Monthly Archives: November 2007

The Faces of Free Range Farming

Peaceful Prairie Sanctuary has posted this video on their blog of “spent” hens rescued straight from a cage-free egg facility. As the video makes very clear, these hens have suffered more intensely than we can imagine. Some of them seem quite literally psychotic; driven insane from the extreme deprivation and conditions they endured over several months of pumping out eggs like machines.This is the reality of “Special Label” farming (e.g. marketing labels with terms such as, “cage-free”, “free range”, “humane”, and “compassionate”). It is virtually indistinguishable from traditional Confined Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) methods (commonly referred to as “factory farming”) in terms of the extreme cruelty endured by the nonhuman victims of it.This brand of cruelty is what most so-called “animal protection” organizations (i.e. the “new welfarists”) are promotingwhile they harshly criticize traditional CAFO operations. The stark hypocrisy of these groups is astonishing when we learn how little difference there is between these “Special Label” animal products versus the same animal products produced under traditional methods.As I explained in the essay “Proven Beyond a Reasonable Doubt”, there are business reasons for these new welfarist organizations joining forces with industry to promote these “Special Label” products (aka “happy” meat), not the least of which is the fact that at least half of their donors consume these products and desperately want to feel better about continuing to do so.

It’s time for these new welfarist groups and their supporters to cut the hypocrisy and doubletalk, and get off the fence. We are either for animal exploitation and the related cruelty or we are against it. If we are against it, personal veganism and vegan and abolition advocacy are the only way to walk the talk, talk the walk, and avoid equivocation, hypocrisy, and speciesism. If we continue to promote and support the fraud of “special label” “happy” animal products, we make ourselves a bigger barrier to widespread veganism than the industry by itself could ever hope to achieve.

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On Having Respect for Life: A Vegan Thanksgiving

Somewhere in the neighborhood of 300 million turkeys are intentionally bred to have their lives taken from them every year in the United States and many millions of these turkeys are killed and eaten for Thanksgiving dinners.Turkeys are intelligent, social beings, but most of us wouldn’t know that unless we saw them in their natural habitat or in a sanctuary for rescued, farmed animals like Peaceful Prairie Sanctuary. When he or she is in a decent environment, a turkey’s life is as precious to him or her as our life is to us. Even after they live a life of torture in human concentration camps, they still have an amazingly strong desire to live (as all sentient beings do). For a closer look, meet Melvin at Peaceful Prairie and take another view of “Turkey Day.”Rather than indulge in a blind, empty annual ritual, where The Turkey has so overshadowed any notion of a time to pause and give thanks, why not skip the turkey and have a vegan Thanksgiving meal as a symbol of having respect for life? There are plenty of vegan recipes for delicious Thanksgiving holiday food and all it takes these days is a quick Internet search to find them.

Vegan living gives us much to be thankful for. Better health. A cleaner environment. And, most importantly, there is something about respecting life in the way that vegans do in our society that engenders a higher level of self-respect, if only because we see ourselves as not so very different from other sentient beings in that we all want to live and satisfy our most basic desires; and so as vegans, we literally “live and let live”, respecting in all of sentient life what we respect in ourselves. If we can live and let live, then we have something to be sincerely thankful for, not only on Thanksgiving, but every day of the year.

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Correction and Clarification on the Views of William James

It has been brought to my attention that in the most recent blog essay, “Understanding the Anti-Animal Rights Viewpoint” (on Monday , November 12, 2007), I misrepresented William James’ pragmatism when I said “’The Will to Believe’ is derived from James’ radical pragmatism whereby the epistemological standard of truth of a belief is measured by how well it benefits us personally (i.e. from a self-interested viewpoint) to hold the belief as true. If this is our standard of truth, then according to James’ pragmatism, we can ignore contradictory evidence to a self-benefiting belief and “will” ourselves to hold that belief.” I should have said that this was James’ standard in the absence of evidence and said “a lack of evidence regarding” instead of “contradictory evidence to”, because James clearly held that where there is sufficient evidence, we cannot “will” ourselves to believe contrary to the evidence. I have edited the original essay accordingly (by re-writing the paragraph referring to James and pragmatism in general) so as not to misrepresent James’ views or pragmatism. I sincerely apologize for the error.

Since animal exploitation advocates often ignore evidence of the morally relevant similarities between human and nonhuman beings, and even ignore evidence that nonhumans are beings and not “things”, their “will to believe” is dishonest and far more radical than William James would have likely endorsed.

I would also like to clarify that William James did not view self-interest as the only motivation for “willing” a belief, although it was one of the motivations. Other motivations included the acceptance or rejection of propositions with insufficient evidence because of the real or perceived urgency or momentousness of making a decision.

To let William James speak for himself, here is his essay called “The Will to Believe”.

I extend a big thank you to the reader who pointed this mistake out to me and, as always, constructive comments are welcome.

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Understanding the Anti-Animal Rights Viewpoint

Preface added January 25, 2010: This essay is exclusively about the viewpoint of people who actively advocate for animal exploitation. For an essay that explores, among other things, why people exploit animals without necessarily advocating for exploitation, see the more comprehensive (and more interesting) essay entitled Rational Ignorance and Rational Irrationality.It is often said that we should understand the other side’s viewpoint in disagreements. I think we can agree that this is good advice in all disagreements, regardless of the topic or the participants. In this essay, I explain my general understanding of animal exploitation advocates’ viewpoint. I limit the essay to the viewpoint of advocates of exploitation as opposed to those who exploit, but generally remain silent on the issue of whether we are justified in exploiting, harming, and killing innocent nonhuman beings. There are additional considerations regarding those who exploit, but do not actively advocate exploitation, which I will not address here. Prior to going vegan over 4 years ago, although I never advocated for exploitation, I had many years of experience in participation in animal exploitation through food and other purchases. I believe these years of experience provide me with a reasonable basis for understanding and assessing the exploiters’ viewpoint, whether advocated for or not.

Almost all animal exploitation advocates like to consume and are in the habit of consuming the flesh (i.e. meat) and bodily fluids (e.g. milk, cheese and eggs) of nonhuman beings. Many animal exploitation advocates also like to shoot nonhuman beings for fun, experiment on them for money (ostensibly also for “scientific” reasons), hang on the wall or wear parts of nonhuman beings, use them for entertainment, or make money off the numerous ways we exploit them. These uses, individually and collectively, are doubtlessly the primary, if not the only, motive driving the arguments of animal exploitation advocates. Exploitation advocates all have one thing in common: self-interest and personal gain, no matter how great or trivial.

Animal exploitation advocates start with the notion, “I want to [fill in the blank: hunt, eat meat, consume dairy products, profit from exploitation, etc.]” and work from that self-interested idea to search for premises to support a conclusion “justifying” the desired use. Included in the premises found by exploitation advocates are some of the common cultural prejudices handed down to us from philosophers such as Rene Descartes, who told us that nonhumans are literally “automata” or “God’s machines” and Immanuel Kant, who told us that, because nonhumans are not as “rational” as us, nonhumans are “things” (never mind how irrationally humans often actually think and behave; and not to mention the complete irrelevancy of rational capacity in distinguishing beings from things). The cultural prejudices are even embedded in our language when we refer to nonhumans as “it” (even when we know the gender) instead of he or she and “that” instead of who. Well, obviously if nonhumans are really mere “automata” or “things”, then we certainly have no moral obligations to them. Under this distorted view, nonhuman beings are no different from rocks, tables, and trees. There are other dubious, even absurd, premises selected for their fine fit with the desired self-interested conclusion that nonhuman beings are morally irrelevant, but status as “things” is the most common and popular, both implicitly and explicitly, when animal exploitation advocates are working backwards from the assumed conclusion to the “premises.”

Why do people sometimes hold onto such distortions of reality as the notion that nonhuman beings are “things”? Why do some of us so blatantly ignore the evidence of sentience and moral worth? I think part of the reason can be described by an extreme form of the doctrine of William James called The Will to Believe. “The Will to Believe” is derived from James’ pragmatism whereby the epistemological standard of truth of a belief, when we lack evidence, is measured by how well it benefits us to hold the belief as true. If this is our standard of truth, then according to James’ pragmatism, we can ignore a lack of evidence regarding a self-benefiting belief and “will” ourselves to hold that belief. Animal exploitation advocates take James’ “will to believe” further than James by ignoring contradictory evidence regarding a self-benefiting belief. How much we are willing to ignore contradictory empirical evidence, such as the morally relevant similarities of human and nonhuman beings, or the similarity of dogs to pigs, to hold a belief that personally benefits us is a fairly good measure of how radical our self-interested dishonesty is. [1]

Intellectual honesty is what has led and will lead to greater social justice and moral progress in the world, whether the victims of injustice are human or nonhuman beings. If animal exploitation advocates embraced intellectual honesty by placing themselves in the inevitable and unenviable position of being thrown into the world as a nonhuman being subject to the cruel and exploitive whims of humans through no fault of their own and worked from that premise, applying a fair version of the Golden Rule and letting the conclusions result from the intellectually honest premises instead of letting bogus premises result from preconceived conclusions, then many animal exploitation advocates would change their minds, go vegan, and stand on solid epistemological and moral ground.

So it is not difficult to see the world from the exploitation advocates’ viewpoint, or the violent criminal’s viewpoint, or the tyrant’s viewpoint. All we need to do is place our self-interest at the center of our criteria for “determining” truth and reality to the exclusion of others’ interest, contradictory evidence, and intellectual honesty, and we’ve arrived at the essence of the exploitation advocates’ viewpoint.

[1] I have edited this essay as of Wednesday, November 14, 2007, in light of a misrepresentation of William James’ views in the original essay pointed out by a concerned reader. The edit is explained more fully in the next essay, also dated November 14, 2007. I apologize for the error.

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