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Thoughts on Roast Guinea Pigs and Balancing Freedoms

October 7th, 2008 by Madeleine

I have no issue with hunting those species of whale and dolphin that are not endangered for meat. I love horses but I have managed to get past the fact that some people eat them, I wouldn’t, but hey we eat cows and meat is meat. If you are not a vegetarian then eating one animal is no different to eating another animal getting hung up on the aesthetics of some animals is irrational.

However, I had my position somewhat challenged today.

My 8 year old daughter has for a long time wanted a pet guinea pig. As our rabbit died of old age recently we had an empty cage, so I took her to the pet shop a couple of weeks ago and we bought two guinea pigs “Abe” and “Pamarello.” Ever since, she dotes and and delights on the guinea pigs and when she is not feeding them treats and changing their water she is drawing pictures and writing stories about them. Today she got on Google images and typed in “guinea pigs” so she could create a file of guinea pig pictures.

We have google set to “strict safe search” and we run Blue Coat K9 Web Protection. I knew it wasn’t fool proof but to date nothing “bad” has gotten through, if anything it is ridiculously over-sensitive and blocks sites and images we have no issue with. Anyway, you have probably worked out where this is leading, check out the first pic that came up on her search – roasted guinea pig complete with two roast spuds.

guinea pig

Needless to say you can imagine her reaction. Matt found her crying and upset. She was worried her guinea pigs were not ok, she was greatly disturbed and took some calming down.

When I came home from work and heard about this all my sentiments about meat being meat went out the window. Parental protection kicked in to full mode. I too became angry that people ate guinea pigs and that they would put pictures like that on the net and that our filters had failed to screen that picture out and that we had been in the practice of allowing our kids to google pictures.

As I have thought about it since I have considered changing the passwords so that our kids can only run google image searchs with us present but then that wouldn’t have changed anything in this instance as we probably would have run the search with her next to us and it was the first image.

My thoughts went on to the fact that the person who posted that picture would probably speak to their freedom to put pictures on their site and my objection to it being unjustified on the basis of their right to free speech. The old slogan, ‘don’t like it? don’t look’ came to mind.

But I couldn’t get past the fact that there was still something wrong here. We have done what we can to ensure our kids are not exposed to things they are not ready to handle (obviously there comes an age where children have to understand that people eat animals that are the same species as their pets) yet this image came into our home.

So what is the solution? Censorship of the offending site? Changing passwords? Using the off switch? I am not happy with any of those. As a libertarian, I am uncomfortable with censorship. Further, I want my kids to learn how to use a computer and how to find information on topics they are interested in. However, as a parent I want to ensure they are protected.

Putting aside the legal questions, this incident does highlight the moral point, which is sometimes articulated poorly with slogans such as “with freedom of speech comes responsibility”. The point is that just as I must respect the fact that other people have a right to express their opinion, I too have a right to not listen if I do not wish to and others need to respect that. If I decide I do not want to hear something, I shouldn’t be forced to extremes to have that right respected, especially if they do not have to run to extremes to exercise their right. In this instance I had said no on behalf of my daughter and my anger is about the fact that my choice to not have my sensitive, gentle, animal-loving 8 year old exposed to something upsetting was not respected.

Of course the owner of the offending site never envisaged upsetting my daughter and is not culpable for what happened but rights can be inadvertently and non-culpably violated (the insanity defence is an example). There really isn’t a good solution to the problem of the clash between the freedom to speak and the freedom to not hear – I have no idea how to solve it without raising other problems – but the problem does exist and this of course is one of the places I part ways with (big L) Libertarians.

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18 responses so far ↓

  • Have you tried reporting it to Blue Coat and getting the site re-classified?

  • You have definately scratched at a conundrum. The solution is not simple unless you embrace censorship or you embrace forced listening.

    Neither are good.

  • I have reported it to Blue Coat. They have responded really quickly with some good suggestions as to how to block any other pics of dead animals and they have re-classified the site

  • I think your concept that free speech does not grant a right to enforce others to listen is right on. I am not certain there is much you can do about this, in a fallen world you are going to get issues that will be very difficult to resolve.

    A partial solution is to recognise that some themes are offensive to a large number of people. You could limit the ability for people to overtly display their free speech without limiting the ability to make it available. So certain material may be banned from public display even though it is not banned.

    Incidentally, I note that blogger have done a related thing to scalia! Limited the blog’s immediate accessibility without preventing its viewing. (What have you done? Not registered your political opinions with Helen?)

    I am also not certain that free speech really applies to images and art. The concept is to allow any idea freedom of expression and discussion, at its heart is metaphysics. To expand it to artistic display is to miss the point.

    (Personally, I would not find a roast (cute) animal an issue and just use it as a cultural talking point at the dinner table with my children).

  • I think you are right with your point that free speech does not apply to art however society tends to give it that application so we are probably in a minority holding to that.

    Scalia’s blog looks like it is under investigation for being a spam blog – wonder why as I can see nothing to make me think that it is when I visit his blog.

    My daughter is ok now. We took her to Kiwi Valley yesterday and she spent the day happily holding baby guinea pigs. We talked about it and she said that she knew that people ate animals that were cute, like cats and dogs, but it had not occured to her that people ate guinea pigs and she was not expecting to find pictures of dead cooked ones.

    It was funny though that our younger son, age 7, who owns Abe the guinea pig wasn’t even slightly phased by the whole thing. Goes to show the different personalities and tolerance levels of kids I suppose.

  • Yes, apparently I am a spambot. Just goes to show you can’t stand up against Labour.

  • Interesting. I wouldn’t want this to be blocked myself, personally I think the guinea pig looks very tasty. But I grew up on a farm and have been used to eating our own animals for as long as I can remember. I can see how others may not wish their children to see it.

    It is a cultural issue and I don’t see how you can practically censor the net based on culture. This is the difficulty of the internet. With books you can choose what you give your children, but with the internet the whole world is available, and you will always be fighting a losing battle when you try to censor it.

    I really don’t know what the solution is.

  • Came across this old thread while checking up on looking after the Kindy Guinea Pigs for a couple of weeks.

    Fully accept that the image is disturbing to a child (esp girl ?) that has a powerful affection for her pets.
    And accept that seeing her distraught will upset her parents.

    But for reality check.. does she react the same way when a roast chicken is on the dining table (or even seeing it raw before it gets cooked ?) The images are not all that different (?)
    Somehow I doubt that she is phased by a roast chook.

    So she has been accidentally conditioned to feel that this animal is more than just an animal. It is her friend.
    Possibly someone with a pet chook might not like seeing so many roast chickens all the time.

    For the child's sake the approach I would take is that some animals are looked after as pets, and some (could be the same kind of animal) are not. This one was not a pet.
    Might not be easy, but wrapping her in cotton wool as she discovers one of life's realities (and by no means the worst out there) is not good for her.

    Having said all that, my boys don't have access to the internet on their computer, and all searches are supervised.. and have no blocking. It is a worry when they are in a friend's room and searches can be completely un-restricted.. so we will have a duty to try to prepare them a little for what they might find and how to recognise what is bad or possibly dangerous out on the internet.

    I showed my 8yo the roast, and it didn't bother him in the slightest. It also won't stop him falling in love with the temporary pets, and missing them when we give them back.

  • you guys are very rude who ever put this on the internet it is sick!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • what's amusing is now your site comes up with this picture as the 4th image.

  • Must have been a shock… but I guess that is why it is called the WORLD WIde Web… not the WASP Wide Web.

  • I just had a good 20 minute debate with my 10 year old niece who wanted to look up guinea pigs and came across the image of the cooked guinea pig. It was actually a pretty fun conversation after we went through the list of animals she had no problem with eating (even pigs) and her problem was that the animals she eats don’t still have their head attached.

    However, I will note that she didn’t break down and cry at the sight of the image. She didn’t like it, but it didn’t shatter her world. I can understand shielding a young child from sexual images, but if something like this could destroy her it may be time to stop trying to find ways to close her off from the real world and start doing some explaining so that reality doesn’t slap her in the face so hard next time or when she discovers Santa isn’t real.

  • I just had a good 20 minute debate with my 10 year old niece who wanted to look up guinea pigs and came across the image of the cooked guinea pig. It was actually a pretty fun conversation after we went through the list of animals she had no problem with eating (even pigs) and her problem was that the animals she eats don't still have their head attached.

    However, I will note that she didn't break down and cry at the sight of the image. She didn't like it, but it didn't shatter her world. I can understand shielding a young child from sexual images, but if something like this could destroy her it may be time to stop trying to find ways to close her off from the real world and start doing some explaining so that reality doesn't slap her in the face so hard when she discovers Santa isn't real.

  • You discussed it with your daughter and were with her when she found the image.

    I allowed my daughter to surf for guinea pig pictures believing my restrictive internet controls would filter out anything like that picture, more fool me, and my daughter got a fright in what she found.

    If I had realised that my software was likely to permit such pictures then I would have warned her and had a similar conversation to yours and she would have been fine.

  • THIS IS THE CRUELIST THING I HAVE EVER F*****G SEEN I HOPE YOU ARE HAPPY WITHA ADEAD ICKLE PIGGY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • ERR SORRY FOR THAT COMMENT I THOUGUT THAT YOU DID THAT I AM VERRY SORY

  • In many cultures guinea pigs are a delicasy, if not staple food.
    It is only because we view them as pets and nice furry things that we do not like pictures of them cooked.
    As previously posted we eat other animals, chickens, rabbits, etc. without problem.
    as one poster said, the key is to educate chidren to what we actually eat.

  • Hah. I’ve been looking for information on Cuy (as guinea pig meat is known) and other micro-livestock suitable to urban environments when I came across this article.

    I must point out that the guinea pig was domesticated as a meat animal thousands of years ago and is still a staple in Andean and Peruvian diets. It is still a meat animal thousands of years later even if western cultures have been keeping them as pets for a couple hundred years.

    The domesticated rodent exists because it was tasty and became a pet because it is cute. You react is if some horrible person had decided out of the blue to grill up a house pet and put pictures of it up on the internet – instead you live in a culture where people don’t eat this animal and keep it as a pet – only to be shocked when you encountered the outside world.

    I find the culture clash amazing and amusing – the internet is global and is making the world global. Your reaction to a picture that you did not understand was very amusing. Fortunately, your daughter’s generation will not have such narrow views and understanding thanks to the globally connected world in which they are growing up.