Harambe and our Defense Mechanisms


This past Saturday marked the death of the 17 year old silver back gorilla, Harambe, because of a stray four year old boy who fell into his cage. The zoo staff made the decision to kill instead of tranquilize the gorilla in order to save the child. This decision has many people up in arms and begs the question; is a animal life just as important as a humans?

Mourners and protesters seem to think so. A lot of people have blamed the parents for not watching their child more carefully and others blame the zoo staff being so quick to end the gorilla’s life. Scott Simon of NPR urges those who are moved by the gorilla’s death to consider the unfortunate situations other animals are in, especially those who become our food.

I know what you are thinking, “Vegans/Vegetarians are so pretentious, why would I want to be like that?” Well, Freud may have something to say about that.

Veganism began in 1944 by Donald Watson when he co-founded the Vegan Society in England. It began as a non-dairy vegetarian but it grew to be a diet complete devoid of any animal byproducts.

Veganism is defined as “[t]he principle of the emancipation of animals from exploitation by man.” People chose to become a vegan either because of a dietary reason or because they want to take a stand against the way animals we eat are treated before they reach their end. Even though they are not hurting anyone, literally, people treat Vegans as a huge joke. How do you know someone is a Vegan? Don’t worry, they will tell you.”

Why would an act that tries to help cause people to dislike the people who practice it? Mike Lee uses some of Freud’s concepts to try to explain this.

Freud’s concept of Defense Mechanism is defined as “psychological strategies brought into play by the unconscious mind to manipulate, deny, or distort reality in order to defend against feelings of anxiety and unacceptable impulses to maintain one’s self schema.”

People are generally good and don’t want to hurt others so in order to participate in animal factory family they have to distort themselves from reality. We all know how the animals we eat are treated before they reach their end but we don’t actively think about it. We have to disconnect ourselves so we are able to eat in a false sense of peace. “What you are saying is scary, therefor it is not true.”

To connect it a little further, Freud’s concept of Reaction Formation elaborates. It is defined as, “Anxiety producing emotions and thoughts are mastered by exaggerating the opposing tendency.”

People do not want to contribute to the horrors of the animal factory family and it causes anxiety. The anxiety then turns to anger towards whatever causes their anxiety and the people who personify that cause. According Mike Lee’s interpretation of Freud, the reason that people dislike Vegans is because they really dislike themselves but they don’t want to admit it.

Personally, I wouldn’t be able to be a vegan, I just love cheese way too much. I respect those who are able to be and stay vegan/vegetarian but even those who aren’t need to be more aware of the conditions these animals are kept.

The death of Harambe is tragic but if you felt sadden by the news, we need to think bigger than just zoo policy and think about how we can change things.

Harambe and our Defense Mechanisms

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