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Why Are We so Squeamish?

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This week, I was reading articles about how people can love animals, yet kill them too. The topic was hunting, but it applies similarly to butchers and meat eaters in general (when you're paying someone else to kill the animal and you likely never even saw it alive).

I was astounded by the comments on these articles, one in particular, which I will quote and link.

It's the story of a man who started out as a child who cared greatly for any animal he encountered, giving examples like crying uncontrollably when a lobster was to be boiled alive and eaten, and taking home all sorts of injured wildlife. He said that had PeTA existed, he would have been one of their best allies. As an adult, he moved to America, and became a hunter, and this transformation is the topic of the article.

Below the articles, there are comments like these:

"I honestly wish I could reach a place where I don’t feel physically ill at the thought of animals dying. Just the sight of a chicken truck is enough to send me into a tearful frenzy. At Red Lobster I can’t even look at the lobster tank or I’ll lose my appetite. I recently moved from the city to the country and am constantly confronted with cows standing around in fields oblivious to the slaughter awaiting them. I forsee myself bookmarking this and reading it multiple times to comfort myself when hunting season comes."

"I love animals, just thinking about factory farms makes me no longer want to live in this awful, cruel world yet I still support them because I have a husband and two children to cook for. My husband would never be vegetarian so there isn’t even a point for me to try to persuade him to stop eating meat. He also hunts, he took our 7 year old son hunting last weekend and they shot and killed a buck. This was the first deer my husband has ever shot with my son.

What disturbed me the most out of all of it is my sweet animal loving son was so happy and excited my husband shot and killed that deer. There is a picture of him with a huge smile holding the dead deers antlers up right after the kill. My son has had hamsters his entire life, and believe me they were all spoiled, lived in enclosures way bigger than a typical hamster cage. Hes so gentle with animals, hugs and cuddles them gently, he used to take naps with our dwarf rabbit as a 5 year old. I don’t understand why he is so happy about killing a deer or turkey?
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I really wish I would have never been placed on this cruel world in the first place because my heart stays broken from it all."

"I’m not against hunting for people who grew up with this lifestyle and use the animal for meat. However, it is never a life i wanted to be a part of. I am a wuss and can’t even kill spiders because i end up feeling guilty.. I am trying to see it from my husbands perspective. I just can’t stop imagining him gleefully standing over an injured animal ready to put an arrow through it’s skull. The image haunts me (again remember i am a wuss). It makes me see my husband as less of a man. It makes me see him as someone who takes joy in butchering an animal, not the kind hearted man i fell in love with.

I grew up with a dad whose entire family were avid hunters, but even as a child, he never could stomach it because it was too inhumane in his eyes to be the person who took the light out of that animals eyes. He said the noises they make before they die are absolutely horrible. The fact that wild animals are living happy and free lives outdoors is exactly what makes them so precious. Taking that away from them just seems wrong in my eyes."

Other than these, there were several extremely rude and anti-human comments, telling the author to kill himself, or other similarly horrible things.

Would they ever say that to a wolf or lion, if they could speak? Would they watch a fox kill a rabbit and tell the fox to kill itself? Of course not. That would never happen in a million years, even if they felt sorry for the rabbit.

And this is why I wanted to write this article.

Why are people so squeamish about animals dying?
Why is it especially bad - absolutely indefensible even, in some eyes - when the killer is a human?

I am a young millennial woman from suburban Sweden who has never witnessed an animal hunted or slaughtered in my life, I have no hunters or farmers in my family, and my demographic would make me a pretty good fit for becoming a "bleeding heart vegan". But I didn't.

I was the kid who saved worms from drowning or being run over by cars, who didn't (and still don't) want spiders killed despite my fear and aversion to them. I grew up surrounded by all sorts of animals you can fit into a suburban house (and that my parents would allow - rats were not permitted).

Since around 2011, I have been involved in the animal ethics discussion, especially after I watched Earthlings that year, and believe me when I say I have given this a lot of thought. I have been blogging on animal welfare vs animal rights since 2014, and consumed (no pun intended) everything from Peter Singer, the aforementioned Earthlings, to homestead slaughter YouTube channels, hunters, and more.

I was a vegetarian for a time, and an avid opponent of predator hunting for years (at least where large predators are already in very low numbers, like in Scandinavia).

But the thing itself - killing an animal - I have never had a problem with, and I can honestly say I don't really understand those that do.

Of course we have empathy, it is a very good and natural thing. I as many others, when watching a nature documentary, feel sorry for the elk calf being killed by wolves, or the zebra being taken down by lions.

But then there are people like the commenters above, where you not only have to wonder if they spent a day of their childhood outside a large city, but if they ever even watched a nature documentary at all. Because non-human predators are horrible compared to human hunters and butchers.

An animal has no empathy at all for its prey. It only wants to make a quick kill to avoid being injured by its prey. If the prey is subdued but very much alive and conscious, the predators will feast happily.

Beware, if you click the video above, it is quite graphic, showing a buffalo screaming and thrashing as he is being eaten alive by several lions. According to the one who uploaded the video, it took 40 minutes for the poor buffalo to die.

And as one commenter puts it:

"Our slaughterhouses are like bovine vacation resorts compared to being killed in the wild!"

I could give you countless other examples of how animals in the wild are killed by other animals that are less (and some more) shocking than this, but it would make the article impractically long.

Of course, not all animals die from predation or fights with other animals. Others die from disease, starvation (being too old or weak to hunt if it's a predator, a bad growing season if it's a herbivore, or simply getting old or sick and having their body fail them despite adequate food), accidents (drowning, breaking bones), being eaten alive and overtaken by parasites, or from any number of diseases.

In any case, death in the wild is almost always long, slow and agonizing, lasting from (if they're lucky) many minutes, to hours, days, or months. That's what they don't show you in anthropomorphic Disney movies with talking animals.

If you still think non-vegans don't have compassion or sympathy for animals, take a long, hard look at this photo of a starved old lion. It makes me want to cry. He should have been shot at least a year ago, before he would have to suffer like this. Having him "murdered" by a trophy hunter would have been the sensible and humane thing to do here, and I view anyone who says otherwise with as much disgust as animal rights activists view said hunters.

This is one of my main points of this article - what kind of lives and deaths animals would have without any human interference at all.

Veganism and "farm sanctuaries" (places where livestock are "rescued" from farms or slaughter and live pampered for the rest of their natural lives) are a luxury and temporary "blip" in human history. Ask anyone up until widespread urbanization a couple of generations ago, if keeping cows, pigs and chickens "for fun" and not getting any products out of them would be sensible, and they would think you had just escaped from a mental hospital. The same if you advocated banning the killing and use of animals.

Disclaimer: I have no problem with anyone keeping a cow or other livestock animal as a pet or "rescuing" them. I agree that livestock species need more respect and need to be seen as more than "food on legs". I am simply saying farm sanctuaries are a very recent luxury that will probably disappear with our temporary modern civilization.

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Posters like the one above (made by me for this article) are commonly distributed by animal rights organizations. The idea is that there is no good answer to this, and it is intended as a quick "gotcha", believing they can silence meat eaters with this approach.

But it is actually very easy to explain why we eat one, and not the other.

For one, dogs are carnivores. It is very counter-productive to first have to raise meat animals and slaughter them only to feed the meat to the dogs, so that we can then eat the dogs.
It is also typically much harder to herd and raise carnivores in large numbers than animals like cattle, sheep, pigs and chickens.

And furthermore, no large land predator normally eats other predators. Wolves occasionally kill and eat parts of coyotes and dogs, but it's not their normal diet. Lions don't eat leopards. Leopards don't eat jackals. Like it or not, but herbivorous animals are natural prey for countless species, including humans.

And to finish off this argument, people do eat dogs and cats! Not just today in some parts of east Asia, but your own family probably did, in the 20th century and earlier, if they suffered through a war, famine, or the Great Depression. People had to eat their dogs to survive. It is a relatively new (and western) taboo that one must never eat dog or cat.

As I established in my recent article about hunting, people in rural Africa are very happy to eat lion and leopard, and some hunters in America eat bear and cougar, I have even seen them claim to eat coyote and bobcat. Just because it's not normal to you, doesn't mean it's not normal to anyone.

I put the word "murder" in quotation marks above, because it is a very commonly used word by anti-hunters, vegans, and animal rights activists in general, and it is a word I wish they would stop using. Why? Because you simply cannot murder an animal.

The definition of murder:

Wikipedia: Murder is the unlawful killing of another human without justification or valid excuse, especially the unlawful killing of another human with malice aforethought.
Merriam-Webster: the crime of unlawfully killing a person especially with malice aforethought
Lexico.com: The unlawful premeditated killing of one human being by another.

Manslaughter is not murder, killing in war is not murder, execution is not murder, and abortion is not murder. All of these stand, whether we approve of those practices or not. By those references, killing animals is definitely not murder.

What happens when this word is used in regard to animals, is that the person saying it comes across as not being interested in a discussion or hearing the other side. If they can't talk about a topic without using inflammatory language, an adult debate is not a likely outcome.

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Another thing vegans say is "OUR food processing doesn't require a WARNING to view!", as another "gotcha-argument", which doesn't hold water at all. First, I would wager most people can watch animals being humanely slaughtered, skinned and cleaned with little to no problem. I never needed warnings to watch those videos, even as a child.

Second, lovemaking or having sex requires a warning or age restriction. Does that make lovemaking this horrible, monstrous act that must be stopped? No... so this argument doesn't hold up.


A Final Word

Without human interference in their lives, animals would still die young (the vast majority of them), they would die in pain, they would suffer at times throughout their lives, some less, some in ways we can scarcely imagine. Some would die from congenital conditions as newborns, some would be eaten alive by predators as young adults and die slowly after hours of pain and fear, and some would live to a ripe old age where their teeth rot away and they starve to death.

Nature isn't kind or cruel, it just is.

Humans can be very cruel. But humans can also be very kind.

We are the only predator that can - and does - go to great lengths to prevent suffering in our prey, from birth to death.

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