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Account Reactivated at The Huffington Post

As of this morning, June 28, 2010, I have discovered that my account at The Huffington Post (“The Post”) has been reactivated and I am commenting again under the same user name, “abolitionists today”. I sent an email to The Post on Saturday morning inquiring about the ban, but have not yet received a reply as of 1:00 pm EDT today, so I do not know whether the ban was temporary, overturned by another moderator, or a resolved technical error in The Post’s software. [1]

Regardless of the reasons or circumstances that caused my account to be “removed” on Saturday, I am pleased that The Post is apparently not intentionally blocking rational discussion as I thought was a possibility on Saturday.

Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to retract part of a statement I made in Saturday’s blog post referring to “average readers” at The Post as deeply prejudiced (and by “average readers”, I meant and mean “typical readers”, not “mediocre readers”). What I failed to do in making that statement was distinguish “average readers” from average anti-vegan commentators. I usually find, by experience, that those who comment on public forums against veganism and the abolition of the property status of animals hold deep prejudices against nonhuman animals and profound misunderstandings of the arguments set forth by vegans and abolitionists. However, the remarks, prejudices, and misunderstandings of the vast majority of opposing commentators do not necessarily represent the thoughts and views of typical readers, who may well have a far better understanding of the arguments set forth by vegans and abolitionists. I sincerely apologize to readers at The Post for that error.

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Note:

[1] For anyone who is interested in the details of Saturday’s ban and this morning’s reactivation, my discovery of it went as follows. When I tried to log in Saturday morning to reply to a comment, I received a message that the user name and/or password were “incorrect” repeatedly after several attempts to log in. At that point, I thought it was only a system glitch (the thought of being banned had not occurred to me at that time). To attempt to resolve the issue, I clicked the icon to request that my password be sent to my email address. Upon doing that a couple of times, each time I received the message, “Sorry, this account has been removed.” I interpreted that message as a ban. Several hours later on Saturday, I tried to log in again and retrieve my password, and again I received the message, “Sorry, this account has been removed.”

This morning, I received an email from a pro-vegan commentator that it appeared to her that my account was now active. I tried logging on and was immediately successful in doing so.

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What Is Wrong with Vegetarianism?

The word “vegetarian” was introduced in the middle of the 19th century. Since then, it has come to mean a person who excludes flesh from mammals, birds, and fish from their diet, but includes other products from mammals and birds; specifically, breast milk from cows and eggs from chickens. In this essay, when I use the word “vegetarian(ism)”, I mean a person (or practice) who includes dairy and eggs in their diet.

By contrast to vegetarians, vegans exclude all animal products from the diet. In addition, vegans do not use animals as resources or commodities (i.e. do not exploit animals) for any purpose (clothing, entertainment, experimentation, or profit or gain of any kind [no matter how “humane”]). Essentially, vegans leave animals alone, except for rescuing victims of animal agriculture, the “pet” industry, and other forms of exploitation imposed on them by humans.

The Moral Problems with Vegetarianism

Many people are vegetarians for ethical reasons. They object to either the treatment of animals in animal agriculture or the intentional killing of animals, or both. Paradoxically, despite their objections to the treatment or intentional killing of animals, they continue to consume dairy products and eggs, which, as we will see below, certainly contribute more to the suffering and arguably as much to the intentional killing of animals than the consumption of meat products. In fact, to the extent that a vegetarian replaces calories from flesh with calories from dairy and egg products, the vegetarian has increased his or her contribution to animal suffering.

“Free-range” Eggs

Consider the lives of “free-range” hens. “Free-range” egg producers generally purchase layer hens from the same hatcheries as traditional egg producers. Half of the chicks born in the hatcheries are males who are “disposed of” often in cruel ways, including being thrown live into machines that grind their bodies up or into trash bags and/or large dumpsters where they either starve or suffocate to death. Further, since “layer hens” typically are not sufficiently productive after two years, they are sent to slaughter at that time. The “free-range” egg industry relies heavily on the routine mass-slaughter of animals to be economically feasible.

The lives of “free-range” layer hens before slaughter are generally a living hell. The “free-range” egg label means only that the birds are permitted some access outdoors, even if it is only a miniscule fraction of the space of the large shed in which they live. Because of intensive overcrowding in these sheds, and because chickens are social animals who have a literal “pecking order”, their sensitive beaks are cut with a hot blade (to cauterize the blood flow) so they cannot hurt each other in trying to establish an impossible order in such crowded conditions. Also due to the crowding in a large, often poorly lit shed, the conditions of a typical “free-range” facility are filthy with excrement on the floor in which the hens live and extremely poor air quality due to the lack of ventilation. In addition to the harsh living conditions, the hens are genetically designed to be enormously productive in laying eggs, which causes them to be less healthy than traditional hens. The poor health of layers is largely due to the fact that chickens who are not exploited eat most of their eggs (in natural conditions, only a small percentage of eggs hatch), replenishing the nutrients they lose in the eggs they produce. When their eggs are taken from the hens, the hens lose the opportunity to replenish the nutrients lost in producing the egg. Genetically-designed, highly productive layers lose even more nutrients and end up even poorer in health because they lose more eggs to humans than natural hens.

The egg production of hens peaks when the hens are around seven months old and drops significantly at around 15 months old. To get an extra six months of production out of the hens, “free-range” producers will engage in a practiced called “forced molting” to imitate the conditions of the winter-spring transition. In forced molting, the hens are starved for several days up to 14 days and the lighting in the shed is dimmed. Hens can lose up to 30% of their body weight during this starvation process and some of the weaker hens – already malnourished from not being able to consume their own eggs – are killed as a result. Several weeks after the forced molt ends, production is back to normal.

After the “free-range” hens are “spent”, a condition in which they can no longer produce eggs at a commercially-viable rate and in which their health has deteriorated significantly from both the wretched living conditions and from losing nutrients from egg production/loss, the hens are transported to slaughter. Both transportation and slaughter can mean some of the most intensive cruelty the hens have yet experienced. They and their bones are very weak from giving so much nutrition for so long without replenishment from eating their own eggs. When they are handled roughly in transportation and slaughter, their bones are often broken. Also, layer hens are generally not used for human meat consumption; the meat is of very poor quality due to the poor health of the hens. “Free-range” hens end up at the same slaughterhouses as any other chicken where they are often intentionally tortured – hurled against the wall and stomped upon – by frustrated workers in poor working conditions with low pay. Even if the “ free-range” chickens are not intentionally tortured, some miss the electric “stunning” bath and neck blade (from struggling upside-down in their leg shackles) and instead are boiled alive in the de-feathering (scalding) tank.

Commercially-viable egg production, regardless of the label (“free-range”, “cage-free”, or “organic”), is extremely cruel to chickens. As mentioned above, hens who are not exploited eat most of their eggs as a natural way to replenish many of the nutrients they lose in producing eggs. Even in the best conditions imaginable, such as in a sanctuary or in the wild, it is unhealthy and exploitive to the hens to take their eggs from them. When we add the extremely cruel living conditions that “free-range” hens endure along with the mass-slaughtering that is required to keep egg production economically feasible, consuming eggs simply makes no sense at all for anyone concerned about the treatment or slaughter of animals. [1]

“Organic” Milk

Like humans and all mammals, cows need to be impregnated to produce milk. “Organic” cows are therefore repeatedly impregnated, often on a device called a “rape rack”, where they are inseminated either artificially or by a bull. Cows would normally live about 20 years, but due to the economics of the “organic” milk industry, they are usually slaughtered after about 5 years when they lose the ability to generate commercially-viable quantities of milk. During this short 5-year life, they are pregnant about 9 months out of every 18 to 24 months and give birth to a calf two or three times. Some of the female calves will end up as dairy cows to eventually replace their mothers and grandmothers. Most of the calves from “organic” dairy producers, however, are forcibly abducted from their mothers – who often grieve the loss intensely – and sold to the veal industry. Although some “organic” dairy cows are permitted to graze outside during part of the year, many “organic” cows never see the light of day until they are transported to slaughter.

Just as with “free-range layer hens”, “organic dairy cows” and their calves are transported and slaughtered in the same manner as any other cow or steer. Often, they are confined to a tractor trailer for days of transport, and sometimes through extremely hot or cold weather conditions. Because they are depleted from so much milk production and from genetics designed to maximize milk output, they are often much weaker than “beef cattle” when they arrive at slaughter. Indeed, most of the “downers” – cows too sick to walk – are dairy cows, including dairy cows from “organic” dairies. When they arrive at slaughter, downers are often cruelly prodded with electric prods and/or bulldozed into slaughter, as was displayed earlier in the year on national television in undercover films provided by HSUS. Actual slaughter can be an unimaginably horrific and terrifying experience. Although the cows and steer are supposed to be “stunned” with a captive-bolt gunshot to the skull, this can be difficult for workers to achieve, especially with the rapid pace at which the animals are moved on the line. This can result in the animals being fully awake when they are shackled, hoisted upside down, and cut at the throat. Because cows and steer who are not properly stunned are sometime flailing around at the cutting section of the fast-paced line, they occasionally miss the throat cut or the cut is not sufficient to kill them. Due to production pressure to keep the line moving, these cows and steer will often end up alive at the hide-ripping machine.

Commercially-viable “organic” milk production, regardless of the label it is sold under, is extremely cruel to cows and calves and requires mass-slaughter. “Organic” dairy cows are physically and psychologically broken by the time they reach the slaughterhouse, which can be an unimaginable horror story in itself. Consuming “organic” dairy products – milk, cheese, ice cream, cream cheese, sour cream – simply makes no sense for anyone concerned about the treatment or slaughter of animals.

The Immorality of the Institution of Animal Exploitation

Animal exploitation, because it exploits animals as property, is chattel slavery. Animal exploiters completely own and control animals as property, resources, and commodities and any “restrictions” on the behavior of the property owner are solely for the efficient exploitation of animals as commodities. We don’t approve of human slavery no matter how “humanely” or “kindly” a slave owner treats his or her slaves. We reject the institution of slavery in all of its forms because the institution itself is immoral. The institution itself is immoral because it systemically and necessarily reduces its subjects to mere objects existing solely to satisfy the means of others’ ends; affords no protection to the exploited beyond what is deemed appropriate for efficient exploitation as a commodity; and necessarily reduces sentient beings with emotional lives, desires, and aversions to mere things – as if they were insentient broccoli, corn, rocks, or trees.

The institution of animal exploitation (i.e. slavery) is a moral blind spot in our culture exactly as human slavery was a moral blind spot 160 years ago in America. We need to examine and question our cultural prejudices just as 19th century Americans needed to examine their cultural prejudices.

If we are morally opposed to the institution of animal exploitation and the cruelty and gross injustice it necessarily entails, as any decent person who is aware of the facts included in this essay ought to be (not to mention the facts of other exploitation not included here), our moral baseline must be veganism.

__________
Note:

[1] To see more about “spent” free-range hens, see Peaceful Prairie Sanctuary’s Faces of Free Range Farming.

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In Defense of the Term “Moral Schizophrenia”

Introduction

Professor Gary Francione has coined the term “moral schizophrenia” to refer to the difference between what we as a society say we believe about animals and how we actually behave toward animals. We say that we recognize that animals are sentient and therefore deserve moral consideration and freedom from “unnecessary” suffering, but we often behave toward them as insentient things and treat them in ways that are diametrically opposed to any moral consideration of their interests whatsoever.

Critics of Gary Francione, however, have occasionally expressed their disapproval of the term moral schizophrenia, saying that the phrase is inappropriate for various reasons which I’ll disclose shortly.

To the best of my knowledge, Gary Francione has not written or spoken specifically in defense of the term moral schizophrenia, other than to briefly explain what he means by it, and if he has made a more elaborate defense, I have not read or heard of it. This essay, therefore, is exclusively my view and opinion on this matter, and I do not intend in any way to write on behalf of Professor Francione, who is more than capable of defending the term himself and in his own words, if he so chooses.

I have two motivations for making this term the topic of an essay: 1) To provide a defense of this term primarily by clarifying misunderstandings about its appropriateness and effectiveness in describing our society’s relationship to nonhumans; and 2) To emphasize that our relationship to other species is morally diseased and, like a typical serious disease, causes tremendous misery.

I will start by stating the critics’ complaints against the use of “moral schizophrenia” in the best light possible. I will then defend the use of the phrase by both rebutting the critics’ complaints and by providing additional reasons why the phrase is both appropriate and effective.

The Critics’ Complaints

The primary complaint that I’ve read against the use of the term moral schizophrenia is that clinical schizophrenia is a widely misunderstood organic disease of the brain characterized by feelings of paranoia, auditory hallucinations, and disorganized speech and thinking which cause social isolation and related problems. Using the term “schizophrenia” in contexts that don’t properly refer solely to the clinical disease itself is inappropriate and perpetuates common misunderstandings, adds to the pejorative and incorrect stereotype, and negatively affects the lives of sufferers of the disease, their families, friends, and caretakers. Further, if our relationship to nonhumans is really an organic disease like the term implies, then we are better off looking for organic and chemical treatments rather than engaging in social justice advocacy and education.

A secondary complaint is that the phrase is alienating and possibly even offensive to potential vegans. A related complaint is that while the term may be a catchy way of capturing our society’s morally confused relationship to animals, it is catchy for the wrong reason – that is, it takes advantage of a derogatory misrepresentation of the word.

A Rebuttal

The critics are correct that the most common meaning of the term “schizophrenia” (without the word “moral” qualifying it) is, to quote Webster’s College Dictionary, “a severe mental disorder associated with brain abnormalities and typically evidenced by disorganized speech and behavior, delusions, and hallucinations.”

Where the critics are mistaken is that 1) this is the only meaning the word can or should ever have, and 2) using the word in any other context than in the clinical context “adds to the misunderstanding and negative stereotypes of the disease” or must be “pejorative and inappropriate”.

The word schizophrenia is derived from Greek origins where schizo- means “split” and -phrenia means “mind.” Indeed, Webster’s College Dictionary has four other entries with non-pejorative meanings starting with the combining form schizo- meaning “split” or “fission” (five entries if one includes the combining form itself as an entry in the dictionary):

1) schizocarp: a dry fruit that at maturity splits into two or more one-seeded carpels;
2) schizogony: the multiple fission of a trophozoite or schizont into merozoites;
3) schizoid: of or pertaining to a personality disorder marked by dissociation, passivity, and indifference to praise or criticism, or of or pertaining to schizophrenia or to multiple personality; and
4) schizont: a cell developed from a trophozoite, which undergoes multiple fission to form merozoites.

The comparison of both the etymology and parts of the outward symptoms of schizophrenia with our split mind, dissociation (i.e. compartmentalization), and incongruent behavior regarding animals, and our distorted perception of and/or indifference toward the reality of life for nonhuman beings are striking in their resemblance.

For example, many of us love our dogs and consider them as part of the family, while, with the help of a split and compartmentalized mind produced by acculturation, we simultaneously stick a fork into the flesh of an animal who was every bit as sentient and interested in continued existence as our dog or our three year-old child. When faced with the harsh reality of how animal products are produced, many of us recoil at or are indifferent toward such reality and deny, disconnect, and dissociate as psychological defense mechanisms in order to continue with our acculturated habits. We also look to others in our society suffering from the same split mind, indifference, and compartmentalization and take consolation that we’re not the only ones who deny and disconnect from the reality of animal agriculture (including free range, grass-fed, cage free, and all of the special marketing labels designed to mitigate our cognitive dissonance).

The critics also imply, if not state explicitly, that where clinical schizophrenia is an organic disease, our relationship with nonhumans is not such a disease, and should not be compared to one. While the critics are correct that our societal and personal relationships to nonhumans (i.e. our moral schizophrenia) are not organic diseases of the brain, they are incorrect if they assume that our nonhuman relationships are not a severe moral and cultural disease that causes the symptoms of unimaginable suffering, deplorable environmental degradation, and widespread obesity, high cholesterol, and other serious health problems. Although clinical versus moral schizophrenia refer to two very different conditions: one organic, neurobiological, and chemical, and the other moral and cultural, both are very serious problems that cause vast suffering. Nobody is trivializing schizophrenia or using it in a derogatory or pejorative way by applying the concept of “split mind” and dissociation/compartmentalization to our treatment and use of animals. Indeed, the pain and misery nonhuman beings endure is beyond our imagination in its severity and quantity – it is anything but trivial.

Further, our language is nuanced enough that intelligent people can discern that we are not “poking fun at schizophrenics” when we use the term “moral schizophrenia”, but rather are saying that our moral relationship to nonhumans is very confused, rationally inconsistent, and diseased and is rooted in, again, a morally split mind (the difference in what we say and do; and the difference in the moral status of a dog versus that of a chicken or pig when any such difference is not based on relevant criteria) that is disconnected from reality (the reality of animal agriculture and slaughterhouses versus how we say we believe animals should be treated). Our society is morally diseased in its treatment of nonhumans.

Finally, I cannot speak for others, but when I first encountered the phrase moral schizophrenia in Gary Francione’s Introduction to Animal Rights: Your Child or the Dog, I did not find it at all offensive or confusing. I knew what Francione meant by the term: a morally split mind and moral compartmentalization – what we say versus what we do; how we treat a dog versus how we treat a chicken. In fact, Gary doesn’t even go into a defense of the use of the term in the book presumably because it seems that it would be obvious to most readers who know the word’s general meaning and etymological roots and see the qualifier “moral” why he uses it after they read the first two paragraphs of the first chapter of the book. The use of the word is rhetorical, but it is not derogatory or pejorative. Further, any intelligent and reasonable person would conclude that Gary is clearly not referring to the clinical, organic disease, but to the inconsistencies to which he refers in the context of the book. It seems to me that any confusion on this matter is something manufactured by those critical of Gary Francione’s abolitionist approach in general.

Real Misuse of Words

Ironically, I imagine that some of the people who criticize the use of the term “moral schizophrenia” take the unwarranted liberty of using terms like “humane” and “compassionate” and “conscientious” to refer to the slaughter and exploitation of animals. If there are any words being tossed around a bit too loosely, it would be “humane” and “compassionate”, no? How about “humane rapist”? How about “compassionate gas chamber”? Note that the etymology and meaning of schizophrenia connotes a split between our words and/or actions. Humane, conscientious, and compassionate do not connote anything having to do with killing and simply don’t belong in the same semantic neighborhood as slaughter and exploitation.

The Solution

If critics don’t like the use of a term like “moral schizophrenia”, the optimal solution is to eliminate the condition from society. If we live in a vegan society, all we can say is that there was a time when we suffered from moral schizophrenia regarding our relationship with nonhuman beings, but that time is past us. If you are not vegan, then go vegan. If you are vegan, try to persuade others to go vegan also. It’s easy; it’s healthy; it’s consistent with what we say we believe about nonhuman beings; and it’s the right thing to do.

Edit to add on August 5, 2008:

I received an email today from Bea Elliott that included this video. The video communicates our society’s moral “split mind” quite well. Go vegan and cure moral schizophrenia.

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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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