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Narcissistic Pet Owner And Animal Rights

Uploaded 9/25/2023, approx. 27 minute read

As you all know by now, narcissists are unable to discern the separate existence of external objects.

And yet, they have a very interesting relationship with pets, with animals.

While they are incapable of sustaining any meaningful interaction with other people, some of them do have a kind of attachment and a form of bonding with their pets.

Why is that?


In today's video, I'm going to start by describing the narcissistic relationship between pet owners and pets.

Yes, I know it's controversial.

Many dogs and cats have protested this video.

And the second part of the video is going to be dedicated to the philosophy of animal rights.

Are animals sentient, conscious, possibly intelligent beings? And if they are, do they deserve a modicum of compassion, empathy and protection?

This is a question that goes into the heart of narcissism.

A narcissist is a solipsist. He cannot perceive that other people have needs, priorities, dreams, fears, hopes, emotions and cognitions.

Similarly, we, as human beings, cannot countenance the idea that animals have a rich inner world.

And this is a bit of a narcissistic defense.

My name for all the dog lovers and cat lovers out there. My name is Sam Vaknin. I'm the author of Malignant Self-Love, Narcissism Revisited. I am also a former visiting professor of human, not cat and not dog, but human psychology. And currently I'm the faculty of CIAPS Commonwealth for International Advanced Professional Studies.

And before you ask, before you ask, the only three pets I've ever had in my life were a whale, a snail and a goldfish. The goldfish broke my heart when she died. Her name was Freda Vica, Fredoosh for short.

Okay, tears aside, let us delve right in.

The presence of pets activates in us two primitive psychological defense mechanisms, projection and narcissism.

Creation is a defense mechanism intended to cope with internal or external stressors and emotional conflict.

And we do this by attributing to another person or another object such as a pet, usually attributing falsely thoughts, feelings, wishes, impulses, needs and hopes, which we deem forbidden, unwanted, non-desirable, unacceptable.

So we project those parts of us that we are ashamed of, we feel guilty about, we project them onto others.

Very often we project them onto pets.

We anthropomorphize the pet, convert the pet into the equivalent of a human being.

In the case of pets, projection works through anthropomorphizing, as I said.

We attribute to animals, our traits, our behavior patterns, our needs, our wishes, our emotions and our cognitive processes.

And this perceived similarity endears the pets to us and motivates us to care for the pets and to cherish them because they are like us.

Narcissism anyone?


But why do people become pet owners in the first place?

Well, caring for pets comprises equal measures of satisfaction and frustration.

Pet owners often employ a psychological defense mechanism known as cognitive dissonance in order to suppress the negative aspects of having pets and to deny the unpalatable fact that raising pets and caring for pets may be time-consuming, exhausting and strains, otherwise pleasurable and tranquil relationships, to their limits, not to mention the financial dimension, the expenditure.

So pet ownership is possibly an irrational vocation.

And still humanity keeps keeping pets.

What's wrong? What's wrong with everyone?

It may well be the call of nature. All living species reproduce and many of them are rent. Pets sometimes serve as surrogate children and surrogate friends.

In this they are very much human. They are perceived very much as human.

But is this maternity and paternity by proxy proof that beneath the ephemeral veneer of civilization we are still merely a kind of beast or animal subject to the impulses and hardwired behavior that permeate the rest of the animal kingdom?

In short, if you socialize with animals, are you an animal? Is our existential loneliness so extreme that it crosses the species barrier?

There is no denying that most people want their pets, love their pets, cherish their pets, are heartbroken when the pets die or disappear.

People are attached to pets.

They experience grief and bereavement when the pets pass away or depart or are sick.

Most pet owners find keeping pets emotionally fulfilling, happiness inducing and highly satisfying.

And this pertains even to unplanned and initially unwanted new pet arrivals.

Could this be the missing link?

Does pet ownership revolve around self-gratification? Does it all boil down to the pleasure principle?

Pet keeping may indeed be habit forming.

Months of raising pups and cubs and host of social positive reinforcement expectations.

Even pet owners do the job of pet raising.

Still, a living pet is nothing like the abstract concept of having a pet.

You see, pets wail, they soil themselves, they ruin the carpet, they destroy the environment, they stink, they severely disrupt the lives of their owners.

There's nothing too enticing here it sounds.

By the sound of it, pets are indistinguishable from newborns.

If you eliminate the impossible, whatever is left, however improbable, must be the truth, said a fellow narcissist.

People keep pets because it provides them with narcissistic supply.

Narcissist is a person who projects a false image unto others and uses the interest, the disprojection generates, to regulate a labile and grandiose sense of self-worth.

The reactions garnered by the narcissist, attention, unconditional acceptance, adulation, admiration, affirmation, even fear, any kind of attention.

These reactions are collectively known as narcissistic supply.

The narcissist treats pets as mere instruments of gratification.

Narcissists go through a phase of unbridled fantasy, tyrannical behavior and perceived omnipotence, little tyrants.

An adult narcissist, in other words, is still stuck in his or her terrible twos and is possessed with the emotional maturity of a toddler.

To some degree we are all narcissists.

Yet as we grow up, we learn to empathize and to love ourselves and as any others.

This edifice of maturity is severely tested by, none else, pet ownership.

Pets evoke in their keepers, in their owners, the most primordial drives, protective animalistic instincts, the desire to merge with a pet, in a sense of terror generated by this very desire.

There is a fear of vanishing, being assimilated.

Pets engender in their owners an emotional regression to infancy.

The owners find themselves revisiting their own childhood, even as they are caring for their pets, even as they are being parentified.

Their crumbling of decades and layers of personal growth is accompanied by a resurgence of the aforementioned early infancy narcissistic defenses.

Pet keepers, pet owners, especially new pet owners, are gradually transformed into narcissists by this encounter with their pets.

And they find in their pets the perfect sources of narcissistic supply, euphemistically known as love.

Today it is a form of symbiotic co-dependency of both parties.

Even the most balanced, most mature, most psychodynamically stable of pet owners finds such a flawed of narcissistic supply irresistible and addictive.

Being loved unconditionally by your dog, I mean what could be better?

It enhances the pet owner's self-confidence, buttresses her self-esteem, regulates his sense of self-worth and projects a complementary image of the parent to himself or to herself.

It thus becomes indispensable and irresistible.

And the key to our determination to have pets, to own pets, is our wish to experience the same unconditional love that we have received from our mothers, this intoxicating feeling of being adored without caveats for what we are with no limits or reservations or analysis or calculations.

This is the most powerful crystallized form of narcissistic supply.

It nourishes our self-love, sense of self-worth and self-confidence.

It infuses us with feelings of omnipotence and omniscience.

In these and in other respects, pet ownership is indeed a return, a full return to infancy.

And yet this raises a fascinating question.

How come on the one hand we own pets and pets are animals? And on the other hand, we eat meat and meat is dead animals.

How do we compartmentalize? How do we make this distinction between this animal is human, this animal is my friend, this animal is my child, and this animal I can kill, and this animal I can eat, and this animal is just a machine, a device to use the words of the car, "bet machine."

We call it "bet machine," the animal machine, the car, the grenade car.

So how does this happen?

To understand this, we need to transition from psychology to a much more ancient discipline, philosophy, and where better to start than MSNBC.

According to MSNBC, in a May 2005 Senate hearing, John Lewis, the late John Lewis, no, sorry, the current Lewis, the FBI's deputy assistant director for counterterrorism, asserted that, and I'm quoting him, so he gave a testimony, the Senate, and he said, "Environmental and animal rights extremists who have turned to arson and explosives are the nation's top domestic terrorism threat." That's the FBI.

Groups such as the Animal Liberation Front, the Earth Liberation Front, the Britain-based SHAC, or Stop Huntington Animal Cruelty, are way out in front in terms of damage, number of crimes. This is the FBI.

They think animal rights activists are terrorists.

Lewis averted, and I'm quoting again, "There is nothing else going on in this country over the last several years that is racking up the high number of violent crimes and terrorist actions." And this was after September 11.

MSNBC noted at the time that the Animal Liberation Front says on its website that its small autonomous groups of people take direct action against animal abuse by rescuing animals and causing financial loss to animal exploiters, usually through damage and destruction of property.

Animal rights, animal rights, animal rights, what is it?

It's a catchphrase akin to human rights, of course.

It involves, however, a few pitfalls, a few philosophical problems.

First, animals exist only as a concept. Otherwise animals are cuddly cats, curly dogs, and cute monkeys. A rat and a puppy are both animals, but our emotional reaction to them is so different that we cannot really lump them together, can we?

Moreover, what rights are we talking about?

The right to life, the right to be free of pain, the right to food, the right to roam free, free range, except the right to free speech. All other rights could be applied to animals.

Your professor, Stephen Wise, argued in a book titled Drawing the Line: Science and the Case for Animal Rights. He argued for the extension to animals of legal rights according to infants.

Many animal species exhibit awareness, cognizance, and communication skills, typical of human toddlers and of humans with what used to be called arrested development, stunted development.

And yet humans, infants, intellectually challenged humans, enjoy rights denied to animals.

Why is that?

They're both organisms. They're both same level, same intellectual level. They both possess the same intelligence. Chimpanzees are as intelligent as five or six years old. Dolphins even more so.

And the octopus is highly intelligent. Intelligence is not the test here.

Many animal species are exceedingly intelligent. That's not the benchmark.

So what is?

According to Wise, there are four categories of practical autonomy, a legal standard for granting personhood and the rights that personhood entails.

Self-autonomy involves the ability to be desirous, to intend to fulfill and pursue one's desires, a sense of self-awareness and self-sufficiency. Most animals, says Wise, qualify.

This may be going too far, but it's not very far. It is easier to justify the moral rights of animals than their legal rights, but moral rights do confer legal rights.

When we say animals, what we really mean is non-human organisms.

This is such a wide definition that it easily pertains to extraterrestrial aliens.

Will we witness soon an alien rights movement?

Unlikely.

And so we are forced to narrow our field of inquiry to non-human organisms, reminiscent of humans, the ones that provoke empathy and resonance, the ones we can resonate with, because we recognize ourselves in them.

Even this is way too fuzzy.

Many people love snakes, for instance. The snakes, they deeply empathize with these animals.

Could we accept the assertion avidly propounded by these people that snakes ought to have rights?

Or should we consider only organisms with extremities and the ability to feel pain?

And how do we know that a snake is incapable of feeling pain?

Historically, philosophers like Kant, Descartes, Malabarj, Aquinas, they rejected the idea of animal rights.

These philosophers, mega philosophers, they regarded animals as the organic equivalents of machines driven by coarse instincts, unable to experience, including the experience of pain, although their behavior sometimes deceives us into erroneously believing that they do experience pain or that they otherwise are in the throes of thinking or emotive.

And so any ethical obligation that we have towards animals is a derivative of our primary obligation towards our fellow human beings, the only ones possessed of moral significance.

These are called the theories of indirect moral obligations.

Thus, it is wrong to torture animals only because it desensitizes us to human suffering and makes us more prone to using violence on humans.

Malabarj augmented this line of thinking by proving, so to speak, that animals cannot suffer pain because they are not descended from Adam, one hell of an argument I must admit.

Pain and suffering, as we all know, are the exclusive outcomes of Adam's sins.

No arguing with that, please.

Kant and Malabarj may have been wrong. I think they have been wrong. I am almost convinced they are 100% wrong.

Animals are able to suffer, they are able to agonize, and in my view they are able to emote and even to think.

But how can we tell whether another being is truly suffering pain or not?

Through empathy.

We postulate that since being that being, that animal resembles us, it must have same experiences and therefore it deserves our pity.

And yet the principle resembles as many drawbacks.

Number one, it leads to moral relativism.

Consider the following maxim from the Jewish Talmud.

Do not do unto thy friend that which you hate.

An analysis of this sentence renders it less altruistic than it appears.

We are encouraged to refrain from doing only those things that we find hateful.

This is the quiddity of moral relativism.

What about the things that my friend finds hateful?

No way, just don't do unto others that which you hate.

What about what they hate?

The saying implies that it is the individual who is the source of moral authority. Each and every one of us is allowed to spin his or her moral system, independent of other people.

The Talmudic dictum establishes a privileged moral club very similar to later-day social contract.

It's a complicated word. Contractarianism, contract-based philosophy.

And so this contractarianism said that there is a club, in this case, in the case of the Talmudic injunction, it's one's friends and one's self and there's a contract, sort of a social contract. One is encouraged to not visit evil upon one's friends.

But what about all the others?

Seemingly they're excluded.

Even when it comes to charity, where the Talmud encourages you to give charity to the poor of your city first and exclusively.

Even the broadest interpretation of the word friend could only read someone like me and substantially exclude strangers, let alone animals.

Problem number two, similarities is a structural thing, not an essential trait.

It's not about essence or quiddity. It's about form. It's about shape.

Humanity as a differentiating principle is structural.

If X looks like me, if X behaves like me, then X is privileged.

Moreover, similarity is not necessarily identity.

Monkeys, dogs and dolphins are very much like us, both structurally and behaviorally.

The famous medical doctor Galen operated on animals because he fully assumed that they are the exact equivalent, anatomically speaking, of human beings.

Even according to Wise, Stephen Wise, it is quantity, the degree of observed resemblance, not quality, identity essence, that is used in determining whether an animal is worthy of holding rights, whether it is a morally significant person, whether it is personhood for moral reasons, for moral arguments, the degree of figurative and functional likenesses decide whether one deserves to live, pain-free and happy even when one is an animal.

The quantitative test includes the ability to communicate, manipulate vocal and verbal written symbols with structured symbol systems.

Yet we ignore the fact that using the same symbols does not guarantee that we attach to them the same symbols, the same cognitive interpretations and the same emotional resonance.

As a questionnaire of private languages to some extent, the same words or symbols often have different meanings to different people.

Meaning is dependent upon historical, cultural and personal context.

There is no telling whether two people mean the same thing when they say read or said or I or love or you that another organism looks like us, behaves like us and even communicates like us, does not guarantee that it is in its essence like us.

That is a question of the famous Turing test.

This is the subject of the Turing test.

There is no effective way to distinguish a machine from a human being when we rely exclusively on simple manipulation, artificial intelligence, charge GPT anyone.

So what about pain?

Consider pain once more.

To say that something does not experience pain cannot be rigorously defended.

Pain is a subjective experience.

There is no way to prove or to disprove that someone is or is not in pain.

We have to rely on self-reporting or some behavioral changes or patterns.

Consider we can rely only on the subject's reports.

Moreover, even if we were to have an algometer, a pain gauge, there would have been no way to show that the phenomenon that activates the meter or the gauge is one and the same for all subjects subjectively.

In other words, there would have been no way to prove that the pain is experienced in the same way by all the subjects examined.

Even more basic questions regarding pain are impossible to answer.

For example, what is the connection between the piercing needle and the pain reported? What is the connection? What is the connection between the piercing needle, the pain reported and the electrochemical patterns of activity in the brain and the blood flows in the brain?

A correlation between these three phenomena can be established, but a correlation is not causation and it does not teach us anything about the identity of these three processes.

They are not identical. It doesn't even prove the existence of a causative process or a causative fourth connecting pathway.

We cannot prove that the waves in the subject's brain when he reported pain are the pain.

We cannot show that these waves have caused the pain or that the pain has caused the waves or whatever.

It is also not clear whether our moral pursuits and tenets and principles, whether our morality is conditioned on the objective existence of pain, on the reported existence of pain, on the purported existence of pain, on experienced pain, on non-experienced pain, reported or not reported, some independent maybe, observational measurement or law.

It's not clear whether morality derives from any of this.

What about someone whose ability to experience pain has been damaged somehow? She doesn't experience pain.

Are we morally justified to inflict torture on her just because she does not experience pain?

If it were painless, would it be moral to torture someone?

Is the very act of sticking needles into someone immoral or is it immoral only because of the pain that sticking needles into someone causes?

But are we sure that sticking needles into someone causes pain or is it just supposed to inflict pain?

Are we sure of the connection? Are all three components, needle sticking, sensation of pain and brain activity, all of them morally equivalent?

And if so, is it as immoral to merely generate the same patterns of brain activity without inducing any sensation of pain and without sticking needles in the subject?

If we isolate any of these three, is each and every one of them immoral by itself if we induce pain waves in the brain but without a sensation of pain and of course without torturing anyone?

Is that still okay?

If these three phenomena are not morally equivalent, why aren't they?

Why aren't they?

They are, after all, different facets of the very same phenomenon, the very same pain.

Shouldn't we condemn all three of them equally or should one aspect of pain, the subject's self-reporting of pain, be accorded a privileged treatment and status?

Why?

Why does human self-reporting have a privileged position?

What about human beings who are incapable of reporting for some reason? They're in a coma. They have Cossack- Off syndrome. They have a locked-in syndrome. And they can't report.

Does the fact that they no longer can report pain give us the moral right to inflict pain on them?

Still or supposed?

Of course not.

We know intuitively this is wrong. We know intuitively this is wrong.

The subject report is the weakest proof of pain. It cannot be very far.

And if we cling to this descriptive behavioral phenomenological definition of pain, then animals qualify as well. They also exhibit all the behaviors normally ascribed to humans in pain. And animals report feeling pain, though they don't use words. They tend to use a more limited and nonverbal vocabulary, but it's unequivocal.

Pain is therefore a value judgment. And the reaction to pain is culturally conditioned and dependent. It's culture-bound.

In some cases, pain is perceived as positive actually. And it is sought in religious rites and ceremonies, for example, in Islam and Christianity.

In the Aztec cultures, being chosen to be sacrificed to the gods was a high honor.

How would we judge animal rights in such historical and cultural contexts? Are they part of some universal thing? Are there any universal values? Or does it all really depend on interpretation?

If we humans, human beings, cannot separate the objective from the subjective and both from the cultural, what gives us the right or the ability to decide for other organisms?

We have no way of knowing whether pigs suffer pain, whether cows are sad. We have no way of knowing whether dogs love or cats are egotistical, or we have no way of knowing. We cannot decide right and wrong, good and evil, for those parts of creation with whom we cannot communicate. We cannot even decide right and wrong, good and evil, for other people with whom we can communicate.

So, let alone for organisms with which we fail absolutely to communicate.

It is generally immoral to kill. It is generally immoral to torture. It is generally immoral to inflict pain.

Or is it?

The answer seems obvious and it automatically applies to animals.

Is it generally immoral to destroy?

Yes, it is.

And this answer pertains to the inanimate as well.

There are exceptions. It is permissible to kill and to inflict pain in order to prevent quantitatively or qualitatively a greater evil or in self-defense or to protect life.

And when no reasonable and feasible alternatives are available, of course.

But otherwise, it's wrong.

Period. It's wrong. It's wrong to kill, to torture, to cause pain and to destroy.

And that applies to objects, inanimate objects.

Let and imagine how more strongly it applies to animals.

The chain of food in nature is morally neutral and so are death and disease.

Any act which is intended to sustain life of a higher order and a higher order of life, such act is morally positive or at least morally neutral.

It's okay for the tiger to devour the antelope. Nature decreases. Animals do it to other animals, though admittedly they optimize their consumption and they avoid waste and unnecessary pain.

Content and pain in this context are morally wrong, not the consumption of meat.

This is not a question of hierarchy of more or less important beings, an outcome of the fallacy of anthropomorphizing nature, but it's the way nature is constructed.

Everyone eats everyone.

But no one inflicts pain, definitely not intentionally, anywhere in the animal kingdom, with one exception - we, us, human beings. And no one wastes the way we do.

30-40% of meat consumption is wasted. 30-40% of the animals we kill should have been alive.


The distinction between what is essentially us and what just looks and behaves like us behaves like us.

What is not us but looks and behaves like us. This distinction is false. It's false, it's superfluous, it's superficial.

I repeat, there's us and we believe that there is some essence that makes us us. And there's all the others, and they may behave like us, but they're not us, or so we tell ourselves.

But this distinction is false.

Social biology is already blurring these lines. Quantum mechanics has taught us that we can say nothing about what the world really is.

If things look the same and behave the same, we better assume that they are the same. It's a safe assumption, much safer than assuming they are not the same.

The attempt to claim that moral responsibility is reserved to the human species, that the only obligation we have is towards other members of the human species, is self-defeating.

Because if it is so, then we definitely have a moral obligation towards the weaker and the meeker. And if it isn't so, what right do we have to decide who shall live and who shall die, especially in pain?

The increasingly shaky fact that species do not interbreed proves that species are distinct, say some people. Apologetics for animal abuse.

But who can deny that we share most of our genetic material with a fly, with a mouse? We are not as dissimilar as we wish we were, and ever-escalating cruelty towards other species will not establish our superiority, genetic or otherwise, merely our inferiority, moral inferiority, at the very least.

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