“I Am Not an Animal!”
February 24 – 25, 2017
Part of a series of short video backgrounders for the upcoming “I Am Not an Animal” symposium.
“If I were to come back in the next life as a chicken,” Hal Herzog says, “I would much rather be an East Tennessee game cock than a chicken destined to become a McNugget. They’re treated amazingly well.”
Hal, Emeritus Professor of Psychology at Western Carolina University, is quick to add that he does not support cock fighting. But he spent considerable time researching the culture, and he couldn’t help observing the difference in the lives of those animals compared to the life of a chicken at a factory farm.
“They have a long life – two years compared to six weeks for a broiler chicken. They’re not penned in these awful industrial warehouses, where there are 30,000 animals jammed into this ammonia-filled environment. Even their death is better than the death of a broiler chicken.”
It’s just one of the paradoxes and ironies of our relationship to nonhuman animals, and he’s written about the subject in his book Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat: Why It’s So Hard to Think Straight about Animals.
So, why is it so hard? Culture has a lot to do with it. “That puppy who seems so cute in Kansas doesn’t seem so cute in Kuwait, where people rarely keep dogs as pets. And in Korea a dog is seen as a potential meal.” “I would much rather be an East Tennessee game cock than a chicken destined to become a McNugget.”
Language plays a role, too, in how we avoid thinking about the different ways we treat different kinds of animals. Like how we talk about eating “beef,” rather than “a hunk of cow.”
We’re all implicated – even the most radical animal rights activists among us – in massive hypocrisies and ethical conundrums that pervade our dealings with our fellow animals. (And Hal doesn’t let up on himself when it comes to the kinds of hypocrisy he describes.)
Fish without faces?
Everything he talks about is backed up by the research he’s conducted over several decades.
For example, “Almost two thirds of people who call themselves vegetarians eat meat every day.” Those would include one of his friends who calls herself a vegetarian even though she eats fish and chicken.
“Well,” she tells him, “I don’t eat anything with a face.” (Huh?!)
Nazi animal welfare laws
One of the hardest things for Hal to compute is Nazi Germany’s attitude toward animals. There were restrictions on using nonhuman animals in medical and scientific research, a ban on hunting with dogs, guidelines for the use of animals in movies, and a humane slaughter act.
“And so, in 1942, the Nazis banned the Jews from keeping pets. They rounded up the pets of Jews, and they killed them. But they killed them according to the dictates of the Nazi humane slaughter act. At the same time, the Jews were not being killed according to the humane slaughter act. I still can’t wrap my head around that.”
And he adds: “That’s scary because it shows the degree to which we humans are malleable. The very things that makes us decide that maybe we shouldn’t be eating animals is the same malleability that, under the right circumstances, can produce …” He pauses, leaving us to complete the sentence for ourselves.
When is a mouse not a mouse?
We touch on a few other topics, like the bill currently working its way through the Kentucky legislature that would ban sexual assault on a dog or cat, but not with other animals. (A member of the animal protection group that drafted the bill said the omission is designed, in part, to avoid antagonizing hunters and farmers.)
The anomalies are endless. While the Peromyscus deer mouse is recognized as an “animal” under federal law, and thus covered by the Animal Welfare Act, a regular laboratory mouse is not considered an “animal” and has no such protections.
Should we even have pets?
Hal also muses over what our attitude might be, 100 years from now, toward keeping dogs, cats and other animals as pets.
“You know, it might be that we won’t have pets in 100 years; that we will have come to the conclusion that pet-keeping is unethical. Just for starters, there’s the fact that we keep these animals in captivity for our own pleasure, controlling every aspect of their lives, denying them many of their own natural behaviors.
“It’s quite possible that we’ll look back and say ‘I can’t believe we imprisoned these animals!’”
Hal Herzog, author of “Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat: Why It’s So Hard to Think Straight about Animals” will be speaking at the “I Am NOT an Animal!” symposium.