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January 9, 2014

Mirror, mirror: Animal and human suffering connections

NORMAN — Dear Readers: Humans, like other animals, have so-called mirror neurons in their brains that instantly process the emotional state of another deciphered through their facial expressions, vocalizations and body language. This happens to facilitate communication and appropriate action/reaction.

When signals of distress and suffering are processed, empathetic concern is evoked, as is fear. Sociopaths and psychopaths may respectively feel nothing or some perverse pleasure. Empathetic concern — which can include sympathy, outrage, remorse, anger, guilt and disbelief — can lead to denial or appropriate action to help, save, protect and defend by direct action.

While the print and TV media increasingly limit public exposure to extreme human suffering, there are even greater limits imposed, at least in America, on showing documented cruelties and suffering of animals.

Ironically, some newspapers — including my local edition — have no qualms publishing photographs of a 12-year-old girl with a deer she had shot and a wildlife biology student grinning with a wolf he had shot draped around his shoulders.

This establishes a culturally accepted norm, but images of animal suffering and cruelty — of animals in traps, in factory livestock and fur farms, puppy mills and slaughterhouses — are rarely shown by the mass media. We should ask why and who is protecting whom.

Censorship of animal cruelty and suffering by the mass media parallels the atrocious record of state and federal law enforcement agencies of anti-cruelty laws.

Janelle Dixon, president and CEO of the Minneapolis Animal Humane Society, recently reported how her organization spent $225,000 caring for dogs from a puppy mill, while the operator of this commercial dog breeding operation received a charge of a year’s probation, a 90-day suspended jail sentence and a $50 fine.

Clearly, America must wipe its mirror clean when it comes to animal and human suffering caused by how, as a culture, we choose to do our business. And the media must begin to act responsibly rather than entertain, distract and continue to promote consumerism and biased information.

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