Reader writes in favoring animal torture, even for pleasure

One of the few downsides of writing this website is that you encounter people who seem almost inhuman in their sentiments, nastiness, or morality. Here’s a comment that just came in, and to which I responded briefly.

My opinion of this whole subject can be summarized as follows: “Humans have a right to kill, torture, and otherwise exploit any living being that isn’t human for whatever purposes they deem necessary”. And i’m yet to see any argument as to why it shouldn’t be so, that wouldn’t amount to just self-righteous posturing or vacuous moralizing.

Now it could be that this person is just a troll, but I will assume he/she is serious. And if that’s the case, then “Jan” thinks it’s okay to torture animals simply for pleasure. To say that that is wrong because it causes unnecessary suffering, is not “self-righteous posturing” or “vacuous moralizing”.

I have yet to fathom what makes people say things like this on the Internet, when they wouldn’t in person. It could be anonymity, or it could be any number of factors caused by the remove of using the Internet. All I know is that “Jan” would be loath to say this to colleagues or friends. And yet the person seems intelligent enough—at least to use phrases like “vacuous moralizing.”

I’d like to ask “Jan” why it’s okay to torture primates like chimps for pleasure. What is special about being human? A newborn infant is no more sentient than an adult chimp (indeed, far less so), so why is it okay to torture chimps but not infants.

But enough. I will console myself by feeding my ducks.


  1. garthdaisy
    Posted July 10, 2018 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

    Humans living in democracies have the right to stop other humans from killing and torturing animals by voting for animal rights laws, Jan. We outnumber you.

    • alexander
      Posted July 10, 2018 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

      And we despise you.

      • Cindi Deschane
        Posted July 10, 2018 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

        I then wonder Jan if they are truly human to even consider this type of action regardless of what type of animal or other living entity. If it is not a threat to Jan or another human, leave it alone and move on.

  2. Ken Kukec
    Posted July 10, 2018 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

    “And i’m yet to see any argument as to why it shouldn’t be so, that wouldn’t amount to just self-righteous posturing or vacuous moralizing.”

    Sometimes I’d like to kill, torture, and otherwise exploit people who put commas before restrictive relative clauses, but then I recall my commitment to nonviolence, and the feeling passes.

  3. Posted July 10, 2018 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

    I would like five minutes alone with Jan.

    • darrelle
      Posted July 10, 2018 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

      Make it ten.

    • Posted July 10, 2018 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

      This is an implicit direction that should not be where we should go.

      • Posted July 10, 2018 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

        Hyperbole. I am unlikely to ever meet him or her…

        • stephen
          Posted July 10, 2018 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

          Mark’s comment is more descriptive than hyperbolic,as shown by “implicit”.

          • infiniteimprobabilit
            Posted July 10, 2018 at 9:40 pm | Permalink

            I think Miss Ironfist was referring to her own comment as hyperbole.

            I would, hyperbolically, share her sentiments.


            • darrelle
              Posted July 11, 2018 at 10:41 am | Permalink

              Yes indeed, I don’t think there is any doubt about that.

          • Posted July 11, 2018 at 11:00 am | Permalink

            Yes, “hyperbole” referenced my own comment…

    • Posted July 10, 2018 at 6:45 pm | Permalink

      There’s an implicit threat of violence there* which is somewhat ironic given that Jan qualifies as an animal like the rest of us and therefore should be accorded the courtesy of not being subjected to unnecessary violence.

      *yes I know you don’t really mean it.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted July 10, 2018 at 9:47 pm | Permalink

        My feeling is that Jan, by her statement**, has forfeited any right to our forbearance, and it would be only fair and just to mete out to her the treatment she advocates for animals.
        And i’m yet to see any argument as to why that shouldn’t be so, that wouldn’t amount to just self-righteous posturing or vacuous moralizing.

        (That last sentence was of course a quote from Jan. I wouldn’t have dismissed everyones objections in such contemptuous terms).

        **assuming we take her seriously. If she really believes that, she is a sick individual.


        • Posted July 11, 2018 at 7:18 am | Permalink

          If you do not approve of doing unnecessary violence to animals, your feelings are of no consequence. Jan is an animal and therefore the principle of not doing unnecessary violence applies no matter what his or her opinions are.

          • Posted July 11, 2018 at 7:19 am | Permalink

            BTW I don’t mean your feelings are not important, I mean they should be of no consequence in the decision of whether to do unnecessary violence to Jan.

  4. JezGrove
    Posted July 10, 2018 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

    Yes, difficult to define one measurable characteristic that would enable you to draw a nice clean line dividing all humans from all other species. You certainly couldn’t use intelligence as the distinguishing factor …!

    • D.H.
      Posted July 10, 2018 at 5:24 pm | Permalink

      David Deutsch states in his book “The beginning of infinity” that it is the ability to create explanatory knowledge.

    • Posted July 10, 2018 at 6:50 pm | Permalink

      It’s actually pretty easy to distinguish humans from other non human animals. I bet, if you found two photos, one of a living human and one of a living animal of some other species, most people without significant visual impairment would be able to spot the human.

      • Taz
        Posted July 10, 2018 at 7:54 pm | Permalink

        That would work for any species. Most people could certainly spot the cat. I don’t think that refutes JezGrove’s point.

        • pierluigi Ballabeni
          Posted July 11, 2018 at 2:10 am | Permalink

          Actually not for any species. For instance, several bat species can only be distinguished by calculating the ratio between some measurements on their wings; many (I bet thousands) insect species can only be distinguisehd after dissecting the male genitalia.

  5. Mark Reaume
    Posted July 10, 2018 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

    Psychopaths say the darndest things. Or is it Sociopaths? I always mix those two up.

    • Frank Bath
      Posted July 10, 2018 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

      I think it has to be the former. The police take a keen interest in those who enjoy cruelty to animals.

    • Posted July 10, 2018 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

      Psychopaths. I think, by definition, sociopaths would not take pleasure in the death of animals.

      I’ve had to kill a few rodents my cats dragged in alive. I take no pleasure in quickly ending their lives.

  6. Randall Schenck
    Posted July 10, 2018 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

    Well, I looked and the Constitution does not give this clown the right to kill or do anything to other animals. I would also bet that other countries do not give this right either. Now there are many local laws that say you cannot do these things to other animals and they will arrest you, put you in jail and fine you for doing so. I would also bet that if one tried doing any of these things in public, someone might do same to you. That is because to some people, those animals have just as much right as you.

    • pierluigi Ballabeni
      Posted July 11, 2018 at 2:00 am | Permalink

      The Constitution of your country only applies in your country. We do not know where Jan lives.

  7. Posted July 10, 2018 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

    Jan is a primate/mammal/animal too. She should not be tortured, but somehow reached in order to become human

  8. Peter
    Posted July 10, 2018 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

    Killing for our pleasure, is that not what we do with chickens, cows, pigs, sheep, etc. ? We don’t have to eat meat. But we enjoy doing so. And we want that meat to be cheap. So we care little about the welfare of these animals while they are reared so that we can then kill them for our gustatory pleasure. It’s easy to get on a high horse condemning Jan’s bald-faced comment or condemning fox hunting, but what’s up with all the killing that is done on our behest so that we can enjoy the taste of animal meat?

    • Posted July 10, 2018 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

      And when you point this out people tend to get hostile rather than reflective.

    • Randall Schenck
      Posted July 10, 2018 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

      For one thing it is legal. Last I checked torture and killing of animals for the fun of it are not. The raising and slaughter of the chickens, pigs and cows is not especially pleasant but does not fit the example as you seem to think. Humans are improving the conditions of these animals to some degree and should do more. So I would say that the raising and killing of animals is not being done needlessly as Jan seems to be saying. That is a big difference as well.

      • Posted July 10, 2018 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

        Owning human used to be legal. Is that the defense you would have used?

        • Randall Schenck
          Posted July 10, 2018 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

          So what are you, just a first line reader and then you go home? Leave me alone.

          • Posted July 10, 2018 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

            See my point above.

            • Randall Schenck
              Posted July 10, 2018 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

              You have no point. Owning slaves has nothing to do with my comments, this posting or anything about it. As I said, go away.

        • Saul Sorrell-Till
          Posted July 10, 2018 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

          I’d say that we find ourselves at a point in history that is halfway between

          a. the point in the past where we thought we could do anything we wanted with animals for any reason, and

          b. the point in the future when we will almost certainly outlaw the killing of animals for meat(partly because of moral progress, partly because we’ll be able to grow edible meat from animal cells without having to harm any living creatures).

          Therefore, if we want to progress to point b. we’re going to have to come up with more sophisticated political arguments than just comparing meat-eaters to slave-owners.

          Every society that was caught on the upward slopes sounds callous and muddle-headed by the time we reach the top of the hill, but they’re the ones who did the heavy-lifting of convincing, of moving conversations forward, of gradually shifting attitudes. That’s what we are doing, and saying we have to either go back to point a. or proceed immediately to point b., otherwise we’re callous, immoral hypocrites doesn’t help at all. It’s just posturing.

          The hypocrisy and compromised, halfway-house thinking of those interim periods, when society is struggling forward, is a necessary concomitant of the gradual nature of progress. If we could ever just hop from a. to b. it’d be nice, but that doesn’t happen. So I don’t see much point in blaming people for being inconsistent on this issue, any more than I look back and blame the anti-slavers for nevertheless holding racist views that to modern ears seem to contradict all the good work they did in agitating for the end of slavery.

          • Posted July 10, 2018 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

            And pointing out those inconsistencies (not browbeating) will get us closer to b. It’s what got me off meat.

            I wasn’t comparing meat eating with slave owning. I was simply pointing out the flaw in the argument that because something is legal makes it morally more palatable.

            • Randall Schenck
              Posted July 10, 2018 at 4:56 pm | Permalink

              And I must interject here, you were comparing apples and oranges. The legality of an act verses owning people…really. It is legal to drive my car but not own slaves.

              • Posted July 10, 2018 at 5:32 pm | Permalink

                There’s a moral component. Cars are inanimate objects. Animals are not. Change ‘animals’ to ‘slaves’ in your first post and maybe you’ll see what I mean. You can see someone making that argument to justify slavery. Owning slaves used to be legal, but there were laws against their ‘mistreatment’.

                Again, I’m not saying they are morally equivalent, only you can see how easily these moral dimensions can be rationalized.

              • mikeyc
                Posted July 10, 2018 at 6:05 pm | Permalink

                Let me ask you this, Tulis and Saul; in your estimation is it ever “moral” to raise or hunt animals for food? If so and it is possible to be a “moral” meat eater, why should society become “b” in Saul’s dichotomy?

              • Saul Sorrell-Till
                Posted July 11, 2018 at 7:10 am | Permalink

                In response to Mikeyc:

                Is it ever moral? Yes, clearly. It’s been a moral _necessity_ in the past to hunt for food.

                But scenario b. was a future society, in which meat can be grown from animal cells. We wouldn’t have to kill a single animal(besides the original source for those cells) in order to eat our meat. Once the technology for that is available I can’t see any possible moral justification for killing animals for food(never mind hunting them).

              • Posted July 11, 2018 at 10:22 am | Permalink

                That day can’t come soon enough. Hunting would no longer be justifiable even if the the hunter promises to eat everything they kill.

            • Deni Pisani
              Posted July 11, 2018 at 3:08 am | Permalink

              Just reading all your comments on this topic.
              Are you getting frustrated that you are being misunderstood at every turn?
              I’m getting frustrated on your behalf!
              I sometimes think that for topics like this, some people have a passionate response which inures them from any balanced reading of other comments, seeing the enemy everywhere.
              Oh well, think I’ll switch back to decaf…

            • Saul Sorrell-Till
              Posted July 11, 2018 at 7:00 am | Permalink

              And I was simply arguing that it’s politically inexpedient to take your approach, because it comes across as a kind of moral posturing. There are effective ways to argue for giving up meat – comparing people who defend eating meat with people who defended slavery(and you did) doesn’t help.

          • Dragon
            Posted July 11, 2018 at 10:59 am | Permalink

            @Saul Sorrell-Till

            There is an unintended consequence to b. We live on a planet with limited resources. For this point, I will only concentrate on cattle.
            Cattle today partially exist on crops that we could eat ourselves. There is also significant ranch land that is not currently arable. So we could replace our partial reliance of eating beef with additional reliance on eating vegetables and providing nutrients to those cell cultures you mention. Either way, that decreases significantly the amount of food available to feed cattle.

            This would also remove the capitalist incentive to feed cattle. All those ranchers would get other jobs.

            So what happens to the cattle? There is no cattle feed distribution network, the lands on which they graze must, by necessity, be largely turned over to other agricultural products for more human consumption. We will gain some significant efficiency by replacing e.g. feed corn with sweet corn, as the process of creating flesh is inefficient. But the non arable land is out of that equation. I presume we don’t have good numbers on the efficacy of cell cultures. To realize any of that efficiency, we need to vastly reduce the feed consumed by cattle.

            Very similar thought applies to all other livestock.

            We are talking about the near genocide of all livestock species, right? How do we get there, morally?

            Do we sterilize all livestock and feed them until they die of old age? Do we starve them?
            Do we slaughter them all in a series of feasts?
            Livestock DNA had, until that point, been wildly successful in passing on its traits. Livestock is 60% of mammal biomass.

            I keep wondering how we get to ‘b’ morally. I don’t have an answer. In all the moralizing I have encountered about eating meat, no one has even proposed an answer. We need one.

            • barn owl
              Posted July 11, 2018 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

              I agree with your points about limited resources and the inefficiency of turning corn into beef. However, removing cattle from grazing lands – at least in most of the western US – is not going to make that rangeland suitable to grow crops for direct human consumption. Limited water and climate change add to the unsuitability, and from an anthropocentric position, the most efficient use of that rangeland is to raise cattle, sheep, and goats. The feedlot method of raising cattle, or even just bulking them up prior to slaughter, is of course a huge problem – for one thing, corn is not a food that cattle evolved to eat.

              • Dragon
                Posted July 13, 2018 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

                @barn owl

                Actually your ‘however’ was one of my points. The western ranch land was the example in my head when I said “There is also significant ranch land that is not currently arable.” So we largely agree.

    • Posted July 10, 2018 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

      Generally animals we eat are butchered quickly, not tortured for pleasure.

      • yazikus
        Posted July 10, 2018 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

        If folks haven’t seen the Temple Grandin movie, I would recommend. She’s a remarkable woman, and slaughter facilities have changed greatly due to her research.

        • Posted July 10, 2018 at 6:12 pm | Permalink

          Yes, that was a truly great movie on several levels.

      • Posted July 10, 2018 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

        Shall I link some videos of slaughter houses for you?

        • mikeyc
          Posted July 10, 2018 at 6:34 pm | Permalink

          One can only assume you see the fallacy in this rebuttal and you only made it for rhetorical purposes.

    • eric
      Posted July 10, 2018 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

      Killing for our pleasure, is that not what we do with chickens, cows, pigs, sheep, etc. ?

      If you turn the question into a dichotomy, then yes killing animals to eat would be on the same side of that dichotomy as killing for fun.

      But IMO that’s a false dichotomy. I think a more nuanced and correct approach is to see the various reasons to kill animals on a scale, with ‘most reprehensible’ being for no reason at all and ‘least reprehensible’ being to save the life of a loved one. On that scale, killing to eat meat – even if we don’t technically have to eat meat to survive – is IMO significantly below (closer to the ‘least’ side) hunting for sport.

      But all of this dodges the real problem with Jan’s comment, in that he’s defending any treatment at all. Including torture. Now while parts of the meat industry may be horrible, unfeeling, and profit-driven (and I would probably join with the more extreme animal rights activists in agreeing that the worst behaviors of the industry should be curtailed, even if it means higher prices), they don’t purposefully and intentionally set out to torture animals. That is what Jan is defending.

      I have yet to fathom what makes people say things like this on the Internet, when they wouldn’t in person.

      Who says he wouldn’t say it in person? AIUI, his position is the Cartesian one that dominated through much of the 19th century (Descartes opined that animals were automotons that didn’t feel anything – not even pain – even if they acted like they did). And it’s also AIUI the opinion of some (thankfully rare) Christian religious fundies who think God gave us the Earth and everything in it to do with as we please.

      • Posted July 10, 2018 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

        “But all of this dodges the real problem with Jan’s comment, in that he’s defending any treatment at all. Including torture.”

        Exactly. There is a world of difference between killing for food and *deliberately* torturing, and then killing any sentient being just because you have power over them.

        That, and animal-torturing children often grow up to find human victims Who they also see as fair game.

      • freiner
        Posted July 10, 2018 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

        I think this is extremely well put. Thank you. (Though I did have to look up what “AIUI” means. I’m just not with it. [JNWI?])

  9. Dave B
    Posted July 10, 2018 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

    Exactly the same attitude as my fundaMENTAList BIL. “God says so”.

    In the brief time I’ve known him he’s gotten rid of a dog (adoption – dog is super happy now) that hated him and executed – ok, “euthanized” – a cat that had litter box issues – the litter box was the about the size of three tissue boxes side by side and they only cleaned it twice a week.

  10. Ken Kukec
    Posted July 10, 2018 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

    Behind such rants almost invariably lies a Dominionist interpretation of Scripture (see Genesis 1:26-28) or a Randian selfishness.

    • Randall Schenck
      Posted July 10, 2018 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

      Yes well, holding dominion is not the same as torture and killing anything for any reason. I’m not apologizing for the fiction, just saying….

  11. Frank Bath
    Posted July 10, 2018 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

    It’s a question of feeling, Jan. I couldn’t sit and snap the legs of a dog one by one, and I doubt you could either. Anyone who could would be a danger to all living things, including people. Feeling Jan, feeling.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted July 10, 2018 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

      You sampling Morris Albert, Frank? 🙂

      • yazikus
        Posted July 10, 2018 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

        In my region, a person recently cut the tongue out of a horse’s mouth. The poor horse had to be euthanized. They haven’t caught the perp yet, but good lord, how cruel and terrifying.

        • Posted July 10, 2018 at 4:05 pm | Permalink

          And in my region, some “Jan”-type shot two mountain goats point blank on the trail up Quandary Peak, apparently solely for pleasure.

          • Mark R.
            Posted July 10, 2018 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

            This happened a long time ago, but my grandmother’s German Shepherd was killed by a poison dart. Some f’n prank.

            Humans are the only animals capable of cruelty like torture; if anything, it makes us inferior to animals, not superior. Depraved people like ‘Jan’ embody the worst aspects of us naked apes.

            • pierluigi Ballabeni
              Posted July 11, 2018 at 3:00 am | Permalink

              Some non human animals seem to be capable of cruelty. I saw once on TV Orcas throwing a seal in the air many times before killing it. It surely looked like a cruel game.

              Another documentary showed a group of lionesses literally torturing a young female from a rival group while competing for food on a carcass. The young lioness was isolated from her group and repeatedly bitten by several adult females without being killed, apparently to scare away the rival group, which actually left without daring to defend her. After the treatment her hind legs were paralized and at the end of the day she was dead.

      • Frank Bath
        Posted July 10, 2018 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

        What a ghastly song!

    • Posted July 10, 2018 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

      A young Stalin once broke the legs of a calf for fun. QED.

  12. Posted July 10, 2018 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

    Many reasons exist for why this is wrong. I can only guess that if the commenter was not trolling, then they were coming from a standpoint that acting with morality toward animals is only a social construct.

    • Saul Sorrell-Till
      Posted July 11, 2018 at 7:16 am | Permalink

      If he or she had been making their point from a denial of objective morality, ie. ‘it’s not immoral to torture animals because morality is subjective’, they’d at least have been technically correct IMO. They’d still have been a psychopath but at least they’d have been an intellectually consistent psychopath. But they’re not making their argument from such a standpoint; they’re making it from an standpoint of human exceptionalism.

  13. Ann German
    Posted July 10, 2018 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

    I’m thinking “troll.”

    • nicky
      Posted July 10, 2018 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

      I tend to think that too. I don’t know what it is about his way of putting it, but I get this feeling he’s playing the devil’s advocate, kind of trying to put the argument and seeing what the counter-arguments are. Maybe it is because he appears to think he’s very clever? Maybe he thinks he’s gaslighting?
      (He might of course also be a plain sadist, a psycho).

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted July 10, 2018 at 9:55 pm | Permalink

      That rarity, a troll who can spell.


  14. yazikus
    Posted July 10, 2018 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

    When kiddo arrived in our family, I was faced with some hard truths. You see, I used to be a bug-killer. If I found one indoors, I killed it. I was rather terrified of some arachnids. But, with that small human round, I found myself at a loss to explain why it was okay to ‘take a life of a creature’ just because. So we began to relocate, instead of kill, those outdoor bugs that found their way inside. Webby things that stay out of my way? I don’t even bother with them anymore. I’ve grown to love my spider-visitors when I see them, and marvel at their swiftness and beauty. I’ll watch a jumping spider as avidly as I would a humming bird, these days.

    I don’t know how a person could in good-faith ponder the topic and come away thinking like Jan. We are all creatures, after all.

  15. Randall Schenck
    Posted July 10, 2018 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

    It is always possible that this attitude comes courtesy of Donald T. When asked today when he was going to do anything about the separated kids from parents he said – Well, if they are not legal they should not be coming here. So you see how broke up he is about that.

  16. Andrew D
    Posted July 10, 2018 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

    Descartes maintained that (non-human) animals cannot feel pain. He regarded them as automata — like robots. Perhaps this is an idea that some people still hold.

    • Posted July 10, 2018 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

      Didn’t the medical establishment once say that human babies could not feel pain? That blacks were OK to experiments on, because well, not as humans as *we* are, etc?

    • Posted July 11, 2018 at 12:26 am | Permalink

      William Lane Craig still holds it iirc.

    • Posted July 11, 2018 at 11:30 am | Permalink

      To be slightly more correct (to correct the omission here) – Descartes *also* thought human bodies were automata and did a lot of “stuff” on their own. He seems to have been the one to discover what we’d now call reflexes.

  17. Posted July 10, 2018 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

    I firmly believe that a person who would find enjoyment in the suffering of a non-human animal would find enjoyment in human suffering as well.

    • Saul Sorrell-Till
      Posted July 11, 2018 at 7:20 am | Permalink

      That tends to be the way it goes yes. I think I’ve read that harming animals in your youth is a pretty strong predictor of psychopathy/having a David Fincher film made about you.

  18. CAS
    Posted July 10, 2018 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

    The Blank Slate is mostly fictional. Jan seems to be missing the feeling of empathy present in most humans. It might be an inborn defect, or she might have been severely abused as a child.

  19. Posted July 10, 2018 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

    Look on the bright side. The internet lets people say things they believe but might not say otherwise. The rest of us are thus forewarned about that person and also about currents that are present in society but that might otherwise pass unnoticed.

    The rise of Trump has emboldened many nasty people to comment on the internet. This is good. It is now very clear that much of our country consists of nasty people, and we better be aware of this.

  20. Geoff Toscano
    Posted July 10, 2018 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

    When we torture any other creature we diminish ourselves. It’s as simple as that. Treat others as you would wish to be treated yourself, and try not to cause unnecessary suffering.

    I don’t accept any form of objective morality but if I did this would be up there.

  21. ladyatheist
    Posted July 10, 2018 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

    “Rights” were invented by humans, so they can be defined by humans, so the reader has a point, but that point doesn’t take into account true human nature.

    Humans believe in the “right” to kill other humans, too, though that right has been variously restrained by people in different cultures, epochs, religions, and countries.

    Humans also act with compassion towards other humans, and we extend that to other social species just as those other species sometimes collaborate and coexist, seemingly with compassion at times. We react to expressions of pain with a desire to alleviate that pain. Animals mainly only desire that with their own species, but the prey animals seem sometimes to feel that “compassion.” (The predators mainly get hungrier if they’re already hungry).

    So … do animals “feel” pain? Yes. Are they sentient? Maybe some are.

    Should humans act with compassion toward other humans and toward other animals? Yes, it’s in our best interest to preserve our best “instinct.”


    • nicky
      Posted July 10, 2018 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

      I agree, but would like to take issue with: “Are they sentient? Maybe some are.”
      It is as certain as we can possibly be that not some, but many indeed are. I even suspect many are much more than we appreciate. Read eg. “Are we smart enough to know how smart animals are?” by Frans de Waal.

      • Posted July 10, 2018 at 4:57 pm | Permalink

        Animal-rights activist Cleveland Amory said the question is not how smart they are, but do they suffer?

        Richard Dawkins said “So it’s possible non-human animals are capable of feeling *more intense pain* than we are.”

        • nicky
          Posted July 11, 2018 at 4:06 am | Permalink

          I’m not sure, but being ‘smart’ appears to me somehow linked to a capacity to suffer.
          [And yes, Dawkins is right, we don’t know, some might indeed feel more intense pain than we do.]

          • nicky
            Posted July 11, 2018 at 4:29 am | Permalink

            Let me put that differently: if you are ‘smart’, you have almost certainly the capacity to suffer, but it does not work the other way: if you are not ‘smart’, you almost certainly can’t suffer.
            I think the former is correct, but the second one is not.

            • Saul Sorrell-Till
              Posted July 11, 2018 at 7:25 am | Permalink

              I think Dawkins made the point that intelligence might even be a sign that an animal feels _less_ pain than other animals. After all, we have the capacity to reflect upon our predicaments – we can avoid stepping on sharp objects with a much wider range of tactical approaches than, say, a rabbit. We can avoid areas with sharp objects entirely, wear shoes, etc. And since pain is a warning signal, it might be that less intelligent animals need more intense bursts of pain to ward them off dangerous things than a human, or a chimp does.

      • ladyatheist
        Posted July 10, 2018 at 6:39 pm | Permalink

        “Some” compared to all animals. When comparing the number of smart, social species to the number of beetle species, the beetles far outnumber them.

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted July 10, 2018 at 10:05 pm | Permalink

          Depends how you define ‘sentience’, I guess. I’d say that beetles – who can see, fly around, find food and avoid predators – are certainly conscious and sentient.

          ‘A “sentient” being is one who perceives and responds to sensations of whatever kind-sight, hearing, touch, taste, or smell.’ – Merriam-Webster. By that definition, beetles are sentient.

          I certainly wouldn’t argue that beetles have the same mental capacity as the, errm, ‘higher animals’, however anyone chooses to define that.

          Obviously there’s not a sharp line there, but a gradient.

          On your main point, I agree – animals feel pain and we should be considerate towards them.


    • mikeyc
      Posted July 10, 2018 at 6:48 pm | Permalink

      Not much to add here except to say that while they feel something like pain, many animals do not experience pain in the way humans do. For example, in humans our main source of sensation of pain come from a special kind of nerve cell called a nociceptor. Fish lack these receptors (there is a possible exception for a kind of cell somewhat like a nociceptor found in their “lips” and mouth). They also lack a neo-cortex, where our pain awareness stems from. This means that sometimes we make assumptions about pain that are wrong in the same way we are often wrong in our assumptions about other behaviors.

      Fish and other animals (insect, amphibians) who differ us in this regard clearly avoid noxious environments and they react to stimuli that to us seem like they ought to be painful. But that doesn’t mean they feel it like we do.


      *shouting in all caps because everywhere except WEIT this debate, like those on abortion and gun control, can only be conducted by people shouting at each other and I wanted to do it just for fun.

      • Posted July 10, 2018 at 6:54 pm | Permalink

        That’s all just speculation. We don’t really know what a fish experiences. If its nervous system was more like ours, we might assume that it experiences life much as we do. However, it isn’t so we can’t or shouldn’t.

        • mikeyc
          Posted July 10, 2018 at 7:02 pm | Permalink

          Well, yes, that’s my point, though it ISN’T mere speculation. We assume they feel pain like we do (it’s a fair assumption) but we know they lack the kind of pain receptors we have and they lack the part of the brain we use to decipher pain signals. So do they feel pain? I’m sure they do, but I don’t assume it’s the same. In fact, I’m quite sure it’s different – even animals who have the receptors and brain structures we have can feel pain differently from us. Birds (for example) do not respond to capsaicin (an evolved seed-dispersal trait, perhaps) but it is quite painful to us.

          • infiniteimprobabilit
            Posted July 10, 2018 at 10:11 pm | Permalink

            Pain in humans is extremely complex – it’s the brain’s interpretation of signals from the nervous system. Sometimes the brain can minimise or ignore pain, sometimes it can even ‘invent’ it from nothing.

            So it’s highly unlikely the pain mechanism in unrelated animals is exactly the same as ours. However I’d be almost certain they (or most of them) have evolved some similar mechanism which probably causes them as much distress as pain does us.


          • Posted July 11, 2018 at 10:05 am | Permalink

            I’m sure animals’ nervous systems differ in many ways but my main point is that that doesn’t mean they feel pain less than we do and, therefore, it is not so bad to harm them. As you say, bodily harm, or the threat of it, does produce a response in animals as strong as in humans. It is perhaps like comparing apples and oranges but they are still both fruit after all.

    • Posted July 10, 2018 at 7:14 pm | Permalink

      Humans invented rights and therefore we can take them away. In fact, in my country we have done. I do not have the right to inflict suffering on many animals unnecessarily. Jan’s argument falls at the first hurdle.

  22. RA
    Posted July 10, 2018 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

    I wonder why Jan restricts humans from being tortured and kiled for fun. Couldn’t any reason be dismissed a vacuous moralizing?

  23. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted July 10, 2018 at 5:21 pm | Permalink

    Sadly, I think there are a few who actually would say this in person directly.

  24. Torbjörn Larsson
    Posted July 10, 2018 at 5:29 pm | Permalink


    Jan is wrong of course, there is no such human right within the UN Declaration of Human Rights. As far as I know there are instead national legal codes that forbid cruelty against animals, without breaking with the UNDHR.

    And of course it should be so, since humans as many other animals show empathy and can be observed to suffer when seeing pain or mistreatment however caused. Indeed, we have started to see pets as part of our extended family. I am sure someone can build non-vacuous moralizing on that ground.

  25. S.K.Graham
    Posted July 10, 2018 at 5:30 pm | Permalink

    I suspect this is a religious “God gave man dominion over animals” point of view, combined with a lack of empathy due at least in part to believing animals do not have souls as humans do.

    If it stems from secular reasoning, then it certainly suggests a stunning lack of empathy if not outright sociapathy.

    • Marta
      Posted July 11, 2018 at 8:27 am | Permalink

      For the win.

      That was my immediate thought as well.

      I haven’t read it in a while, but I think the dominion myth is in the book of Genesis.

      If God gives humans dominion over every other thing living or not, then having qualms or conscience about subduing the world just gets in the way of this nasty edict from God. And what could be better than having God stamp his imprimatur over the worst of human nature?

  26. Posted July 10, 2018 at 7:09 pm | Permalink

    First, I don’t understand why you are so sure Jan wouldn’t say the same thing in person. I’ve known plenty of people who might. Second, using big words is no indication of any significant intelligence. Even a parrot can do that.

  27. Blue
    Posted July 10, 2018 at 7:37 pm | Permalink

    I am without words this is so painful
    to read. And to now know in re this human.


  28. Taz
    Posted July 10, 2018 at 8:13 pm | Permalink

    Is there anyone here who would trust their children around someone who enjoys torturing animals?

  29. John Black
    Posted July 10, 2018 at 8:18 pm | Permalink

    I’m disheartened by comments wishing to enact violence on someone based one sentence. Perhaps “Jan’s” reference to “necessary” is a higher bar than we suppose. I doubt most people would consider torturing an animal “for pleasure” as equivalent to “necessary.”

    In any case, I agree with Jerry that this person is highly unlikely to voice such opinions face-to-face with colleagues. The Internet brings out the worst in us.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted July 10, 2018 at 10:26 pm | Permalink

      You have a point there, that ‘for pleasure’ isn’t necessarily the same as ‘necessary’.

      However, Jan said ‘as they deem necessary’, which opens it right up again, since sufficiently warped humans can ‘deem’ anything necessary that they want to. (I’m sure Hitler deemed it ‘necessary’ to – do I need to go on?)


  30. Posted July 10, 2018 at 9:46 pm | Permalink

    It is righteous to starve out the troll.

  31. Posted July 11, 2018 at 12:51 am | Permalink

    I think we have to remember that this is the opinion of one person. However unpalatable his words are, they do not represent the views of most people – it’s so easy to become disillusioned when we read this type of comment on social media but we cannot allow the opinions of a few to distort our view of humanity as a whole.

  32. Eric Grobler
    Posted July 11, 2018 at 1:01 am | Permalink

    I would like Jan the philosopher to explain why he should not be tortured.

    • nicky
      Posted July 11, 2018 at 4:33 am | Permalink

      Good point.

  33. Robert Bate
    Posted July 11, 2018 at 5:50 am | Permalink

    Interesting that this post followed the cherry picked rant of the previous post by the Brit comic/reporter.

  34. Mike
    Posted July 11, 2018 at 6:50 am | Permalink

    I would put Jan in a Tiger enclosure with the words, “There you go Jan,torture away.”

  35. Reggie Cormack
    Posted July 11, 2018 at 7:05 am | Permalink

    “Jan” doesn’t appear to have enough courage in his/her convictions to post a comment or argue his/her point here.

    • Posted July 11, 2018 at 10:20 am | Permalink

      Perhaps Jan’s only purpose was disruption. While we are all defending animal rights, he or she is off to the next website to start another riot.

  36. Posted July 12, 2018 at 8:30 am | Permalink

    In the first place, humans do not have a right to torture animals because rights don’t exist as objective things. Therefore Jan’s statement is wrong as a matter of simple fact. It follows that it “isn’t” true that we have a right to torture animals. For a similar reason, it is nonsense to ask for arguments why it “shouldn’t,” or for that matter, why it “should” be true that we have a right to torture animals. “Should” is a moral property, implying the existence of good and evil as objective things. In fact, they do not exist as objective things, but only as subjective impressions in the minds of individuals. “Should” is therefore meaningless unless you are referring to someone’s opinion, or otherwise qualify the term to explain exactly what you mean.

    I personally have a strong emotional reaction against the torture of animals. This emotion can be categorized as a moral emotion. I understand the evolutionary origins of this emotion. However, even in light of that understanding, I prefer not to live in a world where torture of animals is tolerated. I am therefore willing to actively cooperate with other like-minded individuals to put a stop to animal torture, by passing laws against it, shaming and punishing those who torture animals, etc. If necessary, I am willing to excite and manipulate the moral emotions of others to get my way, even if that implies portraying good and evil to others in the way they are usually imagined – as objective things. That might not seem “fair” according to my own philosophy. However, given the reality of human moral behavior, and the way morality has always worked, acting in any other way would mean always letting people who disagree with me have their way, and always surrendering a priori. I am not willing to do that.

    My opinion has been referred to as “moral nihilism.” In fact, “moral nihilism” and “moral chaos” are terms that better characterize the world we live in today. It seems to me that accepting the truth about the subjective nature of morality, and what that truth implies, is the only way out of the chaos.

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