Rhino activism: double standards

2013-06-07 14:07

In his book, Animal Liberation (1975), Peter Singer argues that animals like humans, also have the right to live. He points out that animals are in essence, similar to us, given that we can observe them experiencing pain and suffering, the way we do.

This line of argument was previously articulated by Jeremy Bentham, who in 1789, advanced a utilitarian perspective of ethics. Bentham argued that an animal is in many ways like a child; it cannot talk, it cannot reason, but it can suffer. Since we are presumably more intelligent than animals, Singer argues, it is us who must forgo the simple pleasures of taste, to spare animals from unspeakable suffering.

We are repulsed by some eastern cultural practices, where for example, a puppy is seen as an acceptable culinary delight, largely because in our own culture we bond with cute pups, and enjoy the pleasure of their unique company, as they seem to enjoy ours. Yet, we are able to morally disengage and feast on what was once a cute and adorable lamb, which we purchase in plain and neatly wrapped packaging. This says a lot about our own cultural sensibilities, does it not?

We hardly complain about our country being the world’s premier big game, “canned” trophy hunting destination for high spending, bored to death Westerners, who enjoy killing our majestic animals, in splendid comfort and safety. After all, the spin doctors – among them some of my dim-witted colleagues – say it makes “commercial sense” and provides an authentic hunting “experience for the customer”. And we hardly ever challenge our bourgeois friends, family or colleagues who wax lyrical about their ‘big man’, gutsy with a sophisticated gun, hunting tales.

Eric Schlosser’s book, Fast Food Nation (2001), provides a shocking examination of the pain and suffering that domesticated animals endure in slaughterhouses. Fortunately you do not get to hear the sound of their agony, or see their terrified faces. Seeing their face will trigger your mirror neurons, and according to German philosopher Richard D. Precht’s reflection on neuroscience, it is mirror neurons that allow us to feel empathy for some animals by simply looking at their unique faces. I am not surprised that marketers keep their packaging plain. They know all too well, that an animal picture on the packaging would make many of us empathise with the slaughtered victim, thereby reducing the chances of us buying these products. Or do we still need a collage of photos to represent the unique faces that make up South African meat?

I agree with Precht that it is inadequate for us to only consider our selfish aesthetic needs (the beauty of the Rhino), the rarity of species, or their ecological role. When considering species protection, what is most important to consider, is their right to live as well as their capability to experience suffering and happiness.

So while it is commendable that many of us are disgusted by the depravity of Rhino poaching, and we are actively taking steps to address the problem, is it not time for many of us to take stock and change our set of behaviors that are equally responsible for the pain and suffering of other animals – domesticated animals, that are ironically more intelligent, docile and highly evolved when compared to the Rhino? And while we are at it, should the great apes, whales, and the African elephant – species who exhibit such rich emotional lives – not merit the same level of concern.

The planet is now facing an unprecedented increase in human population, mass extinction of many flora and fauna species, callous exploitation of nonhuman animals, and deforestation.

The West directly and indirectly played its hand in destroying many of the diverse species on the African continent. The Rhino situation is perhaps an ominous sign, that frankly the creepy and rapacious appetite of the fast-growing, mechanical fangs of the East may also annihilate many of the continent’s species, all in the name of modern society’s holy mantra, “market growth”.

We have taught the world some valuable lessons on how to overcome racism relatively peacefully. Hopefully, we will lead the way in helping the “hubris ape” overcome the next big challenge to becoming more humane: Speciesism.

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