Taking Animals Seriously

Sunday, August 7th, 2005

I’ve read a few reviews of autistic-author Temple Grandin’s Animals in Translation, but Orson Scott Card’s, Taking Animals Seriously, included some fascinating tidbits:

One might wonder how Grandin can feel such empathy for animals, and yet devote so much of her life to creating more efficient and ‘humane’ systems for slaughtering them.

First, she recognizes that humans are not going to give up meat. In fact, many autistic people are meat-dependent. For whatever reason, if they try to live on a vegetarian diet they get weak and sick. It would be surprising if there weren’t some people who need meat more than others.

More to the point, Grandin realized that if it weren’t for the fact that we eat meat, then the millions of meat animals in the world would not exist at all. It is only because we sustain their lives that these species exist in such numbers; if we stopped eating them, and therefore feeding and nurturing them, their numbers would drop catastrophically.

Therefore her work is to try to make their lives content and their deaths calm.

And to this end, she makes sure that their lives are free of fear. Because to most animals, fear causes more suffering than pain.

This makes sense. Animals in the wild who became severely distressed by pain, limping or staggering or holding still and weeping because of it, would be marking themselves to any predator as the easiest victim. So while they feel pain and wish to be rid of it, they do not suffer from the pain as much as humans would. (There is sound research supporting this.)

However, when it comes to fear, the opposite is true. Most humans are able to suppress fear and act in spite of it. While anxiety may keep us up at night, we are also able to feel strong fear signals from our brains and yet decide to ignore them.

Animals can’t do this — especially not prey animals. Fear forces them either to freeze or flee. And when they are afraid and can’t do anything about it, it’s a paralyzing agony to them.

So Grandin works to make sure animals’ lives and deaths are as free of pain and fear as possible.

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