A source of the underestimation of animal suffering
The denial of injustice
Most of my friends arent vegans or even vegetarians.
For me personally this does not constitute an obstacle
for mutual friendship, but it has made me ponder: How
is it possible that someone can be an involved and sympathetic
friend of mine and that he or she at the same time is
not aware of the ubiquitous consequences of speciesism.
I have tried to diplomatically translate this for my
friends in the concrete question: "How come you
are not a vegetarian?" Time and again I got the
answer: "Because I just like meat too much!"
A response that shocked me because of the shameless
selfishness that seems to echo in it, but which precisely
for this reason made me think about it more deeply.
I simply could not believe that my helpful and kind
friends, neighbours and colleagues were in fact nothing
more nasty egoists. Instead, I tried to find another
explanation within social psychology. Thats what
this is essay about.
A just reality
People are social beings with a large need for security
in a social group. We share this need with other social
animal species. Just like for example dogs we have a
natural drive to feel safe within a secure community,
regardless of whether this is a village community, a
philosophical or policial movement or a small circle
of intimate friends. It does not only concern physical
safety, but certainly emotional security as well. This
means that the person needs to feel supported by the
community, that he or she can in a sense identify with
it, and sympathizes with it. It does not direcly imply
a need to idealize the persons own group, but
the image one has of it should primarily be positive.
One of the
main social values consists of the principle of justice.
If a person does not experience the members of group
or circle to which he or she wants to feel connected
as honest and reasonable, this actually means that it
is impossible for that person to feel safe within that
community. If the idea of ones own group or society
being essentially just seems threatened, this can therefore
lead to serious emotional problems. For instance, children
of war criminals can take refuge with the psychological
defense mechanism of denial. This means that they deny
against all reason that their parent really is guilty
as charged. The need for security within the relationship
in question (even if this relationship has already been
ended physically through death) can thus be much stonger
than the realistic view of justice.
There is also the opposite phenomenon: someone
who has been harmed by persons or institutions which are
experienced as representatives of the safe social order,
very soon gets to hear that he probably will have caused
his own problems, even if the facts definitely go against
this interpretation. This also explains the lack of understanding
of satisfied neo-capitalist voters for "antisocial"
elements such as the unemployed, asylum seekers and the
a philosophical context this in itself absolutely legitimate
psychological need for security affects questions such
as how a just divinity can allow all kinds of horrors
to happen on earth. This question of the position of Evil
within reality is known as the theodicy. The Roman Catholic
French philosopher De Malebranche applied the theodicy
to the ubiquitous suffering of animals in nature. In nature,
many animals die early and painfully and most animals
are exposed at least several times to hunger, thirst,
pain, fear, cold, heat, disease, frustration, etc. We
cant refer to a hypothetical 'own fault' of these
individual animals because, according to this philosopher,
they dont possess any free will and therefore they
cant sin either. This means it is absolutely unjust
that they are suffering. However, this cant be harmonized,
according to De Malebranche, with the existence of a just
God and therefore there either cannot be any (just) God
-something which is of course excluded apriori by this
Catholic philosopher- or the apparent animal suffering
is in fact unreal. Meaning that animals cannot suffer,
in other words that they are simply soulless automata,
as Descartes had already been proclaiming.
People want to feel safe in a humane, fair community and
they are prepared to adopt very absurd forms of repression
to safeguard this feeling. This is because the lack of
security leads to a form of existential anxiety. This
is the fear of having to live in an essential unjust reality
which does not care about the interests and emotions of
individuals like ourselves and our loved ones. Therefore
I believe that it is paramount to completely acknowledge
the human need for security but without closing our eyes
to injustice within societal reality.
The solution which De Malebranche fabricated
for the question of animal suffering was in fact inspired
by some type of cowardice. He implicitly recognized
his need for a life within a just creational order,
but he refuses to recognize that unfortunately nature
does not immediately bear witness to such an order.
To achieve this, he abuses his intelligence in an equally
ingenious and perverse manner. Something similar applies
to all those who actually know that the human treatment
of animals is structurally immoral, but who (either
unconsciously or consciously) find it more emotionally
comfortable simply not to look at it.
We should realize that they are victims of the same
kind of defense mechanism as the one that affected the
French philosopher, eventhough we arent concerned
with an order of creation but with human civilization.
As I said before, from a psychological point of view,
it is useless to underestimate the need for security
which is shown through such phenomena. Instead, we should
realize that it takes courage to postpone the fulfillment
of that need and to face the often harsh reality.
It is important to notice that many people are afraid
to fully grasp the meaning of speciesist reality, as
such an insight would uncover to what extent contemporary
society is still removed from a just and therefore also
safe and secure reality. Rather than chasing away non-vegetarians
and non-vegans by personal criticism and intolerance,
we should try to make them feel secure and at home among
anti-speciesits. That way, as occurs when we pursue
the great humanist ideals, it will hopefully become
clear that people first of all need to create a just
reality themselves. And that the secure reality that
people are looking for is not primarily something we
undergo passively, but rather the fruit of our own action.
The safer and more appreciated the non-vegan feels among
vegans, the more she will be inclined to gradually overcome
her denial of animal suffering.