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Imprinting Kids for Violence Toward Animals

New Zealanders are putting well-known psychological principles to work.

I woke up this morning to a barrage of emails concerning New Zealand's unrelenting commitment to getting rid of predators by the year 2050. Of course, not all New Zealanders support this violent war against nonhuman animals (animals), but I've been told that many do.

In a previous essay called "Youngsters Encouraged to Kill Possum Joeys in New Zealand," Jasmijn de Boo, CEO of New Zealand's SAFE For Animals, wrote, "A clear majority of the New Zealand population seem to back the extermination 'Predator Free 2050' programme, which vilifies possums, rats, and stoats." I've been told that the number could be as high as 98%.

In my essay, I cited a number of different pieces in which youngsters were encouraged to kill animals including "3 Things You Can Do This Conservation Week" (with a most disturbing image of a youngster getting ready to punch a rat caught in a spring trap across the lower back) and "Horror at children drowning baby possums at Drury school event." I also included a link to a sickening video the Drury School made about killing possums with a soundtrack to Deliverance.

Two other essays prompted the emails that arrived this morning. The first essay is called "Predator-free plea: 'We need more than just a rallying cry" in which a photo of a young girl proudly holding dead stoats was used, and then removed, but not before I could view it. It made me ill. This essay begins, "One year on, support for Predator Free 2050—the bold government-backed project to rid NZ of possums, rats, and stoats by 2050—is gathering pace, but scientists are warning it's an impossible goal."

The second essay by Kerry McQueeney published in the UK's Daily Mail has a very bold but accurate title, namely, "Hello possums! New Zealand schoolchildren encouraged to dress up dead animals in bizarre competition." In this essay we read, "School brushes off criticism, claiming it was 'a lot of fun' which raised money for charity" and "Dressed in wedding gowns and bikinis—their eyes fixed, jaws stiffened and bodies frozen in time—you might be forgiven for thinking you had stumbled on to a taxidermist fancy dress convention. However, these furry corpses formed part of a display at a school in New Zealand which held a bizarre best-dressed dead possum competition as part of a fundraising day. Children let their imaginations run wild when they dressed the dead animals in all their finery for the contest at Uruti School on New Zealand's North Island."

We also read, "One dressed as a boxer had its torso skinned, and one might wonder whether rigor mortis could have helped the animal keep its fighting pose in the ring."

Mr. McQueeney's essay is available online, but I warn you that the images are shockingly reprehensible. Shame on all educators and others who support this unmitigated violence and who are using kids to kill these sentient beings.

Imprinting children to display violence

Imprinting youngsters to kill nonhuman animals puts well-known psychological principles to work: Authority figures say it's perfectly okay.

Imprinting is a well-known psychological process. It can generally be defined as follows: "In psychology and ethology, imprinting is any kind of phase-sensitive learning (learning occurring at a particular age or a particular life stage) that is rapid and apparently independent of the consequences of behavior. It was first used to describe situations in which an animal or person learns the characteristics of some stimulus, which is therefore said to be 'imprinted' onto the subject. Imprinting is hypothesized to have a critical period (Wikipedia)."

Note two important aspects of imprinting, namely that it is "rapid and apparently independent of the consequences of behavior" and that there is a "critical period" during which these sorts of associations are formed. This period usually occurs early in life when individuals are especially impressionable.

Dr. Adrian Furnham's Psychology Today essay called "The Psychology of Imprinting" nicely outlines what is known about imprinting. He also discusses examples of critical periods in humans and examples of human imprinting. There is no reason to assume that youngsters can't be imprinted to display violence toward nonhuman animals.

Imprinting can easily cross-species, and encouraging youngsters to kill nonhuman animals puts psychology to work and it's easy to see how they will go on to disrespect and kill more animals as they get older, and perhaps some will also abuse humans (for more discussion please see "Long-Term Effects of Violence Toward Animals by Youngsters" and links therein). After all, authority figures have told them it's perfectly okay to slaughter other animals as part of their education. In this essay, I wrote about a phenomenon called "the link" which focuses on relationships between violence toward animals and violence toward humans.

Concerning relationships between violence toward animals and violence toward humans, in her book called Animal Cruelty, Antisocial Behaviour, and Aggression: More Than a Link, Dr. Eleonora Gullone writes (p. ix): "'The Link'" refers to the idea that 'acts of interpersonal violence are frequently preceded by, or co-occur with, acts of cruelty to animals, 'red flag' markers that previously were ignored." And, New Zealand has its problems with domestic violence (please see references in "Long-Term Effects of Violence Toward Animals by Youngsters"). Imprinting surely could be part of the process of violence begetting violence.

Let's work hard so that violence will not beget violence

It is essential to strongly counter imprinting youngsters to kill other animals. Data from around the world supporting "the link" are of great concern to numerous people, as they should be. It is a relationship to which it is well worth paying close attention. By encouraging respect for other animals as early in life as possible, we might see a decline in the relationship between violence toward nonhumans and subsequent violence toward humans. Teaching children wrong can have devastating consequences. Teaching them right could surely right many of the wrongs.

It's well-known that violence can cross species lines and it is essential to work hard so that violence will not beget violence. Educators and all others who encourage youngsters to kill other animals should be taken to task, for what they are doing is wrong and incredibly inhumane. As someone wrote to me this morning, "They know exactly what they're doing to perpetuate hate toward other animals."

Kids are being asked to make killing animals a family affair

Youngsters are being brainwashed by powerful people so that they come to view other animals as their enemies in this violent war against nature. They're also asked to make it a family affair, a family foray into nature. In "Predator-free plea: 'We need more than just a rallying cry,'" we read, "We want kids in schools to go home and say to their parents 'Why aren't you trapping pests, Mum and Dad?' I think if that happened all over New Zealand—our population is five million—then we'd get five million pests if everybody set a trap."

What a wonderful lesson this is in inhumane education. And, what a delightful fun-filled family outing and marvelous way to foster "the link" this would be. Thankfully, SAFE has an animal squad program that recognizes that "the future of New Zealand’s animals rests in the hands of the next generation, and they need our help." This program will teach children right by imparting positive attitudes, rather teach them wrong by setting up an "us" versus "them the enemy" war.

Youngsters must be taught compassion, empathy, and kindness rather than killing other animals for fun. They should be taught that the life of every single individual matters. These sorts of lessons would be a win-win for all.1,2


1Darcia Narvaez's recent Psychology Today essay called "Humans Defeat Nature---As Prescribed. Are You Happy Now?" contains a number of messages similar to those I raise here. On the importance of working with youngsters please see her essay called "Getting Back on Track to Being Human."

2Veterinarian Dr. Andrew Knight, who now works with SAFE, wrote me an email in which he notes that the links between prior animal abuse and subsequent abuse of vulnerable people are not to be underestimated. It was thought to be a factor in the development of the world’s most infamous serial killer, Jack the Ripper. You can read more about this in an essay called "Was Jack the Ripper a Slaughterman? Human-Animal Violence and the World’s Most Infamous Serial Killer."

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