Narcissism in the Guise of Animal Rights Activism
Reflections on Conversations with the Late Michael Hutchins, PhD - Wildlife Conservation and Welfare Expert
Jordan Schaul | Scapegoat Strength | A Look at Wildlife w/ Dr. Michael Hutchins
I was reminded today of conversations I had with my late friend and mentor Dr. Michael Hutchins. Dr. Hutchins was a zoo biology pioneer, renowned wildlife scientist, and nonprofit executive. A protégé of the late Dr. William Conway, Hutchins was an innovative and inspiring figure in the field of nature conservation.
He held the endowed William Conway Chair of Conservation and Science for the Association of Zoos and Aquariums before becoming CEO of the Wildlife Society. In my commemorative tribute to his life and career, I reflected on how many people Dr. Hutchins influenced in the fields of conservation and applied animal welfare science. His work spanned the globe and impacted generations of conservation-minded enthusiasts and professionals. His legacy carries on with the Dr. Michael Hutchins Impact on Wildlife Fund, which was established by his wife Song Hutchins.
Hutchins’ skillful diplomacy allowed him to work effectively with a diverse and eclectic group of natural resource stakeholders, including indigenous communities, trophy hunters, and federal officials.
He was able to navigate intra-institutional politics and inter-institutional relations because of a strong acumen for the human dimension of conservation science and management.
Hutchins’ ability to work with a polarized demographic on highly politicized issues was conferred by his empathy and appreciation for the human condition. His understanding of a new and multidisciplinary field and its application made him a guru of sorts and he liaised and mediated between and among people in conflict who otherwise had little in common.
The cognitive distortions of animal rights activists
In our discussions about animal ethics, Dr. Hutchins often mentioned that animal rights extremists often harbor misplaced compassion. I will say that they may also exhibit savior or hero narcissism. Unfortunately, these activists approach an ethical dilemma through a cognitive distortion, which I describe below. As a friend and colleague pointed out, “Any extremist has this capacity.” But I argue that choosing to save animals under the pretense of love and out of spite for other people is not love at all.
It is easy to anoint oneself as the protector of the voiceless because animals have no say in accepting or rejecting a human’s position. In this regard, heroism often confers power and control over sentient species in the guise of concern, compassion, and advocacy. In many cases, activists lack empathy for people but presume to empathize with the plight of animals in need. This is a controversial stance to take.
Narcissism and hate
I’m always suspicious of those who exhibit such disdain and contempt for humans but claim to love other species. Narcissists spend a lot of time comparing themselves to others. Their insecurity is driven by internal shame and is externalized as rage and expressed as hate. In the case of animal rights activists, their vitriol directed toward other people is stronger than their purported love for animals.
Animal activists are like narcissistic parents
The narcissistic animal activist compares to the narcissistic parent who responds inappropriately to narcissistic injury. These parents are much quicker to defend their fragile ego when their child (perceived as an extension of themself) is insulted or humiliated. The parent who goes on the attack rather than to the aid of their emotionally or physically harmed offspring is the parent who succumbs to a fragile ego. Nurturing parents should instinctively respond to their child's immediate needs regarding distress and not be consumed with the perpetrator.
The instinct of the emotionally healthy parent is to protect and support their children.
Unfortunately, my experience with animal rights activists is that they are more consumed with defensive and offensive posturing and much less with the immediate needs of animals they so readily claim to care about.
This is the distinction between the empirical orientation of the animal welfarist and the cognitive distortion of the activist harboring unresolved trauma. The former is focused on the well-being of the animal and the latter is consumed with self-loathing cloaked in a misguided desire to be a savior.
More on cognitive distortions
Extremists tend to be dichotomous thinkers as opposed to dialectical ones. Looking through the world through an all-or-nothing lens is a common cognitive distortion that stems from childhood trauma and splitting behavior. To be continued….