Violence is one of the human characteristics most abhorred and for good reason too. The use of force on other individuals is not only socially unacceptable, but it is also punished by law.
We all tend to agree that violence is not welcome in civilised society but the question is: What do we consider to be violent?
The Maltese public appears to be in consensus that the recent case of a horse getting whipped in the middle of the road in San Ġwann was an act of violence. People have not hesitated in showing their anger, so much so that a protest was immediately organised with the aim of increasing awareness on animal abuse as well as law enforcement in the department of animal protection. The alleged perpetrator has also been arrested and was taken to court where his case is being heard. If found guilty he could face up to a maximum of one year imprisonment and/or a maximum fine of €30,000 if a first time offender or €50,000 for a repeated offender.
So whipping horses is violent, and the law is very harsh on those whipping horses.
But! Were this horse ridden to the slaughterhouse instead of the streets of San Ġwann and had been violated with a bolt gun instead of a whip, the owner of the horse wouldn’t have been in all this trouble. He wouldn’t have been committing a violent act in the eyes of many or the law, he wouldn’t be taken to court and there would be no protests or angry hordes of internet users.
Is the act of killing animals not violent? And do we need to make a distinction between just killing and killing for food? Why do we as a society condone the act of raising animals and taking them to the slaughterhouse to be killed but are enraged beyond our wits when other forms of violence are carried out?
One of the reasons for this double standard is probably the act of hiding the more heinous violence. If animals, including horses had to be killed for food on our streets, many of us who normally don’t think twice before digging in into a meat-feast would indeed start thinking twice. It is convenient both for those profiting from the killing of animals as well as those consuming animal products to build a barrier, both physical and mental between the living and the dead animal.
Another rationalisation of this moral dilemma is that whipping a horse or beating an animal is useless violence but on the other hand animal use for food production is a necessary evil. Were it possible to grow meat, eggs and milk on plants, many would say they’d go for that rather than have animals kept and killed for food but in absence of such magic they’d have to keep to their old habits for self-sustenance and good taste.
While the debate on the necessity to include animal products in ones diet for good health is heavily debatable, now more than ever in human history thanks to the advances in nutritional sciences, the argument of animal products tasting good is not very different from an excuse a sadist would make to justify their antisocial behaviour.
Before you stop reading, I am not calling non-vegans sadists, and this is largely due to the fact that eating animal products is not antisocial behaviour. It is normalised behaviour, accepted and promoted by society. It is what most people grow up doing and what we are thought by our families. The law is also on their side. While acts of ‘animal cruelty’ are very severely punished, killing and keeping animals for food does not constitute crime. As odd as things tend to go, it the opting for a less violent lifestyle which is considered somewhat erratic.
So what is the difference between a vegan and an animal lover who got enraged while watching the video of that horse being whipped? While the similarity between the two is that they both value animal life and abhor suffering, the former does not distinguish between different forms of violence. Violence is absolutely rarely necessary, and not the least bit required for food and entertainment. To decide that one form of aggression is violent because it is of no use or benefit to yourself while another form of cruelty is not violence since it is useful or necessary and will benefit your desires is not only illogical but also verging on the immoral.
Classifying a life’s worth on its use to ones needs is not anymore accepted in the human realm. Maybe in the 21st century it is time to seriously start asking whether speciesism or the inequity between humans and other animal species is a thing of the past which we can learn to overcome both personally and legally, the same way we have learned to overcome other biases we had against humans who have different abilities and look and behave differently to ourselves.