In his New York Times column this morning, Nicholas Kristof starts off by observing that the war criminals he has interviewed always seem like such nice old men when he meets them face to face.

The puzzle of such episodes is that otherwise good and decent people were so oblivious to the abhorrence of what was going on.
I'm sure we all have had times in our lives where we failed to understand the pain we've caused until someone brought it to our attention. Instances in which we were cruel or selfish for no good reason other than we were thoughtless in our actions. I have had these moments many times in my life, and strange that I always first greet this information with a blank stare. I didn't know I did anything wrong. At all.

Kristof then turns to discuss a new documentary called "Blackfish" that focuses on the treatment of orcas at Seaworld.

Here's the trailer:

Orcas, also known as killer whales, are sophisticated mammals whose brains may be more complex than our own. They belong in the open sea and seem to suffer severe physical and mental distress when forced to live in tanks. Maybe that is why they sometimes go berserk and attack trainers. You or I might also go nuts if we were forced to live our lives locked up in a closet to entertain orcas.

SeaWorld denies the claims, which isn’t surprising since it earns millions from orcas. Two centuries ago, slave owners argued that slaves enjoyed slavery.

I think that's a powerful statement and a key point. What moral justification do we have for treating animals worse than human beings?

Even though we are aware of our evolutionary roots we still tend to not associate ourselves with animals. To call someone an animal is often the worst form of insult. We are not animals. We are on a higher level.

That's what we choose to think anyway.

But when you look back on the last century of racism, sexism, homophobia, war, genocide, torture, and environmental destruction can you really say that we're some higher form of intelligence than animals? When you look at the research studying the intelligence and emotional complexity of animals, can you really say that they are so different from us? Or are we claiming we are better than animals to excuse our continued mistreatment of them?

Some day, will our descendants be mystified by how good and decent people in the early 21st century — that’s us — could have been so oblivious to the unethical treatment of animals?

There certainly has been progress. Centuries ago, a European game consisted of nailing a cat to a post and head-butting it to death without getting your eyes scratched out. These days, torturing animals is a crime.

Kristof tries to grasp for the truth here, but to claim that animal torture is a crime is hopeful ignorance considering the vast amount torture that takes place in all aspects of our society from circuses to factory farms to the leather shoes on his feet. He does acknowledge, however, that like the war criminal at the beginning of his column we are so blind to our actions that we don't know the evil that we do. Some day though, he thinks we might wise up.
May our descendants, when, in the future, they reflect uncomprehendingly on our abuse of hens and orcas, appreciate that we are good and decent people moving in the right direction, and show some compassion for our obliviousness.
As non-animal rights person attempting to face the reality of how we treat animals, Kristof struggles with his own contradictions. It also chronicles some of improvements in animal welfare on factory farms as well as the Agriculture Industry's efforts to fight back, including the odious Steve King's amendment to the Farm Bill that attempts to nullify state laws protecting animals.

The entire column is well worth a read.

What do you think? Are we justified in our abuse and exploitation of animals? Or are we just ignoring the evil we do because we're afraid of change?

Originally posted to Jason Hackman on Sun Jul 28, 2013 at 09:41 AM PDT.

Also republished by Meatless Advocates Meetup and Community Spotlight.

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