The Human Need for Self-Esteem and Animal Mistreatment
Animals: Tradition - Philosophy - Religion Article from


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

The Human Need for Self-Esteem and Animal Mistreatment

It is obvious that humans desire self-esteem. In his Pulitzer Prize winning book The Denial of Death, Ernest Becker argued that self-esteem is a salve against our innate fear of death. If we feel valuable and important, we have a sense that, somehow, we will transcend death’s finality.

However, it can be difficulty to gain self-esteem in a culture in which people are shamed throughout their lives. Misbehaving children learn “proper” behavior largely from experiencing disapproval from parents and peers. Throughout our lives, we try to avoid public humiliation, which can result from intentional or accidental violation of social rules or customs. Contemporary Western culture is not unique in this regard; humans throughout the world struggle to gain and maintain self-esteem.

One common pathway to self-esteem is to feel superior to nonhumans. However much one might feel inferior to other people in terms of physical attractiveness, intelligence, financial success, or whatever means self-esteem might be attained, nearly everyone can dominate nonhumans. One of many manifestations of this pursuit of self-esteem by dominating nonhumans is the term that hunters use for their prey – “game.” Evidently, hunters regard their victims as competitors in a (decidedly unfair) “game” in which the hunters are lethally armed, have virtually no risk of injury, and seek to murder the involuntary participants in this contest.

Arguably, low self-esteem is a leading motive for harming innocent creatures. Should we have compassion for those who show so little compassion for nonhumans? I will consider this question next essay.

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