As I've argued previously, the society we live in today strongly encourages us to reason meritocratically, and to embrace notions such as that your moral value depends on whether and how highly others value you. In extreme cases, this can include dismissing people and their needs wholesale (such as when we categorize the other as our property, or as a pest or monster). Now as I see it, Marshall Rosenberg, Walter Wink, and Walter Kaufmann have made compelling cases that both this way of thinking, and the accompanying conviction that it's okay to employ violence to "put people in their place," or to realize a desired outcome, have to be actively taught, as they aren't very intuitive; and that even though most people alive today think this way, in our better moments we will still strive to embody egalitarianism and respect for all life -- which also happens to be the only stance that is consistent with the notion that equal needs merit equal consideration (as the alternative will always mean at least some people are being treated as means). And there is quite compelling archaeological and anthropological evidence suggesting that hierarchical organizational forms are a relatively recent development, after a long period in which humans organized themselves along fairly egalitarian (if violent) lines.
In this post, I'd like to talk about violence in general, and war in particular, how the use of violence relates to and is sold via bureaucratic (and hence meritocratic) thinking and reasoning.
As Walter Wink has argued, nearly everyone who resorts to the use of violence does so because on some level, we understand it as a tool that we can use to realize a certain outcome: to change either the person we inflict it on, or those around them. Yet as Marshall Rosenberg has noted, if we wish to foster lasting behavioral change, violence doesn't work. Because although people may comply, this only seems a success because of internalized misanthropy, which discourages us to care about the reason why someone chooses to behave differently -- it's only logical if you start from the assumption that people must be forced to care about others. Moreover, it's a way of thinking that reinforces the notion that violence is an acceptable tool.
As I've explained elsewhere, pretty much everyone is taught how to systematically devalue the equal needs of (at least some) others. By the time we reach adulthood, this 'skill', and the meritocratic moral logic that undergirds it, are deeply rooted. And while people differ greatly in how broadly they apply this logic, basically none of us are able to ignore the many distractions (skin color, nationality, gender, ethnicity, intellectual ability, wealth, mannerisms, religious affiliation, and so on) that we are taught to take into account when it comes to recognizing and valuing other people's needs. As such, hardly any of us are able to embody the kind of inclusiveness, egalitarianism and solidarity that most of us do see as the ideal (that we mostly fail to live up to in practice).
The questions I want to explore here are, first, how we apply this 'skill' in the context of our thinking about the other animals, second, how this affects our treatment of them, and third, how the fact that we allow ourselves to behave and think this way towards the other animals affects how we treat and view other humans.