Play Rabbits

Posted on 25 April 2017

A baby bunny

“The other day when I was walking through the woods, I saw a rabbit standing in front of a candle making shadows of people on a tree.”
~Stephen Wright

Raising Rabbits

I have an aunt and an uncle who to get by used to raise rabbits for food. It was hard to keep my cousins from becoming fond of these animals, and therefore distraught when their favourite bunny was turned into soup. To resolve this problem they kept their rabbits in two separate enclosures. One enclosure was for eating rabbits. Another enclosure was for breeding/play rabbits.

The play rabbits had names. The play rabbits could be brought into the house and allowed to run around. My cousins could tell me about their personalities and the funny things they did. None of this was true for the eating rabbits.

When slaughter days came, no one was happy but everyone understood what had to be done. The eating rabbits were treated especially well for their last moments. They were often given a nice supper. One by one they were brought into the shed, so they were less likely to be distressed, then quickly killed. All parts of these rabbits were used: the meat, the fur, the offal.

The Nature of Empathy

A major survival trait for human beings is our ability to cooperate. We have evolved not just the ability to readily mimic others, but also to recognise physical and emotional feelings as if they are our own. I say “others” rather than people, because our brain’s neurons do not stop at reflecting only human states, but also reflect animal states. This is extremely handy for forming interspecies relations and broadening the field of cooperation. This is how we successfully live with dogs, cats, horses, rabbits, and more.

But what if we have to do hard things to ensure our survival? Then we find ways to cognitively shut down empathy under certain occasions. The eating bunnies are kept on the far part of the backyard where we don’t have to interact with them and feel remorse upon their deaths.

We have created a highly competitive society. The competition is exacerbated by a lack of safety nets. If you fail at making a living in a society that only agrees to pay for a certain narrow definition of professional work, then you could end up living in extreme poverty. Look around you. If you see people living in the streets wearing rags, then that is how far you or anyone can fall. This means just about anyone can be your enemy to survival.

Our natural inclinations are to make friends and share. We love seeing people’s faces light up when we give them presents. We love even a few pleasant words from sales staff. People often have favourite cafes based solely on a server who smiles or chats with them. However, when our security is threatened by a harsh system, we feel a need to choose a small group of allies, then find ways to shut down our empathy for everyone else. We have to prepare ourselves for turning other people into eating rabbits.

The Problem of Separation

So, we live in a world where we need a lot of answers fast. We live in a world that needs a lot of repair, nurturing, and healing fast. This can be done when we have a diversity of hearts, minds, and hands working together. Cooperation can save us. But we have been relying on separation.

We see those of different ethnicity, culture, religion, political outlook, weight, age, ability, gender, gender affiliation, class, countries, etc as backyard bunnies. Walking down the street with a friend we came across several rough sleepers asking for change. Her comment was, “That’s disturbing”. She then walked quickly past. So many people I have met feel street people need to be swept away and tidied from the city streets. I can sense the pull of empathy, I can sense the act of shutting it down and wanting the poor to be put where people don’t have to think about them or do anything to help.

I see people struggling with the concept of deserving: I deserve my security, they deserve their penury. I’ve been a pacifist since my early teen years. No one pays me to go out and help with the homeless rallies at Melbourne Town Hall or Victorian State Parliament. Yet, the newspapers describe me as a “professional protester” and that our little group of students, housewives, refugees, transsexuals, etc are somehow magically violent. The portrayals are laughable, but no one wants to know that, because if they did they might feel responsible for the wellbeing of poor human beings.

And what if some of the poor are violent? What if their lives are so desperate that they resort to anything to keep themselves breathing? How is this any different from the cute puppy or kitten that has been abandoned and therefore becomes feral? We rehabilitate feral puppies and kittens by feeding them and treating them well. But in their case we feel safe enough to empathise.

More Play Rabbits

We have to stop being so afraid of one another. We have to stop seeing one another and all living beings as so deeply separate. We have to insist that those with ample means contribute to the general well-being of our planet. Creating categories of humans such as nobility, dictators, or CEOs just encourages them to shut down their empathy for the rest of humanity. Creating categories of humans such as bums, tramps, hobos, etc just encourages us to shut down our empathy for those people who are impoverished. We are all human. “There but for the grace of fate go I”, should be the thought going through our heads whenever we see another person or another creature suffer. Listen to your empathy! Expand your definition of who is a play rabbit! You may save yourself and the world this way.

Peace and kindness,


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