On 21 July 2006, a blogger for GEARI (Group for the Education of Animal-Related Issues) expressed typical outrage:
The blogger's wish was that the punishment of the mouse torturers should fit the crime. The teenagers were basically demonised and the possible reasons for their actions were not further analysed or contextualised, as though the teens were social aberrations. Nor was counseling suggested for the teens.
Although their malice seems undeniable and reprehensible, the teens were taking widely held assumptions of animals and humans to their logical conclusion. These include the assumptions that humans are superior to all other animals and that animals are mere means to human ends. After all, the teens bought the mouse in a pet shop, and so it was their property to do with what they liked. The assumption that animals are mere property underlies much of animal experimentation, parts of the clothing industry, the use of animals for entertainment and the meat and dairy industry. The way animals are treated in these industries is sometimes as bad or even worse than the way the mouse was treated by the teens. Anyone who doubts this should watch the documentary Earthlings or any footage of fur farms. Indeed, the scale on which these industries of systematic cruelty operate beggars the imagination. They are hidden from public view precisely to avoid massive public outrage and their presentation on mass media is highly censored.
In their defence, the teens could have argued that they were merely acting according to norms that adults and society had inculcated in them. The incident should have provoked not just outrage but also reflection by everyone on their own complicity in animal abuse and suffering. Instead, the teens were symbolically sacrificed as scapegoats for the sins and collective guilt of the community.
Interestingly, the outrage expressed by the community, suggests the following about unconscious human motives:
- Compassion for the suffering and death of the mouse is an impulsive reaction inherent to most people;
- People implicitly recognise the inherent rights of animals not to be tortured and not to be killed for trivial reasons (no matter what their stated claims about animal rights may be). This means people do, in fact, unconsciously assume that animals have inherent rather than merely instrumental value.
By reflecting on these inherent and unconscious human attitudes, impulses and beliefs, we can help to create the moral basis for a more humane and compassionate society. By failing to reflect and to act on our better nature, we remain complicit in industries of animal exploitation.