A Facebook friend asked me to “oppose all animal cruelty” and I agreed to do so. My parent’s new cat, Jasper the Menace, recently bit me on my sore knee and then gleefully scampered away.
I oppose this cruelty.
I oppose all animal cruelty, especially to other animals. When the lion takes down the injured zebra, he is acting with cruelty. I firmly oppose this action at least if it appears on my television. When Bambi’s mother, strips the trees in my yard of bark, I oppose Bambi’s mother in her ecologically unsound actions. How much global warming has been caused by the unconstrained flatulence of farm beasts?
And yet, I think I missed the point my Facebook friend was making. She wanted to stop all human cruelty to animals. This is good cause . . . all kidding aside. Of course, the difficulty will be to define “cruelty” and “animal.” Is a human an animal? Surely. But then is a fetus an animal? If so, then isn’t a third term abortion cruel if the fetus feels pain?
Humans have not done so well at avoiding cruelty to other humans . . . so I am not hopeful about how we will do with animals, but our constant moral failure should spur moral ambitions not deter from them!
We are cruel to the class the Victorians called “the dumb brutes.” These are the animals who cannot speak for themselves and who are often used as if they were mere tools for our pleasure instead of creations of God with feelings. A child of God should elevate animals and care for them, making them better than they would be in the wild, happier, or we should leave them alone. Instead, humanity often has misused them and by so doing lowering ourselves to depths they cannot imagine.The lion has no moral code to transgress, but the cruel zoo keeper should know better than cruelty and so is worse than the lion.
Since animals are not human, they do not have human rights. Since they cannot speak for themselves, we cannot extend them autonomy. Humans have great power over them, whether we wish it or not. Our relationship to animals must be maternalistic/paternalistic and therein lies the danger for humanity. It is easy for one group of humans to “speak for the animals” since the animals will never contradict them. Who will decide if the beast in the zoo is better off or the beast in the wild? Who will decide what can be done to an animal?
Government has a role in preventing the worst of human cruelty and certainly in preventing extinction, but beyond those minimal powers (granting animals life and animal flourishing), the state must not go. Human sentimentality is so easily extended to animals and so is brutality! We call “communication” what we imagine is communication or we ignore obvious animal pain because it provides some small benefit to us.
Animals do best when faced with humanity in individuals. Few of us will try to keep dangerous beasts as pets or sentimentalize the groundhog in our yard. With proper education, only a small number will engage in intentional animal cruelty. Where animal cruelty has become a sport, such as dog fighting, the community has the right to ban such debasing human behavior . . . not because animals have rights, but because people are debased by such behavior.
If too much power over the animals is given to any state, extremists in either camps (animals are people! or animals are meat!) inevitably will drive the agenda. In this way, we will either overprotect or under protect animals- harming our souls in both directions.