|Ollie, Scully, Brewsky|
Why do I feel more saddened and outraged over the death of a cat in Oregon than I would over a child in Syria? Perhaps it's because I've become hardened by the numerous stories and newscasts I hear about murdered children. Then again, maybe having four cats simply gives me a greater ability to empathize with people whose cats are murdered. Beyond these possibilities, what other factors determine the level of human outrage and grief over the killing of any animal, human or otherwise? Six possibilities come to mind.
(1) Do we like to eat the animal, or the animal's milk or eggs (because bulls don't give milk and roosters don't lay eggs, they're routinely killed)? (2) Did we perceive the victim as belonging to a group that is inferior or threatening? Such factors are why, other things being equal, white people tend to grieve less for black victims, Christians for atheist victims, and almost everyone for rattlesnakes and grizzly bears. (3) Did we perceive the victim to be like us, and did he or she live near us? If yes, we will take the loss more personally, and we'll worry that the same fate will befall us. (4) How similar to our species was the victim's species? Few people have qualms about killing insects. (5) Was the victim cute? The cuteness factor is why people who couldn't kill a bunny can kill a rat despite the fact that rats are more like humans than are bunnies, in ways both flattering and insulting. (6) Was the victim innocent? Innocence only exists in animals and children, but with one major difference: animals live their entire lives in innocence, while children are soon able to choose evil. My belief that cats are innocent—and my own species depraved—probably played a significant role in my reaction.