What is a cruel animal

health : Love for animals and human beings: As for animals, as I for you?

"Anyone who is cruel to animals cannot be a good person." With this sentence, the philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer formulated an assumption that is deeply rooted in Western culture: In relation to his fellow creatures, the relationship of man to his equals is reflected. But as a look at the empirical findings shows, this belief bypasses reality - love for animals and human beings are two different things.

Important humanists of past centuries were also avid animal lovers. Both Albert Schweizer and Mahatma Gandhi explicitly associated human and moral sublimity with respect for the animal world. The same basic idea recurs in many contemporary sources, analyzes the veterinarian Elizabeth Paul from the University of Bristol: Those who care about warmth and benevolence for animals also treat their fellows nicely. Cruelty to animals, on the other hand, goes hand in hand with misanthropy and sadism.

However, there has always been a countercurrent that is only faintly audible today. According to this view, people who shower animals with affection are disturbed in the interpersonal sphere. In the Middle Ages one could even suspect witchcraft by dealing too intimately with animals.

Empirical studies in recent years make it clear that the belief in "good people" in the animal lover has become part of the general perception. Passers-by strolling past with a dog were addressed to people much more often. They also reaped more friendly looks and smiles and were classified as "blind" to other people as above-average friendly, happy and relaxed.

However, when defined groups of pet owners were compared with similar groups of non-pet owners, the first inconsistencies came to light. In a survey, it was precisely the animal owners who stood out for their somewhat lower "sympathy for other people".

In another study, dog owners were classified according to low, medium and high affection for their four-legged friends. With this classification, a medium sympathy for dogs was associated with the highest sympathy for humans. Dog owners who felt little or very strong affection for their animals, on the other hand, fell out of their sympathy for people.

The comparison of the social networks of pet owners and non-pet owners is also contradictory. People who keep pets are more likely to have interpersonal contacts. However, a study on older women identified a different trend. The social network was smaller among the animal owners. The author points out that the questions would probably have to be much more nuanced. Which people and which animals do you love, what exactly does the love for the creatures in question look like?

Another approach takes off at the level of society as a whole. According to this thesis, in cultures in which animals are held in high esteem, human life is also valued. Simple agricultural societies, in which animals are only kept for utilitarian considerations, also treat the socially weak poorly. But counterexamples can easily be given.

With the extent to which dogs and cats are kept, for example, the murder rate rose in all industrialized nations. The Nazis turned the thesis on its head even more extreme. Although they caused unimaginable atrocities to people, the Nazis treated animals extremely humanely. Immediately after the takeover of power, an unprecedentedly harsh animal protection law was pushed through. The same sadistic despots who reduced people to subhumans did pioneering work for the welfare of fellow creatures.

Another theory says that an overlap between love for animals and love for human beings comes about through empathy. Those who are susceptible to the suffering of the animal also absorb the suffering of other people with their fine antennae. However, the empirical studies that measured empathy for animals and humans found at most a minor association. A special subgroup, namely that of women, actually shows slightly increased empathy values ​​for animals and people. But even in this particular group, the weak relationship is overlaid by other factors. In women who are pregnant or having children, the affective bond with the fauna recedes.

But at least one aspect of the original assumption is empirically supported. It is an idea that the poet Jean Paul already formulated: "The little animal tormentor grows up into a tough, cruel man." In the late 1970s, during their studies of serious violent criminals and serial killers, the FBI's behavioral researchers found that the cruel acts of childhood and adolescence were often preceded by a propensity for animal cruelty. Strictly speaking, it is the triad of bed-wetting, arson and cruelty to animals that, according to the FBI psychologists, forms the breeding ground for later sadism and that is no longer missing in any thriller about serial killers today.

According to the latest statistics from the US Animal Welfare Association, 94 percent of animal cruelty is perpetrated by male perpetrators. Other figures show that there is a link between continued cruelty to animals and a willingness to use violence against people. 52 percent of all violent prison inmates had acted out their sadism on animals before they thought about their own kind. Of the non-violent prison inmates, only 17 percent had tortured animals.

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