Re: Respect for Animals, Respect for People Was: Moral Complexity
Wed, 25 Feb 1998 13:04:14 -0800 (PST)

On Thu, 19 Feb 1998, Peter C. McCluskey wrote:

> >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.
> These correlations tell me little about what is cause and what is effect.
> I doubt that people who are likely to hate other races or torture animals
> will do more than pay lip service to your ethics.

Very well. What interests me is the extent to which a general (in fact,
nearly ubiquitous) lack of regard for nonhuman suffering plays a part in
the memetic facilitation of other kinds of disregard. Why else would
justifications for racist, misogynist, and other unattractive behaviors so
often make recourse to the trope of equating the object of their
disrespect with an "animal"? Is this move really one you have never
encountered? I'm not interested in insisting that drawing an ethical
distinction between human and nonhuman animals has a *foundational* role
in maintaining other social hatreds (tho' I do think that the ubiquity and
absolutely underquestioned status of the distinction makes it sometimes
appear improperly foundational), but I will say that it stands in a
mutually reinforcing relation to these attitudes, and deserves to be
interrogated for that reason alone. Not to mention the obvious analog of
the human/animal relation to the Power/mehum relation that set this
discussion off in the first place (for me, at least).

> Classifying the enemy with other entities which have no rights clearly
> helps maintain hatred. I contend that persuading them that animals have
> rights would only cause them to use different labels (slime, scum,
> excrement, etc.)

Possibly. What is interesting about the classification "animal" (as
opposed to say "shit") is that it is a being whose suffering registers
simultaneously as *real* but as suffering that nonetheless *does not
matter*. Shit is not imagined to suffer in the first place. This is a
difference that makes a difference when the thing the classification is
enabling is *making some body suffer* or *not minding when one realizes
that they do*.

> If the correctness of the animal classification were an important part
> of maintaining hatred, I would expect to see some carefull arguments as
> to why the classification was correct. As far as I can tell, such arguments
> are much rarer than your world view would predict.

I'm not sure that I see what you're asking for here. Since it is part of
the deeply ingrained common sense of many societies that there is a
self-evident irrelevance about the suffering of the nonhuman, I don't know
that I am particularly surprised to find that these assignments are made
carelessly. Best, Dale