Gun Violence: Striking at the (Speciesist) Roots
By Melissa Schachter, MSW
We are in the year of 2018, folks. If you are reading this, you likely live in a first world country and understand a set of values which separate the "no good doers" from the "good doers.”
We are taught at an early age what’s right and wrong. Society reinforces these values in almost everything we do. When we are in preschool, if we hit another child, we are put on timeout. When we are in high school, if we get in a fight, we get suspended. As an adult, we get arrested. And so it goes on. Every action we take is either encouraged or punished by the society we live in. These sets of values and beliefs have been pushed in our brains since we were children and our tiny little minds were sponges, soaking up all the information we could sustain.
Between birth and 3 years of age the human brain increases to 80% of its adult size. As children, we learn what to do to be rewarded and what to do to be punished. So the “food” that has been fed to us since we could chew is just that, food. We were never taught to ask any questions or find out more about the chicken leg we are being fed for dinner. After all, why would we? If this chicken leg came from an abused animal, we would have been informed by our loving society who would never let any animal die unless the animal really wanted to. This chicken lived a full life and happily gave himself up willingly so that we can feast upon his flesh. Right?
When we hear of stories of someone abusing an animal, people are not only outraged, but experience a strong tug on their heart that crushes a little of their spirit. We often create a picture in our heads of a small puppy or kitten being kicked or tormented by an abuser. The thought of a defenseless animal looking up at their abuser in bewilderment and utter confusion can quite literally make us break down in tears. We demand to know who this abuser is and call for justice from our system that has taught us right from wrong all our lives. Why does picturing an animal being hurt by another human make us so angry? What is it about this picture in our heads that awakens a place in our heart?
As many of you know, on February 14, a gunman set off fire alarms at a high school in Florida, luring teenagers out of their classrooms so that he could open fire with a semi-automatic AR15 assault rifle. This teenager, whose name I refuse to mention, killed 17 people and injured 14 others. Florida and other states are banding together to beg Congress to create stricter gun laws, with the hope that nothing like this will happen to our children again.
The shooter previously talked about shooting small animals and sending his dog over to the neighbors to attack their pigs. Far from an isolated coincidence, the FBI has identified cruelty to animals as a warning sign of more violence to come, and many school shooters and serial killers have a history of abusing animals.
A survey found that animals were abused in a shocking 88 percent of homes where physical abuse of human children was present. Society now recognizes animal abuse as a red flag for human violence. And abuse of “pet” animals is already against the law. People are outraged and on alert when dogs or cats are mistreated.
Yet over 56 billion farmed animals are killed each year by humans, and much of society doesn't blink an eye. There seems to be a disconnection between farmed animals and pets. Why do the values of our society that lead us to be outraged by a dog being abused fail to carry over and pertain to a different kind of animal?
Do slaughterhouse workers have the same correlations between animal murders and violence toward humans? According to the PTSD journal, "these employees are hired to kill animals, such as pigs and cows that are largely gentle creatures. Carrying out this action requires workers to disconnect from what they are doing and from the creature standing before them. This emotional dissonance can lead to consequences such as domestic violence, social withdrawal, anxiety, drug and alcohol abuse, and PTSD".
So just to recap: abusing dogs and cats is statistically proven to lead to violence towards humans. Abusing or killing dogs and cats is against the law. But killing farmed animals who also live a life filled with abuse is not only socially accepted but legal. And statistics also back up slaughterhouse workers developing PTSD and going home to their families with more odds to use physical violence against them as well after a long day of killing farmed animals.
Looks like we have been fooled. We have been fooled by our parents, our families, our teachers, our friends, and they in turn have been fooled by grocery stores, advertisements, TV, magazines, just to name a few. Jokes on us. The meat and dairy industry have taken advantage of our young and sponge-like brains and used it to their benefit to put money in their pockets. And what has been the result? Heart disease, diabetes, cancer, strokes, obesity, pollution, drought, deforestation, climate change, and so many other atrocities, I’m just not able to name them all. But more than all this, we have been fooled that there is such a thing as “humane murder”. We have been taught to believe that we somehow OWN other creatures and that forcing them into a life of enslavement is our right. OUR. RIGHT.
What happened to these ethical values that connect everything else together? I’m just as confused as you are. What went wrong? “Money is the root of all evil”, heard that one before? Society has been tricked into thinking the way we have been taught to do things, is the ONLY way to do things.
The animal rights movement today is challenging societal norms. We are extending our moral values beyond their normal reach. Living an ethical life is not defined by what is taught to you, and it is not only about living your life without hurting others, but living a life defending those who cannot defend themselves.