Why is it that we sometimes cringe at cruelty or suffering and sometimes we accept it? As I am writing this, I just crushed an unlucky mosquito who fatefully decided to snack on my blood, and on an emotional level, that didn’t bother me at all.
However, had it been a friend’s cat which clawed at my skin, I would have had a much harder time squashing it, first because of its size, and only then because I, as I assume most people are, am sensitive to the idea of killing a cat, it would just be cruel. But why is a mosquito different than a cat? How about when its between honeybees and wasps? I, as a former beekeeper (I hope to get back into it one day) have and affinity for honey bees, but I see wasps as the epitome of evil. Most people can’t tell the difference, and would squash both just as easily, however, knowing the difference between the two, I would be happy to let a honeybee crawl around on my hand, and even keep a honeybee hive in my backyard. I’d be just as happy to torch a whole wasps nest out in a field where it poses no danger to anyone. Is there justice in this logic? Peta is notorious for comparing livestock to our pets, and even fellow humans, and while most of us have grown immune to this, it is curious that we will tolerate the systematic suffering and killing of tens of billions of livestock annually, while killing say, a single silverback gorilla in order to save a boy’s life is enough to spark national outrage? Let’s bring it even closer to home, why is it that a man who kills a volunteer at a soup kitchen in Manhattan must be brought to justice, but an Amazonian tribe which regularly practices cannibalism on members of their own tribe is free to do with their people as they wish. This is strange especially considering the fact that we regularly involve ourselves in foreign politics, such as the Arab Israeli conflict, but maybe the Amazonian tribes are just too far off the grid to be considered. Rabbi and Lord Jonathan Sacks notes that it is in human nature to take sides on dualist issues, and then go on further to label the opposing side as either subhuman, evil, stupid, or a number of other substitutes, depending on the question at hand. We can see this in sports, religious or political views, and even in chosen majors. Once upon a time, not too long ago, it was considered a common good to hold a public execution for a convicted felon, today even the idea of a private execution is enough to make people cringe. I don’t think its a reaction to a sudden realization of what is right and wrong, I think its an inevitable outcome of the changing zeitgeist in our culture. In a world where good and bad, right and wrong are all subjective, you cant easily say that we realized “ the truth,” because at the core of it all, we are the ones who create and define “the truth,” it is as I just said, subjective, or more accurately intersubjective, meaning that it exists only between us all, as we decide for it to exist. That being said, in order for an intersubjective truth to hold, it has to be reinforced, and that is most effectively done by social pressures and rewards. So at the end of the day, it is the things that we collectively (even if unconsciously) deem as cruel which we then label cruel. Since we collectively enjoy consuming lots of animals, to denounce factory farming would be to deny a pleasure to many of our friends- a major social pressure for tolerating livestock abuse. Since Harambe was a coveted zoo animal, outrage over his murder provided instant social rewards. I believe we take these stances not entirely because we genuinely care about these issues, rather because caring (or not caring) provides social benefits. Taking this into account, it could very well be that once we have taken a stance on an issue as a result of these pressures, we could begin to believe more and more that this is our innate feeling or opinion. Thats the answer, thats the difference between mosquitos and cats.
Anyway, thats what I think. If you thought this was interesting, or if you disagree, and think I am stupid or evil, let me know, leave a comment, send me an email or a message or something, its all cool.