Here’s something for skeptics to debate

What’s wrong with torturing animals for fun? Why not, after all?

Nothing should be off the table when skeptics get together for a chin-wag, right? So recreational animal torture should be on the table. It shouldn’t be a given that that’s not ok, just the way “treat people as equals” shouldn’t be a given, because skepticism. Right? We can’t just assume that torturing animals for shits&giggles is a crap idea; we have to demonstrate that it is, with evidence.

Why, for instance, is there anything wrong with the fact that someone encased a live kitten in concrete up to the front legs on the property of FLDS (Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints) patriarch Isaac Wyler? Why is it stomach-turning to read that a sheriff’s officer laughed about it?

I hate to do this, because it freaks me out and I know it will freak others out, but I’m going to include the picture. Be warned: it’s painful to look at.  I took the picture down, by request. It’s on the post linked just above. It’s worth having it on the record, because it conveys the horribleness required to carry out the act – but that certainly doesn’t mean everyone has to look at it.

 

The kitten died soon after being rescued.

Comments

  1. baal says

    I have enough imagination and empathy to know that recreational animal torture is totally off the table w/o the picture. That said, having the image drives the point home graphically. Folks who are into that (or could careless / be mildly amused like that sheriff) tend to lack empathy in other areas as well.

  2. DaveD says

    Let’s keep our facts straight here — Wyles (note spelling) is a former member of the FLDS, not a current member.

  3. says

    If we really want to be all skepticky about this, there are rational arguments against cruelty to animals. First, how you treat animals can be an imperfect but useful indicator of how you’d treat other humans if you could; and second, if we allow people to torture animals, we reward and overtly accept unhealthy behavior that we should be questioning and deterring instead. That’s bad for the perpetrator as well as for the animals. The sooner you learn that society doesn’t approve of cruelty, the sooner you’ll be likely to start dealing with whatever feelings lead you to such cruelty.

  4. Jack says

    In addition to the links with behavior towards humans that Raging Bee mentioned, there’s the fact that we don’t want animals to suffer.

    We _should_ be discussing this sort of thing, and establishing moral philosophy _without_ the ludicrous idea of objective morality. Subjective morality is real and important.

  5. A 'Nym Too says

    I’m with Bee and Jack.

    It’s wrong because it is. It’s along the lines of “Why is it wrong to punch babies in the face?” and “What’s so bad about using a nail gun on noisy children on long-haul flights?”, or should be to anyone who realises that causing sentient, defenceless to suffer is wrong.

    Sorry, rambling. And tears. I hate that anyone is capable of even imagining this, let alone doing it.

  6. Otto says

    Needless harm does not benefit society and in fact damages it. In order to argue that animal cruelty should be accepted behavior it would need to be demonstrated that the cruelty either has a positive effect or is at minimum neutral.

  7. The Lorax says

    Kittens, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways…

    Economically: What monetary benefit is there for obtaining (purchasing?) a kitten, concrete mix, the associated tools for mixing concrete, and spending the time to mix said concrete, dig a hole, place the kitten inside, and wait for it to set? None.

    Socially: Ever hear of this thing called the “Internet”? If you have, you’d know that people love kittens. This is demonstrable. Therefore, causing harm and death to kittens will make people dislike you, thus reducing your social status.

    Environmentally: Encasing anything in concrete is unlikely to help the environment in any way, but more to the point, actively destroying even a small part of the environment (patch of grass, kitten, human, anything) has consequences. And a slippery slope argument can be applied: if it’s okay to destroy a small part but not a large part, where do you draw the line? You can’t. Hell, you can’t even justify destroying a small part unless there’s a net gain (hydroelectric dam, drinking well, etc). In the case of kitten and concrete, there is no net gain.

    Psychologically: As noted above, death in the non-human world is generally because something else needs to eat. Wanton death and destruction is usually bad, because you end up killing your food sources (see above, Environmentally). As such, most living beings have an innate instinct to not kill things, and this is part of your average human’s psychology. For a human, along with most other animals, to kill for reasons other than necessity demonstrates that the human is wasteful and untrustworthy and thus, dangerous to society.

    The funny thing is, there are creationists who accuse atheists of lacking the respect of life. These creationists expect atheists to account for the claim that they respect life. Atheists can do this, even without special pleading or “common sense” arguments… and then, this happens. I suppose that sort of stuff would make me feel like an abused stepchild, but right now I’m too busy feeling sorry for that kitten.

  8. says

    Otto, that’s a non-starter. What if it does benefit society to inflict some cruelty? Millions of people believe exactly that, after all.

    Dostoevsky has a famous allegory about this in Brothers K – the Grand Inquisitor. The tears of one child.

  9. says

    Raging Bee – but notice that you’re assuming society’s disapproval of cruelty is correct. (And that it’s general. Which it isn’t. Cf stoning to death. Lashes. Torture.)

    Cruelty hasn’t always even been seen as the worst thing. Far from it.

  10. says

    (Damn it, I clicked on the link on the sidebar at another FtB blog and arrived on the page with the *urgh* picture, and missed the warning… Ophelia, next time, how about a link to the evidence instead of putting it on the page? Or, oh, I don’t know, put a paragraph’s worth of blank space to avoid involuntarily triggering someone?)

    Oh, and if anyone dares to tell me that I’m too sensitive, I’ll throw Darwin’s The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals at their head.

    ><

    ……

    But I wonder why specifically ask skeptics? Shouldn't "not torturing animals for fun" already be a given for all decent human beings, regardless of their opinions on religion, science and the rest– for the kind of damn good reasons that Raging Bee mentioned?

  11. SH says

    I think a trigger warning would be very appropriate here. There are a lot of people (like me) who avoid this sort of thing very deliberately because it’s not good for their mental state.

  12. Albert Bakker says

    Somehow the reaction of that shit for brains sheriff strikes me as be on a par or even more disgusting than whatever sick piece of subhuman filth not only got this idea somehow in that rotting meat in his head , but actually was able to do it; pushing a defenceless little kitten in concrete and then keep it there until it hardens out.

    I’ll ponder the philosophical moral underpinnings of my reaction another time. I’m clueless. I can’t even get mad. My heart just sinks.

  13. Jean says

    Ophelia, you should have put a link to the picture as PZ did. I did not want to see that. I did get to this post from the recent posts list on the right and there is no warning or any indication in the title. So the first thing I saw was the picture.

  14. otto67 says

    Ophelia,

    My point is “needless” harm. We can and do argue as a society as to what is necessary harm and unnecessary harm. I don’t see how this action could be argued as being necessary.

  15. says

    Ok, it’s gone. I did include a trigger warning, or at least a warning. (Does it not count unless the word “trigger” is included?) But that’s no help if people are following a link that goes to the whole post, so I took it out.

  16. dysomniak, darwinian socialist says

    Of course we apply entirely different moral standards when it’s a pig or a chicken or a cow. If it’s so obvious that torturing a kitten is wrong why do we still need to have the conversation about confining, torturing and killing other animals?

  17. scrutationaryarchivist says

    Ophelia, re: post 11,

    Another story about this kind of question is “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” by Ursula K. LeGuin. It’s a short story available in various anthologies, and I recommend it.

  18. rowanvt says

    I’m glad I haven’t seen that picture yet. I’m a vet tech. Animal cruelty sends me flying into a senseless rage.

    Seeing anything hurt makes me feel pain. Actual physical discomfort that does not go away until I try to help. This even happens to a small degree when I watch movies or TV programs. I simply have an intrinsic need to heal things. I don’t know why, or where it comes from, but it’s definitely there.

    I’m almost 30 and I still rescue worms from puddles. :/

  19. eric says

    Its stomach-churning because we have mirror neurons that, when working properly, recognize that animals like cats are biologically similar to us and that baby cats are biologically similar to our babies.

    This is not to say its always wrong or always feels bad to kill other mammals. Of course that isn’t the case. But barring any good reason to kill or torture them, its perfectly biologically normal to feel as if this was sort of like torturing your own (hypothetical) baby or close, young, kin.

    I’d like to think that these guys are going to get a severe case of the Streisand effect. That, where the outside public might have been willing to ‘live and let live’ with some cultiness and lawbreaking before, this act would make it impossible for them to get away with living in the shadows.

  20. otto67 says

    Josh,

    Apparently I have, why not explain it to me instead of just implying I am an idiot.

    Ophelia,

    Small benefit for whom? An individual or society as a whole? If you replaced “recreational animal torture” with “murder” you could ask the same question as to why it is just a ‘given’ that it is wrong. Even if you can come up with a reason (and I don’t think you can) why animal torture for pleasure has some benefit for society, the negative consequences would far outweigh them. At this point I have to ask on what basis that you think animal torture is wrong?

  21. says

    @ Ophelia:

    Thanks.

    @ eric:

    Yeah, mirror neurons, empathy, and all that. I’d guess that, being sociable animals, we acquired as we evolved the ability to quickly get in tune with members of our species…

    But also of other species, probably (I’m guessing) because if our primate ancestors could anticipate what moves a potential predator or prey was going to make, they would be able to have a better outcome for themselves from the encounter.

  22. says

    @ otto67:

    Small benefit for whom? An individual or society as a whole? If you replaced “recreational animal torture” with “murder” you could ask the same question as to why it is just a ‘given’ that it is wrong. Even if you can come up with a reason (and I don’t think you can) why animal torture for pleasure has some benefit for society, the negative consequences would far outweigh them. At this point I have to ask on what basis that you think animal torture is wrong?

    What are you trying to argue, here? That recreational animal torture is wrong and that Ophelia is arguing that it can have some benefit for society? Newsflash: she’s not! Read or re-read what she wrote.

    If you *don’t* agree that it should be a given that “torturing animals for fun is wrong”, well tough. Because it is.

    1) It makes animals suffer. (Duh!)

    2) When human beings get used to seeing animals suffer and making them suffer, even in cases where it’s not just “for shits and giggles” (medical research, the food industry…), there’s a dehumanizing effect on the people involved. We should not, as a society, treat this problem lightly, but work to reduce the unavoidable harm to animals.

    3) People who enjoy seeing other living creature suffer are exhibiting psychopathic traits, and may well go on to harm other humans. (I’m not talking about consensual BDSM, but about inflicting pain for real: torture, murder, terrorism.)

  23. says

    Dysomniak:

    Of course we apply entirely different moral standards when it’s a pig or a chicken or a cow. If it’s so obvious that torturing a kitten is wrong why do we still need to have the conversation about confining, torturing and killing other animals?

    Gee, I dunno, because eating meat or wearing leather aren’t the same as purposefully torturing a kitten to death?

    If you want to talk about reducing suffering to animals by raising them in humane conditions, fine. I’m not happy about factory farms. Animal welfare is great. Animal “rights” are bullshit.

  24. says

    And these are the same people that have the nerve to ask where atheists get their morals? Splutter rage anger fury grief…

  25. dysomniak, darwinian socialist says

    Gee, I dunno, because eating meat or wearing leather aren’t the same as purposefully torturing a kitten to death?

    Why? None of it is necesarry. You do it because you like to. You think the kitten cares if it’s being tortured for pure sadism or because someone has a “practical” use for it?

    If you want to talk about reducing suffering to animals by raising them in humane conditions, fine. I’m not happy about factory farms. Animal welfare is great. Animal “rights” are bullshit.

    Why? What is it about humans that gives us the “right” to torture and kill other species because they taste good?

  26. says

    There is nothing necessarily skeptical about support or opposition to the torture of animals.

    Morally it appears wrong because on one level there can be no consent and on another it is a shameless and shocking abuse of power.

    It turns our stomachs because it is an utterly unconscionable act of cruelty. There is little rhyme or reason to be found in undertaking such an act.

    That the cause may be to threaten or attempt to drive away and silence criticism and dissent about a backwards patriarchal and racist sect of fundamentalist Christian origin makes the case of interest to atheists and skeptics.

  27. says

    Glad you took that picture away because I really don’t want to see it. Cruelty against animals, any animal, makes me sick. Sickos like that should get a few weeks in jail to think about what they just did.

  28. Sili (I have no time to fix my name says

    I may have grown too cruel in my own age, but why try to save the kitten in that situation? Wouldn’t it have been more merciful to kill it immediately?

  29. says

    None of it is necessary.

    Yeah, I guess all the people who don’t do well on a veg*n diet don’t fucking matter. Then again, misanthropy is a staple of animal rights and “deep” ecology.

    If you think that all animal husbandry and slaughter are “torture,” you’re drinking waaaayyyy too much of the PeTA Kool-Aid. BTW, what do you suggest doing with all those farm critters we no longer have any use for? Turn ‘em loose to the tender mercies of nature?

  30. dysomniak, darwinian socialist says

    Yeah, I guess all the people who don’t do well on a veg*n diet don’t fucking matter.

    This is a cop out for 99% of omnivores. It only takes a little self education to follow a healthy vegan diet. If you’re not one of the extremely rare cases then what’s your excuse?

    Then again, misanthropy is a staple of animal rights and “deep” ecology.

    Accusations of misanthropy are a staple among those who don’t want to have to consider the effect of their actions on other species. It is possible to care about humans and non humans.

    BTW, what do you suggest doing with all those farm critters we no longer have any use for? Turn ‘em loose to the tender mercies of nature?

    This is the dumbest omnivore argument ever. Do you really think it’s some kind of gotcha?

    Did you have a point or are you just trying to fill my defensive omnivore bingo card?

  31. says

    “If you’re not one of the extremely rare cases then what’s your excuse?”

    I must be a horrible person then… is that the gist?

    “Accusations of misanthropy are a staple among those who don’t want to have to consider the effect of their actions on other species. It is possible to care about humans and non humans.”

    Guess what, I considered. Evangelical Vegans remind me of the cast of a Jack Chick tract… always acting as if no one else has ever even heard of this Jesus dude.

  32. says

    It only takes a little self education to follow a healthy vegan diet.

    That must be why the majority of vegans need to take nutritional supplements.

    If you’re not one of the extremely rare cases then what’s your excuse?

    I don’t owe you or anybody else a justification for what I eat or don’t eat. Food policing sucks, whether it’s being done by fat-shamers or by ARAs. Who are often the one and the same.

  33. anthrosciguy says

    A bit over 25 years ago I was visiting and talking with anthropologist Laura Nader and she had just come back from Turkey and mentioned a man she’d seen there who was beating a cart-pulling horse. And she said that she’d come to believe that you can tell how civilised a country is by how they treat their animals.

    I think she’s right, and we’ve got some distance yet to go.

  34. Ysanne says

    Have to agree with dysomniak and Otto here.
    There’s a point in arguing WHY making animal suffer for fun is wrong. And that’s because there are lots of instances where it’s accepted. Either with the suffering of an animal directly being the entertainment, such as in rodeos, bullfighting and a range of hunting disciplines, or indirectly by accepting animal suffering as a side effect of something humans like, e.g. foie gras, “traditional” medicines made with bear bile, or cheap (as in: affordable for poor people) meat from factory farming.
    So, yeah, it’s wrong to make animals suffer for fun, but sadly this is not universally accepted in today in “civilised” places, so it needs to be argued.

  35. says

    Ysanne: Eating meat or wearing leather in general != “making animals suffer for fun.” And while I’m against factory farming, I’d say that it’s rather classist to sneer at poor people who can’t afford ethically raised meat or, for that matter, the variety of specialty foods marketed to affluent veg*ns in the West. (Yeah, right, they’re gonna happily subsist on beans and rice when their “betters” don’t have to.)

  36. says

    Thank you for taking down the picture. Just reading about this is enough to make me need to hug my cats (both of them, and it would have been at the same time if I had the lap space).

    I used to think it was a universal truth that torturing a kitten makes you an asshole, but apparently people actually need to debate this point.

  37. dysomniak, darwinian socialist says

    And I’m not talking about indigenous peoples either. I’m talking about people with access to first world supermarkets. You still haven’t provided a reason why needless suffering is ok when it is inflicted on non humans.

  38. dysomniak, darwinian socialist says

    I haven’t proven it’s needless? Most people can live perfectly happy and healthy lives without the exploitation of animals. So where is the fucking need? All you’re doing is trying to dodge the issue by bringing up bad behavior by people not involved in this conversation. I don’t care what PETA or ALF does. I don’t care about shitty privileged yuppie vegans who act just like every other kind of shitty privileged yuppie.

    Why do we “need” to eat and wear animals products?

  39. rowanvt says

    Those vaccines you get? Tested on animals first. Those cancer treatments? Tested on animals. Nearly every chemical you come in contact with has been tested on animals.

    I’m an omnivore. I eat free range, grass fed. I get eggs from the chickens that a friend has as pets. I buy as ethically as I can.

    If you’re going to go all out on needless suffering, are you against spaying and neutering? After all that isn’t natural, and causes (temporary) pain. How about microchipping? Are you okay with people continuing to breed bulldogs? Or breed pets in general? How about even owning pets?

  40. dysomniak, darwinian socialist says

    Wow that’s a lot of red herrings, it’s too bad I don’t eat fish. Why can’t any of you omnivores ever answer a simple question. Why do we “need” to eat and wear animal products?

  41. dysomniak, darwinian socialist says

    I mentioned upthread that most vegans take supplements to make up for the animal proteins they don’t get. I’d say that’s a pretty strong argument for the necessity of eating at least some animal products. Why are you ducking that?

    No, most vegans don’t have any problems getting protein. That’s just false. Most vegans do have trouble getting b-12, but that’s easily fixed. Why is getting it from a lozenge worse than getting it from animal products?

  42. mandrellian says

    Ophelia, thanks for taking the pic down – since this story was linked to elsewhere I’ve been avoiding any place that mentions it, lest I see the pic accidentally. Torturing animals (or any other helpless beings) for fun, to make a “point” or for any other reason is one of the very few things in this world that not only make me incandescent with rage but actually inspire in me Hulk-like fantasies of disproportionate violence.

  43. otto67 says

    irenedelse, avec le pédantisme de la mort qui tue

    Wow,

    All I said was “needless harm does not benefit society and in fact damages it” and somehow you turned that around to imply that I think it is fine to act in such a way. I thought this was a philosophical question that was posed, and apparently what I should have said was “torturing animals is wrong because it makes me sad” (which it does). I thought the larger question was why do we as a society consider it wrong. I wasn’t looking to step on any toes, what the hell is wrong with you?

    Ophelia in her post said

    “Nothing should be off the table when skeptics get together for a chin-wag, right? So recreational animal torture should be on the table. It shouldn’t be a given that that’s not ok”

    I guess my response was “off the table”. I have 2 cats as pets and this was really upsetting to me. All I was doing was trying to answer the question and whither I was off base or not I don’t think I deserved the vitriol directed at me. I was in no way implying that Ophelia was asserting that animal torture was OK, I was just asking what her basis was for being against it as I thought that was the question (philosophically) This was my first time posting here (and my last). Thanks for the welcome.

  44. says

    Why is getting it from a lozenge worse than getting it from animal products?

    You are getting it from animal products when you get it from a lozenge.

    B12 is the only vitamin that is not recognised as being reliably supplied from a varied wholefood, plant-based diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables, together with exposure to sun. Many herbivorous mammals, including cattle and sheep, absorb B12 produced by bacteria in their own digestive system. B12 is found to some extent in soil and plants. These observations have led some vegans to suggest that B12 was an issue requiring no special attention, or even an elaborate hoax. Others have proposed specific foods, including spirulina, nori, tempeh, and barley grass, as suitable non-animal sources of B12. Such claims have not stood the test of time.

    In addition, here are a couple of convincing blogposts about the drawbacks of a vegan diet.

    The OP in this post complains about having felt worse since embarking on a vegan diet. They get a lot of No True Vegan Diet™ from the regulars. The second comment is a marvel of woo:

    perhaps it is psychosomatic.

    I personally believe that the mind, or what we believe has a huge power over our well being.

    If you believe at some level that veganism isn’t healthy, then that could affect your body; perhaps your immune system, and stress hormones for example.

  45. dysomniak, darwinian socialist says

    You are getting it from animal products when you get it from a lozenge.

    Then I guess I should sue the makers of my vitamins for putting vegan on the label… or you’re full of shit.

    Here’s an except from your fourth link:

    I see a naturopath who is also a dietician and only a tiny portion of her diet contains animal products.

    Maybe if she saw a dietitian who wasn’t a quack she would have had better luck. But never mind, I have anecdotes too: no one I know personally has ever had any health problems related to going vegan.

    If only there were a professional who’s written extensively about this subject… oh wait: http://www.theveganrd.com/

  46. Joel says

    You know what else should be off the table?

    The existence of god.

    I mean, it’s just so utterly obvious that it should be completely off the table.

  47. outrage zombie says

    How a person treats those beings that are weaker and smaller than themselves says a great deal about how they will treat other people if given the opportunity.

    It’s a horrible act revealing the existence of a potential threat to the human community — someone who views any living being they can overpower as an object for their own entirely selfish uses. Killing and torturing animals is one of the more common early acts of people who are working their way up to killing and torturing humans.

    That is was a non-food animal makes this absolutely inexcusable, since it can’t even be argued that maybe the death and pain experienced by it was in the pursuit of sustenance, a point made even clearer by the manner in which the animal was killed being one that would render even a food animal inedible. It only emphasizes that this was intended to inflict pain on a small creature in order to convey the message of, “I would do this to any of you if I wanted to, silence you forever if I wanted to, don’t make me want to, in an attempt to terrify the humans who found it.

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