In the inferno – thoughts about selective empathy

As Australia burns, the media shows harrowing scenes of indigenous species like koalas and kangaroos, injured, burned and dying. We see so many human interest stories, individual koala mothers with infants clutching at their fur being rescued and cared for; we are invited to feel the personal tragedy of a single kangaroo joey tangled in the fence where he was incinerated.  Whether mourned or rescued, they are viewed as individuals, and we are united in hope for their survival, watching with bated breath as we are shown desperate creatures under an orange sky, fleeing through the smoke with the inferno roaring at their heels. The estimated number of 500,000,000 (half a BILLION) deaths has remained static for well over a week and has no doubt been wildly exceeded by now* – possibly by several orders of magnitude – and will continue to climb.

I see occasional comments that wonder why no count is being publicised of those individuals who, as the defenceless victims of nonveganism, were always destined to be slaughtered; those innocent creatures whose lives and bodies were being ‘farmed’. Their plight is consistently downplayed and they are referred to sweepingly, only as ‘livestock‘. Live. Stock.

There are no human interest stories about them, no pitiful images of burned and desperate mothers seeking water from passers-by, no heroic bystanders pouring water on their burned fur and bleeding feet. No heartwarming tales of rescue and medical care.

We are not being shown videos of their desperate flight from the cracking, howling flames. Because they can’t flee. They are sitting targets. They are dying en masse. We see the occasional distance shot of cooked, bloated and unrecognisable bodies fallen in the paddocks where they were burned alive; the occasional image of sheep with their coats frizzled by flames. But even the ‘personal interest’ stories that I’ve seen, notably one where a heatbroken animal farmer was shooting cows individually in his fields, are focussed on his tragedy, his loss of livelihood. It was not a story about the tragedy of those unique individuals who were looking down the barrel of his gun, those sentient creatures who had faced hell and terror and were now injured and suffering unbearably.

There is no mention of the fact that the hell and terror of a slaughterhouse was the only route out of their situation in any case. The real tragedy from the perspective of their exploiter was that as damaged resources, they had no monetary value, and the fire-ravaged land may be unable to support the continuation of his profitable trade. Because before any individual can be exploited as a resource for our species, we must first disregard their every entitlement to consideration as living, feeling, autonomous beings. They become resources, livestock, property. They are then discussed in terms of property loss and damage.

The unfolding catastrophe is referred to a ‘humanitarian crisis’. This focus on the human exploiters and the disregarding of the torment of the individuals they exploit on behalf of nonvegan consumers, is a perfect illustration of the mindset with which we are all indoctrinated from childhood. Almost every single one of us will claim to care about members of other animal species to some extent or another. Few of us will openly claim that causing needless harm to the defenceless, the innocent, and the vulnerable is in any way acceptable. None of us would ever admit to being the sort of person that would do that.

And yet here we are, glancing impassively over anonymous corpse-littered farmland and feeling for those whose trade trapped them there, while pouring out concern and sympathy for the wild creatures with whose suffering we allow ourselves to empathise.

Here is our species, continuing to globally slaughter over 1.5 BILLION land based individuals per WEEK to indulge an unnecessary dietary preference, while watching the results of the planetary destruction this is causing, lay waste to a land that may never recover. Surely the irony can’t be lost on everyone?

Be vegan.


*Update: as of 7 January 2020, the number of deaths has been estimated as 1,000,000,000 (one BILLION) and a University of Sydney spokesman is on record as saying that this is an extremely conservative estimate.

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17 Responses to In the inferno – thoughts about selective empathy

  1. Pingback: Of (kanga)roos and elephants, of backpackers and locals – thoughts from down-under! | Oceaneers

  2. Pingback: In the inferno – thoughts about selective empathy | Our Compass

  3. Vee Lewin says:

    Do you happen to know of any organizations who are rescuing farm animals from the fires? I want to donate. Or maybe there are farm animal sanctuaries there and they need help moving the animals out of harm’s way?


  4. It’s the same here in the USA when a factory farm has a fire or is flooded, people comment about how sad it is for the farmer, (whose insurance probably paid for the loss), along with crude jokes about fried chicken.

    Liked by 1 person

    • So true. I actually posted on social media recently following yet another fire at an egg production facility, where the deaths of thousands of captive hens in the most horrific of circumstances was talked about in purely monetary terms as ‘collateral damage’, and actually ‘joked’ about as a ready-made barbecue. It’s difficult to understand the depth of the ignorance and insensitivity that we are encouraged to adopt about the means by which all animal-derived substances and services are made available for our use. It’s even harder to understand why so much hostility greets those who challenge the brutality.

      Liked by 1 person

      • The hostility towards people who express compassion for the poor animals in these tragedies seems to be a defense or denial mechanism. If they had to think too hard about it, or admit the animals suffered or that that even matters, they’d have lost more of their excuses for continuing to support these industries. People are only now coming round about puppy mills, and many still delude themselves into believing their pure bred puppy didn’t come from one of those places. People believe their food came from a humane source, and/or that the animals don’t matter anyway. Anyone who challenges that gets attacked.


  5. Anja Heister says:

    Thank you very much for writing the truth about this disaster and bring to light the fate of those animals who never get mentioned. I’m just beside myself … Same during the floods in the Carolinas when no media bothered to even mention, let alone show photos/videos of the slaughterhouses, locked and closed down with thousands of pigs and chicken left to drown … I wrote a long letter to NPR about this. Anyway, there is just no insight, no reflection of our actions and absolutely no empathy and compassion for ‘livestock’ (the name says it all …) Finally, here in Montana, a minimum of 37,000 cows and their calves died during horrific freezing temps in 2018 … only the poor ranchers and the loss of their profit were mentioned, no word about those animal victims, their fate subsumed not only in the name ‘livestock’ but a mere number, same shit as now in Australia.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Thank you for writing the truth. I’m appalled by the hypocrisy, particularly when I see FB posts stating how heartbreaking it is, and getting ‘likes’. Yet these same people will happily tuck into a steak. Ive shared your insightful post on my FB pages and included these words. ‘I’m incensed, there is indeed an elephant in the room and the post below brings it to the fore. Images of innocent animals fleeing the inferno are heartbreaking, but what about those who couldn’t flee? Animals who were trapped because they were destined to be that steak on a plate. What about them? Yes, so many innocent animals have died in the horrific fires, but as someone who lives a plant-based lifestyle I’m actually sickened by the hypocrisy. After the ash settles and life goes back to ‘normal’ I’m sure I’ll see posts with images showcasing meals containing animals who ‘escaped’ the fires!! Selective empathy indeed…

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you so much for sharing and for your encouragement. I have seen some hostility on social media, claiming that this time of national tragedy is not the appropriate time to ‘push a vegan agenda’. To my way of thinking, there is no better time – not to ‘push an agenda’ – but rather to highlight the truth. The effects of the destruction caused by animal agriculture aren’t going to go away.

      Liked by 2 people

  7. Here in Washington state, when the catastrpjic fires burned through the fenced in cattle allotments and burned hundreds of cows, the ranchers just shot any survivors so they could collect their insurance $…

    Liked by 2 people

    • Indeed. I consider that such callousness – which some would undoubtedly call pragmatism – is the inevitable consequence of what is referred to as ‘the property status of animals’. Our victims are commercial assets and like all such, they have value only when the financial profit they are intended to generate on behalf of their exploiters, can be realised. Following the millions of deaths in Carolina caused by flooding and hurricane Florence in 2018, I recall writing about it, trying to highlight the sheer mind-numbing contradiction of ‘animal lovers’ whose consumer choices unavoidably create the very situations that they become so enraged about. Now of course, the collapsing climate is making every weather event more hazardous. Australia is in great peril and we all face an uncertain future.

      Liked by 3 people

  8. Reblogged this on Exposing the Big Game.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Eva Maria says:

    Such a excellent article as always. You have said all that I have been thinking and observing in your wonderfully articulate way. Every time there is a bushfire anywhere I wait to hear some mention of the animals. Sometimes it’s a week or more and sometimes it’s not mentioned at all. And then as you said it is referred to as stock losses. Even when piggeries are burned . Not one person talks about the pigs and the horrendous deaths they would have endured. Profit losses. Yes the wildlife gets a mention but only after a suitable reporting on human inconvenience has been covered. At other times the same wildlife is culled when it’s decided there are too many of them. Or it’s ok to shoot (even with a crossbow), trap and poison them with 1080. Kangaroos are also hunted with dogs. Humans are self centred, greedy hypocrites. I have trouble mustering up any sympathy for the farmers. Or anyone else who shows no regard for these innocent lives yet expects the everyone to feel sorry for them.

    Liked by 2 people

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