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Sunday, August 29, 2010

On our (sometime) greater humanity toward the non-human

I've been thinking back to a post I read a few months back on Sister Y's blog The View From Hell (see my blogroll) concerning our greater willingness to put a sick and suffering animal out of its misery than we are to show a similar mercy toward, say, Grandma.

These thoughts came bubbling back up due to a cross-reference with the recent article on Antinatalism, the Greatest Taboo (see blogroll again) regarding the controversial activist who's offending people by offering overly fecund and irresponsible drug addicts $300 for permitting her to provide them with free surgical sterilization. I was watching my cat roll around on the floor today, and I wondered why it was OK for me to spay her without her consent (hell no), much less paying her $300, while some consider it 'Nazi-like' to suggest to addicts who have abandoned multiple babies.

Why is it that we tear up and reach for the knife when we think about kittens being born into a world where they'll be unloved, uncared-for, and homeless... but the thought of preventing babies of our own species, who are arguably far less able to care for themselves than young kittens, to be born into a world where they'll be unloved, uncared-for, and foster homed actually pisses people off? Since when is preventing human suffering the province of Orwellian, knee-jerk-response-invoking villains?

What's the deal here?

It seems we either value human life itself more than we value animal life, or we pity animal suffering more than we pity human suffering (unless, of course, that animal is not a pet species but a food animal, in which case it can be stuffed in a tiny box and roll in its own feces amid a cloud of flies until it's big enough for us to eat it, as long as we don't have to witness this or, even worse, butcher it ourselves).

Or is it both? That doesn't seem to be a logical answer; if we feel our species-mates' lives are intrinsically worth more than the lives of an unborn kitten, then why wouldn't we feel greater empathy for their pain? So even if our empathy for other humans' pain outstrips that which we feel for even the cutest of fuzzy creatures, we're willing to let them suffer as long as it means they have lives. WHY?! Is it because other humans' existence, as miserable as it may be, somehow fulfills our need to feel that somebody somehow will continue our existence or consciousness in some way after we die? This answer, if true, is horrifying: we want our fellows to suffer because it gives our lives meaning.

Oh well, at least we've spayed a few cats. Have lots of kids, maybe they'll buy my books!


  1. Choose One:
    A.) People euthanize animals not for the animal, but for themselves, so they don't have to look at pain.
    B.) I work with a woman who has 17 cats. She often smells of them, but doesn't seem to mind.
    C.) When I was back in Detroit recently I saw an old buddy named Pete who owns a Doberman. Pete has a nice house with a large backyard where the dog can roam around. He bought the house I suspect for his ex. His third divorce, I believe, but I may have lost count. I didn't want to ask.
    "Is the dog fixed?" I asked.
    "Yeah," Pete said. "Of course. Too bad I'm not. It would've saved me a lot of money and grief."
    D.) A writer should understand that life is about pain and suffering. It's a philosophical concept. Maybe theological. I'll have to reread Dostoevsky. One can't understand not-pain without having experienced its opposite. Like appreciating a spring day after a tough Michigan (or Chicago) winter.
    The alternative is southern California.
    Which might be okay for vegetables but maybe not for writers.
    E.) Last December I had a kidney stone. I didn't know that's what it was. The pain was excruciating. Like trying to read a David Foster Wallace novel. I was doubled over at my place-- didn't know if it was an appendix, or what. I was asking the Big Guy upstairs to take me, if that's what he wanted. I held out for fourteen friggin hours before dragging my ass to the hospital, where after giving me a ton of tests to jack up the bill to a ridiculously unpayable amount, they finally gave me the drugs I'd gone there for.
    The pain didn't really leave but enough with pills for me to go into work. After six days or so the thing passed. (Too many years of drinking and you begin falling apart.)
    Did I feel good afterward?

  2. Drinking does make you fall apart, but in the case of kidney stones you have only your genes to blame. They run in my family, so I was pretty much just waiting for mine; when it hit, since I asked them to skip the expensive tests they decided I was faking the symptoms to get drugs, therefore they wouldn't give me the drugs, therefore I had to do hard drugs, namely vodka. To tell you the truth, vodka and aspirin make a pretty good temporary painkiller. It's the morning after though, whoo...

  3. @King, you should instead re-read "Shirley" by Bronte. Life is not just about pain and suffering. Folks are born to live and to love, and there's pain and suffering along the way.


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