Sensible and senseless talk about animal suffering
In the Dutch magazine "de Groene Amsterdammer"
of 7th July 2001 Dr Bob Bermond, biological psychologist
with the department of psychonomy of the Amsterdam University
writes that animals can experience pain only as a reflex.
They cannot experience pain consciously in the form of
suffering, because to experience suffering you need the
presence of the prefrontal cortex as well as the capacity
to reflect. He cites a number of situations from the animal
world that would surely induce suffering when translated
to human standards. For example, male lions kill their
predecessor's cubs, after which their mother, seemingly
without sorrow, mates with the murderer of her young.
From this he concludes that animals have no consciousness
that enables them to experience suffering.
With these "facts", supplemented by a quote
of the well-known and somewhat half-hearted attitude of
the National Animal Protection Society with regard to
the double standards of its members toward (house) pets,
he calls the animal protection society's behavior "ethic babble".
Bermond calls on animal welfare researchers to target
the question of how we can set up rearing and cultivation
situations for market-oriented production with the lowest
possible stresslevels. He holds out that fur producers,
meat producers and dairy producers will listen, because
it's in their interest that welfare measures will prevent
premature animal deaths caused by stress.
Mr. Bermond is somewhat right wen he tells the Animal
Protection Society that if they were consistent, they
would also discourage keeping pets in animal-unfriendly
surroundings such as apartments.
But Mr. Bermond is way off when he says that animal suffering
is the only right to existence of animal protectors and
animal rights activists. They are also campaigning for
basic rights for animals. Whether an animal does or does
not have a demonstrable form of consciousness is irrelevant
to its rights. After all, human rights aren't linked to
the quality of their consciousness either.
Being able to experience pain is a mutual trait in humans
and animals. People suffer mainly in situations where
they can imagine pain, physically or emotionally. This
difference between humans and animals may aggravate human
reality, after all there's no greater suffering for man
than the suffering he fears.
Animal rights comprise that pain should be prevented as
much as possible. Still cattle farmers violate animal
rights when they dock beaks, castrate and cut piglet's
tails without anesthesia, de-horn cows, break wings while
catching chickens etc. But Bermond doesn't write about
that. Instead, he throws around scientific assumptions
about the impossibility of animal suffering to defend
Dutch factory farming management and to bring down the
Animal Protection Society's right to exist. It makes you
wonder what Bermond has with emotions? Is he emotionally blind?
On the Internet we found an article by his colleague Eric
Rietzschel that shows us that Bob Bermond distinguishes
five components of emotional experience. These five components
are: (1) being able to experience emotional feelings,
(2) knowing which emotion is experienced (differentiation
of emotions), (3) being able to put this emotion into
words, (4) being able to analyze your own emotions to
some degree, and (5) the ability to come to terms with
emotions through fantasy (Bermond, 1995).
When a number of these components are missing, this is
called alexithymia. These people are often compared to
robots. This refers not only to their straightforward
thinking patterns, but also to the 'inhuman' nature of
their relationships with other people. As Krystal (1988)
expresses it: '…there is no personal investment in these
objects as unique individuals to whom there is a utilitarian
attachment. Instead, the objects are replaceable, albeit necessary'.
Don't these phenomena bear a striking resemblance to the
behavior of factory cattle farmers? And could it be that
animal emotions has something to do with being unable
to recognize your own and other people's emotions?
Bermond, B. (2001) Ethic babble by the Animal Protection Society. De Groene Amsterdammer, 7th July 2001.
Bermond, B. (1995) Alexithymia: a neuropsychological approach. Dutch Magazine for Psychiatry.
The above reaction appeared as a letter to the editor in the edition of 9th August 2001 (translation by Lia
Belt). Authors: Maureen Baartman (student biology) Fabian Gort (student biology) René Houkema (student biology) Bert Stoop (personality psychologist).