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The ‘Animal-Rights’ Community Is Based on Fear and Intimidation

Dawkins recently tweeted about animal intelligence and suffering. My response questioned his statement:

Doubtful animals suffer at all given how algorithmic they are:

— Dennis Hackethal (@dchackethal) July 30, 2021

I responded to Dawkins’ tweet somewhat quickly so it got a fair amount of exposure due to his follower count. At the time of writing, according to Twitter stats, my tweet has gotten 12,427 impressions (i.e., “times people saw this Tweet on Twitter”) and 1,260 engagements (i.e., “times people interacted with this Tweet”). Contrast that with the number of likes my tweet has gotten (19) and you’ll start to see that it wasn’t very popular.

The responses are all worth checking out, but I’ll filter it down significantly.

There were some positive responses. Like this one:

Fun read. Thanks.

— Rich Martin (@richmartin07) July 30, 2021

Or this one:

Interesting argument, even if I don’t agree with your conclusion.

Question: What is, in your opinion, the best argument for the position that non-human animals DO in fact suffer?

— 🔴J. R. (@Der_Prometheus) July 30, 2021

Then there were responses that were aggressive in a socially acceptable way, such as this one:

You’ve clearly never seen a dog suffer from separate anxiety. Or greive the death of its owner. Trust me they are way smarter than us. 😁😃🤗🤩

— Anna (@Annascreativemo) July 31, 2021

(If you’re wondering why it’s aggressive: the part “[y]ou’ve clearly never seen” is an accusation and allegation of ignorance on my part. But it’s done in a way that kind of hides the aggression, especially through the use of friendly seeming emojis at the end. Also, Anna immediately concludes that she knows something I don’t instead of asking me whether I’ve seen a dog suffering from separation ‘anxiety’. I have. Anna basically insinuates that I’m an idiot for not knowing something she does.)

Others displayed their aggression much more openly, to applause (likes) from others:

I like that your name has “hack” in it

— Ben Wittman (@amatueradult) July 31, 2021

Nobody click on that. No telling what viral malware is there. Given that the previous sentence attached to it is garbage i wouldn’t risk it

— AJ King (@JeriousK) July 30, 2021

Are you joking? Literally no accredited biologist/zoologist thinks OTHER animal species (humans are animals too/ there are humans dumber than that dog) lack the ability to feel physical pain.

— . (@BallWw123f) July 30, 2021

This might take the cake for dumbest thing ever tweeted.

— JayW (@theperfectbuzz) August 11, 2021

that is literally the dumbest fucking thing I’ve ever heard. I can’t believe you’re still employed after this tweet.

— Holly (@Holly97703648) July 30, 2021

I engaged with many of the responses I got in an attempt to do problem-solving and truth-seeking with people. Most were only interested in insulting or intimidating me. Of those who did engage in a more civilized manner and discussed for a bit, many still had contempt and disbelief hidden between the lines.

The irony is that many of the people who advocate on behalf of animals say they do it out of compassion. Well, they’re anything but compassionate to people who disagree!

As I received more responses and engaged, three patterns emerged:

  1. They claimed my qualifications didn’t extend to animal sentience
  2. They thought I was ignorant/too dumb to see the ‘obvious’
  3. They tried to coerce me into agreement and submission through intimidation

Some responses, if I recall correctly, were mixtures of two or even all of the above.

The first point is a common but invalid response: it’s the contents of ideas that matter, not their origin or the origin’s qualifications. Not to mention that if I had agreed with them on the same issue, they wouldn’t have claimed that I lack qualifications. What if a luminary zoologist agreed with me? And how do they know that I don’t have what they would count as the ‘proper credentials’? I guess they could google me and find my LinkedIn and see that I’m not an accredited zoologist or whatever, but even then they could be wrong. Maybe early on in my career I studied zoology and just didn’t bother to put it on my LinkedIn because I don’t consider that degree important for what I do now. Or maybe I grew up in a household that knew lots about zoology and my father was friends with the late Konrad Lorenz who came to visit often to discuss animal sentience. Who knows? Who cares?

The second point is, unfortunately, all too common also. As another example:

Don’t see how you get from premise to conclusion.

In any case…
I’ve seen cats and dogs clearly exhibit pain.
I have no doubt they cry, howl and limp with it.

— iDaveMac (@iDaveMac2020) July 30, 2021

I’ve heard other arguments along the lines of: say you cut a puppy’s paw off, it cries out in pain, clearly it’s conscious, right? Clearly it is.

No, not necessarily. I pointed this out:

Like how people “clearly” saw the sun revolving around the earth and had no doubt that was the case?

— Dennis Hackethal (@dchackethal) July 30, 2021

There really was a time when people declared anyone who doubted that the sun was revolving around the earth crazy and too dumb to see the obvious. After all, they only had to open their eyes and see that the sun was up there, circling the earth! During daytime they could point right to the sun as evidence. It was right there, plain as day. And yet, no matter how plain they thought it was to see, no matter how sure they were, no matter how dumb they thought dissenters were, they were wrong.

Truth-seeking is difficult, not easy. Thinking that something is ‘clear to see’—that the truth is manifest—can be the source of fanaticism, as the philosopher Karl Popper wrote:

The theory that truth is manifest—that it is there for everyone to see, if only he wants to see it—this theory is the basis of almost every kind of fanaticism. For only the most depraved wickedness can refuse to see the manifest truth […].

Karl Popper, Conjectures and Refutations, 2002, Routledge, Abingdon, p. 11

From here, it’s only a small step to point 3: coercing dissenters into agreement and submission through intimidation:

I don’t think so.
In fact I’m not sure I follow the analogy.

I don’t think any pet owner has ever been in doubt.
You’d have to be heartless.

— iDaveMac (@iDaveMac2020) July 30, 2021

You’d have to be heartless.” (emphasis mine) Another example (not a response to my tweet):

Frankly,if you can look at his face (eyes,expression etc) and not SEE the HORRENDOUS suffering..there is sth VERY wrong with your ability to read faces -human or animal.(Whether of course you then care about his suffering is another matter entirely)

— Sophie (@Soph8B) June 15, 2021

“[…] there is sth VERY wrong with your ability to read faces […]” (emphasis again mine)

Most people don’t want to be heartless. They don’t want to be perceived as such either. They don’t want anything to be wrong with them. So, out of panic, they may agree. What iDaveMac and Sophie employ is the argument from intimidation, as explained by Ayn Rand:

There is a certain type of argument which, in fact, is not an argument, but a means of forestalling debate and extorting an opponent’s agreement with one’s undiscussed notions. It is a method of bypassing logic by means of psychological pressure … [It] consists of threatening to impeach an opponent’s character by means of his argument, thus impeaching the argument without debate. Example: “Only the immoral can fail to see that Candidate X’s argument is false.” … The falsehood of his argument is asserted arbitrarily and offered as proof of his immorality.

It’s not impossible that iDaveMac and Sophie were themselves pressured into caring for animals. If that is the case, I suspect that underlying their specious arguments is what David Deutsch calls anti-rational memes. Skipping some, Rand continues:

The essential characteristic of the Argument from Intimidation is its appeal to moral self-doubt and its reliance on the fear, guilt or ignorance of the victim. It is used in the form of an ultimatum demanding that the victim renounce a given idea without discussion, under threat of being considered morally unworthy. The pattern is always: “Only those who are evil (dishonest, heartless, insensitive, ignorant, etc.) can hold such an idea.”

In short, animal-rights advocates often argue from intimidation and invoke manifest truth by claiming that only the immoral could fail to see that animals clearly suffer. Fear and intimidation—not compassion—are the two main tactics used against dissenters to turn them into new recruits, who then employ the same tactics.

There’s actually important overlap between animal-rights advocates and me. I, too, think that if animals are conscious they shouldn’t be harmed. This is an agreement they do not share with the vast majority of people who do believe animals suffer but that, at the same time, it’s okay to harm and eat them anyway.

I welcome the opportunity to discuss with an animal-rights advocate who does not employ fear tactics. If that’s you, leave a comment below.


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What people are saying

Another attempt at intimidation in the context of bullfighting:

#84 · dennis (verified commenter) · on an earlier version (v1) of this post

In case “Fear and Intimidation” sounds like an unnecessary repetition: fear keeps people caring for animals, intimidation recruits people.

#102 · dennis (verified commenter) · on an earlier version (v1) of this post

Regarding “say you cut a puppy’s paw off, it cries out in pain, clearly it’s conscious, right? Clearly it is”, I just stumbled upon this comment on Elliot Temple’s blog quoting a “TCS [Taking Children Seriously] leader”:

But what if the dog is howling and yelping? Can’t we be sure it is expressing displeasure – telling us that it does not want to do this, for example? No. Plenty of people howl and yelp doing things they want to do. Look at masochists. Look at various sportsmen. Look at me when I am trying to edit an article: I moan and groan and howl in a most alarming way (I’m told) – but still I am doing something I really want to do.

I don’t think there is such a thing as what a dog wants (in the sense of having individual intentions arising out of its own free will), but if there were, I don’t think there would be any justification for assuming that it wants, for instance, to have a minimum of pain, any more than human beings always do. Human beings choose painful options over non-painful options all the time, and I am not just talking about masochists. It depends on whether the painful option seems better.

#145 · dennis (verified commenter) · on an earlier version (v1) of this post

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