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.”
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?