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Saturday, July 18, 2009

Crushing: a limit on freedom of expression

There is a practice known as 'crushing'. It involves taking videos or pictures of a human being crushing an animal, often a dog or a cat, with heals or some other cruel device. I won't link or post any of these pictures but I'm sure if you look for them you will find them. They are disgusting and heart breaking but freedom of expression is used to defend such practices.

This raises an interesting question. To what extent do animals have rights? Or maybe to put it a better way, how much is the state obligated to protect animals against cruelty? Does John Stuart Mills' harm principle apply to animals? If it does then meat should be banned if it doesn't then these practices are tolerable.

Luckily I don't have to be that black or white about it. Doing a harm to a non-sentient creature is not morally nor should it be legally equivalent to doing harm to a sentient creature. Yet the non-sentient creature is alive and should be afforded greater consideration than a chair or a rock. After all in the case of a fire there is not a fireman alive that wouldn't save a puppy before they would save a chair. So the question becomes to what extent should we give animals consideration.

Torturing an animal to death for pleasure is over the limit. The harm is too great to be tolerable, even if it is just a rabbit.

Posted by Hugh MacIntyre on July 18, 2009 in Freedom of expression | Permalink


Cruelty to animals is an accurate indicator of tendencies to commit cruelty to people. Many infamous serial killers have admitted to starting off by torturing and killing animals.

I've known a few kids, who had sadistic tendencies toward animals, and grew up to be very bad people.

I've often wondered what should be done when you catch a kid stomping baby chicks. You know, in your heart, that kid will grow up to be a monster. Is it better to toss him off a bridge, and protect some future victims? After all, they're only baby chicks.

There was a man in my town, who could have been a poster boy for this issue. When he was only about 7 years old, he'd catch chickens, and rip out all their feathers. When he was about 12, he put a cat in the oven. When he was about 20, he tried to rape my 15 year old sister. When he was 30, he did rape a 12 year old girl, and went to jail. When he was in his 40s, his wife killed him. His own family went to the police, and begged them not to charge her with murder. Think of the pain that could have been avoided, if his dad had been thoughtful enough to knock him on the head. Of course, if my sister had told my dad, most of the problems would have been solved, but I'd be the son of a killer, instead.

Posted by: dp | 2009-07-18 10:47:31 AM

See John Locke or a few others for the details, but short story is that animals cannot have rights, at least not as the originators of the idea defined them.
That said only a sick individual would do any more harm to an animal than is required for self-defense or to eat. At what point society should interced to weed out sick people is complex, but I would tend to put a very high bar on that: i.e. in general let them be assholes and on a personal basis socially isolate them (I would avoid contact with such people). Eventually they will harm a person or their property.
It does seem reasonable that such actions be useful to include during a trial and even to increase the penalties after when they do the same to people: which I understand often happens.

Posted by: V. M. Smith | 2009-07-18 10:53:16 AM

White Ontarians treat animals better than they do non-whites.

Posted by: Zebulon Pike | 2009-07-18 10:53:18 AM

Link Byfield endorsing someone ... does not sound good but I'll not hold it against her: yet :)

Posted by: V.M. Smith | 2009-07-18 10:57:25 AM

Well since I like animals more than most people
I think there should be an "open season" clause on psychopaths who get their jollies torturing animals. But then again I think there should be open season on child molestors and rapists too.
The problem with my line of thinking is where do you stop.....politicians? lol ;-)

I personally believe that everything created by nature has a right to be here. Until it violates the rights of others in any unnatural way.

Posted by: The original JC | 2009-07-18 11:09:37 AM

VM Smith, I think your approach is the most sensible. Some people hunt for their food, and most people wouldn't have a problem with this. But some of those hunters enjoy the kill. Are we to ban them from hunting? No, of course not.

Pike, do you know any white people that you like?

Posted by: TM | 2009-07-18 11:19:04 AM

Both animals and human beings are sentient beings, which does not mean they are the same or equal. We have a responsibility not to treat animals cruelly. To treat animals humanely does not mean we must cease eating meat or raising animals for food, but it does mean that it should be done in a humane manner.

I agree that the concept of "rights" does not, cannot, apply to non humans, but I would say it is rather a matter of our obligation and responsibility to prevent cruelty to animals. For me the difference between the two is very clear and not the least bit grey.

Posted by: Alain | 2009-07-18 11:33:43 AM

Dropping an animal in its tracks for food and torturing it for kicks are two different things.
There's no confusion there. One is moral, the other is not.

Posted by: The original JC | 2009-07-18 11:43:46 AM

Just a comment on a related issue. Why is it that it is so easy to find capital punishment supporters when it comes to killing animals?

Posted by: Timothy Shaw-Zak | 2009-07-18 11:53:19 AM

People killing for food still have a certain level of empathy, where as wolves probably don't. The problem with people who have no empathy, is they have all the other human faults, with no safety valve.

I don't understand how this website gets around existing cruelty laws. People get charged with cruelty to animals all the time. How does this slip through the crack?

Posted by: dp | 2009-07-18 11:57:47 AM

Why is it that it is so easy to find capital punishment supporters when it comes to killing animals?

I'm not sure this is actually a question.
Can you rephrase?

Posted by: The original JC | 2009-07-18 12:16:58 PM

Does this mean I can create Rorschach inkblots with artists and a .45-70, and call it art? If only. I must admit, though, this poses an interesting dilemma for libertarians. On the one hand, they are hawkish when it comes to liberties, tolerating few if any restrictions thereon. On the other hand...eww. I wonder if any of them will now understand why some laws are based on morality; there are some things the majority simply will not tolerate.

Animals are not on a level with humans; why they are sentient, they are not sapient, except perhaps for a few primates and cetaceans whom are largely protected by law. There is nothing immoral in a responsible, sustainable harvest of animals by humans, any more than there is in animals doing it to each other. That said, deliberate and unnecessary ill-treatment of animals is both immoral and unethical. And such treatment says far more about the perpetrator than it does about the animal.

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2009-07-18 1:51:57 PM

dp, if that dirtbag tried to rape your sister when he was 20, I'm frankly surprised you let him reach 30. If you want to deal with a rapist while avoiding a murder two rap, there's a very simple alternative: snip, snip, snip.

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2009-07-18 1:54:10 PM

Shane, your second to last sentence is opnion but I agree with you. The problem is that it is difficult to totally protect an animal from abuse when we eat them and sometimes hunt them. How would we know if one hunter gets his jollies from hunting and killing animals, and another hunter does not?

Society has ways of defining where the line is and also of dealing with the ones who cross it. Beyond that, if they are charged with something worse then their character and history of animal abuse will surely come to bear on their sentence.

dp, your story is very sad indeed. However, I know people who did stupid things to animals but who also grew up to be normal and gentle.

Animal cruelty is an action that is defined by society and even legislation. But the person doing the hurting or killing is not always a cruel person and is not always being cruel.

Posted by: TM | 2009-07-18 2:26:03 PM

Shane- My sister kept it a secret until after the guy was in jail. I suppose she wanted to keep her family out of jail.

Posted by: dp | 2009-07-18 2:58:02 PM

TM- you'd have to define "did stupid things to animals", before I'll believe they grew up to be normal. Putting doll clothes on a cat is stupid, but putting a cat in an oven falls in a completely different category.

Posted by: dp | 2009-07-18 3:01:52 PM

You may actually find this interesting Shane, but I agree with you 100%. Personally I think anyone who abuses animals is a vile and discusting person. I agree with their right to do it. However, as a pet owner and animal lover, I would have no qualms in injuring or killing someone for hurting my cat.

Posted by: Doug Gilchrist | 2009-07-18 3:10:07 PM

Shane, very well put.

I'm curious though...do you mean this sentence to apply to Libertarians?

"I wonder if any of them will now understand why some laws are based on morality; there are some things the majority simply will not tolerate."

I ask because as a Libertarian I base all of my motives and actions on principled morality and I expect the same within the law.

Posted by: The original JC | 2009-07-18 3:18:44 PM

The reason I state that, JC, is because in my experience many of the libertarians on this blog base their views on a very strict interpretation of what they call "natural law," the gist of which is that all are free to do as they please so long as they do no direct harm to people or goods. Among the "liberties" I have seen thus supported are abortion, assisted suicide, drug addiction, reckless endangerment, driving while stoned, and polygamy--all widely regarded as immoral in most societies.

Since wild animals are neither people nor goods, and the "artists" in question presumably crunch only their own animals, "crushing" would appear to pass libertarian muster. So any objection to the practice would derive from other than the libertarian ideals as I have seen them described on this blog.

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2009-07-18 3:32:16 PM

Doug- Would you be so quick to defend someone else's cat? If you "agree with their right to do it", then you probably wouldn't intervene?

Sometimes these libertarian ideas need to be put aside. They leave too much room for dangerous people to exist, unrestrained.

Posted by: dp | 2009-07-18 3:33:59 PM

Is anyone else having trouble posting today?

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2009-07-18 3:47:40 PM

To argue that a person should be free to torture animals is nonsense, since one could also argue that one should be free to torture people they do not like. It is not a question of making animals equal to people, but it is a question of recognising that animals are living, sentient beings and not just a piece of machinery. One cannot divorce freedom and liberty from responsibility; otherwise we are talking about total chaos.

Returning to cruelty to animals I have yet to see a child not so inclined, until he is taught differently. This is how we rise above our basic animal nature. I think there is a correlation between those seeking pleasure in torturing animals and psychopaths. At the other extreme one finds those who consider animal life superior and who deem people as a plague deserving to be eliminated. Neither extreme can be tolerated nor protected by a healthy society.

As for hunters I dispute the suggestion that some take pleasure in torturing their prey, since I have known hunters all my life. They have true respect for nature and what they hunt, which is more than I can say for all the sidewalk urban environmentalists.

Posted by: Alain | 2009-07-18 4:03:59 PM

I wonder if these same people would try their sick actions on a big burly 240 pound biker or cowboy. I'm guessing they would probably run away with their cowardly little tails between their legs.

Posted by: glen | 2009-07-18 4:35:04 PM

Torturing and killing animals for pleasure is beyond the pale. Using them as a resource for meat, leather and such is a vastly different.

Posted by: GeronL | 2009-07-18 5:00:01 PM

So any objection to the practice would derive from other than the libertarian ideals as I have seen them described on this blog.

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2009-07-18 3:32:16 PM

Ok, understood.
I guess I'm not a "strict" Libertarian. I strongly object to this behavior on moral grounds.

Posted by: The original JC | 2009-07-18 5:03:42 PM

JC, unless someone can prove otherwise libertarianism to-day is what (classical) liberalism used to be, which does not seek to divorce freedom and liberty from responsibility. The anything goes attitude is what I call anarchy.

Posted by: Alain | 2009-07-18 5:25:39 PM

Alain, I'm glad I'm not the only one to notice the similarity between libertarianism as professed by some on this board and anarchy.

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2009-07-18 6:23:11 PM

@ Dp "Doug- Would you be so quick to defend someone else's cat? If you "agree with their right to do it", then you probably wouldn't intervene?"

I would be the first to defend someone elses cat. I am trying to say that my cat is my property and I would defend my property to the death. I agree that there should be laws, but am concerned about how far far the state will go when they have the power to make any law they want.

To make my point I will bring up my personal feelings about this to show you where I am coming from.

Q Do I agree with gay marriage?
A I don't care one way or the other.

Q Do I think gay people have the right to get married.

A Yes. Marriage is not only an institution it's also a contract for the redistribution of property between two parties.

Q Should people be able to disagree with gay marriage without being labelled racist homophobes?

A YES, YES, YES. This is a critical answer. In a free society all opinions should be able to be discussed.

Q Should churches be able to refuse to marry gay people?

A Most definately. There is a separation of Church and State. There also should be a separation of State and Church.

Q Should the government be able to abolish gay Marriage?

A This is a big NO. Once it abolishes gay marriage what is next? Left handed people? People with an IQ less than 100? Christians or WASPs?

Posted by: Doug Gilchrist | 2009-07-18 8:52:14 PM

"I personally believe that everything created by nature has a right to be here. Until it violates the rights of others in any unnatural way.-"

I agree with that sentiment.

Animals do not deserve to be treated in this way. If I saw someone hurting a animal for fun, I would stop them. I might even hurt them a little more than necessary to get my point across, and give them a little taste of their own medicine.

Posted by: DrGreenthumb | 2009-07-18 9:13:49 PM

Nice to see people of every political stripe in agreement on this subject.

Posted by: dp | 2009-07-18 9:35:01 PM

Animals don't and shouldn't have "rights".
People should and do have responsibilities.

Laws should outline their responsibilities in regard to animal welfare and humane treatment.

A person who would mistreat an animal would undoubtedly mistreat another human being because of their own lack of empathy.

Posted by: Speller | 2009-07-18 10:37:16 PM

Shane, I don't like to see Libertarians appearing as anarchists to anyone. There is a rather large distinction between the two.

Posted by: The original JC | 2009-07-18 11:19:21 PM

Libertarians are seen as anachists only by control freaks.....
Libertarians are one of the very few policical groups that define in detail why and what government is required by their founding principles.

Posted by: V. M. Smith | 2009-07-19 9:13:57 AM

I won't insist on animals having rights, in fact I've argued against it many times. You can only have as much rights as you are capable of being responsible (which is why children and the mentally handicapped have a different set of rights bundle). I put it in terms of rights because I wanted people to consider if there is something about animals that the state has the right to protect.

I also want to put on the record that I would also use violance to stop someone from doing this to an animal. At the same time I would sacrifice every cat that exists to save one single human life.

Posted by: hughmacintyre | 2009-07-19 11:45:14 AM

As for the property rights issue. It is possible for a person to have property rights over an animal. In fact it is neccesary for farming to be possible. But this does not mean the relationship between the owner/animal is the same as the owner/object. There is a different set of rights bundles attached to an owned animal; this in recognition of the fact that they are living creatures.

Posted by: hughmacintyre | 2009-07-19 12:00:59 PM

As for the property rights issue. It is possible for a person to have property rights over an animal.

Agreed. My Labrador is a part of my family. He gaurds my children and my house and he is a faithful loving companion. God help the person who hurts that dog.
And whether or not animals have rights is, in this case, a moot point. The objection here is to the human factor. What kind of psychopath does this and should they be allowed to walk among us?
I say no.

Posted by: The original JC | 2009-07-19 12:07:04 PM

The problem with sacrificing every cat, to save one human life, is you'd be upsetting an important balance. I get the drift of what you're saying, but without cats, humankind would never have evolved to this level. They made it possible for people to store food, and live in an urban setting.

Dogs made similar contributions, by giving security to tribal units. Cattle, sheep, pigs, all made it possible to spend less time hunting, and more time thinking, and socializing.

I don't believe in worshipping animals, but it wouldn't hurt to give animals some credit, and some respect. If it has to be done by force, then I have no problem with that, as long as it doesn't put their rights above peoples rights.

I can think of a good number of people, whose lives aren't worth as much as a goldfish, let alone a cat.

Posted by: dp | 2009-07-19 12:09:44 PM

Rights come from reason, not sentience. Animals (save possibly some great apes) don't have rights. The act of crushing as well as taking photos and publishing them are morally acceptable in a free society.

Though, as Aristotle observed, how individuals treat animals is a reflection of their character and thus how they treat other people.

In other words, crushing is not a reason for restricting free speech -- unlike yelling fire in a crowded theatre -- but we have a reason for reproaching those that do -- they are the type of people who will mistreat us.

Posted by: Robert Seymour | 2009-07-19 12:21:55 PM

A-men DP.

Posted by: Doug Gilchrist | 2009-07-19 1:11:24 PM

"The act of crushing as well as taking photos and publishing them are morally acceptable in a free society."

Nice crowd you have here.

Posted by: Fair Commenter | 2009-07-19 1:13:01 PM

Nice crowd you have here.

Posted by: Fair Commenter | 2009-07-19 1:13:01 PM

One comment from one person...is a crowd to you?

Posted by: The original JC | 2009-07-19 1:17:21 PM

The act of crushing as well as taking photos and publishing them are morally acceptable in a free society.

Time to change your meds. It is NOT "morally" acceptable...anywhere! It is barbaric, period!
Good Lord! Where do "you" get "your" morals anyway?

Posted by: The original JC | 2009-07-19 1:19:16 PM

TM, to answer your first point, the hunter's motives for hunting are irrelevant, provided he dispatches the game quick and clean, does not waste the harvestable parts, and complies with the game laws. I admit that I enjoy the hunt and the kill at least as much as the meat; I consider it a nature walk with a goal. There's no denying the satisfaction that comes from victory in the field.

As to your second point, a history of animal abuse is relevant at sentencing only to the extent that it portends future crimes, unless of course he was convicted of such abuse and he already qualifies as a repeat, and perhaps a chronic offender. There's a difference between zapping ants with a magnifying glass and breaking into someone else's house and putting their cat in the microwave.

As I've said, harvesting animals for their useful qualities, or to cull a population that has grown too large and is causing problems, is one thing. In fact, it qualifies as good environmental stewardship. But dropping an anvil on a hamster and then framing the gut pile is not only wasteful, unproductive, and offensive to the dignity of both man and hamster, it's just plain cuckoo.

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2009-07-19 1:59:28 PM

In my opinion RS's comments cross the boundary of libertarianism and enter the realm of anarchy, a place I prefer not to reside.

Posted by: Alain | 2009-07-19 3:03:08 PM

A few years ago, a video called "faces of death" made the rounds. I never watched it, but heard some descriptions of the contents. I made a mental note of who watched it and who didn't, and decided the abstainers were more trustworthy characters.

The fact that people crush small animals isn't what really bothers me, it's the pleasure they derive from it. Crushing is an instant, and painless death. I'll admit, it's messy, but it probably hurts less than being eaten alive. I've had to euthanize a whitetail deer with 4 broken legs, and all I had with me was a .22 with a 2 inch barrel. It took 3 shots to put her down, and I felt terrible for not being a better shot. Being hit by a semi would have been more humane than being tagged by a little car, even though the blood and guts is hard to look at.

If I had to choose, I'd put up with some discomfort to spare my family the shock of seeing my insides. If no one had to witness the mess, I'd go off a cliff, rather than die of a brain tumor.

The whole issue centers around some peoples' morbid fascination with death. Perhaps they should spend some time on a farm, or in the bush, just to see it up close. Maybe the novelty would wear off.

Posted by: dp | 2009-07-19 3:17:46 PM

Those who enjoy watching death may one day be a victim of their sick fascination. As a libertarian I say who cares and good riddance.

Posted by: Doug Gilchrist | 2009-07-19 5:44:04 PM

"may one day be a victim"?

I don't think there's any doubt. In the words of Clint Eastwood, "we've all got it coming, kid".

Posted by: dp | 2009-07-19 7:22:48 PM

"The fact that people crush small animals isn't what really bothers me"

Oh, please, do go on.

Posted by: Fair Commenter | 2009-07-19 9:41:22 PM


I agree that animals including cats and dogs have greatly contributed to our evolution. I was putting forward a moral thought experiment about the worth of a human life versus the life of an animal. I don't think that this is a serious scenario.I will put a condition that killing those animals to save a human life must not do equal harm to other people (killing every cow in existance to save a human life does not make moral sense).


Do you mean moral or legally torable. I can concede a reasonable argument can be made for legally torable, though I disagree. You will have to work a lot harder to convince me that it is a moral act.

Posted by: hughmacintyre | 2009-07-19 10:42:41 PM

"Shane, I don't like to see Libertarians appearing as anarchists to anyone. There is a rather large distinction between the two."

If there is, JC, then libertarians need to do a better job explaining that difference, because I'm not the only one who fails to see it--at least as some on this board describe it.

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2009-07-19 11:16:52 PM

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