Red Lodge, 9th May
It’s been a month since we’d met up. Easter has passed, and now it is nearly summer. We’re glad to welcome new people to the group, including one very friendly newcomer with a lot of fur, who was the subject of a lot of discussion this week. At the same time, some of our members are ill, so we weren’t quite a full team. We hoped that everyone got better quickly.
We went round and got people’s news. Ben was forced to go first, because usually he just sits back and puts other people on the spot — and how do you like that? So he talked about his grandfather who was a spy in Turkey after the First World War, and how he was doing some research on him, to find out what might have really been going with the missions he carried out. Another member of the group said that their grandfather had been an alcoholic, and their main memory of him was standing outside the ward where he was suffering from delirium tremens (hallucinations from severe alcoholism).
We shared some other news: one of us had been attacked by a pitbull in the park (this person had to have his tail related by someone else, since he couldn’t speak, because he was a dog). Pitbulls are banned in the UK because they are bred for violence. This particular dog, the one which attacked our group member, was apparently only part pitbull, so it’s not been banned but it has been served with an ASBO and cannot come out after certain hours.
We wondered whether a pitbull’s violence was inherent in it, or whether it was possible for a pitbull to be brought up a softy. Members of the group said that this did know of pitbulls which were softies, and that it depended on their upbringing. But what they do have is jaws that lock and can’t be prised open once they get a grip. And that’s what happened to our dog member of the group. (In fact, it seems that pitbulls are not banned in the UK — in fact, it is dogs that look like pitbulls which are banned, since there is no legal definition of a pitbull. See here for some back story.)
This led us back to the question of whether any animals were truly cruel. We recalled the cats, and the sharks, who play with their food before eating it. But we thought that perhaps there was a reason why they were doing this — maybe to make the food taste better — and that would perhaps mean that it was not cruel for a cat to play with a mouse (or shark with seal). So we were thinking that part of meaning of cruelty is that it is inflicting pain without a reason for it. But then another idea came up, whch is that the animals are not inflicting pain for a reason, but that they are just doing it by instinct. A cat plays with a shadow in the same way as it plays with a mouse. And if they are doing it by instinct, then there is no reason for it, and so it does not count as cruel. But what is this? We just said that there has to be no reason for causing suffering if it is to count as cruel. But then we said that there is no reason why an animal causes suffering when it plays with prey, and so that doesn’t count as cruel. But if there is no reason for the animal’s action, isn’t that the definition of cruelty?
We will have to come back to this.
Then Ben got out his stimulus material: a book by Mary Wollstonecroft called A Vindication of the Rights of Women, and an article called ‘All Animals are Equal’ by Peter Singer. More of this later.