Animal Abuse and Self-Esteem
Animals: Tradition - Philosophy - Religion Article from


Stephen Kaufman, M.D., Christian Vegetarian Association (CVA)

Animal Abuse and Self-Esteem 

Last essay I discussed nonhumans as scapegoats for human sins. This essay I will explore how harmfully exploiting nonhuman beings can give people a sense of self-esteem.
A sense of self-esteem is crucial to psychological well-being for several reasons. Among them, self-esteem can reduce our sense of vulnerability in an unpredictable and sometimes violent world. It can be a salve against deep-seated fears of death, as Ernest Becker describes in The Denial of Death. People tend to derive a sense of self-esteem when they compare favorably to others, which has a lot to do with sibling rivalry. A problem is that competition between people for self-esteem (for example in sports or in the acquisition of attractive mates) is largely a zero-sum game – one person’s self-esteem-enhancing victory comes at the expense of another person, whose self-esteem suffers with the loss.
This, I think, is a major reason that our culture sanctions killing nonhumans. Hunting represents the most obvious demonstration of human superiority over nonhumans. Many hunters particularly prize killing large and dangerous animals, even though the contest between human and nonhuman is hardly fair. The act of eating nonhumans is, like most human activities, motivated by many factors. I think one factor is that consuming the flesh of nonhumans is a statement of superiority, even though animal advocates will point out that this is a superiority of might and not of right.
A trapping handbook illustrates the role of self-esteem in human exploitation of animals. It relates, “While many youths develop interest in sports or good grades in school, some do not when they realize that they cannot excel. . . Any young person, regardless of social advantages, can excel and be an achiever by catching the big fish of the day, or making a nice shot, or catching a mink.” There will always be victims as long as the path to self-esteem requires dominating others. Is there another path to self-esteem? I will explore this question next essay. 

Go on to: Can We Gain Self-Esteem without Harming Others?
Return to: Reflection on the Lectionary, Table of Contents 

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