The Persistence of the “Us vs Them” Mindset in Conflicts with Animals

Have we evolved from our early human brains? The ones that, supposedly, thought almost solely in terms of survival. The brains that operated on the mantra “kill or be killed”. The ones that had it established as convention that there must be winners and there must be losers. The brains that split up the world into “me versus you” and “us versus them”.

Surely we have evolved in many ways. However, in some ways, it seems like our brains have not evolved too much from this type of thinking. We see cases of this stereotypical caveman style of thinking all too often in our world today. It is especially prevalent in the way we think about conflicts involving animals, and this has drastic consequences for animals. Let’s consider a few examples that show how we still think in this early human, antagonistic, survival style.

You may have heard about the boom in the feral cat population in Australia. If you haven’t, I will give a brief overview of the situation. There are millions of feral cats roaming free on the continent of Australia. They were originally brought over by humans, of course, and have adapted well to the climate and done quite well for themselves. The problem is that these cats are hunters and have driven some other species to extinction in Australia. In response, the Australian government declared that it will kill two million of these feral cats by 2020 to save
the other species of wild animals that live on the continent. Now, someone who hears this story might think that it is obvious that this is a crisis situation. As we often do in crisis situations, we see the issue as a problem between two competing entities and think that the solution must be that one of the entities must win and one must lose. In this case, the Australian government has decided that the feral cats, as the aggressors, must lose so that the other wild animals can live. However, they have reached this conclusion with that same narrow, “early human” mindset that we were just considering. They assumed that one had to be sacrificed for the other. They assumed that in order for one to survive the other must die. But, upon closer consideration, this is not the case.

This becomes clear when we change the situation into one between two human populations in Australia rather than two animal populations. The government could not implement a policy where it would kill large numbers of a human population, and we would not see this as ethical if the government did do this. We would in fact see this as genocide. If the government was faced with this situation between two human populations, sacrificing one population would not even be an option on the table. We should not so easily consider it an option just because the populations are of other animals rather than humans. This is the early human thinking- one must win, one must loose. It’s the cats versus everyone else.

So, what would be a better way to think? What might modern, evolved human thinking
look like? We would hope that modern thinking would throw out the option to murder these cats as a viable solution. We would hope that a modern thinker would try much harder to come up with solutions such as birth control to lower the cat population. Let’s remember, if the situation involved humans instead of cats, the government would be working much harder to come up with better solutions than genocide. If it was an “us versus us” situation, we wouldn’t be so quick to sacrifice out own kind. We need to remember that animals, as living, sentient, conscious members of our Earth community, are part of our kind as well.

Another, perhaps more ridiculous example of how this early human thinking has seemed to linger can be seen in a situation in Denver. Recently, the city of Denver has come to the decision to capture Canadian Geese and send them to slaughter because the amount of fecal matter they produce is posing sanitation concerns for the city. This thought process is “us versus them” to the extreme. It goes something like this: the geese poop too much, it’s not good for us people, so let’s just kill them! Again, imagine if the situation was between two human groups. We don’t just kill other people because they poop too much. But if it’s those geese, it must be fine. It just sounds like a caveman came up with this plan. Killing can’t be the only option. But it is what comes to mind when we have the mentality of “us versus them” ingrained into our minds.

A very serious implication of this mentality is animal experimentation. We still experiment on animals, even in many cases where alternatives are readily available, because people still operate with the mindset that we must use animals to save ourselves. They think “either we experiment on this animal, or we let many other people get sick”. Despite the fact that the vast majority of medical experiments on animals are not indicative of the effects the medicine will have on humans, many people still think this way. Perhaps they are prone to. Perhaps there are still remnants in our brains of earlier survival thinking. But, even if that is why we still see animals as either for us or against us, that does not mean we cannot change our thinking. The fact that you are reading this now exemplifies that mindsets can change, and are changing.

To many, at the surface, it might seem like many of the animal issues today are ones in which there must be a sacrifice, but at closer look reveals that this is not the case. And we can all do our part to remind others that we do not have to think in terms of “us versus them”. We do not need to keep seeing animals as them- others. As something either for us or in our way. We also do not need to pit different species of animals against each other, as is the case with the feral cats, but is also the case when we experiment on some animals for the benefit of other animals. There are ways in which all of us animals can survive, thrive, and live a little more peacefully on this earth together. And, if in a certain circumstance, there are only options available where one animal is sacrificed for another, we must demand more options. Because we know animals are with us, and not divided from us. They are more us than them.

Sources/Articles for Perusal:

Do We Still Think Like Cavemen? By Jennifer Gallagher