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Blurring the Boundary Between Humans and Other Animals

February 7, 2022
Lambs in genetics experiments. Michael Moss/The New York Times. (UPC note: While this report specifically covers genetic experiments on animals for agribusiness, it illustrates the amoral culture of animal-based biotechnology in general.)

Source United Poultry Concerns (UPC)

By Karen Davis, PhD, President of UPC

This article was first published January 20th on Animals 24-7.

Heinrich Himmler, who founded the quasi-military police unit known as the SS and administered the Nazi death camps, was initially a chicken farmer. According to Charles Patterson in his book Eternal Treblinka: Our Treatment of Animals and the Holocaust, Himmler’s “agricultural studies and experience breeding chickens convinced him that since all behavioral characteristics are hereditary, the most effective way to shape the future of a population – human or non-human – was to institute breeding projects that favored the desirable and eliminated the undesirable” (p. 100).

“By blurring the boundary between animals and human beings,” says Boria Sax in Animals in the Third Reich: Pets, Scapegoats, and the Holocaust, “many Nazi practices made the killing of people seem like the slaughtering of animals. The Nazis forced those whom they were about to murder to get completely undressed and huddle together, something that is not normal behavior for human beings. Nakedness suggests an identity as animals; when combined with crowding, it suggests a herd of cattle or sheep” (p. 150) – or, as well, a pile of defeathered chickens making the victims “easier to shoot or gas”.

For most people, as I discuss in The Holocaust and the Henmaid’s Tale, blurring the boundary between human and nonhuman beings, in order to harm humans more easily, is disturbing not because it raises questions about how we treat other animals, but because it threatens our superior status as humans. For many people, the idea that it is as morally wrong to harm animals intentionally as it is to harm humans intentionally borders on heresy. Similarly, the idea that animals could suffer as terribly as humans in being forced to engage in degrading behavior offends many people. Hostility between and among human groups is historical, but just as bickering individuals and nations come together against a common human enemy, so most people unite in defense of human supremacy and uniqueness over all other forms of life. The boundary between “human” and “animal” cannot be breached.

In reality, the boundary is continuously breached and blurred. Theriomorphy, in which the human and nonhuman animal come together, takes many forms. Humans and nonhuman animals share a common evolutionary heritage and sentience, and we share many similar and identical interests and behaviors. Meateaters incorporate animals into themselves by eating them, human infants’ first milk is often that of a lactating cow or goat, and many people are theriomorphic as a result of cross-species organ transplants, as reported in ”University of Maryland doctors in Baltimore perform first successful transplant of pig heart into human,” Jan. 11, 2022.

So-called bestiality – sexual relations involving human and nonhuman animals – is, as Midas Dekkers observes in Dearest Pet: On Bestiality, “omnipresent – in art, in science, in history, in our dreams” (p. 5).

In myth and religion, animals are frequently employed by the gods to impregnate women. Dekkers notes that “Jesus Christ, himself the Lamb of God, had absolutely no need to be ashamed of his origins, since the dove which had fathered him in Mary was a god as well as a dove. Like the children of Leda and her swan [in Greek mythology], he is at the same time the product of bestiality (man x animal) and of theogamy (god x man). The same ambiguity is found in other religions” (p. 10).

A similar ambiguity appears in Western science. Animals are substituted for humans in biomedical research, which is based on the assumption that animals can double for people as sources of information about the human condition. Inflicting human diseases on animals in search of a cure, however modern it may seem, is really a type of primitive purification ritual. Through the ages, people have sought consciously or unconsciously to rid themselves of their impurities (diseases, sins and vices) by symbolically transferring their impurities to sacrificial victims, known as scapegoats. Often, these victims are represented as having both human and nonhuman attributes. In Christianity, Jesus is the sacrificial lamb who bears away the sins of the world. In the Hasidic custom of Kaporos, adherents transfer their sins symbolically to chickens, their “doubles,” who are then slaughtered. Swinging a chicken three times by the legs around his or her head, the practitioner chants: “This is my exchange, this is my substitute, this is my atonement. This chicken shall go to its death, and I shall proceed to a good, long life and peace” (Wenig, p. 2).

The ritual transference of one’s own transgressions and diseases to a sacrificial animal victim constitutes an interspecies rape of that victim. In both cases, the animal victim is treated as a receptacle for the victimizer’s defilement. In both cases, the animal victim is involuntarily made to appear as an aspect of the victimizer’s identity. Humans, by virtue of a shared verbal language, can aggressively challenge the profanation and misappropriation of their identity. By contrast, a nonhuman animal, such as a hen, is powerless, short of human intercession, to protect her identity, as when she is characterized by her abusers as an “egg-laying machine” or as a symbolic uterus for the deposition of a human being’s spiritual filth, illustrating Jim Mason’s observation in his book An Unnatural Order, that traditional religion “sets up a mind that is ‘entertained’ by scenes of debasement” (p. 180).

The boundary between animals as food and animals as sexual objects and religious appendages is thus blurred, even though the animals are not considered in their own right at all. The rape of farmed animals is an ancient practice, not only because these animals have always been readily available for sexual assault on the farm, but because farmed-animal production is based on physically manipulating and controlling animals’ sex lives and reproductive organs. Sexually abusive in essence, animal farming invites crude conduct and attitudes toward the animals on the part of producers and consumers alike. Use of domesticated birds, goats, and sheep as literal and symbolic aspects of human religious experience reflects these animals’ primary status as consumables – beings whose value resides in their absorption into the human body and into the anthropomorphic imagination in which they are frequently cast as ennobled by their contribution.

As numerous commenters on the recent transplant of a pig’s heart into a man’s body have observed in support of this operation and its future applications, people who eat animals and drink their milk are already comfortable having animals’ bodies and fluids inside their own. Organs from other animals simply expand this comfort zone, adding even more “benefit” to humans. The superior status of humans is in no way diminished in being chimerically mingled with nonhuman animals. After all, we absorb them; they do not absorb us.


Davis, Karen. 2005. The Holocaust and the Henmaid’s Tale: A Case for Comparing Atrocities. New York: Lantern Books.

Dekkers, Midas. 1994. Dearest Pet: On Bestiality. Trans. Paul Vincent. New York: Verso.

Mason, Jim. 2005. An Unnatural Order: Uncovering the Roots of Our Domination of Nature and Each Other. New York: Lantern Books.

Miller, Hallie. 2022. “University of Maryland doctors in Baltimore perform first successful transplant of pig heart into human.” The Baltimore Sun, January 11.

Nellore, Usha. 2022. “Pigs can now hog the spotlight: Reader Commentary.” The Baltimore Sun, January 13.

Patterson, Charles. 2002. Eternal Treblinka: Our Treatment of Animals and the Holocaust. New York: Lantern Books.

Sax, Boria. 2000. Animals in the Third Reich: Pets, Scapegoats, and the Holocaust. New York: Continuum.

Wenig, Gaby. 2003. “Human Atonement or Animal Cruelty?” Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles. October 30.

Karen Davis, PhD is the President and Founder of United Poultry Concerns, a nonprofit organization that promotes the compassionate and respectful treatment of domestic fowl including a sanctuary for chickens in Virginia. Inducted into the National Animal Rights Hall of Fame for Outstanding Contributions to Animal Liberation, Karen is the author of numerous books, essays, articles and campaigns. Her books include A Home for Henny; Instead of Chicken, Instead of Turkey: A Poultryless ‘Poultry’ PotpourriPrisoned Chickens, Poisoned Eggs: An Inside Look at the Modern Poultry Industry; More Than a Meal: The Turkey in History, Myth, Ritual, and Reality; and The Holocaust and the Henmaid’s Tale: A Case for Comparing Atrocities. Karen’s latest book is For the Birds: From Exploitation to Liberation – Essays on Chickens, Turkeys, and Other Domesticated Fowl.

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Humans have a tragic proclivity
For applying cruelties
To their creativity
If only, if they only would
Devote those energies instead
To doing good

Karen Lyons Kalmenson

8 Comments leave one →
  1. February 7, 2022 4:50 am

    This is so sickening so worryingly wrong and so bloody cruel. This needs to stopped because it’s too much so un ethical. WTF do you get from this ?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. February 7, 2022 5:03 am

    Humans have a tragic proclivity
    For applying cruelties
    To their creativity
    If only, if they only would
    Devote those energies instead
    To doing good

    Liked by 1 person

    • February 7, 2022 8:09 am

      “…applying cruelties to their creativity” is beautifully said and so tragically true, like the humane washing of violence and suffering. Thank you so much, hon, I love it, it’s perfect as always. ❤


  3. February 7, 2022 7:08 am

    Sharing a publication and referencing it as originally published on 24-7 eradicates what credibility this article may have had! 24-7 is pit hate propaganda! Clifton lost in court where a journalist proved his stats were “Far from the truth” considering that you share such questionable sources I am removing myself from your mailing list


    • February 7, 2022 7:42 am

      If you can take a moment to see beyond your feigned outrage, you’ll see that the author is UPC’s KAREN DAVIS, not the “allegedly disgraced” Clifton; this article, written by KAREN DAVIS, was sourced from UPC, as written by KAREN DAVIS. Since you missed the link – was it too small? – I’ll post here again:

      If you had just asked, I could have educated you as to the WP format that requires a “by” at the top, see above how it says “By Stacey” even though I didn’t write it? That just means I posted it, not that I wrote it, which is why I explain this in About and why I clearly use bold/larger font for the actual source, who, in this case, is UPC’s KAREN DAVIS. It’s bizarre you missed that but had no trouble finding the much smaller 24/7.

      But imagine being so emotionally traumatized by your inaccurate assumptions that you think it’s ok to ignore the factual animal suffering KAREN DAVIS wrote about. I’m not here for follows, likes, or mailing list stats, if you don’t care about animals, I’m fine with your absence (I don’t even know who you are – ?). I’ll be deleting your comment after awhile as it’s YOU who is the questionable source.

      In your words: DO BETTER

      Liked by 1 person

    • February 8, 2022 12:59 am

      Actually i don’t care if an article has been “recognized” or “awarded” or not.
      It does not matter WHO writes with a voice for those who do not have a voice… the human being (the worst of beasts) is committing atrocities without equal. We are in the Anthropocene and fully in the sixth mass extinction. If we don’t change our paradigms and conduct, future generations will be confronted not only with climate change that is causing damage everywhere. Think about it, “bsltruth”. Nobody forces you to change your opinion and conduct of life … but do not unjustly accuse those who have the courage to point the finger at an abject and morally incorrect society.
      Stacey, just keep doing… you are great.

      Liked by 1 person

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