I’ve just finished Dr. Aysha Akhtar’s book Our Symphony with Animals: On Health, Empathy, and Our Shared Destinies. I had seen it referenced in other books I’ve read this year, and assumed reading it would be akin to reading poetry. How I came to that expectation, I’m not sure, but it was most inaccurate; the author writes about animal & child abuse, the deplorable conditions of factory farms, and how violence toward animals is often commonplace for serial killers. The information is vital, the kind of knowledge that each of us should posses, but it’s hard not to wince at the recurrent brutality presented.
If you have men who will exclude any of God’s creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow men. ~St. Francis of Assisi
Dr. Akhtar has examined studies and done her own research on the direct correlation between savagery toward animals and violence toward humans. In the chapter of her book entitled The Making of a Murderer, she describes face-to-face conversations with Keith Jesperson, a man serving life in prison due to the rape and murder of 8 women. Prior to the age of 10, Jesperson’s father encouraged and praised him for killing animals. He estimates that he clubbed to death thousands of gophers, sometimes with his dad laughing & recording the attacks on video. Later, he moved on to strangling and stabbing domestic animals when they didn’t act in accordance to his will, and poisoning a flock of about 50 birds for soiling his truck. Dr. Akhtar’s chilling accounts of these & other stories from Jesperson’s upbringing demonstrate a young mind being primed for murder.
Psychologist Frank Ascione, an authority on the connection between animal cruelty and other violent acts, says animal abuse may be part of the history of between 25% and 66% of hardened criminals. A propensity for violence is common for those carrying out the sanctioned killing of animals, as well. According to the university paper Slaughterhouses and Increased Crime Rates, areas with a high number of slaughterhouse workers have more than twice the problems with crime than areas with none. In her book, Dr. Akhtar shares quotes from past and present employees of slaughterhouses that reveal the extreme attitude of indifference they had to develop during their job of stabbing or beating animals to death. More and more studies are showing that compartmentalizing such apathy is not possible: it spills over into our personal lives.
The worst sin toward our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them: that’s the essence of inhumanity. ~George Bernard Shaw
Animal Clock is an organization that was created to bring attention to the incredible number of animals currently suffering on factory farms. According to their calculations, over 42 billion animals have been killed for food in the US alone so far this year, including over 8 billion chickens, 23 million ducks, 36 million cattle, and 124 million pigs. Dr. Akhtar writes, If there is a trait that truly distinguishes us from other animals, it’s this: No other species is as capable of self-deceit as humans. We ignore what affronts our worldview. We disbelieve what we can’t ignore. We rationalize what we can’t disbelieve. “These things happen. They’re necessary. It’s not as bad as we think.” And most dangerous of all, “it’s normal.”
The animals of the world exist for their own reasons. They were not made for humans any more than black people were made for white, or women created for men. ~Alice Walker, American novelist & social activist
Our empathy is divided: the thought of eating our beloved pets is outrageous, but a slab of flesh from another species is a different story. Many of us still buy products that have been tested on lab rats. We purchase leather items, never pausing to think of the animal who unwillingly donated that skin. It is important to realize all animals are sentient creatures: they love, experience joy, support each other, learn, get excited, mourn, and console as needed. By purchasing meats and other animal-derived products, we disregard their endearing, human-like qualities and cast a vote for continued violence.
Our Symphony with Animals shows that animal abuse is often found along the same path as human brutality. I believe Mahatma Gandhi was spot-on when he said the greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated. Holding ourselves accountable for respecting the lives of all animals could be the panacea for reducing overall violence.
Blessings for Empathy,
The content of this article is for educational and informational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult with a qualified health care professional before acting on any information presented herein. Any statements about the possible health benefits of any subject discussed have not been evaluated by medical professionals or the Food & Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or illness.