Who are the animals now?

View From the Paddock: Who are the animals now?


There should be little surprise that societies around the world have tended to prioritise humans over animals for thousands of years.

Trent Thorne, agribusiness lawyer.

Trent Thorne, agribusiness lawyer.

There should be little surprise that societies around the world have tended to prioritise humans over animals for thousands of years.

This preference has been demonstrated in many so-called 'moral dilemma' experiments, which are hypothetical scenarios where the subject has to choose who to save, and who to let perish. Research shows that people consistently prioritise humans in such scenarios, even if the dilemma involves sacrificing many animals to save only one human.

Animal rights activists would say that this is the very definition of 'speciesism', namely the idea that being human is a good enough reason for humans to have greater moral rights than animals.

But when 61 per cent of Australian households live with an animal and 90pc of pet owners think of their dogs and cats as members of the family (according to a 2011 poll), there is no doubt that priorities are changing.

It now seems that valuing animal lives over human ones is no longer a fringe point of view. A recent YouGov poll in the UK found that 40pc of the British public believed that animal lives are worth as much as human ones, compared to 49pc who believe human lives are worth more.

This poll is seemingly evidenced in the 2021 Australian Community's Report, which notes that Australians are currently most motivated to give money to organisations associated with medical and cancer research (the global pandemic is no doubt a major factor in driving this support).

However, animal welfare support sits third on this list, ranking above charities dedicated to disaster response, mental health and domestic and family violence.

It has also been reported that newspaper stories about animal abuse often generate more responses from upset readers than articles about violence directed toward humans.

The recent overwhelming response to US military service dogs potentially being left behind during the evacuation of Kabul was sufficient demonstration of this fact.

As much as I love animals, I find the idea that the life of a cat or a dog or a lion is as important as the life of a human perverse and insulting. I lament the fact that my once mainstream view is growing weaker by the day.

Orwell's oft quoted commandment in Animal Farm, 'All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others' was undoubtedly caustic political satire, but still bang on for mine.

But unfortunately this sentiment increasingly looks to be road kill in the drive for moral expansionism and the inevitable consequence of a society that rewards feelings over facts.

- Trent Thorne, agribusiness lawyer


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