If natural compassion makes everyone detest the cruelty

I was asking that question about why revulsion from torture isn’t universal five years ago, too, almost to the day. I’ll just repost it.

Lynn Hunt asks a pertinent question in Inventing Human Rights:

Voltaire railed against the miscarriage of justice in the Calas case, but he did not originally object to the fact that the old man had been tortured or broken on the wheel. If natural compassion makes everyone detest the cruelty of judicial torture, as Voltaire said later, then why was this not obvious before the 1760s, even to him? Evidently some kind of blinders had operated to inhibit the operation of empathy before then.

The facts aren’t enough. Science isn’t enough. There has to be emotion too. People have to care. It’s that simple. If people don’t care, the facts are just facts, they’re inert.

This is also why relief organizations use one person (and animal welfare organizations use one animal) on fund-raising appeals: we’re wired so that we empathize with one person much more strongly than we empathize with a million. If facts were enough for morality, we ought to respond a million times more strongly to reports of a million people in desperate straits, but in fact we respond much less strongly to a million people than we do to one.

Guest post: A hotbed of apparently unthinking animal cruelty

Originally a comment by latsot on Torturing animals, for instance, was just good clean fun.

For some reason the area I live in is a national blackspot for animal cruelty. People around here keep amassing vast collections of animals they can’t look after and then causing them to suffer until someone calls the RSPCA.

It’s a strange kind of cruelty. These people want the animals and presumably care about them in some sense…. but somehow don’t recognise that they’re harming them. Making them miserable. Ruining their health.

There’s a riding school close to my house. The horses look like they’re in good condition but the owner was found to have a dozen dogs in a cage, some of which were found eating the corpses of other dogs that had died from starvation and neglect. [Read more…]

Guest post: Again the feeling is revulsion

Guest post by Michael Šimková, originally a comment on the Facebook autopost of the Torturing animals, for instance, was just good clean fun post; published with permission.

Very interesting discussion. I am not sure what to think about it myself. It does worry me a lot. I believe we won’t survive if we don’t change ourselves to be non-violent, and probably this will require some genetic tinkering. Even if we could survive it is not very pleasant to live in this world of… er… angry chimps.

When I was younger I think in some sense I was more empathic than now, or applied it more universally. I fought my cousin because she cut up live earthworms to see if they would regrow. When there was a mouse in the house my gran boiled up a pot of water to throw on it to kill it, and when I realised what she intended to do I literally flung myself between the mouse and her to stop it. She very nearly threw the water on me. I screamed at a group of four older boys who otherwise intimidated me for thoughtlessly stepping on a caterpillar, even somehow made them carry it around in an attempt at performing ‘intensive care’. [Read more…]

Torturing animals, for instance, was just good clean fun

How does cruelty and sadism get normalized?

Another passage from the “Humanitarian Revolution” chapter of Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature

Warning: torture, again

But the practical function of cruel punishments was just a part of their appeal. Spectators enjoyed cruelty, even when it served no judicial purpose. Torturing animals, for instance, was just good clean fun. [Read more…]


The outing of Reddit’s “Violentacrez” is all over the place. He’s one of Reddit’s most loathsome users (members? denizens? occupants? what’s the right word?), and Adrian Chen outed him on Gawker as one Michael Brutsch, who works at a Texas financial services company  as a programmer.

Loathsome how?

His speciality is distributing images of scantily-clad underage girls, but as Violentacrez he also issued an unending fountain of racism, porn, gore, misogyny, incest, and exotic abominations yet unnamed, all on the sprawling online community Reddit. [Read more…]

And so there was a lot of fear and terrible desperation

One of the things religion does is create artificial misery. One of the ways religion does this is by making people feel agonizing terror about eternal torture for themselves or people they love or both, or by making them feel agonizing despair and grief at angering or alienating God. This is especially vile when the putative eternal torture or alienation from God is caused by actions or thoughts that are in no way bad. The misery is doubly artificial (and thus gratuitous and cruel) in these situations: there is no eternal punishment, and the putative Sin is not bad or wicked.

The entrenched belief that not being straight is Sin is a classic and still very active example. Consider Peterson Toscano for instance, a survivor of “ex-gay” therapy. [Read more…]

She wept and begged to be released

Spare a thought for that little girl in Pakistan who is in jail for “blasphemy” because she (supposedly, allegedly, some asshole saidly) had some pages of the Koran in a bag of trash, or put some pages of the Koran in a fire along with other trash, or some such stupid meaningless unreasonable bit of nonsense. Spare a thought for her, because she wants to get out. She would probably prefer to be at home, with people who love her and take care of her.

According to the BBC’s Orla Guerin in Islamabad, Rimsha’s lawyer said that when he saw her in jail over the weekend she wept and begged to be released.

Her parents have been taken into protective custody following threats, and many other Christian families are reported to have fled the neighbourhood.

There are fears that even if she is released, Rimsha’s family will not be safe in Pakistan. Others accused of blasphemy have been killed by vigilante mobs in the recent past.

Human beings: finding shitty reasons to torment each other for 100,000 years.

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. [Read more…]