Humanimal – Are Humans Instinctive Sadists? 2

Daily life of the vegetarian #15

THE HOLIDAY SEASON – that is, over Christmas and New Year – is traditionally when the media in New Zealand gets really, really silly.
It’s mainly because local journalists are having their annual holidays, along with everyone else (except for poor working class sods who have to do menial jobs that never go away), so a lot of news just doesn’t happen.
So, in the place of the usual local stories, we get a plethora of silly season stuff, including a higher than batting average number of silly animal stories.

This is a turtle. Could you intentionally run him over?

This is a turtle. Could you intentionally run him over?

But one of them this year was rather sobering, and made me feel rather angry and depressed, because it faced me with something I knew about my species, but repress from my ‘hard drive’, for reasons of sanity.
It was a story about an American student who carried out a simple experiment: he placed a realistic-looking rubber turtle on the road at a busy intersection to see how drivers would react.
In the first half hour, he watched seven drivers deliberately run over the turtle, and several others try to run it over, but miss.
The student had decided to conduct his experiment to find out how the rare box turtle crosses roads, and whether there was a way to help the species do so more safely.
What he witnessed was, as the story said, “the dark side of human nature.”
A university psychology professor was interviewed for the story, and said that he had asked a class room of 110 students how many of them had ever intentionally run over a turtle, or been in a car with someone who did, of which an astonishing 34 of them raised their hands.
This sobering story took me back to the days of my youth, in Hamilton. Back in the ‘70s, the city was a boring place for adolescents and teenagers, with little to do for recreation except find a parental drinks cabinet, hang around menacingly in Garden Place (a park slap-bang in the middle of the city), and race around in old bombs (cars, that is). Often, intoxicants were combined with menace and cars, and I remember being a passenger in a car of youths where the sport that particular night was to run over as many hedgehogs as possible. I never went out cruising with those kids again, but I was aware from playground chat that squashing hedgehogs (or any other available animals) was a common form of entertainment.
Over the years, I have witnessed a number of incidents in which people have either thoughtlessly, or purposely and sadistically run over or tortured animals. I guess it’s one of the things that got me thinking about other species when I was an adolescent, and led to my own vegetarianism a few years later. (I have also witnessed sadism directed at members of my own species – another trait that’s also highly disturbing, but that’s another story).
It tarnished my view of my own species, and made me feel a kinship for so-called animals, none of whom habitually practice sadism or wanton violence against their own kind or other species, except for the most practical of purposes: food.
Just before I saw this story, I had watched a documentary about chimpanzees, and it showed how every now and then, these very human-like monkeys will, for no other reason than that they enjoy it, go on a hunting spree where they maim, torture, kill and eat other apes. I couldn’t help thinking how similar their behaviour was to humans, and I couldn’t help feeling the same distaste for chimpanzees that I do for humans, as a species.
Sometimes I wonder if humans (and some other types of apes) are so attracted to violence because they’re uniquely aware of themselves, can feel the fear of knowing that they exist without ever knowing why (existential angst?), and just want to take that fear out in anger at all those species that seem purpose built and unencumbered by that type of consciousness.
I don’t know. But whether it’s intentionally running over turtles or hedgehogs, or worse, something basic has got to change in our mindset and our moral being before we can move towards anything really great as a species. GARY STEEL

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2 thoughts on “Humanimal – Are Humans Instinctive Sadists?

  • Emily McDonald

    I enjoyed your article. I had a similar experience witnessng the horrors of farming in NZ; dead bobby calves piled at the entrance to a farm in Otorohanga at spring time. I was told by a student, “It had to be done”. I was reminded of the nazis guards at Auschwitz, same mentality. As a result, for the first time I became aware of the appalling suffering involved in factory farming to sentient beings and it started me on the road to vegetarianism.

  • Gary Steel Post author

    Thanks, Emily. I would love to see some articles from people who have experienced life on farms in NZ, or elsewhere. Anyone out there keen to write a piece about animals on NZ farms, based on real experience?