Cute monkeys and moral sense

I’m doing another run of BBC Radio Bristol Thought for The Days. The challenge here is to make people think at 7.40 a.m., using no more than 300 uncomplicated words. Here’s the latest:

Britain is famous for being a nation of animal lovers. Whether it’s a Sunday roast, chicken tikka masala or a full English Breakfast, we just can’t eat enough of the blighters.
Odd then that we also find ourselves getting sentimental about our cute little furry friends. Earlier this week, for example, we heard the heart-warming tale of a baby rhesus macaque monkey which mysteriously turned up in a Dorset garden. Fortunately for the scared simian, home-owner Marty Wright didn’t get out his shotgun, but tempted the frightened animal down from the tree with a banana, and called the RSPCA.
Before you say “ahhhh”, however, remember that the animal had probably escaped from a vivisection laboratory. We live in a contradictory country, where last year, £100,000 was spent trying to save one northern bottlenose whale stranded in the Thames, but millions of other mammals reared in factory conditions are devoured without a second thought.
So is it simply misplaced sentimentality which makes us care more about some animals than others? I don’t think so. When we see a frightened, vulnerable animal, like the Dorset monkey, our emotional response isn’t just a silly reaction. It’s an expression of our moral capacity to recognise suffering in a fellow creature and be moved to do something to alleviate it. This ability to empathise with the plight of other conscious beings is not an indulgent add-on to morality; it is an important part of what motivates us to relieve or avoid human suffering too.
That’s why our warm feelings towards animals reveal more than mere sentimentality. Whether we go as far as to be vegetarians or not, we should remember that the animals we eat can also suffer, and we should not be indifferent to their pain.

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