's for next time.

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