A reader writes:

Unfortunately, we are not the only species that willfully causes suffering.  Cetaceans (killer whales, dolphins) have been observed toying with their prey quite a bit. National Geographic had some amazing footage of a pod of killer whales that had isolated a seal, and spent some time flipping it to each other with their tails, tossing it like a ball.  After exhausting the thing, one of them crunched it.  Chimps have been observed maiming a member of another tribe, then letting it go. Unfortunately, it's a base instinct at some level, and natural selection has not found a way to get rid of it yet.

Torture, it stikes me, cannot be a base instinct. We cannot know what is going on in the consciousness of whales or dolphins as they appear to torture. Some scientists have observed it as a kind of play, or training for the young. Cruelty? It requires human consciousness, so far as can know at this point. The same applies to the feline angle:

You don't own a cat, do you?  I know your beloved beagles would never engage in the sort of barbarism I am about to describe, but cats take their sweet time with a captive mouse, bird, etc.  It can take one of my very pampered housecats well over an hour to finally do in the little squeaker.  The mouse is batted about the room; there are are stress positions and (un)intentional dismemberment – it's not pretty.  Eventually, the cat might eat the remains – or she might not.  They are arbitrary and essentially un-empathetic creatures.   I can't say that their actions are meant to inflict pain, per se, and they certainly aren't getting any valuable information or false confessions from the mouse (that I know of) but they sure are enjoying themselves while doing it.  Which is the real dehumanizing danger in allowing torture for any purpose, under any circumstances. You just don't want to let humans go down that road – some of them might get to like it.

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