In many cases, sadism as an escape mechanism from insecurity is behind oppression and mass killing of animals. The process is further facilitated by the exclusion of animals from the universe of human morality
A deeply moving sequel to the recent tragic death of Siddharth Sharma in a road accident in Delhi caused by reckless driving by an alleged minor, is the devotion of his dog, Benson, who refused to leave his room for six days after his passing, and rushed to the door every time the doorbell rang, hoping that it would be him. Disappointed, he returned crestfallen on each occasion. A friend of Sharma, who has kept Benson with him, has reportedly said that the dog continues to pine for his master.
Benson’s grief would not surprise anyone familiar with the behaviour of dogs and the intensity of the emotional ties they can forge with humans. Konrad Lorenz, one of the greatest authorities on animal behaviour and the author of the path-breaking book, On Aggression, writes in Man Meets Dog, “The whole charm of the dog lies in the depth of the friendship and the strength of the spiritual ties with which he has bound himself to man.”
This applies not only to pets but stray dogs who display deep affection toward those who show the slightest kindness to them. This is hardly surprising; relations between dogs and humans go back to between 12th and 14th millennia. Dependent on the latter even the garbage they frequently eat are generated by people for food, water and shelter, they generally look forward to being loved by humans and do not bite them. Records show that in a significant proportion of cases of biting — the majority in a number of instances pet dogs are responsible for attacks attributed to stray dogs. According to a report by Anuradha Kher entitled, ‘Who let the dogs out?’ in The Times of India (Pune edition) of May 24, 2004:
“From 5,600 dog-bite cases in 2001 (reported at Sassoon Hospital), the figure has (had?) gone up to an alarming 8,751 in 2002.
“Till May 2003, the hospital had a total of 3,815 dog-bite patients. However, according to the hospital medical officer, Namdeo Patil, 70 per cent of dog-bite cases were from pet dogs.”
The reason is simple. Centuries of savage cruelty toward them by large numbers of humans have made stray dogs afraid of the latter. They do not come close to a person unless they know that he or she would not be unkind. On the other hand, pet dogs are often trained by their owners to guard their properties and persons, and confront aggressively any stranger venturing close. Sometimes, escaping from home or deliberately let loose by owners unwilling to keep them anymore, they panic in the midst of the chaos created by people and vehicles and bite out of desperation at the slightest sign of perceived danger.
Owners of pet dogs that have bitten people often try to divert the blame to stray dogs because they do not want to pay for the treatment of the victims or come under attack for not keeping their dogs under control. On their part, stray dogs cannot affirm their innocence in human language and their cases go unheard. The fact is that in most cases they bite after being teased-being poked with sticks, for example attacked or threatened or when their puppies are attacked or are being taken away from them. In most cases, people do these to them without even the remotest of justification. It is an expression of malignant aggression which, as noted social psychologist Erich Fromm pointed out in his classic work, The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness, “though not an instinct, is a human potential rooted in the very conditions of human existence”.
Fromm further points out in the same work, “If human aggression were more or less at the same level as that of other mammals particularly that of our nearest relative, the chimpanzee human society would be rather peaceful and non-violent. But this is not so. Man’s history is a record of extraordinary destructiveness and cruelty, and human aggression, it seems, far surpasses that of man’s animal ancestors, and man is in contrast to most animals, a real ‘killer’.”
Human aggression is aggravated by two common psychological phenomena sadism and masochism. According to Fromm, in his other classic, The Fear of Freedom also published as Escape from Freedom both stem from the need to overcome the intense feeling of insecurity caused by increasing awareness of the dangers the world poses — as one grows up from infancy. Sadism reflects an attempt to do so by dominating others physically torture, sexual abuse or mentally intimidation, manipulation or both. Masochism is surrendering one’s will, judgement and, sometimes, also body-to a superior entity (an individual or even an idea) and feeling protected by it. Sometimes both traits co-exist in the same person who surrenders his or her judgement to a superior entity and physically and mentally dominate those below them. Administrators of Hitler’s concentration camp are a good example. They completely surrendered their judgement and sense of morality to their superiors in the Nazi party (with Hitler at the top) while gloatingly tormenting camp inmates.
This writer believes that the penultimate form of an individual sadistic act is murder in which the perpetrator dominates the life of another to the point of extinguishing. The ultimate is the killing of many — genocide. A person guilty of it or expressing genocidal intent draws instant condemnation. On the other hand, one demanding mass killing of a non-human species — stray dogs, for example — on the ground that it can endanger humans, can even emerge as a hero in certain sections, however hollow one’s claim. Consider the demand for mass killing of dogs when the World Health Organisation has repeatedly underlined the futility of it and it has been repeatedly shown that the birth control programme for stray dogs is the only effective way of reducing their population.
In many cases, sadism as an escape mechanism from insecurity is behind oppression and mass killing of animals. The process is further facilitated by the exclusion of animals from the universe of human morality in the Judeo-Christian, post-Renaissance and Enlightenment, tradition, which now dominates much of global juridical and ethical discourse. Murder is severely punished; hunting, which is cowardly murder of an animal, is permitted as a sport! A further facilitating factor is the long history of animal abuse and slavery, with any possible pangs of conscience being suppressed by the depiction or animals as ferocious and otherwise dangerous to humans. Benson’s grief once again shows how baseless such projection is.