Cognitive dissonance and animal abuse: Get over it

You can help rescue and rehabilitate animals in your area. Here's the contact for getting involved in Taiwan:
By Hannah Hornsby / Special to The Wild East

I care about animal rights. I have several furry rescued animal companions. I’m also vegan, so it’s pretty safe to say that I care about what happens to animals. Most times I surround myself with like-minded, hippie-esque, eco-friendly, herbivorous friends and try not to be bothered by the behaviors of others who think…. differently. (I’m trying to be nice here, bear with me).

Recently, however, I came across something that really upset me and made me think about just what it is that makes humans justify their mistreatment and abuse of animals. A person posted in a facebook ‘swap shop’ page that he was selling illegal wine made from tiger bone. That’s right, Chinese medicine made from animals that are endangered and supposedly protected.

It was painfully obvious that the person is of low intelligence, not only because he was selling something that has no scientific evidence to support its claims of health benefits, but also because you don’t have to have much of an IQ to know that if you engage in illegal activities it’s probably not wise to share that information with the public. But I digress.

What bothered me most, however, was this person’s attitude towards his actions.

Several fellow facebook animal rights activists were quick to comment on his post, reminding him that the sale of such an item is both illegal and immoral, but he just could NOT accept that by trying to sell such an item he was endorsing continuance of the killing of tigers necessary to create such a product. After a barrage of, “I didn’t kill the tigers, just found myself with an antique I want to sell,” and, “Collectors might be interested,” comments, it became painfully aware that this person truly was deluding himself. To quote another Facebook responder, “It’s like saying I don’t kill sharks, just eat the shark fin soup.” Of course, there were less polite analogies, but I will leave those out for the sake of brevity.

Cognitive dissonance is defined by Wikipedia as, “the discomfort experienced when simultaneously holding two or more conflicting cognitions: ideas, beliefs, values or emotional reactions.” The person selling the wine was trying to justify trying to make a profit, and a large one at that based on his asking price, by saying that he was innocent in the killing of the tigers, did not purchase the wine himself, and, therefore, was at best opportunistic.

Here’s another wikipedia quote to further explain how cognitive dissonance works:

“Cognitive dissonance theory explains human behavior by positing that people have a bias to seek consonance between their expectations and reality. …. people engage in a process termed “dissonance reduction”, which can be achieved in one of three ways: lowering the importance of one of the discordant factors, adding consonant elements, or changing one of the dissonant factors. This bias sheds light on otherwise puzzling, irrational, and even destructive behavior.”

Basically, we shape our thoughts to suit our needs. Everyone does it on some level. We justify behavior x by saying that we need y. Spend too much shopping? Well, you deserve a break. Keep smoking? Not your fault, it’s an addiction. Blah, blah ad infinitum. Normally, this kind of behavior is just trying to rationalize away things that we know we shouldn’t do, but do anyways. We don’t want to blame ourselves, so we make the actions themselves seem less harmful.

There is, however, a big difference between rationalizing buying a new cell phone and justifying the murder and possible extinction of animal species so that you can get a hard on. Or clear up that pesky acne. Whatever. You’re still an asshole.

Living in Asia I have become all too familiar with the fact that animals seem to be treated much less humanely here than they are in the West. No, I’m not saying the West is good and wonderful and we all hold hands, sing kumbaya and shit rainbows (the person on Facebook is, in fact, an American and generalizations are just that, general).

Living in Asia, however, said foreigner apparently thinks he can get away with behavior that would not be taken lightly in his own country, behavior that would result in serious fines and jailtime were he in his own country. Taking advantage of another country’s cultural beliefs for your own benefit is just plain wrong. If you know something is illegal in your own country, agree it is illegal, but try to exploit it for personal gain, then you are an asshole. Period. I’m not Dunkin’ Donuts and going to sugarcoat it for you. It is what it is.

Asians are famous for the destruction of animals for Chinese medicine. This is not something new. Why? Well, I have a theory about that, as well.

I think that Asians tend to care less about the environment than Westerners because they have less interaction with it. Again – not trying to make it an ‘us’ vs ‘them’ issue, but I think it is fair to say that the average Asian spends less time outdoors than their Western counterparts, has less interaction with animals as a result, and is therefore less likely to see them as beings that share commonality with humans. Maybe it’s a space issue, maybe it’s time related (Asians spend much more time in school than their Western counterparts) or perhaps it’s cultural. I don’t know all the ins and outs, just comment on what I see.

This happens to city-dwellers all over the world as well. We are all losing and abusing our natural environment and resources, spend more time indoors, and place less emphasis on outdoor play and activities. The problem is, the farther something is from us physically, the easier it is to ignore, abuse, and use to our advantage. Out of sight is truly out of mind for the vast majority of people.

So, what can we do to solve the problem? Aside from writing articles, we can get involved. We can educate each other and spend more time outdoors, adopt rescued animals, volunteer, and generally just try to be better humans.

Compassion is just as important towards animals as it is towards people, perhaps even more so in that animals can’t verbalize their needs (well, not in languages people speak), are less protected, and have very few rights. They are exploited, murdered, abused, over-worked, ill-fed, and too often considered as things that exist to appease the needs of humans. This kind of thinking needs to change, but it will only happen when people become involved.

Please, report animal abuse. Don’t buy fur, leather, or other animal products. Don’t use products tested on animals. Learn about the responsibility of having a pet BEFORE you get one. Go outdoors and see the majesty nature offers. Consider a plant-based diet, or at least a reduction in meat intake. Respect the environment and all the beings that inhabit our planet. Doing so cultivates a sense of belonging, community, and eco-responsibility that will make you a better person.

And, most importantly, don’t be an asshole that devalues animals to the point of their extinction.

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