Respect for Animals, Respect for People Was: Moral Complexity
Mon, 16 Feb 1998 12:55:50 -0800 (PST)

On Sun, 15 Feb 1998, Peter C. McCluskey wrote:

> ( writes:

> > One of the negative consequences of the line between human and
> >nonhuman animals being so obvious to most people is that it creates a
> >general category of beings whose pain doesn't matter to us ethically, a
> >category that seems to attach pretty promiscuously to other beings whose
> >pain we would prefer not to bother too much with. It is a matter of
> >record that justifications for misogynist or racist practices often
> >(almost *always*) make recourse to the theme of the so-called subhuman or
> >bestial nature of the people it dismisses. Muddying these categorical
> >waters and so depriving this rhetorical tactic of its sting would possibly
> >be a salutary thing.
> I don't know. How likely is it that people who are open to racist rhetoric
> will also be open to adopting your ethics in a consistently principled way?

I think that a prior indifference to the suffering of beings
conspicuously capable of experiencing it has a lot to do with what you
describe as the "openness" of some people to racism in the first place.
Fwiw, there is actually quite a lot of evidence that pathological
criminality is very often preceded by childhood torturing of animals.

> Where do racist vegetarians like Hitler fit into this?

Ah, Hitler. Well, there is little doubt that Hitler's vegetarianism was a
hygenic rather than ethical fastidiousness. I read recently in an animal
rights rag (I think it was the inaptly named "The Animals Agenda") an
article that suggested Hitler's vegetarianism is exaggerated anyway, and
that in fact he regularly ate pork and fish. There is also research to
suggest that the specific practices and institutional arrangements of the
death camps bore in mind "advances" in then-recent factory farming
techniques (transport, storage, hygiene, slaughter, disposal, etc.)
Brrrr. But the force of your point is mostly secure after these quibbles
and caveats of mine. Yes, it's not like vegetarianism provides any

> My impression is that xenophobic intolerance rarely depends in any important
> way on classifying others as subhuman.

Really? I am actually quite shocked how often I hear people say of their
enemies or their presumed inferiors that they are "animals". It pays to
remember in this regard that the characteristic gesture of liberation
struggles is the demand that "we will no longer be treated *as* animals!"

> It appears to be largely an
> evolutionary adaptation for creating tribal unity that is most powerfull
> when the objective differences between the tribes are smallest (i.e. when
> the danger of tribe members defecting is largest).

This makes me think of the totemic consolidation of tribal identity, and
of how often the totem figure is a (nonhuman) animal.

> Hatred towards, say,
> mosquitos, seems to be much more subdued than hatred between Catholics
> and Protestants in Northern Ireland.

Read about the Dirty Protests and tell me that the theme of the "merely"
animal versus the "true" human has no place in the maintenance and
invigoration of hatreds between the Catholics and Protestants of Northern

Best, Dale