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The Most Vicious Killing Animal

Updated: Apr 2, 2018

I heard it said today that humans are the most vicious animal. In fact, I heard it said that "numerous scientific studies conclude"... it's curious to think of how any scientific study could measure something so subjective. Well, it can't. The entire basis of the scientific method is to create a hypothesis that is testable, an experiment that is replicable. I do, however, feel a pull to discuss this concept further- the idea that we are naturally so much more terrible than literally every single other species on the planet... and while there are so many other thesis I would like to explore, it seems this post will be much to long to keep anyone's (even my own) attention if I don't break it down a bit.

We can start with the most basic of all evils: murder. We as humans kill for fun. We have absolutely no need to murder animals to feed ourselves in most developed countries. Let's exempt those where governments are manipulating entire populations through starvation and where stray animals are a thing of the past and exotic animals in zoos have been hunted for survival. We DO NOT need meat. In fact, "numerous scientific studies conclude" that animal protein is carcinogenic, increases our chances of coronary heart disease and shortens our quality (and quantity) of life. It has gotten to a point that even the FDA- arguably one of the most lobbied government agencies with an infamous track record for misleading health recommendations- has come forward denouncing the consumption of meat. Yet we continue to kill by the millions yearly. All because bacon is delicious.

If we dive a little bit further, we also naturally love to hunt. Fishing is a bonding pastime. People form life-long memories on the stories told while hiding in deer blinds and in the trenches covered in camouflage while aiming at unsuspecting flying animals. They pay thousands of dollars to travel to the small pockets of our planet that still contain wild exotics just to put a bullet into a rhino and pose for the damn picture (that will certainly get you a lot of internet attention). Hunting is a little bit of a psychological loophole, though. We create patterns of conditioning primarily through association- sounds complicated but it isn't. We learn cause = effect so I do cause because it will = effect. Whine = getting candy. So I whine to get candy. Strangely, it turns out that we are more eager to perform the cause when we don't get the effect every single time: for those of you taking notes, this is called a variable ratio schedule of reenforcement. If you learn that every single time you whine, someone gives you candy, you will whine. So what happens if they stop giving you candy? You stop whining. Conversely, if once in a while when you whine you get candy, and it's at completely random times, you will learn to whine ALL OF THE TIME. The idea of perpetual hope. The same drive that motivates us to sit in perfect silence waiting for the perfect shot of that 18-pointer or to cast the line 237 times- the idea of something difficult yet attainable.

So we've established that we eat and murder animals, but what about other people? As a society we irrefutably agree with killing- even if some of us have very specific rules around how and when and why to kill another person. In one society, once a terminally ill person has decided to stop suffering it is okay to help them do so. In another, we can terminate an otherwise viable pregnancy because the mother cannot emotional bear to carry it. In a different one, we can put a man to death for killing for money. Or a father can use a baseball bat to turn the man that molested his child into pulp. Take 4000 years back to the start of sedentary cultures and know that infanticide becomes prevalent. With only this area of land to feed us, we make decisions on population growth that involve a stone and a larger stone and a newborn baby's head. And back to the future, there is a child, somewhere in the actual dark sides of the Afghanistan, there is a three-year-old child kicking a decapitated head like a soccer ball.

Does this make us THE MOST vicious of all animals? More vicious than a cat, who habitually taunts, tortures, dismembers- purely for fun? More vicious than chimps who have known to regularly engage in infanticide (simply as repercussion for not getting along), and plot full-out wars on neighboring chimp communities? Perhaps our drive to kill, our instincts of entertainment through death, are purely natural. How we see murder, and how we discriminate what form is acceptable and what form is not is completely learned. We continuously redefine what it means to kill, we like to draw lines between the murder that the criminal committed and the one we commit as a consequence of his. Or the unborn and the murderer he becomes later. But the question remains, if we can universally agree that murder is necessary, how can we not decide in which case?

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