How we act when we have full control over another animal is indicative of the state of our morality.  Peter Singer proposes how humanly we treat our animals reflects on how well we treat each other.

“Mahatma Gandhi acutely observed that “the greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated”. To seek to reduce the suffering of those who are completely under one’s domination, and unable to fight back, is truly a mark of a civilised society.

Charting the progress of animal-welfare legislation around the world is therefore an indication of moral progress more generally. Last month, parallel developments on opposite sides of the world gave us grounds for thinking that the world may, slowly and haltingly, be becoming a little more civilised.

First, the British House of Commons passed a motion directing the government to impose a ban on the use of wild animals in circuses. The motion followed the release of undercover footage, obtained by Animal Defenders International, of a circus worker repeatedly beating Anne, an elephant. The measure was, at least initially, opposed by the Conservative government, but supported by members of all political parties. In a triumph for parliamentary democracy, the motion passed without dissent.”

If you’re feeling weak of stomach, I recommend not following the elephant link.  It is not particular graphic by hollywood standards, what is chilling though is the routine nature of what was going on.  It looks like the beatings were ‘par for the course’ and normalized behaviour for the staff members.  To stop thinking, to stop your empathic instincts and turn off your feelings cause your ‘just gett’n the job done’, that is what is most disquieting.

“One recent sign again concerns circuses. Chinese zoos have drawn crowds by staging animal spectacles, and by allowing members of the public to buy live chickens, goats, and horses in order to watch them being pulled apart by lions, tigers, and other big cats. Now the Chinese government has forbidden state-owned zoos from taking part in such cruelty.

Welcome as these initiatives are, the number of animals in circuses and zoos is tiny compared to the tens of billions of animals suffering in factory farms. In this area, Western countries have set a deplorable example.

Recently, however, the European Union has recognised that the intensive confinement of farm animals has gone too far. It has already outlawed keeping veal calves in individual stalls, and, in six months, it will be illegal in all 27 EU countries, from Portugal to Poland and from Britain to Greece, to keep laying hens in the bare-wire cages that today dominate the egg industry around the world. In January 2013, keeping breeding sows in individual stalls will also be prohibited.

The United States lags behind Europe in getting rid of the worst forms of abuse of farm animals. The problem does not lie with voters, who, in states such as Florida, Arizona, and California, have shown that they want farm animals to have better protection than the animal industries typically provide. The biggest problems are in those states that lack a mechanism for citizens to initiate a referendum on how farm animals should be treated. Unfortunately, this group includes the Midwestern and southern states, where the majority of America’s farmed animals are produced.”

Incremental progress.  Easy enough for us.