DEAR READERS: An article entitled "The Development of Speciesism: Age-Related Differences in the Moral View of Animals" by British researchers Luke McGuire, Sally Palmer and Nadira S. Faber was recently published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science. The authors summarized their findings as follows:
"Humans care for the well-being of some animals (e.g., dogs) yet tacitly endorse the maltreatment of others (e.g., pigs). What treatment is deemed morally appropriate for an animal can depend on whether the animal is characterized as 'food.' When such categorization of animals emerges and when a moral hierarchy of beings depending on their species membership (speciesism) develops is poorly understood. We investigate this development across samples of children (9–11 years old), young adults (18–21 years old), and adults (29–59 years old) ... Compared with young adults and adults, children A. show less speciesism, B. are less likely to categorize farm animals as food than pets, C. think farm animals ought to be treated better, and D. deem eating meat and animal products to be less morally acceptable. These findings imply that there are key age-related differences in our moral view of an animal's worth that point to socially constructed development over the lifespan."
Evidently, the missing link between the fully human and all other animals has been discovered. It is the most carnivorous, invasive, cruel and murderous of all the primate species: It is us. The chimeric, bipolar nature of this modern protohuman psyche, from rescuer to rapist, healer to harmer and artist to autocrat, is a product of familial and cultural epigenetics, for better and for worse.
Cruelty toward animals in childhood has been linked to sociopathic and psychopathic violence in adulthood. But the best of human nature can be nurtured and inspired by humane education and example. Planting the seeds of compassion and empathy in childhood, facilitated by living with an animal companion like a loyal and loving dog, can do much to help us evolve into a more civilized species.
Children need help as they grow up in a culture of violence toward nature; they must learn how they can make a difference and not become desensitized to, or accepting of, cultural "norms" of inhumanity, speciesism and racism.
Several universities are now offering courses in humane education, with one -- Antioch University, in partnership with the Institute for Humane Education -- offering online graduate programs in the subject. (The creator of some of these programs, Zoe Weil, is also the author of the bestseller "The World Becomes What We Teach.") For details, visit antioch.edu/academics/education/humane-education-ma.
To realize that we are all part of the cosmic miracle of life and consciousness puts the significance of our individual existence in the broader dimension of awakening our sense of kinship with all life necessary to transcend self-centeredness and anthropocentrism. Empathic sensitivity and ethical sensibility may then arise spontaneously, reducing the need for moral instruction and law enforcement.
DEAR DR. FOX: I just wanted to point out a pretty major reason that shelters are overflowing with pets turned in or returned: the insanity of rental prices around the country. In West Palm Beach, where I live, people are stuck with rent increases of up to 50%, and hardly any inventory even if you can pay that!
Besides rent itself, pet policies in rental housing are also a problem. I know of at least one apartment complex that just changed their policy, out of the blue, to $100 per pet, per month. A woman who had adopted two feral kittens from me had to give them up. -- G.C., West Palm Beach, Florida
DEAR G.C.: I am appalled by this evidence of pure greed that puts companion animals at risk of having to be separated from their owners and put up for adoption. How degenerate as a culture can we become?
Indeed, KC Pet Project, a Kansas City, Missouri, animal rescue organization, has seen a huge spike in people surrendering their companion animals. One reason is that there aren't enough affordable apartments that accept pets, said Tori Fugate, chief communications officer at the nonprofit. Some landlords who do accept dogs still ban certain breeds or sizes, Fugate said, or refuse to rent to someone evicted from a previous apartment. KC Pet Project offers fostering and works with local groups on food and housing assistance. (Full story: KSHB-TV, Kansas City, April 18)
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