Vegan ethics

Why animal cruelty videos aren’t converting people to veganism

We’ve all come across animal cruelty videos on the internet and despite their initial appeal to our deepest and most compassionate emotions, feelings of guilt and sympathy seem to quickly fade away. Most of us tend to know where our food comes from, yet the animal farming industry has so perfectly ingrained the normality of it into our stream of thought that a perceived ‘ordinary practice’ will overshadow an expected compassion or feeling of justice. However, after researching the effects of violence that dominates the entertainment industry, a parallel between our tolerance to graphic images/videos and our ignorance towards animal cruelty became apparent.

I remember initially questioning the ethics of consuming meat when I came across a video that was aimed at exposing KFC’s ‘secret practices.’ At the time, I was around 12 years old and was convinced that KFC was the only company that mistreated animals for food. Even though I continued to consume animal products, I refused to eat at KFC as I didn’t want to contribute to 4fb-chicken-on-their-way-to-being-slaughtered-cruelty-in-factory-farms.jpga food chain that treated animals in such brutal ways. Yet, whilst boycotting KFC for their brutal methods of sourcing chicken, I didn’t question the ethics of consuming animal products as a whole. Little did I know that KFC was not the only company that exerted animal cruelty , whereby animals are confined in cages that are barely large enough to provide adequate mobility or oxygen.

There has been a recent initiative by ‘Animal Equality,’ an international animal equality organisation, where they aim to visually portray the brutality that goes on in the animal farming industry. The organisation set up a project, under the name of ‘I Animal,’ where viewers are exposed to Virtual Reality (VR) footage of what the inner walls of animal slaughter houses contain. I thought it would be interesting to see whether people actually act on the basis of their emotions, or whether theiCdpjC6JW4AE6DmQr societal preconditioning and constant exposure to graphic footage is strong enough to override any initial feelings of guilt or compassion. It came as no surprise that the world we live in is so flooded with brutal footage; ranging from images of war and national disasters, to horrors movies, graphic novels, and the highly controversial side effects of video games that consist of shooting challenges and constant killings.

Ever since I became involved in international animal liberation movements, I regularly see people share animal cruelty videos on social media; on their Facebook profiles, Twitter, Instagram, Reddit… you name it. It’s a shame to think that by the end of it they probably end up creating more hostility than what was initially, because despite their intentions of trying to end the suffering of others, people will immediately raise their defence barriers. In most cases they may even end up being unaffected by such videos or images.

For the most part, when people view videos of animal cruelty or any equivalents to what documentaries such as Cowspiracy, Earthlings, or even the VR clips shown by ‘I Animal’ highlight, they’re expectedly left in a degree of shock. This is especially the case if they’re caught off guard whilst scrolling through their social media, or on the high street when approached by animal equality groups. Either way, the immediate effects of the footage is encouraging, even by merely observing the horrified reactions of viewers once they remove their VR googles for example. However, these feelings of remorse are not sustained, as viewing brutality does not create a link between our actions and their incompatibility to justice. Unless the individual has researched the societal conditioning behind our actions and the effects they have on other animals, human beings, and the environment, then for the majority of the population will continue with their “routine.”

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Research conducted by the American Psychological association in 2015 demonstrates a consistent relation between violent video game usage and increases in aggressive behaviour. [1] As a result, such effects led to a direct decrease in empathy and sensitivity to aggression. Therefore when adapting this for footage of animal cruelty, if humans have become accustomed to tolerating violence in video games, TV shows, movies, or even live footage of world news, why do we expect people to sympathise with animal cruelty? Doesn’t it just become another scene of violence in a highly graphic society?

Similarly, a study by clinical paediatrics presented findings linking extensive encounters with aggressive media footage to desensitisation. [2]  Desensitisation can have positive effects in enabling individuals to tolerate certain fears, such as the dark, heights, or even clowns; however when it comes to animal cruelty (including human cruelty), such desensitisation becomes dangerous as human beings become stripped away from their instinctively compassionate feelings. You hear people complaining about feeling lonely or disconnected with others around them, which is even more daunting in larger cities such as London, where thousands of people could be standing next to each other in the underground, yet they rarely reach out to connect with others around them.

Regardless of whether you’re an avid gamer, or a corporate lawyer who boasts about the struggles of a five and a half hour sleeping pattern, whilst still maintaining a family of three thriving children and a content wife- you cannot avoid absorbing violent footage throughout your day. Whether it’s the ten minutes of breaking news that you watch during lunch, or the newspaper article you read on the train back to work, or even an advert showcasing the trailer of a new highly rated thriller- our threshold for the amount of violence that our mind tolerates is nonetheless expanded.

pigs-in-factory-farmWhat appears to be even more worrying is when Dr. Grafman pointed out ‘that normal adolescents will feel fewer emotions over time as they are exposed’ to more and more content containing graphic footage of violence. [3] As pointed out by a BBC article, such consequences can lead to social problems amongst individuals as they find it harder to connect with others on an emotional level.[3] Therefore, if individuals are unable to stimulate compassionate feelings towards other human beings, then it becomes even harder to compel them to feel compassion towards other species in the animal kingdom.

Coming from the perspective of someone who has consciously chosen to not consume any animal products for nearly 3 years, it is understandable to feel obliged to expose the brutality of the animal farming industry to others around me. If another human, or an animal that is labelled as a ‘pet’ by society was being treated in such brutal manners, we’d never hear the end of it. For example, most of my Facebook friends share petitions against China’s practices of consuming dog meat every year, as they’re horrified by the thought that anyone would ever injure an animal for food.

However, it’s important to break through the illusion that some animals are designed to be slaughtered and some to be loved, as this reinforces a fragile double standard that exists within a frame of ignorance. The independent posted an article comparing the approximate 10,000 dogs and cats that are killed (per year) at the Yulin Festival  in China, with the 1.9 million animals that are slaughtered (per month) in the UK. [4]

Considering that most of us love and appreciate people who surround us in life, we therefore also recognise the goodness in their hearts and the kindness they show to us and others around us. The confusion therefore arises when they fail to reflect their traits of creating and maintaining positive human connections with all animals on earth.

Consumers are not the only ones whose threshold of pain has expanded, as employees working in animal slaughterhouses are affected. It would be understandable for the average person consuming meat and dairy to ignore, or overlook the consequences of their purchases that fund such practices. Animal products are sugarcoated through their concealment in supermarket packaging. Whereas employees working in animal farms are more consciously responsible for their actions’ impact on the lives of other sentient beings.

Things become even more worrying when looking into the recreational associations of violent footage. According to an article composed by several PhD researchers, it was highlighted that violent media consumption is used by many as a  “reward,” or a way of unwinding after a long. [5] As much of an exaggeration as this may be, when individuals view violence as part of their leisure time, then it is only logical to expect them to blank out an emotional connection with animal cruelty.

However, societal conditioning is not the be-all and end-all of how we act, as the world has already seen a 350% increase in the amount of people who identify as vegan over the past ten years, an astonishing and inspiring percentage for the movement as a whole. [6] Also, contrasting the downsides of graphic footage, social media is probably the fastest growing mechanism of increasing awareness and connecting with like minded people. Whilst acknowledging the difficulties in conveying the effects of our consumption on others, social media still projects awakening sources of recognising the consequences of our actions, which can in turn provide the means required to improve one’s lifestyle choices.

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______________________Sources used: __________________

[1] American Psychological Association, “APA Review Confirms Link Between Playing Violent Video Games and Aggression,” 2015, <http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2015/08/violent-video-games.aspx&gt;

[2] Strasburger, V, & E Donnerstein, “The New Media of Violent Video Games Yet Same Old Media Problems?” in SAGE journals, 53, 2014, 721-725.

[3] BBC News, Health “Violent images ‘boost teenage aggression,” 2010, <http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-11570090&gt;

[4]Nagesh, A, “Disgusted by the Yulin dog meat festival? Then our meat industry should horrify you”. in The Independent, , 2015, <http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/protest-against-the-yulin-dog-meat-festival-but-dont-forget-the-19m-animals-who-are-brutally-10336898.html&gt;.

[5] DeLisi, M, M Vaughn, D Gentile, C Anderson, & J Shook, “Violent Video Games, Delinquency, and Youth Violence: New Evidence, in Youth Violence and Juvenile Justice (YVJJ)” in SAGE Journals, 2, 2012, 132-142.

[6] Marsh, S, & G readers, “The rise of vegan teenagers: ‘More people are into it because of Instagram’”. in the Guardian, , 2016, <https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2016/may/27/the-rise-of-vegan-teenagers-more-people-are-into-it-because-of-instagram&gt; [accessed 21 April 2017].

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