Editorial: Humane is for humanity

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, October 1994:

The Roman Catholic Church recently published a new Catechism, an event of
importance to more than one billion people worldwide, about 19% of the global human
population, because the Catechism is the reference that governs the daily conduct of devout
Catholics, interpreting everyday situations in accordance with what the Church believes to
be divine will.
Like secular law, the Catechism is founded largely on precedent, derived from a
combination of codified dictate and ajudication. As the instrument of an institution whose
practical purpose is conserving moral order, the Catechism cannot be expected to break
abruptly from tradition to tell the faithful that most must radically change their lives. Even
small changes are therefore noteworthy. Such a small change comes in Passage 2415,
which extends moral consideration to animals, plants, and habitat. “The Seventh
Commandment enjoins respect for the integrity of creation,” it asserts. “The use of mineral,
plant, and animal resources cannot be separated from respect for moral imperatives. Man’s
dominion over inanimate and other living beings granted by the Creator is not absolute; it is
regulated by concern for the quality of life of his neighbor including generations to come; it
requires a religious respect for the integrity of creation.”

Continues the next passage, 2416, “Animals are God’s creatures. He surrounds
them with his providential care. By their mere existence they bless him and give him glory.
Thus men owe them kindness. We should recall the gentleness with which saints like St.
Francis of Assisi and St. Philip of Neri treated animals.”
However, this passage is immediately qualified with many controversial state-
ments reaffirming tradition. We are told in passage 2417 that, contrary to our own belief,
“it is legitimate to use animals as food and clothing.” In addition, the new Catechism avers
that animals “can be domesticated to help man in his work and his leisure,” and stipulates
that, “Medical and scientific experimentation on animals, if it remains within reasonable
limits, is a morally acceptable practice since it contributes to caring for or saving human
But the most important statement pertaining to animals opens passage 2418: “It is
contrary to human dignity to cause animals to suffer or die needlessly.”
Although the definition of “need” is open to debate, this is close to the credo of
the humane movement.
Unfortunately, this declaration is also qualified and compromised. Concludes the
pronouncement, “It is likewise unworthy to spend money on them that should as a priority
go to the relief of human misery. One can love animals; one should not direct to them the
affection due only to humans.”
Already these concluding lines have been interpreted in widely divergent ways, as
some insist that it means the Roman Catholic church opposes spending any money to help
animals, while others believe it only argues for balanced allocation of resources.
Regardless of what the authors intended, which was probably an attempted com-
promise between conflicting views, the passage raises the paradox that those of us involved
in animal protection confront daily, whenever humane consideration puts us into conflict
with human interest. Animal control officers seeking to prosecute cruelty complaints find
their cases at the bottom of court calendars, because “real crime” gets first attention.
Veterinarians are asked why they didn’t become “real” doctors, meaning doctors who treat
humans, not a range of complex creatures whose care requires every bit as much medical
training. Animal rights activists are asked why they aren’t working instead to help children.
Those concerned about conserving endangered species are told to consider the alleged
“endangered” status of human beings whose livelihoods purportedly depend upon practices
that may annihilate not only particular animals but also their entire evolutionary heritage.
And of course hunters make much of the apparent moral contradiction they see in our regard
for animal predators while we oppose human predation.
Preoccupied with alleviating human suffering, those who work to prevent dis-
ease, crime, poverty, ignorance, starvation, and war (the synthesis of all the other mis-
eries) are understandably perplexed and frustrated when they see resources expended in
other causes, whose essential connection to their own cause they may miss––not through
lack of empathy so much as because their perceptions are focused upon the particular forms
of suffering most often before them. Likewise, feeling economic distress, people whose
jobs are jeopardized by concern for animals are understandably upset, often to the point of
being unable to comprehend that the survival of a species matters more than their ability to
continue at familiar work. The position of hunters and others who cause animal suffering
for self-gratification similarly comes from pain, not just the pain of being caught in prac-
tices which can only be rationalized through denial, but also the inner pain that produces
their compulsion to hurt animals––and often weaker humans, as well.
The fundamental debacle
The relationship between harm done to animals and harm done to fellow humans
is increasingly clear, even if full acceptance of the connection remains repressed because of
the disruptive implications for how we live and do business. The ecological importance of
other species to our own survival is by now generally accepted by science, while the associ-
ation of family violence and animal abuse is widely if not universally recognized throughout
the social services. Milan Kundera, in his book The Unbearable Lightness of Being, called
human cruelty to animals “a debacle so fundamental that all others stem from it,” an obser-
vation easily reinforced by noting the frequency with which the words “slaughtered” and
“butchered” are extended to describe what happens to humans in crime and combat.
When we speak of humane work, we usually mean work to help animals, but
embedded within the word “humane” is the word “human,” implying the extension of posi-
tive values whose exercise via choice––or individual free will––is what many believe makes
our species unique. To be “humane” is to practice the principle of doing unto others as we
would have others do unto us: to treat animals with the consideration that societal mores
traditionally extend only to human equals––and conversely, to refrain from treating other
humans as humans usually treat animals. For if humans may not slaughter and butcher ani-
mals, neither may we slaughter and butcher each other with moral impunity by simply rele-
gating one another to the purportedly lower status of animals.
Slaughtering and butchering are the fundamental issues in humane work, not only
because more animals are killed for food, by far, than for all other purposes combined, but
also because these practices provide the rationale for other abuses, such the pretext that
hunting is all about getting meat, and the excuse that the animals used in cockfighting,
bullfighting, and rodeo have a better life than those raised to be eaten. The evolution of the
humane movement over the past 200 years is essentially the evolution of recognition that
other beings should not be treated as we treat livestock. The first great humane crusade was
against slavery: the buying and selling of people like cattle. The second was against so-
called “baby farming,” an early and appalling variant on day-care in which the offspring of
factory workers who were themselves barely more than children were kept in filthy, dis-
ease-infested “nurseries,” within which, it was tacitly understood, they would soon suc-
cumb to either illness or neglect. The philosophical rationale advanced by polite society for
the existence of such institutions was that since infants purportedly had no more moral con-
sciousness than young livestock, they could be kept as livestock until old enough to learn to
recite from the Bible. Concern for child laborers themselves, orphans, horses, and dogs
and cats emerged next.
We have progressed to the recognition that as White Oak Conservation Center
director John Lukas puts it, “If wild animals in captivity are treated at all as farm animals
are treated, people perceive cruelty.”
This is a quantum leap, yet it is a leap not completed. Slaughtering, butchering,
and assigning inferior status to any creature who may be slaughtered or butchered continues.
Learning about slaughtering and butchering is still one of the profound shocks that teaches
children to choke off empathy, compassion, and their sense of justice whenever such feel-
ings conflict with the status quo. Most respond to their discovery of involvement in slaugh-
ter through adopting the same coping mechanisms Colorado State University livestock han-
dling expert Temple Grandin has observed among actual slaughterhouse workers. The
majority simply practice denial, becoming mechanistic and detached from the killing––
often with the aid of alcohol and drugs. The next largest group become overtly sadistic.
The third group ritualizes the activity, attempting to rationalize slaughter as “sacrifice,”
imposing the presumed will of God between themselves and their own misgivings.
Similar responses have been observed many times among combat soldiers––and
even among humane workers who practice euthanasia, whose moral rationale that their
killing prevents suffering sometimes evolves into a quasi-religious zeal to euthanize every
animal whose situation may be less than perfect.
Over the centuries, it seems, the greater portion of moral thought has been devot-
ed to discovering ways and means of getting around our apparent innate sense that killing is
wrong; to finding exceptions to the injunction that, “Thou Shalt Not Kill.”
In the evolutionary sense, we as “killer apes” are almost uniquely divergent from
normal primate behavior; only chimpanzees, our closest cousins, also routinely kill each
other and eat meat. Perhaps our feeling that killing is wrong is a vestige of our primate her-
itage; perhaps our ancestors warn us against it through our very genes. Alternatively, we
may be inhibited against killing as a manifestation of moral consciousness. Either way,
however, constructing “God’s will” to rationalize a practice we find repugnant at the deep-
est levels of our consciousness does profound disservice to both the concept of God and to
ourselves as the purported Guardians of Creation. In effect, the interpolation of God
between our behavior and what we feel to be moral says as Friederich Nietzsche did that
Mankind has created God in His own image––as a moral inferior.
Blaming such misuse of the notion of God for human suffering, Nietzsche prema-
turely rejoiced in what he believed to be the death of God through the advance of science.
He did not live long enough to see the scientized cruelties of this century.
At about the same time that Nietzsche wrote, the vegetarian Leo Tolstoy observed
that we become cruel when we do what we feel is wrong. This observation is indirectly ver-
ified by a century of psychological studies demonstrating that violent criminals have usually
been abused and emotionally neglected children. Attempting to escape abuse by becoming
the abuser, through the process called “transference,” they typically act out the wrongness
of the abuse done to them on animals, before turning to human victims––telling themselves
as they commit abuse that their victims deserve punishment for simply being whomever
they are, e.g. women, homosexuals, or people of another ethnicity.
We must recognize that this evolution of criminal psychopathy differs from “nor-
mal” psychology only in degree. The process of denying empathy to children that produces
serial killers has a precedent and parallel in the societal denial of empathy to other species.
So long as we can either ignore the suffering of animals, or rationalize suffering as a sacra-
ment, we can be cruel to one another. When we can no longer either justify or tolerate ani-
mal suffering, we may at last allow ourselves to live by the creed of kindness.
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