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When we abuse animals we debase ourselves

What qualities associated with the best in mankind aren't expressed by animals?

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Moving a cow by chaining it to a tractor and dragging it by its leg says a lot about how we perceive and value animals. When the Humane Society video that showed this and other brutal slaughterhouse treatment made the rounds on the Internet a few weeks ago, it caused public shock and led to a federal investigation. But there's a deeper lesson that all of us – whether or not we eat meat – need to take to heart: we degrade when we degrade animals.

Much as bullies demoralize themselves when they dominate or ride roughshod over those who are meek, vulnerable, or defenseless, it should be obvious that are the ones demoralized by the commission of inhumane acts.

Over the years, many have been caught up in the debate over what is, or is not, man's obligation to animals. But the debate is transcended by the growing realization that neither our civilization nor our planet will survive unless human beings grow richer in moral qualities like mercy, kindness, compassion, and temperance.

Yet in order to establish a platform for speaking out against cruel and painful laboratory experiments and slaughtering techniques, animal rights advocates are often asked to prove that animals have a moral sense and can feel physical and emotional pain.

But even if animals could be proved amoral and immune to pain, human beings would have no basis for even careless treatment of them. Most of us were taught as children to take good care of inanimate objects, even though they feel no pain and have no moral sense. We are taught to treat fine books with virtual reverence. We are taught that it is actually a crime to vandalize buildings, cars, and other inanimate objects.

But even setting aside the degradation brought upon the humans who commit acts of cruelty, research has consistently revealed evidence of the morality and sentience of the nonhuman world. By now documentaries abound in which we can see earth's creatures disciplining members of their own species for "crimes" within their communities. Conversely we've also seen them care for each other, as well as for members of other species, in the most intelligent, unselfish, courageous, and tender ways.

This evidence of morality in nonhumans tells us that mankind and "creature-kind" are inextricably woven together, not separate "worlds" attempting coexistence.

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