Dogs are Pets; Chickens are Dinner; and Cockroaches Should Be Killed

The Paradox in Our Animal Affections

There is one aspect of moving house that can make anyone consider packing up before even taking a step through the front door: creepy, crawly cockroaches. We’ve all encountered it: the all-too-familiar experience of wielding a variety of household utensils in a vain attempt to vanquish the winged creatures. The majority of us, myself included, feel a great sense of relief in exterminating these critters from the home.

It may then come a surprise to realise cockroaches have dynamic personalities. Roaches exhibit sociability and bravery, and are known for their, “affinity for protection and groups.” However, with the smack of a shoe, we have the power to take this all away.

There is hypocrisy in our treatment of animals. As Rob Sharpe from the Independent says, “as a society, we cage and consume some animals, but treat others like valued members of our families.” We would never handle our household pets as we do cockroaches.

This in an example of animal speciesism: discrimination based on membership in a different species. Cases of speciesism are rampant in everyday life. In the Southern Highlands of NSW, only 50 minutes from Wollongong, you can find Dogue Country Retreat, a luxury boarding house for dogs where the ‘guests’ can enjoy, “divinely designed sleeping suites,” “day spas,” and “evening entertainment…including watching reruns of Lassie.”

A 'dogue' enjoys a full body massage at the Country Retreat

A ‘dogue’ enjoys a full body massage at the Country Retreat

Now I’m not saying we should open a holiday resort for cockroaches, but this example highlights the paradox in our treatment of animals – an inconsistency that may have a deeper psychological explanation.

According to the BBC Ethics Guide, organisms are classed in a moral hierarchy in which sentient organisms that are aware of their own existence deserve more moral consideration than organisms that lack this self-awareness. In turn, this may inherently affect our judgement on an animal’s likeability and potentially its right to live.

On a more basic level, our preference for certain species may simply boil down to a subconscious choice. Psychologist Hal Herzog concludes in his book, Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat:

“The arguments over many moral judgements, which take place in the subconscious, are much like whether or not we like a painting. You instinctively decide whether you like it. These things can’t be explained by logic.”

Whether an answer to this paradox lies in a subconscious decision or our active discrimination, there is no doubt we are inconsistent in our treatment of animals. In turn, this may underpin our tolerance to their suffering, and ultimately our choices: squash or save?

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Opening the Door to a Party of Paradoxes

Imagine a world in which everyone has the right to speak, act and think as they want without restraint. The ultimate democracy. No filtration, no control, no authority to deny opinion. Welcome to the World (Wide Web).

All content disseminated through the media was once subject to comprehensive filtration by “gatekeepers” (including publishers, mainstream media and government censors). Only information considered well informed and appropriate was allowed into public circulation. While many non-democratic countries such as China maintain strict filtering laws today, the transition to a digital media environment and the rise of the internet in many western cultures has wrenched the door of censorship off its hinges, allowing the free flow of content and expression. But what are the implications of this new media landscape – a world without gatekeepers, without regulation?

Empowering users through the freedom of expression.

The positive repercussions are numerous. A free media environment empowers users, allowing open discussion of opinions. Clay Shirky explains in How Cellphones, Twitter, Facebook Can Make History that this freedom of expression has led to the rise of active, engaged consumers (or prosumers) and a dialogic landscape “where audiences can talk back and to each other”. For example, during the 2011 American presidential campaign, Barak Obama created the website as a public forum for discussion of his policies, encouraging citizens to collaborate and converse in an open environment. Participants were given a voice to actively contribute to the campaign. Political empowerment is just one major advantage of a world without gatekeepers.

The risk of misinformation in a free media environment.

The risk of misinformation in a free media environment.

However, lack of regulation can also have negative consequences. For example, Duncan Gere describes in his article in Wired UK how an image of battle tanks and soldiers in camouflage was circulated on Twitter during the London Riots of 2011, causing the public to claim that the army was assembling in the suburb of Bank. This picture turned out to be from the Egyptian protests earlier in the year. Twitter became a “swirling maelstrom of fear, uncertainty and doubt, punctuated by moments of absolute nonsense”. As can be seen, when there is no implicit filter and no cost of entry in a free environment, the value of the message can diminish and result in the spread of misinformation. But without filters or gatekeepers, how do we judge the credibility of these sources? The internet is increasingly becoming a tangled web of multiple truths. So who do we believe?

A paradox has been created. While we all desire free expression and total transparency of the media, we also require a certain level of filtration to decipher the vast amount of available content. We must seriously consider whether we need to maintain gatekeepers and, if so, in what capacity.

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Picture Two sourced from: