On Animal Abuse

I’m currently reading Neither Man Nor Beast by Carol J. Adams, a feminist and animal rights activist. She is best known for her ability to tie significant social justice issues together to show the intersectionality of all who remain oppressed in our society. I have also read one of her earlier, and perhaps more famous books, The Sexual Politics of Meat. Both of these books work to bring the animal and women’s rights movements together to see the similarities between the types of oppression they are fighting.

Among the many new things I’ve learned from reading Adams’ books, I learned the other day that hunters are more likely to be domestic abusers. While, this was no surprise to me, I was surprised that I hadn’t heard about this data before. I was also surprised when, upon telling people this somewhat obvious fact, there was a lot of hesitancy and discomfort in response. People are quick to say: Well, not every hunter hits their spouse and/or children. That’s true, but that wasn’t what I was asserting. The fact remains that it is a risk factor and a red-flag for women to look out for when finding a partner.

This new information and the reactions I got regarding it, led me to think more deeply about the ways in which our society categorizes animal abuse. I can’t think of anyone who would openly claim to support animal abuse, yet the vast majority of human beings take part in it every day. You might find yourself disagreeing at this point, and if so, I’d like to ask you how you define animal abuse. Wikipedia defines animal abuse as: the infliction by omission (neglect) or by commission by humans of suffering or harm upon any non-human animal. The Humane Society’s definition says animal abuse, “encompasses a range of behaviors harmful to animals, from neglect to malicious killing.” It goes on to clarify: Intentional cruelty can run the gamut from knowingly depriving an animal of food, water, shelter, socialization or veterinary care to maliciously torturing, maiming, mutilating or killing an animal.

You’ll notice that these definitions are broad and include the majority of interactions that the human race has with our animal brethren. (I am including the eating of animal flesh as interaction, although most people would not consciously consider eating a hamburger to be interacting with an animal.) Hunting certainly falls into the category of animal abuse by these definitions, does it not? Animal abuse definitions are not offering exceptions based on “intention” or “purpose” of the abuse. You’ll notice that there is no footnote indicating that these things are okay if we consume or display the carcass of the animal afterwards.

It never ceases to amaze me when the internet goes wild about the Yulin Dog Meat Festival, while in the same day, the same people will sit down to several meals of meat. How is a dog different than a pig or a cow? It’s not intelligence. It’s not friendliness. It’s not inherent value as a living being. It’s simply a difference in cultural brainwashing. Realizing this makes the opposition to another culture’s meat eating practices, while excluding our own, problematic if not outright racist.

However, getting back to the issue of animal abuse as a warning sign for violence towards other humans, I’d like to know how psychologists would explain this connection, given our culture’s general acceptance and inclusion of daily practices that cause harm and death to animals. It seems like most people know about the early warning signs of future serial killers, pychopaths, sociopaths, etc. One of the main ones is torturing or killing animals.

If the psychological issues that these warning signs reflect are lack of empathy, violence, aggression, lack of impulse control, and the like, I don’t know how we would be able to make distinctions between these random acts of animal abuse and culturally acceptable forms such as hunting and meat eating. If, on the other hand, the psychological problem that animal abuse in childhood reflects a disregard for socially unacceptable acts, then I can see that distinction making more sense. Although, I don’t believe that is the case.

Whether we realize it or not, I believe there is evidence for negative social outcomes in regard to all forms of animal abuse, even if it is condoned by our society. There is more and more data coming out every day about the detrimental mental health effects of working in a slaughterhouse. Many workers have even developed PTSD from these jobs. Slaughterhouse employees are also, unsurprisingly, more likely to commit acts of domestic violence. One researcher even discovered that towns with slaughterhouses have higher crime rates in general:

Amy Fitzgerald, a criminology professor at the University of Winsor in Canada, has found a strong correlation between the presence of a slaughterhouse and high crime rates in U.S. communities. One might object that a slaughterhouse town’s disproportionate population of poor, working-class males might be the real cause. But Fitzgerald controlled for that possibility by comparing her data to countries with comparable populations employed in factory-like operations. In her study from 2007, the abattoir stood out as the factory most likely to spike crime statistics. Slaughterhouse workers, in essence, were ‘desensitized,’ and their behavior outside of work reflected it.

The Green Star Project

Ultimately, the age old saying, “violence begets violence,” holds true. There is no way to escape this simple fact. Whether you choose to identify it as such, hunting animals, as well as purchasing their bodies from the grocery store, is violence. It will negatively affect you and our society regardless of how hard we try to blind ourselves to that truth. Karma has never appeared to me so clearly as with the results of eating animals. The human races’ mass scale animal abuse has and continues to contribute to all of humanity’s ailments whether they be illness such as cancer, heart disease, and diabetes, global warming, racism, misogyny, domestic violence, or crime overall.

We will never be able to accomplish world peace if we continue to sit down to dinners of corpses each night. Humanity supports itself through suffering, domination, and death. How then can we still wonder why there is so much hatred and violence in the world? It is there because we perpetuate it every day, because we have already closed our hearts to those most vulnerable.

Truth! #govegan #vegansofinstagram #mercyforanimals #loveanimals #repost  @pauline.dagonneau ・・・ For the animals ❤️

Veganniversary

Nine years ago today, on my eighteenth Easter, I began the transition to a vegan diet. It’s always tough for me to know what to say when people ask me about when I became vegan. I probably wasn’t actually fully vegan until a couple of years later. More like a vegetarian, trying to make it to vegan. But I still want to give myself credit for those years I spent figuring things out. I’m not sure if other vegans count that transitional period as part of their vegan life or their pre-vegan life. I suppose some people might not have stumbled so much in the beginning like I did either.

My point is that I think intentions matter. I’m not trying to justify the support I gave to a monstrous industry out of personal weakness. I’m just saying that as an online community, vegans can be pretty ruthless to one another. I use to be one of these more ruthless vegans. I couldn’t help but lash out at vegetarians or vegans with “cheat days.” When it comes to such a serious and heart-rending issue as the lives and wellbeing of billions of animals, it’s only natural to get a little heated. However, it is also easy to turn a blind eye to our own past failings.

This post isn’t about calling out other vegans or myself. It’s about reminding myself and other long-time vegans out there not to forget where we came from. After nearly a decade adapting to this lifestyle, it can be easy to forget how impossible the change once seemed. Even though now it can be frustrating to hear people asking you the same ridiculous questions that they always have, keep answering them kindly. Keep being patient, even when you’d rather scream. A kind, thoughtful answer may not make the questioner go vegan, but a harsh response is guaranteed to turn them away from the idea entirely.

If you’ve read my other posts you may wonder why I even bother to care anymore. After all, I’ve said many times that I believe it’s too late to save the planet and life on earth as we know it. So why continue being vegan? Why do I care if other people go vegan or not? The simple answer to that question is suffering. I have always been sensitive to the idea of suffering. The mere existence of it is what caused me to lose my faith in a loving, all powerful god. And if there is no god to protect the innocent, I will. Or at the very least, I’ll do my best not to contribute to their suffering.

The crazy thing is that it doesn’t even feel like a conscious effort any more. I think one of the hard parts about going vegan is making that mental connection each time you decide what you’re going to eat or buy at the store. In the beginning making the right choice causes you pain because it makes you reflect on your impact in the world and the immense suffering and injustice that exists all around us. It is tempting to turn away, fall back into old habits, avoid thinking about it entirely. However, once veganism has become that comfortable, familiar habit, these painful feelings are reversed. The other day someone asked me if I would ever eat meat again. The idea alone left a bad taste in my mouth. I can’t even bring myself to look at the meat section in the grocery store. Those “foods” are a painful reminder of the atrocities humanity perpetrates on our innocent brethren. To eat a piece of meat is to eat a piece of flesh. It would be a willful decision to cast aside everything that I believe in in a way that it never was before going vegan. It would be simply impossible for me, painful even.

This drastic shift of consciousness that a vegan lifestyle elicits can make it hard for us to relate to the meat-eating masses. It’s tempting to try to forget that I was once one of them. When people ask me, I want to tell them that veganism was never a difficult choice to make, that it was always easy. But I am always honest instead. I tell them that it was hard for a long time. I tell them that I initially transitioned for selfish reasons, not out of a moral obligation to the animals I was eating. I tell them about the foods I miss eating and haven’t been able to replace. I let them know all of this. But I also let them know that despite all of that, becoming vegan was worth it. Becoming vegan was the best decision I ever made in my life. I would say I’m proud of that decision, but it just seems ridiculous to take pride in not harming others when that should be the default.

So if you are reading this post and you are not vegan, know that I don’t harbor any hatred or resentment towards you. I certainly don’t consider myself better than you, like a lot of people assume vegans do. What I hope you take with you from reading this is that it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Choosing a salad instead of a steak at a single meal is a reason to rejoice. Deciding not to add cheese or a creamy dip or adding a non-dairy creamer to your coffee or switching to a plant based milk at home, these are all wonderful, meaningful steps to take that make a difference. And I don’t mean make a difference for the world necessarily, I mean they make a difference for the animals. It may seem like an abstract statistic when we think about meat and dairy sales, simple facts and figures. An output two digits smaller than the year before may seem utterly insignificant, but just remember that those numbers are lives, sweet, precious babies, like the pets your have at home. And these small choices make a difference to them. So just do your best. Do whatever you can, no matter how small. If a mentally ill, eighteen-year-old can go vegan on Easter and still being going strong nine years later, anyone can do it.

Photo by Francesco Ungaro on Pexels.com