Compassion and conditioning
- a reality check
by Dr Mahat Vather
I have worked as a medical doctor for almost twenty-four years. During this time I have had the privilege of observing the human psyche in all its manifestations. It is fascinating to witness the expansive spectrum of individual responses to life¹s circumstances. People are generally an infinite reservoir of goodness. It is a quality that appears to flourish through life, particularly if one recognises one¹s own shortcomings.
It is regrettable, however, that some of us choose expediency when confronted with difficult realities. Others favour the path of least resistance. Most of us have to endure a convoluted learning curve to recognise basic truths. I often lament the fact that I did not recognise some fundamental flaws in my own life earlier. In particular, I refer to animal cruelty, and the almost universal hypocrisy towards the untold terror and pain inflicted upon animals.
We appear to be troubled by strife endured by others. Suffering and injustice towards other humans is abhorrent to most of us. Why then do we appear to have double standards towards animals that share our planet? And why do so many otherwise caring people become part of a process that systematically inflicts torture and pain on millions of animals every day? This indifference towards animal suffering, which is perpetuated by the same people who would go to great lengths to alleviate, say, the suffering of a companion animal, is indeed ironic.
To observe otherwise decent people turn a blind eye to animal suffering and to accept the lie that is our sanitised meat outlets, is an outrage that needs to be questioned.
A justification that is often offered in mitigation is that "animals" are distinguished from "humans", due to their apparently inferior levels of philosophical consciousness.
I plainly reject this reasoning. The fact is that animals are a sentient life form. They share the same sense of pain, both physically and emotionally, as humans, with the same survival and freedom-pursuing instincts that we have. They have an acute sense of pain, and are able to perceive danger. Although they are less intelligent than their human counterparts, intellect alone can never negate senses of anguish or suffering. Society would never tolerate the torture, incarceration or the killing of our learning-disabled people. Every mainstream religion and modern civilisation professes peace, compassion and the respect for life. Why then the absurdity of selective compassion?
When the delivery of physical and psychological trauma to one life form becomes acceptable, the boundaries soon blur, and it is not long before that process of desensitisation spills over. Perhaps it is all about conditioning, a process that normalises our responses to aspects of brutality. To be conditioned to accept the ravages of battery farming, sow stalls, vivisection and the intense suffering inflicted by our slaughter processes is an aberration that can only lead to contempt for all forms of life. This conditioning compromises our appreciation of the realities of suffering around us, and is further propagated by the ruthlessness and vested interests of those who profit from it. The internecine human strife, ethnic violence, sweat shops, abuse and killings worldwide are due to a multitude of factors. However, our acceptance and tolerance of a system that condones torture and bloodshed, in any form, must be a major contributing factor.
It is crucial for all genuinely civilised and compassionate people to question the status quo. It is a sickness and hypocrisy that is driven by a sophisticated system, a system which needs to be challenged because it thrives on our apathetic compliance.
It is imperative for every one of us to make a resolute effort to reduce this abundant suffering, in whatever capacity our circumstances allow us. Voicing platitudes about decency and compassion with a mouthful of meat that is the end result of unimaginable misery, is hypocrisy.
For peace or harmony to prevail, we need to get back to basics. For our lives to be genuinely fair, decent, and humane, the fundamentals are critical. Selective compassion, and the two-facedness this represents, ought to be recognised, even if it is only within our own lives. The question is not whether we are oblivious to animal suffering, but whether we choose to be so! This is a cardinal issue which society needs to address, because genuine civilisation can only have as its basis an honest foundation.
Printed with permission by SAFE (NZ), http://www.safe.org.nz