"There are people who have the capacity to imagine themselves as someone else, there are people who have no such capacity (when the lack is extreme, we call them psychopaths), and there are people who have the capacity but choose not to exercise it" (133).
Almost every topic we have discussed in this course has brought up the issue of responsibility and action. Sontag's analysis of photographs focused on the role of the photographer, the subject, and the viewer with regards to their participation in the picture taking/viewing process. The act of torture raised questions about the responsibility of the torturer, the system which produced such viscous behavior, and of those aware that such instances are a common occurrence in today's military operations. And our final section is no different, introducing the responsibilities that are often neglected pertaining to issues of animal cruelty and the culture of slaughtering animals in todays society.
Elizabeth Costello begins her lecture by comparing the concentration camps of the Third Reich to the treatment of animals in what she calls "production facilities". Costello claims that we lack the mental capacity to understand a mind other than our own, which explains how facilities of slaughter for human beings and for animals have existed throughout history. People living in areas surrounding concentration camps claimed to either have no knowledge of the cruelty around them, or explained that while they had ideas of what was taking place in these facilities, they did not jump to conclusions in order to protect themselves. According to Costello, "Only those in the camps were innocent", and all others were charged with the crime of treating human beings like animals. She ends her introduction by comparing the justification of killing animals for food with the killing of human beings for the production of soap and mattress stuffing.
After reading the introduction leading up to Costello's main argument in the lecture I stopped to think about how I viewed the issue of killing animals for the production of food and other goods. I admit, I thought it was a bit overkill for her to compare the atrocities that took place in concentration camps to the actions that take place in slaughterhouses. Naturally I feel more empathetic for human beings, perhaps because I am one, or because I have grown up in a society that places me as superior to our animal friends. I have never challenged myself to understand what it means to be an animal, and have remained ignorant to my responsibilities up until now. I am troubled with the question of how I am to use this new knowledge. Many of the other topics in this course have brought up that same question for me, and Costello explains that our responsibility is to use this new knowledge, and to avoid being ignorant. Costello goes on to challenge the reader to "think their way" into the minds of others. As an author of fiction, Costello's books require her to create new characters with intricate detail. She explains that much like the way she thinks herself into the minds of these characters, we must think ourselves into the mind of animals. It is no longer acceptable to claim ignorance as a defense, because ignorance brings no punishment and no reaction, and without these results, the cycle will never be terminated.
The last part of this lecture that I would like to touch on is a topic that I discussed in length in a course last semester, and that is the idea of possessing consciousness. In Religion and Disability Bio-Ethics we studied a man named Peter Singer who is famous for believing in assisted suicide and the right of the parents to cease life of their infant children if they do not possess the "will to survive". Singer claims that because young children are not conscious of their surroundings, they should not be considered human beings. In Costello's piece this same argument is brought up, comparing the idea that animals are not conscious of their surroundings, therefor it is acceptable to slaughter them. When the same argument is brought up about young children, everyone is quick to explain why the child should be saved and the animal should be killed. I think what Costello is trying to get at is the importance of treating both humans and animals on an equal playing field. She challenges us to analyze our own modes of thinking, and sets up a great introduction to our new section on the treatment of animals.