The Race That Stops the Nation

Today is an Important Day. Significant Things will be decided today, things which will have profound repercussions for our global society, both immediately and for future generation –

no, I’m not talking about the US Presidential Elections. Why, as a moral psychology researcher, would I want to comment on that? Everyone knows liberals and conservatives vary in their moral foundations profile, and that conservatives become liberals when under cognitive load. And that, for good measure, libertarians are just less moral in general.

No, what I want to comment on is far more momentous. I am thinking, of course, of The Melbourne Cup. This, truly, is an event with weighty moral implications.

Okay-not-really. I’d like to pretend, but I can’t keep it up; I don’t care enough about neither furlongs nor fascinators. That said, there are some random links and research findings that you might want to ponder, before you grab a glass of sparkly and head to your nearest marquee. Think of it as a hand sewn intellectual conversation starter!

Shooting Stars
I’ve got this image in my head, of a group of horses racing towards the camera (it’s a grainy film reel in my imagination, probably from an old tv), and then one of them falling behind with its legs sticking out sideways, broken. According to my memory, that image immediately preceded me learning one of the hard facts of life: horses who break their legs are killed. There’s a lot more information in this How Stuff Works article about how and why, but I’m sure you don’t want to put too much of a damper on the mood of your frocked-up friends by talking about killing animals – so instead, here is a humorous look at the issue from The Onion, in which a gymnast is treated the same way.

In more serious news, this all makes me wonder about the “utilitarian” way horses are viewed, and how that is connected to the effects of anthropomorphising on how we treat non-human animals. Also, would it be more okay to shoot the horses (or the gymnasts, for that matter) if they couldn’t feel pain? Which is cuter, a horse or a gymnast? Are jockeys dehumanized in proportion to their horse’s humanization? These are the questions that spin around in my brain while trying to ignore the already-drunk crowds on the train in the morning.

Speaking of drinking…
And gambling. These are terrible vices, encouraged by the racing culture! Actually, I have no idea if that statement is true. Although the Melbourne Cup used to be sponsored by Fosters, that incredible Australian beer which no self-respecting Aussie drinks.

Anyway, if drinking and gambling are sins, they are probably good for you? But if they are not sins, they are probably the kind of thing that should only be indulged in in moderation. If you’re worried about your gambling or drinking, you can find help here and here.

And on that sobering note (get it?)... actually, I’d like to leave you with something positive. With a story of hope and inspiration, something to capture the imagination and make this post worthy of its grandiose title. No, I’m not going to go back to Obama’s 2008 win. Instead, I am going to tell you about Phar Lap, the greatest race horse in Australian history.

This is how Wikipedia describes the great hero's arrival in Australia: “The horse was gangly, his face was covered with warts, and he had an awkward gait.” And yet, look what he achieved! Moral of the story: There is hope for all of us yet. Just stay away from the arsenic.

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Image credit: Creative Commons and Gabby Canonizado

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