There is an asymmetry in our behavior towards animals that deserves being reflected upon more often: We have our own pets at home, we care about them and we love them. Plus, we are incredibly sad if something ever happens to them. At the same time, many of us do not seem to care much about the animals that suffer and die for meat production. How can we explain this asymmetry?
In fact, it can tell us a lot about the way in which our mind works. There are various reasons why certain animals are considered food while eating others would result in a public outrage.
First of all, it is clear that we do not eat our pets because we have a strong emotional bond with them. It seems completely nonsensical to us to even consider it. The same idea applies for pets from strangers, but it does not quite end here. Even if we knew that a certain dog or cat does not have an owner, we would still not eat them, so there is something more that makes these animals different.
One major factor is that our culture simply does not eat them. For some reason, most western cultures do not eat dogs and cats, so we intuitively feel that it is wrong, just because it is highly unusual. We could not justify this rationally since there is no coherent way to argue that eating cows and pigs is better in an ethical sense than eating dogs.
The last way in which certain animals such as dogs and cats differ from the animals in meat production is that we are exposed more directly to pets. We have them in our houses; we see them in the park and so on. As far as cows and pigs go, a large portion of our population scarcely sees them – especially not in the conditions they frequently have to live under in order to make the mass-production of meat possible. Due to this very limited exposure, we are less likely to care about them. We do not have immediate contact with the cow suffering for our meal; we just buy the end-product in the grocery store. This demonstrates a completely natural – although irrational – way in which the human mind works: We care much more about beings that we are immediately surrounded with.
Let us make a little thought experiment: You are on the street and see a deer that was hit by a car and lies on the side of the street. The poor animal is clearly suffering and you have to wait by its side until someone comes to kill it. Later that day you hear on the radio that several animals died in a remote city when a farm burned down. Which situation has a higher emotional impact on you? Probably the first one has; which is completely natural, but does not imply that the second one is in any way less important. This brings us back to our original topic: The mere fact that cows and pigs suffer far away from us does in no way justify on ethical grounds that their suffering is to be favored compared to the suffering of animals which happen to be immediately around us.
This two-class view upon animals has to be reflected upon more often. I personally feel that it is a huge inconsistency in the worldviews of some people that is scarcely noticed. While starting to eat pets does not strike me as a particularly good solution to this problem, re-considering ones diet might be, but of course everybody has to decide this for himself.
What do you think about these issues? Do you think it’s justifiable that some animals are treated very badly while others are not?