“As long as there are slaughterhouses there will be battlefields.”
(Leo Tolstoy)

“Earthling    (n.)   one who inhabits the earth”

Here is a video, called Earthlings (hat tip to Mike Folschette) about how we treat non-human Earthlings:


The speaker is Joaquin Phoenix (I liked his performace as Johnny Cash in Walk the Line) with soundtracks by Moby. Basically, it is a visually extremely tough movie on our habits of treating animals. I have been thinking about this a bit, see HERE, with replies and comments by the guys over at http://www.env-econ.net HERE, and the relation to overconsumption HERE.

In general I believe that social distance, or our way of discounting across space and species, is the cause of this behavior. For example, if a horse breaks his ankle, then our `humane’ reaction is to shoot it. If a human breaks his ankle, then our `humane’ reaction is to take him to the hospital to get treated. Why do we shoot the horse: well, as a racehorse it will maybe never be able to perform as it used to, and treatment is very expensive. In contrast, why do we not shoot the human: well, that is really a strange question to even ask… Or isn’t it?

If I take you back only 75 years, then it is precisely this what the Germans did during the Holocaust. As Viktor Frankl writes in his tough book `Man’s search for meaning’, which I wrote about HERE, if the Germans’ prisoners could not continue working, then they were simply killed. This was done because they gave the Germans no `value added’, meaning that they cost more (in terms of food and shelter) than what they could produce. This kind of slavery was common already basically since mankind settled down, with sometimes more than 30% of the population (e.g. ancient Italy) being composed of slaves.

Thus, there is significant evidence not only of discounting across species, but within our own species, too. While we tend to try saving those precious or close to us for morale reasons, we tend to use cost-benefit analysis once we take decisions for an earthling that is not close to us. Or, for someone who doesn’t like the morale argument, then the discounting one should suffice: we discount away the benefits of those that we are not closely related to. Or differently, the greater the social distance of an earthling the less we value the benefits attached to that earthling.

In most parts of this planet, we (humans) tend to think that we socially and morally evolved, our society `improved’, in the sense that we do not anymore undertake these atrocities of the 2nd World War, slavery, or similar. The question obviously is whether this is true due to a lower social discounting, or whether there are other reasons behind this. And in addition, if this is due to the lower social discounting, then how can we affect this discount rate, i.e. decrease it? Also, why did it decrease?

Any thoughts on these questions are welcome, and I will treat these questions in a follow-up post in the next days.