This text is an excerpt from the Introduction to the book Critical Theory and Animal Liberation, edited by John Sanbonmatsu and published by Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2011, and appears by permission of the author and publisher.
photo: Wallace Kirkland for Life magazine
One of my secret pleasures as a boy was
One of my secret pleasures as a boy was to sit for hours poring over my father’s collection of photography books. There, in The Family of Man, Days to Remember, and others, I saw disclosed the strange and varied wonder of the human condition, at least as it appeared to professional photojournalists at mid-century: children in Bombay lifting their smiling faces to the rain, Jackie Robinson, “first Negro in major league baseball,” the first television. There were also many disturbing pictures of grief, tragedy, and violence, indelible images of mob slayings and suicides, terrible industrial accidents and “the war in Indo-China.”
But of them all, one particular image haunted me the most: a group of Midwesterners standing in a circle in the snow, cheering on a young boy of about seven years old as he beat a fox to death with a baseball bat. The boy, with a bright smile, stands with his legs firmly planted, as though waiting for a pitch that never comes. The fox, crouched, tongue lolling, exhausted almost to the point of death, gazes vacantly, a look of hopelessness or resignation visible in his pinched face. Then, dark against the blood-spattered snow, one sees the small, broken bodies of two other foxes, already dead. But what stands out most in my mind are the rosy-cheeked men (and a few women) in their winter clothes, standing shoulder to shoulder or kneeling in the snow to form a tight cordon of death around boy and fox. All of them are grinning. And it is this last detail, of ordinary human beings taking delight in the torture of a powerless individual, an animal, that still troubles me the most.
Wallace Kirkland for Life magazine
Many of us have encountered similar images, read similar accounts, of public spectacles in which atrocity has mixed incongruously with joy. What is it about the human condition that induces otherwise ordinary people to murder the powerless, whether human or nonhuman, with such evident pleasure? Keep Reading…
Source: Free From Harm