Bringing natural bias out into the open

34 months in prison and a RM40,000 fine for killing a pregnant cat? Or, am I the only one who sees this as a slightly jarring sentence?

I wonder if the learned judge would have delivered such a sentence if the pet were, let’s say, a dog or a hamster or a rabbit? Would the prosecution have argued so strongly on the grounds of cruelty to animals if the pet were a dog or any other animal? Perhaps, they are both cat lovers and could empathize with the pregnant cat which was thrown into a dryer and set on a programme.

In no way am I questioning the learned judge. Surely, the learned judge made her decision based on the facts of the case. I’m just wondering if the facts included natural unexposed bias — in this case a cultural bias towards cats against other pets. A bias that favoured a dead cat over a living human being.

No doubt it was an inexcusably inhumane act by two men who were found guilty and an accomplice who was given a discharge not amounting to an acquittal. One man changed his plea to guilty and was sentenced to two years’ jail at an earlier date.

If the judge was aware of the natural bias in her and the prosecution and did not let it influence her to make the fairest judgement she could make even though it was harsh, she has my respect. We will never know if she considered natural bias in her judgment. And, it doesn’t matter.

But, it is an issue that needs to be brought out to the open. All of us have natural biases — towards durians , chocolates, cars, handsome men, pretty girls, for money. We can be naturally biased towards anything. The crime isn’t in having a bias; it is in using that bias ignorantly to favour ourselves at the expense of others.

When we become aware of our inherent biases, we learn not to act on them — if we are responsible people. As a result, we become kinder more compassionate human beings.

And if we were the judge in the case stated earlier on, who knows, instead of 34 months in jail and a RM40,000 fine, the judge might have given a much smaller fine and ordered the accused to 34 months of community service like working at an animal shelter and made to take care of and clean up after cats, in particular, pregnant cats? 

In reality, people can’t help their bias, especially when they are unaware of it and fail to realise that they are actually acting on their bias. Civil servants, especially, need to be sent to self-awareness courses to help them see their own biases. When we are aware of our own biases, we can take steps to NOT act on them, especially when the decisions we make affect the lives of others.

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