Blaming the victim

In a previous article, I dealt with the denial of injustice related to the massive, speciesist use of animals that affects so many non-human individuals. In this short essay, I'll briefly reflect on a phenomenon that is in fact a variant of it. We're talking about an extreme manifestation of the need to feel safe within a given social order. In my previous article, I already pointed out that people who mistreat others often blame those very others for their own behaviour. A classic example is seen in the Book of Job. Several of this friend trace the great, 'undeserved' misfortune that befalls Job to the will of God and therefore they also see it as rightful. In their view, Job should immediately confess his supposed sins.
But there are also many recent examples. For example, on one hand, some advocates of the rights of Palestinians or Kurds condone terrorist suicide attacks because the victims would automatically belong to the groups that oppress these minorities. Thus, these victims are "obviously" complicit in the oppression and actually receive what they deserved all along. On the other hand, the governments of Israel and Turkey "punish" innocent and benevolent citizens because they happen to be part of the same ethnos as the terrorists. In the documentary series Shoah created by Claude Lanzmann, we see how some Poles explain the tragic fate of Jews through the alleged murder of Jesus Christ by their ancestors (it does not seem to bother them that Jesus was Jewish too). Women who were raped are still being told quite often that they have only themselves to blame, because they had obviously dressed and behaved much too sexy. Similarly, victims of gay-bashers would also show off their homosexuality in a very indecent way. Thus, they wold really be responsible for the "understandable" aggression they get submitted to. Even persons of whom it can be easily demonstrated that their situation certainly is not their own fault, because they are incapable of controlling their own behavior, such as drug addicts, homeless people with a drinking problem, or psychiatric patients who suffer from a psychosis, are told quite frequently that hey just do not want to alter their life style.

Animal casualties

Unfortunately. something similar can also be the case if animals are the victims. In the most basic sense, you can see it in the context of hunting. The relationship between a hunter and a prey is almost by definition inequitable, because the prey cannot fight back, unless it is itself a natural predator or large mammal. Yet, it still seems to be the animal's own fault when it falls prey to the hunter. If it simply is not fast or smart enough to beat the hunter, it really deserves to die. In bullfighting, we encounter a logic which is even more colorful. If a bull "viciously" attacks the bullfighter and impales him (or her) on his horns, he won't be celebrated for his strength, but he'll have to undergo even more murderous shrieks coming from the audience. There is simply no escape from such "festivities", the victim is always wrong and evil, unless he can provide for more victims, as a breeding bulll. Something similar may be noted whenever epidemics in factory farming are covered within the mainstream media. Diseased animals are referred to as the source of infection and within this terminology it only seems logical that one tries to remove this source as efficiently as possible.You would almost think that the massive, gruesome fashion in which this problem is approached, serves these "evil" animals just right, as they shouldn't have caught the disease in the first place. Healthy animals, which also "need" to be destroyed in the struggle agaginst an epidemic, are mainly to be regarded as the victims of the diseased animals, because of course the true victims of the disaster, are the farmers and slaughterhouses! A great injustice can only be rationalized if victims are pictured as perpetrators.

The closer to the injustice, the greater the rationalization

Such a psychological principle is likely to arise more strongly if a person gets more directly involved in an unjust practic. Thus might help to explain why American soldiers have needlessly harassed, humiliated and abused POWs during the War on Terror, while violating all conventions of human rights in the process. The prisoners were often - without trial - held under inhumane conditions, an justice that almost cries out for a convincing rationalization. "The prisoners simply deserve this, they are bad, so it's only right if we mistreat them more diligently". The contempt demonstrated can be explained as an attempt to deny the fact that the person him- or herself is involved in a crime against another being's basic rights. We see something similar whenever, during animal experiments, animals are submitted to much more suffering and pain than are strictly required by the experimental design of the tests they are made to participate in. There are shocking images of animals terrorized and tortured outside the experimental context. To be sure, this may occasionally be the work of psychopaths, but in many cases it seems likely that the contempt for an animal is directly related to the severity of the type of test to which it is exposed. You must really lack any moral values or sense of compassion to do something horrible to another sentient creature and not feel the slightest conscientious objections. Representing a helpless victim as a vile beast may solve this moral problem to a great extent. Some time ago, I happened to overhear two monologues of employees of a slaughterhouse. In both cases, pigs were described as clumsy, stupid and nasty creatures. In one case, a specific person was compared to a pig, both in appearance and in terms of his behavior. The butcher said he had a real contempt for pigs and stressed they really deserved to be cut open, just like the man in question ….

Symptom control is not the answer

Sometimes we hear that we especially need to address cruelty in the treatment of animals. As such, this is of course definitely required, but as long as the more structural injustice continues to exist, it is likely that it is goes hand in hand with contempt towards animals. This injustice itself is probably the main source of sadistic and degrading practices, and not primarily the specific personality of the person involved, although sometimes this may also be a factor. It is actually very unfair to blame employees who mistreat animals for their symptomatic behavior. Ultimately, the greatest culprit is called speciesism.

Our main articles in a book, via an overview or on a separate site.

Back to the top