Projecting Human Attributes onto Animals
Animals: Tradition - Philosophy - Religion Article from


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

Projecting Human Attributes onto Animals

Last week, I argued that one reason humans belittle nonhumans is that we do not wish to identify with creatures who seem to lack immortality. This week, I would like to explore another reason many humans have contempt for animals – the tendency to project attributes about which we are ashamed onto nonhumans.

Projection is a common psychological defense mechanism that helps maintain our sense of self-esteem. A good example of projection is blaming women for men’s sexual desires. One of the pernicious consequences of this projection is that women have often been blamed for being raped.

Nonhuman beings cannot defend themselves, and it is tempting to project those human feelings and desires that are socially condemned onto animals. Consequently, we frequently hear that humans who have engaged in vicious violent acts or “perverse” sexuality “acted like animals,” even though the kinds of sanctioned violence and sexual activities rarely, if ever, happen among nonhumans.

I think that what people think about animals – particularly the kinds of animals humans are inclined to kill – generally tells us very little about the animals themselves. It does, however, tell us a lot about what humans think about themselves. I will explore this thesis next week.

Go on to: What Humans’ Views about Animals Tells Us about Humans
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