1. What does hunting, self-esteem, and entitlement have to do with racism? More than you think.
2. Proof that might doesn't make right

I lost my affinity for hunting once I became better at putting myself in the shoes of others. I understand the rational arguments favoring hunting, but putting a bullet in a healthy animal that wants to live is something I refuse to do unless the animal was threatening my life or the life of a loved one. The more I learn about animals, the more impressed I am by their intelligence.

I bought a small flock of chickens a few years ago thinking they were a great source of fresh eggs but very dumb, as they are often depicted. However, I was surprised by their brainpower. Even when they were chicks, they would squeal with delight when given one of their treats, such as currants, but also simple pleasures such as fresh water, which they would instantly devour with zest.

Chickens crave freedom, complain when they are bored and not free, have favorite hang-out spots, are inquisitive and love to explore, and often enjoy hunting for bugs more than eating crumble (chicken food) or sometimes even treats they relish, such as watermelon, other melons, black olives, oatmeal, raisins, flax, corn on the cob, green and especially purple cabbage, cheese, sweet potatoes, scrambled eggs, and egg shells.

chicken picking up corn on the cob with her beak
One of my chickens picking up corn on the cob

Chickens have preferred friends, enjoy basking in the sun, and love bathing in dust. They demonstrate an awareness of object persistence, numbers, instantly implement logical strategies to get more food, and clearly understand competition. They have very distinct personalities: some friendly and outgoing, others timid but often (like humans) coming out of their shells and blossoming once they are freed from the fear underlying that timidity. They feel pain and seek to avoid it as vigorously as any human.

Chickens are anything but dumb, yet many people kill them and even smarter animals without any qualms. Why? Because might makes right for humans—but not others?

(reportedly) Mark Zuckerberg holding a dead chicken

According to various news sources, this is Mark Zuckerberg holding a dead chicken. If so, this photo is newsworthy because:

  1. It was one of several photos Facebook users could access after yet another privacy bug plagued that perennially amateurish site. They repeatedly promise to take user privacy seriously, and they repeatedly violate their promises. If Facebook can't protect Dear Leader's privacy, can they protect yours?
  2. Judging by the proud he-man pose and smile, Zuckerberg likely killed this chicken seconds before. If so, did he kill it in a humane way? Almost certainly not. The chicken's head appears to be intact, so he likely broke its neck, which is an excruciatingly painful and terrifying way to die for a human or animal. First, there's the god-awful pain; if you think popping a pimple near your lip is painful, wait until your neck is broken. Second, as a doctor I know that breaking a neck does not produce immediate unconsciousness and death. Instead, it arrests breathing but the still-conscious brain experiences a terrifying urgency for oxygen. (I experienced something similar secondary to a cardiac arrhythmia that temporarily stopped my heart, preventing it from pumping blood with its oxygen to my brain; that experience was so horrifying I easily understand why asphyxia is considered torture.) The Wikipedia pages for guillotines and decapitation present evidence for what they term “living heads”: consciousness following decapitation that shows minds alert enough to experience pain. Thus, by intentionally inflicting pain and suffering, Zuckerberg is (IMHO) guilty of cruelty to animals. If he is half as smart as he thinks he is, if he must kill animals, he should learn how to do that in the most humane way possible. Neck-breaking is very barbaric, not humane.
  3. Zuckerberg is ignorant enough to think that chickens are stupid. Wrong. They have eyes, and God (or Mother Nature) gave them more than enough common sense to use those eyes to spot danger and learn from it. I've seen chickens react in horror after encountering a member of their flock killed by a predator. Another chicken witnessed several flock mates killed by a racoon that entered their coop; the survivor had what might be termed a “nervous breakdown” in humans. For weeks afterward, the hen cowered in the back of the highest nesting box, refusing to come down, even to eat or drink (so I fed her there). A year later, she still won't enter that coop in the evening unless its light is on and I am inside to prove to her that no predators are present. Her long-term memory is obviously intact, and she clearly associates entering the coop at that time with danger. Thus, chickens are not stupid; when they see another chicken injured or killed, it greatly upsets them, and that memory can haunt them for a long time. If Zuckerberg killed the chicken elsewhere, at a spot not visible to the chickens in the cage behind him, why did he bring the dead chicken near them? Let's hope this is simple ignorance and not callousness, but the unblinking Zuckerberg, who called his users “dumb fucks” for trusting him, seems to lack normal human caring about others.
  4. Speaking of the latter, why can't a multi-billionaire give his chickens a larger pen? The one behind him isn't large enough for a single chicken to live comfortably. Before building a coop and pen for my chickens, I did what responsible people do: read several sources to see what is adequate space. As it turns out, all of the supposed experts were wrong. Anyone with a functioning brain can easily spot the behavioral differences between chickens held in small (but perfectly adequate according to the supposed experts) versus large spaces. If the space is too small, chickens complain or manifest resignation: a sign of depression. Free them, and seconds later they are spunky and making what I call “happy baby” sounds (I call my chickens “my babies”).
  5. Zuckerberg either doesn't know or care that killing a chicken upsets the pecking order (leading to stress) and depresses birds who bonded to the now-deceased chicken. Some of my chickens clearly had buddies they bonded with and preferentially associated with; when the friend died, the remaining chicken seemed depressed. How would Zuckerberg feel if someone took his wife and made a meal out of her? Animals have feelings, too, and some mourn the loss of partners.

However, Zuckerberg is hardly alone. Many others cruelly mistreat animals who they view as dirt so unimportant they don't deserve to be given the concern and respect due all living creatures with brains that experience pain, happiness, and other emotions that are not confined to humans. I devoted about a year of my life to helping wild animals (not just pets). Zuckerberg should learn what he is doing, which means learning to kill animals that must be killed without any pain and without drugs, which are not suitable for animals intended for consumption. Unless you've been to medical school, you likely don't know how to do that. Hint: Chopping the head off isn't it; that is a terrible way to die. (We no longer do that even to mass murderers.)

UPDATE: According to ABC News, Zuckerberg's “new hobby” is slaughtering animals by slashing their throats. ABC News called him an “animal butcher.” Death by throat slashing is even more painful than neck breaking; it is a terrible way to die. No one would do that unless he were physiologically ignorant or a monster.

Zuckerberg's girlfriend Priscilla Chan, who graduated from Harvard in 2007 with a degree in biology, said, “He cut the throat of the goat with a knife, which is the most kind way to do it.”

Wrong! That's physiological ignorance. Her Facebook page said she “Left UCSF” and is “Learning to be a doctor.”

She has some learning to do about what brain cells consider to be painful and horrifying. She also needs major lessons in empathy, as well as logical reasoning. It is simply untenable to suggest that nonhuman animals could be as evolutionarily successful as they have been without the capacity to feel agonizing pain. With Harvard grads pontificating that throat slashing is the most humane way to die, it is no wonder why so many people think so little of Ivy League educations.

Professor Bill Reilly, former president of the British Veterinary Association (not Bill O'Reilly of Fox News), said that slitting animals' throats without prior stunning should be “curbed, if not banned” because it causes unnecessary suffering. Other experts concluded that this barbaric practice “would result in very significant pain and distress” before an animal lost consciousness, so it is “unacceptable.”

Countless scientific studies have shown that animals, including chickens, are surprisingly intelligent, in some cases demonstrating intellectual capabilities some humans cannot match. Before I began raising chickens, I assumed they were stupid animals, but within minutes I realized they were surprisingly intelligent with distinct personalities and some behavioral characteristics similar to humans, which I discussed in an article.

Slaughtering animals is the latest in Zuckerberg's annual “personal challenges.” I have a new one for ya, Mark: if you're determined to do it, do it the one humane way. Do you know what that is, Priscilla? If not, ask me or revisit this question after you study neuroanatomy, neurology, and physiology in medical school. Until then, please ask Mark to stop slaughtering animals until he can do it humanely.

However, Priscilla shouldn't be blamed for her faulty education. Responsibility for that must go to the Harvard faculty, who have bizarre ideas of what constitutes a good education. No one should graduate from Harvard, or even a community college for that matter, with a biology degree and a conviction that throat slashing is humane. Granted, they likely don't discuss Killing 101, but the principles underlying why throat slashing isn't humane boil down to really (as in r-e-a-l-l-y) basic principles of biology.

Facebook's chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg has a remedy for poor education: “Why do we have lots of college lecturers around the world? Why do we not take the best person and show everyone?” Exactly! I advocated that many years ago.

Given that Priscilla likely has no financial incentive for choosing medicine as a career, I presume that she genuinely cares about people and sincerely wants to help them. That is very commendable, and it reflects favorably on Zuckerberg, since she almost certainly wouldn't tolerate him if he were as bad as he is often portrayed.

If Zuckerberg is as smart as he is reputed to be, he could think of a way to turn this potential PR nightmare (that could come to haunt him and Priscilla) into a plus that helps restore his tattered image and insulate him from future attacks he is bound to endure. Once some people smell blood, they move in for the kill. Zuckerberg has a knack for unwittingly giving fodder to his enemies and detractors.

People who suck up to Zuckerberg because he is rich are the same spineless types who sucked up to Hitler because he was powerful.

“True human goodness, in all its purity and freedom, can come to the fore only when its recipient has no power. Mankind's true moral test, its fundamental test (which lies deeply buried from view) consists of its attitude toward those who are at its mercy: animals. And in this respect mankind has suffered a fundamental debacle, a debacle so fundamental that all others stem from it.”
— Milan Kundera in The Unbearable Lightness of Being

Related topics

  1. The Bison Mark Zuckerberg Killed Is Now Mounted in Facebook's New Offices

Countless animals have been killed by hunters not because they need their meat to survive, but because our brains give us Remingtons and Winchesters and the capacity to generate twisted logic that justifies such killing. We kill because we can get away with it. We kill because we're human and think we're so superior to animals that the ephemeral pleasure of the kill is more important than that animal enjoying the rest of its life.

We may rue the day we think might makes right for intellectually superior species. NASA and ex-Microsoft billionaire brainiacs Nathan Myhrvold and Paul Allen fund SETI research. Statistically, we are likely to find—or be found by—species that may be a million years ahead of us in technology. Think of how far we've come in the past century, and then consider what advances might accrue in a time 10,000 times as long.

If extraterrestrial aliens visit Earth, they may be as far above us in intelligence and capabilities as we are compared to chickens. If it is fine for us to slaughter chickens and other animals because we're smarter and because we can, then is it fine for very advanced aliens to slaughter us? Perhaps they enjoy the sport of hunting humans, perhaps they find our meat tasty, or perhaps they're hungry enough to eat anything after a zillion-mile journey. They might sponsor a contest to see who can barbeque the best McHuman, or publish cookbooks focusing on human meat. We have cookbooks devoted to preparing pork, which comes from pigs. In our minds, it is perfectly OK for us to slaughter them by the millions because we are smarter than they are.

There you have it: an increment of intelligence is used as a license to kill. What a horrible precedent, and one that may eventually haunt us as we eventually bitterly regret basing the right to life on relative intelligence.

If we are able to challenge aliens on the propriety of killing humans, they may throw it back in our faces by pointing out our long history of killing animals (usually in less-than-humane ways) without any justification other than we gave ourselves the right to do it because we had more brainpower and better weapons. Then aliens could give us a taste of our own medicine and show us what it is like to be on the receiving end of might makes right. What goes around, comes around. As the Bible says, “As you sow, so shall you reap.” Or to put it more colloquially, our actions may come back to bite us on the butt. Your deeds, good or bad, will repay you in kind. Kill because you're smarter, and you may be killed because you're dumber.

No one but an idiot believes that might makes right. Instead, they think might makes right as long as they are the mighty. If another species were mightier than us and did to us what we've done to countless others, we would scream bloody murder! We'd protest, “It's not right!” We'd call them barbarians and worse. We'd try to kill them any way we could, but their technology may be so superior to ours that they could defuse all of our guns, bombs, and other weapons, leaving us easy pickings. They may think no more of killing us than we do of bugs making a beeline for a bug zapper. Just as we prefer a picnic without pesky bugs, they may prefer to visit or even colonize Earth without humans bugging them. And that's A-OK if you think that might makes right.

If you're a hunter reading this with rising blood pressure, know that I once was an avid hunter who thought I could trounce any argument against hunting from anti-hunting folks. However, none of the pro-hunting arguments are as important to me as putting myself in the shoes of others—ALL others, including animals, not just humans. I'll swat a mosquito feeding off me but tolerate bees buzzing inches away, as I did yesterday while picking blackberries for my chickens.

I would like to mow my yard, but I don't have the heart to do that after seeing bees magnetically drawn to a weed that seems enormously more appealing to them than any other plant I've seen. (Perhaps cultivating that weed might help reverse the dwindling bee population. Once that plant appeared in my area, the number of bees exploded. In past years, I could go months without seeing a bee during summertime, but now I can hear thousands happily buzzing away.) By the way, I wasn't stung once, but I often was years ago when I thought the presence of a bee was a good excuse to swat it. A connection to karma?

Once you live in peace and harmony with others, including animals, you have a desire to help them, not hurt them. You don't think you are superior just because you're human, have an M.D. or Ph.D. after your name, or because you're a member of a race you think is superior. Racist denigration is done by people who can't feel good about themselves without putting others down. If they cannot rise up in absolute terms of achievement, they try to rise up in relative terms: put others down, so they seem higher. (See chapter 14 in Institutional Violence: Devaluing Others to Enhance Our Self-Esteem: A Moral Phenomenonology of Racism.)

This suggests that elevating self-esteem and self-confidence might help eradicate one of the roots of racism. However, it is important to know that self-esteem and arrogance are not synonymous. Self-esteem refers to a genuine, justified self-confidence that arises from confidence in one's abilities, not one's imagined abilities, and not from arrogantly thinking one is good, great, or capable when one is not. Pride means taking pleasure or satisfaction in an achievement, or a realistic sense of one's proper dignity or value. This justified self-respect is markedly different from arrogance that manifests when people make claims to unwarranted achievement, capabilities, or importance.

Thus, in discussing self-esteem, I am not referring to the current pop culture phenomenon of boosting self-esteem in kids by giving unearned grades, awards, trophies, and praise. When such feedback is not justified, it does nothing but fuel the fires of arrogance and entitlement. Frankly, it is one reason why American students are falling behind those in other nations. When you think you're great, why lift a finger? Why burn the midnight oil? Why go the extra mile? Why work hard when Americans are constitutionally guaranteed the right to greatness and superiority?

History demonstrates that entitlement can also catalyze racism. When leaders in one race devalue other races, subjugating and even killing them is easier for them to justify. Great Britain is now a relatively peaceful, civilized country very cognizant of human rights except for lingering imperialism, but past British leaders left a shockingly sordid wake of destruction around the globe, killing and virtually enslaving so many people—even children—that they left today's most feared terrorists in the dust in terms of inflicting suffering and death, as I discussed in another article in a section entitled Not-so-great Britain.

To put it bluntly, Great Britain kicked ass because they could, and because they knew they could get away with it. They ardently believed that might makes right. They felt entitled to take what they wanted from others, who they viewed as inferior. If you got in the way of those imperialistic racists, they would enslave or kill you.

If Great Britain replicated its past misdeeds during Bush 43's presidency, he would have included them in his Axis of Evil and bombed them into the Stone Age. Of course, Great Britain's evil past is news to most American students, who usually think the sole thing the British did wrong was to fight Americans when they sought independence and later during the War of 1812. American myopia in focus.

So what is the common denominator linking hunting, self-esteem, and entitlement with racism? If you put yourself in the shoes of others (all others, including animals), you won't hunt for “sport” (ahem!), nor will you believe that real or imagined superiority gives you the right to deprive others of their rights. You can feel good about yourself without putting others down. You will be a better person, and help others lead better, happier lives. Perhaps even chickens. By the way, here is what chickens look like before Zuckerberg gets his hands on them:

inquisitive chickens exploring pine branches
My inquisitive chickens exploring pine branches

The rational argument for hunting is that it helps control overpopulation (of deer, for example), but population control could be achieved by other means.

Furthermore, if killing is an ethical way to achieve population control, why is that NOT an acceptable means to control human population? The old argument is that humans are so superior to animals OF COURSE we have a right to kill them for sport, but the basis of that superiority is often a product of arrogant presumptions, not facts. When you look at the science (see my article and the many links following it), there's evidence that animals are often impressively intelligent, equaling or even surpassing the abilities of some humans in logic, math, memory, innovation, tool use, empathy, strategic decision making, and capacity for pleasure.

The real reason humans can get away with killing animals is because they think might makes right—the same justification used by Hitler, Stalin, Hirohito, murderers, rapists, and other thugs. It's not good company to be in, is it?

Related articles

Chicken-human behavioral similarities

The views expressed on this page may or may not reflect my current opinions, nor do they necessarily represent my past ones. After reading a slice of what I wrote in my various websites and books, you may conclude that I am a liberal Democrat or a conservative Republican. Wrong; there is a better alternative. Just as the primary benefit from debate classes results when students present and defend opinions contrary to their own, I use a similar strategy as a creative writing tool to expand my brainpower—and yours. Mystified? Stay tuned for an explanation. PS: The wheels in your head are already turning a bit faster, aren't they?

“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”
F. Scott Fitzgerald

Reference: Imagining dialogue can boost critical thinking: Excerpt: “Examining an issue as a debate or dialogue between two sides helps people apply deeper, more sophisticated reasoning …”

Comments (1)

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Comment #339 by Sue
June 19 2013 07:02:04 AM

Chickens 'cleverer than toddlers'

Saw this in the news today and thought of you:

Chickens 'cleverer than toddlers': Chickens may be brighter than young children in numeracy and basic skills, according to a new study.

Kind regards,

REPLY FROM KEVIN PEZZI: Thank you, Sue! Research such as this raises troubling ethical questions that undermine the flimsy excuses humans have used to justify killing and otherwise mistreating animals that are mentally superior to many people. That inspired my article on Chicken-human behavioral similarities, the footnotes of which include links to numerous studies showing surprising animal intelligence.

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