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Gracia Fay writes: Another form of scapegoating of animals that I've become more aware of lately is the cases of sadistic abuse in slaughterhells. The interviews Gail Eisnitz did for her book Slaughterhouse make it clear that these aren't just rare cases of psychopathy. People who had a conscience to begin with and are constantly stressed by violating it daily in their jobs on the killing floor in some cases "take it out" on the animals.
3. Commentary – Scapegoating Animals, part 2
This week I will continue the discussion of how people scapegoat animals, i.e., transfer of guilt onto vulnerable, voiceless creatures. One major source of guilt is a sense of inadequacy. If we feel inadequate, we tend to feel that we have failed those who are important to us, such as family and friends, and we tend to feel unworthy of love from God (or whatever people call the divine). This sense of failure is a form of guilt, and, in general, people try to avoid this unpleasant feeling by doing things that enhance self-esteem.
Many people gain a sense of self-esteem by dominating other individuals. Animals are among the most vulnerable individuals, and almost everyone can gain a sense of competence and self-esteem by dominating animals. A trapping handbook summarizes this process well:
“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.”
In the book Meat: A Natural Symbol, Nick Fiddes notes that consuming the bodies of animals gives people a sense of mastery of and superiority to the natural world. Killing animals directly or indirectly can give any person a sense that, whatever their shortcomings, they are superior to the rest of the animal kingdom.
If people abuse animals in order to gain a sense of self-esteem, what happens when dominating animals fails to generate enough self-esteem to make people feel good about themselves? It is tempting to try to dominate “higher” creatures (i.e., humans) in order to gain the desired sense of self-esteem. Just as killing larger and more dangerous animals confers greater status to many hunters, it is reasonable to expect that people will get a greater sense of accomplishment if they can dominate other humans. Scapegoating requires a mindset that excuses victimization, and there is no reason to expect this mindset to respect the species barrier. Though victimizing animals is abhorrent, I think it is important for those humanists who don’t care much about animals to understand that animal abuse readily lends itself to human abuse.
Stephen R. Kaufman, M.D.
4. This Week’s Sermon from Rev. Frank and Mary Hoffman
To Love Completely or Not to Love
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