by Eric G. Weiner
Peter Singer and Tom Regan, have made great contributions re our ethical thinking about animals. Both took considerable pains to ensure their positions were based on rigorous logic to avoid the oft-levied accusations of “sentimentality”. This struck me as odd.
Why is an appeal to sentiment always inferior to cold, rigorous logic?
Where does this come from?
In the 1950’s as a young lad, I saw southern senators on TV ridicule their northern counterparts who tried to enact legislation to protect black citizens from terrible abuse.
“What are you, a Nigger Lover?” they would scornfully ask, suggesting only people with excessive affections could “love” something so unworthy as a black person. More often than not, the white senator would shrink away in shame, or defensively protest: “it has nothing to do with my feelings, but the principles set forth in the Declaration Of Independence”.
The hierarchy of size, age, sex
During the early protests against vivisection (dissecting live animals), protestors were often dismissed as “little old ladies in tennis shoes”. Apparently there was something bad about anyone: “little”, “old”, “a lady” or a wearer of “tennis shoes”. No doubt these stood in marked contrast with the stalwart defenders of animal experimentation, who, one must conversely assume, were : “big”, “young”, “men”, no doubt, wearing hard leather shoes or boots. The hierarchy of size, age, sex, and the use of animal product is clear.
In more recent times, environmentalists are derided as “Tree Huggers” (note again the excessive emotionality implied). Donald Trump recently said Greta Thunberg needed a course in “anger management”. Coming from such towering exemplar of logic and reason she should immediately enroll.
People who respond humanely to issues are often called “sentimentalists” or “bleeding hearts” i.e. people who feel too much. Is better to feel too little?
The accusation that people who defend “animals”, the environment, black people, the poor, etc., are overly emotional and illogical, is found again and again whenever a humane cause arises.
The men who represent the status quo invariably paint themselves as the holders of stolid, hard-headed reason and logic. They see themselves as “realists”, and the sole possessors of credibility.
96 percent of the murders committed world-wide are by men
It is worth remembering that until the last century women were considered too emotional to vote, or in many instances even own property. It is also worth noting that 96 percent of the murders committed world-wide are by young men between the ages of 17–34). The supposed holders of logic and “reasonableness” overlap the most homicidal segments of the world population. This is not coincidence.
Where did this dominance of “hard-headedness” over feelings come from? And perhaps more importantly, where did the contempt for emotions originate?
It began very long ago when humans began to kill those beings we now call “Animals”. What a change a word can make. To kill other people is objectionable — though not so much if we can first view our human victims as “animals”; “subhuman”, “pests”, “parasites”, “cockroaches”, “vermin”, or “savage beasts”. This kind of language and redefinition of the enemy has preceded human slaughter throughout human history.
To kill an “animal” is less fraught emotionally. They are lesser; have less reason, less feeling, less consciousness, less mind, less self-awareness, less soul. Or so we have conveniently claimed. Those who became good at killing needed to subdue their emotional response to their victims. They needed to deaden their own feelings as well as their perception of the feelings of others.
Empathic feeling, or “sentiment” is an impediment to killing. Such feelings would be left to women. Someone had to “care” for infants who are dependant for so long. The radical division of the human began here. Feelings were allowed females, but males would have to disavow emotionality, and become hard and impervious. “Feelings” and “emotionality” became despised in male/hunter dominated cultures. To be overly sympathetic meant you were “womanish”, “childish” or “infantile” — all terrible things to be, or so one was led to believe.
The human being was literally split into two
In females feelings and sentiment were allowed. For males, sentiment and feeling meant you were “unmanly” and this could literally be a death sentence if not repressed. Of course this division between male and female is not absolute. Obviously there are ruthless women and caring men, but on the whole this division holds true. As previously stated, 96% of homocides in the world are committed by men.
The right wing tends to support the strong: the “captains of industry”, the military, the police
We continue to be plagued by this early division between the “bleeding heart”, feeling, “feminine” parts of our populations, and the opposing “hard-headed realists”. These “hard realists” are typically found on the right wing side of the political spectrum. The right tends to support the strong: the “captains of industry”, the military, the police; the “successes” i.e. the rich and the corporate world. They tend to despise the poor who they condemn as “weak”, “as losers” and unworthy of support. If only we bolster the strong we will be “Great Again”.
Feeling types are usually found on the left of the political spectrum. These are the people who tend to believe in social programs, gay rights, the social safety net, minimum wages, equal rights, free medical services, support of public education, the environment, etc.
What we are facing now is the violent collision of these two divisions in world history
The rise of the “Strong Man” regimes of Trump, Putin, Xi Jinping, Assad, Erdogan, Duterte etc. are a return to this age-old archetype of the tough, hard, ruthless warrior/hunter/male who derides people on the basis of size, power, sex , looks, and differences — real and imaginary.
These men dominate by means of fear, intimidation, humiliation and violence. They represent the major human trajectory for much of our time on earth. The rise of feminism, sexual parity, anxiety about climate change, the rise of animal rights groups, gay rights, vegetarianism, indigenous power, black militancy, and the increased recognition of multi-sexed people, fundamentally threatens the ancient established order of things.
We are coming to a showdown
The reaction is now erupting. Either we will continue the logic of male domination and heartlessness, or we will embrace our more feeling, caring selves. One way leads to death, the other to a love of life. We are coming to a showdown. The fate of the world now depends on which side triumphs.
Whose side are you on?