Under “The National Briefing” in the New York Times this week, appeared the news that Yellowstone National Park officials want to kill one thousand buffalo. The reason is that they might carry disease to livestock. This is a cycle of killing: kill the bison so that ranchers can raise cattle and kill them. Killing is so commonplace when it comes to nonhumans: we kill them to eat, to wear, to experiment on, even for trivial inquiries, and for entertainment. With killing such an unquestioned part of the acceptable approach in our lives, small wonder we are violent in general. How many of the mass shooters at schools and in movie theaters were hunters; how many would have hesitated to kill an animal? It seems axiomatic that if we did not kill nonhuman animals, we would not so easily kill humans.
The argument that we should stop killing animals because it primes us to kill humans is well known in the animal rights debate and is disfavored by some activists for two reasons. It is easily impeached, and it is not the real reason we should not exploit and kill animals. Regarding the former, the counter argument is easily made that there are a lot of people who kill nonhuman animals who do not kill humans, so there is not a cause and effect relationship. To address that counter argument, I would point out that many people who eat animals or take advantage of them do not do it themselves and manage to keep it up only through complete ignorance or by turning the blind eye of convenience and expediency; that there is indeed a correlation and that animal killing is a gateway to human killing because, as pointed out in the opening paragraph, our mass shooters would not hesitate to kill a nonhuman; they generally did so and enjoyed inflicting suffering on them. On the second objection, I agree that it is more intellectually comprehensive and honest to stop killing animals for the reason that a difference in species does not abolish a moral obligation to have compassion for others. The realization of the evils of speciesism, as developed perfectly by Peter Singer, should change anyone’s outlook on our cruelty toward nonhumans on every level, at least for anyone who has a brain and a conscience strong enough to question culture. Culture—there’s the rub. A mental groundwork must be laid before any idea like compassion can take root; the understanding, maybe even epiphany, that culture is not sacrosanct, that it is up for critique and needs to be questioned; that just because great grandpa did such and such does not make it right; that just because “everyone” is doing it, does not make it right. Reaching that point centers the problem because people cling to culture to define themselves and gain a sense of identity. They are lost having to think for themselves. If you can’t think for yourself, than how could you reach the conclusion that you are somehow better than the nonhumans you mistreat and eat.