Having Our Dogs and Eating Them Too: Why Animals Are a Social Issue
This reading talks about relationships and interactions between human and other (non-human) animals. Animals has been part of the human life for as long as we can remember, they provide food, clothing and even act as a substitute for humans in medical and psychological experiments. Humans often exploit animals, as they do not have the linguistic ability to speak up for themselves.
Author James A. Serpell separated the readings into three main sections, which will be explained in the latter section of this post.
Attitudes to Animal Use
Knight, Vrij, Bard and Brandon (2009) analyzed the different factors that have a tendency to influence people’s attitudes to animal exploitation.
These include internal factors such as;
- Personal beliefs about the mental capacities of animals,
- The relative superiority of humans,
- Or the availability of alternatives to using animals for various purposes
External factors such as group membership and whether the issue of animal exploitation has any direct relevance to the person are part of the factors as well.
These findings raise noteworthy questions about people’s true intentions for supporting or opposing a particular use of animals.
Humans have a tendency to compose our attitudes and beliefs regarding animals as a way of legitimizing and reinforcing their own selfish purposes.
Herzog and Golden provided evidence in support of the view with an assessment of the role of the emotion of disgust in shaping human attitudes to the treatment of animals.
Their findings showed that among those that are surveyed, high scores for disgust sensitivity were associated with greater concern for animal welfare, although it does not extend to eating meat.
They claimed that disgust sensitivity may be the primary motivating factor underlying a person’s decision to become an animal advocate.
The emotion of disgust, especially visceral disgust, is usually linked with the violation of social and moral taboos.
There are some possibilities that explain the reaction from animal advocates:
1) Activists relate to animals differently, not as members of a less worthy group but as family member or kin, and hence deserving of the highest moral regard. Example: Pets.
2) Activists are simply more susceptible to experienced emotions than the average person thus they are more likely to try to alleviate their feelings via activism.
It is also possible that all humans were once disgusted by animal exploitation, however due to long term exposure to social and cultural norms that approve such practices; some have been more or less desensitized.
The Benefits of Human – Animal Relations
There have been studies that claimed that interactions and relationships with animals might serve salutary or therapeutic functions for humans. However there are limitations in measuring the value of pet ownership empirically.
The theory that pets provide a form of social support for their owners is certainly plausible but one have to acknowledges that not all human–pet relationships are likely to be equally beneficial from a health perspective.
Some studies have showed that replacing living animals with robotic ones has serious implications among humans. As robotic pets has no ‘real’ feelings, humans would not care and this would affect their perceptions and attitudes towards to the real pets which will lead to denial or disaffirmation of the real pet’s mental and moral standing.
Animals in Society
Ascione and Shapiro findings claimed that the view that human–animal interactions and relationships is no different from interpersonal interactions and relationships.
Animal victims of abuse are presented as being both comparable to and interchangeable with human victims and the psychology of those who commit animal cruelties is depicted as identical to human abusers.
Podberscek, using the results of a recent MORI poll found that a slender majority of South Koreans are in favor of keeping dogs as pets and against eating them but most do not support a national ban on the consumption of dog meat products. Cats on the other hand were disapproved of both eating and of keeping them as pets, and the majority favored a ban on their consumption.
These interesting species-specific cultural customs shows that moral intuitions regarding the proper treatment of animals are socially and culturally determined.
North Americans and Europeans however, have a tradition of keeping dogs and cats as social companions which tend to render their slaughter and consumption taboo.
The species-specific cultural customs varies from countries to countries.
During the last 30–40 years, the so-called circle of compassion has expanded dramatically to encompass a wider variety of nonhuman beneficiaries, however there are no clear solutions on how and when to draw the line.
Some animals are included within the sphere of moral concern, while others are excluded on a seemingly arbitrary basis. Livestock such as chickens and cows etc. are often excluded from the circle.
Individually, most of us are inconsistent in the aspect that we wear leather but won’t eat veal; oppose animal experiments but use shampoos tested on animals; become animal activists but continue to consume the objects of our activism.
The truth is that we want to have our dogs (and cats) and eat them too.
We are, in effect, trapped between the proverbial rock and a hard place.
The only solution to exploiting animals for our own purposes is to disregard that animals have moral and mental capacities; we have no right to state that pets are regarded as our family, the subjects of profound emotional attachments, or sentient and cognitively sophisticated beings worthy of special treatment and protection.
However, these are, of course, precisely the same techniques that people have used throughout history to justify the abuse and persecution of other humans, and that, more than anything else, is why animals are a social issue.
How do you feel about this issue?
Serpell, JA 2009, ‘Having Our Dogs and Eating Them Too: Why Animals Are a Social Issue’, Journal Of Social Issues, 65, 3, pp. 633-644, Psychology and Behavioral Sciences Collection, EBSCOhost, viewed 11 October 2012.