In the episode “Men Against Fire” in season three of the popular series “Black Mirror“, it was gruesomely shown how humans can be programmed to do cruel things. Soldiers willingly agreed to have implants integrated into their bodies that made them see ordinary people (including kids) as zombies and kill them mercilessly. The implant was created as a tool of control and a way to keep soldiers from hesitating to act when faced with the “enemy”. One soldier begins to feel guilt and empathy after his implant is hacked because he saw that he was killing innocent people and that it was wrong.
Although it is, of course, a science fiction story, a parallel can be drawn between these implants and the programming that is systematically carried out on people through the media. What programs are “implanted” in our minds by the media and the meat industry through their marketing campaigns, so that people see food while looking at wonderful animals? Just as the soldiers in the movie see creepy zombies instead of people because of the implants, it is considered perfectly normal by people to deprive animals of their freedom, torture them, kill them, and serve their bodies for lunch. Animals are like zombies that need to be eliminated because the program in our head says so.
Main justifications for killing animals
From early childhood, these implants are installed in people’s minds and block empathy and critical reason, so that people can exploit and kill animals without any remorse. One of their biggest manipulations is convincing people that torturing, killing, and eating animals is completely natural, necessary, and normal. Doctor Melanie Joy writes about justifying unethical behavior in her book “Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows”. These three ways of justifying violence are present in all forms of exploitation systems, from African slavery to the Holocaust, and they are so integrated into our social consciousness that they control human behavior, depriving us of any form of critical thinking.
Thanks to the justification of violence, people do not feel guilt, discomfort, or moral responsibility while torturing and killing innocent beings. Having a good excuse is like an anesthetic for the guilt that would otherwise hurt a lot. The role of “implants” is to disable people to empathize and think critically by convincing them that animals were created with the purpose of serving man.
Deindividualisation of animals
One of the ways in which humans dull empathy toward animals is by deindividualizing them, which means avoiding observing the animal as an individual but rather as a group that has common characteristics. In her book, Dr. Melanie gives an example of a worker in the meat industry who states that he does not perceive animals as individuals because otherwise, he would not be able to do his job of killing them. Thinking about animals as individuals requires establishing a more personal relationship with them, which means acknowledging that they have their own characteristics and habits.
When you think of cows raised for burgers or chickens raised for nuggets, you don’t think of them as individuals with their own personalities and preferences. In the children’s book, “The Not-So Crazy Cow“, a cow who enters a restaurant to eat realizes that she is immediately perceived as food and not as a guest. When she is later crossing the road, a driver honks at her, saying: “Move it, burger!”, thus stripping her of her individuality.
As Dr. Melanie Joy notes: “Like other groups that have been victims of violent ideologies, pigs raised for meat may have numbers rather than names and are considered no different from one another; a pig is a pig and all pigs are the same”. In the children’s book “The Pig Who Made It Big”, which is about an intelligent, emotional and social pig named Stella, the pig was in total shock when she realized that people only saw her as a pork chop instead of as an individual, unlike the dog in the story.
Abstraction of meat products
What would happen if advertisements for burgers, nuggets, and sausages realistically showed what was in the package and put a photo of a cow, chicken, or pig, wrote its name, and mentioned some of its characteristics, in short, if the product was individualized and not abstracted? Generally speaking, it would be difficult for people to eat an animal that they have become familiar with or have personified. If humans were to observe animals as individuals, like they do their pets, it would make it more difficult to emotionally and psychologically distance themselves from the animal, which is necessary in order to consume them.
Modern technology used in the meat industry has enabled the killing, shredding, and processing of billions of animals per day, thus turning them into objects of production. As never before in history, man as a consumer is involved in killing animals without having to directly participate in it at all. On the other hand, many butchers do not bother to hide traces of the crime; they sell whole pigs or hang their legs from their shop windows, which makes some customers uncomfortable and reminds them that pork chops did not fall from Mars. What’s even scarier is that despite this, there are still customers who willingly eat corpses and parts, referred to as “offal”, which is a term that further distances them from what (or who) they are actually eating.