Following the PRIME TIME special, many of us may be wondering what are the roots of human cruelty to animals? How far back does it go?
Cruelty for the sake of human survival & social reproduction – hunting – is very ancient. Hunting pre-dates humans and was practiced by Neanderthals, Homo Erectus, & possibly Heidelbergensis and even Austhralopiticenes – millions of years ago.
Hunting is a complex activity which involves detailed planning & co-ordination and implies a high level of social organisation. Many anthropologists and archaeologists believe that it played a crucial role in the evolution of modern human behaviour and it seems likely to me that they are right to some degree at least.
If we are being honest we will recognise these millions of years of ancestral hunting – during which many large mammals were hunted to extinction – as a phase of necessary and even inevitable human cruelty towards animals.
But it’s likely too that since such a strong connection between surviving and killing animals was forged over such a long duration that the pleasure some humans feel in dominating animals also came about during this period.
Disturbing as the thought of hunting might be to some of us, it is infinitely less cruel than the slaughterhouses or the battery farms of industrial humanity.
Besides we no longer need to eat animals – and only for the billions in profit made by beef barons and the like, we would be able to move on from it. One of the ways in which we need to change our world is to move away from meat dependancy – for the sake of the planet as well.
When it comes to greyhounds chasing hares for our entertainment though we are witnessing a different and entirely uneccessary & inexcusable form of animal cruelty – the cruelty of sport & spectacle.
Nomadic humans – that is humanity for 99.8% of its history did not keep animals for the sake of sadistic human entertainment. This recent phenomenon is a by-product of the rise of agriculture, the domestication of animals, the consequent growth of cities (the physical seperation of the masses from nature), and the rise of early empires.
Most notoriously, the Romans cleared much of Northern Africa of large mammals, including lions and elephants, for the sake of mass-spectator cruelty. In one infamous slaughter, for example, 600 lions were put to death in front of tens of thousands of spectators in the Coliseum. Such cheered-on mass killings were common for hundred of years.
But not everybody even then agreed with them & even the crowd that came to witness and enjoy sometimes had second thoughts. Here is Cicero, the ancient world’s most famous lawyer reporting an outbreak of empathy in the crowd witnessing a mass slaughter of elephants:
“The last day was that of the elephants, on which there was a great deal of astonishment on the part of the vulgar crowd, but no pleasure whatever. Nay, there was even a certain feeling of compassion aroused by it, and a kind of belief created that that animal has something in common with mankind.”
We saw the other night that greyhounds, like all other animals, have much in common with mankind – they are flesh and blood emotional beings who shit themselves when they are about to be bludgeoned to death – as we all would.
I believe that in Ireland we are ready to move on from the Colisseum and the phenomenon of cruelty to animals for the sake of profit & sadistic human pleasure. Let’s keep the pressure on for an end to the Greyhound racket!