Friday, December 16, 2011

Suffering We Can Recognize

At Lawyers, Guns and Money, Erik Loomis posts this image and writes:

"This image from Life Magazine disturbs me. I guess because it looks like the shot is set up like giving a dying solider a last drink of water."

My first thought was perplexity: does Loomis really need to "guess" why this image "disturbs" him (might it be because an animal is quite obviously suffering)? This led me to the sincere speculation that Loomis was being ironic: he can't really have to guess why the image is disturbing, right? But on further thought, I realize that Loomis is onto something: this image is disturbing precisely because it creates a connection between the turtle and a human.

Most people are not remotely disturbed by the idea of a living animal being killed to be eaten. It is commonplace. Most people are not, I suspect, disturbed at seeing images of the animals that will ultimately be killed to be eaten. Do you get disturbed merely by looking at images of farm animals? But in this image, the turtle is in a pose that can be recognized as human: a prone, dying creature opening a mouth wide to receive some desperate succor for its sufferings. That this turtle can remind one of a human means that this turtle can make one empathize.

That may be the source of the disturbing feeling this image evokes. A creature is suffering, but we are made to actually see its suffering, because the pose has made its suffering relatable to a human viewer.

Animals are capable of suffering, even if we choose not to see it. And when we do choose to see it, or are forced to, we may be less inclined to have them end up in our soup.