Tag Archives: animal rights

Do Vegans Violate Animal Rights?

Last week’s essay, ”Contrasting Harms”, was dedicated to the issue of contrasting the harms between vegan and animal agriculture populations, and found that 1) in feeding equal populations, any system of animal agriculture would be significantly more harmful than a vegan system of agriculture, and 2) the current animal agriculture system is unimaginably more harmful than a vegan system of agriculture, particularly in the degree of cruelty involved, but also in the number of deaths involved in each system.This essay will directly address the claim of some animal exploitation advocates that since 1) vegans consume grains, soybeans, corn, and other crops, and 2) crop production causes field animals to die, that 3) vegans cause animal deaths, and 4) are therefore violating the rights of animals.

A Comparative Analogy in Human Rights

On American highways and roads we inadvertently, but predictably kill an average of 38,000 human beings annually. This annual average of approximately 38,000 human deaths is as reliable and predictable as the change of seasons. Although we try to keep this number “as low as reasonably possible” through reasonable measures, such as speed limits, seatbelts, air bags, and anti-lock brakes, we do not take stringent measures to eliminate a majority of those 38,000 highway deaths, such as reducing the speed limit from the range of 55 to 75 miles per hour (88 – 120 kph) to the range of 35 to 50 miles per hour (56 – 80 kph) using either mandatory engine governors and/or extremely heavy fines or jail time for even moderate speeding. Are we violating human rights by only taking reasonable instead of stringent measures to prevent these fatal accidents? Most, if not all of us, would say no, there are no human rights violations inherent in our current highway and motor vehicle system, even if we inadvertently, but predictably kill 38,000 random humans annually, and even if we only take reasonable measures instead of stringent measures to prevent these deaths.

Let’s compare the “inadvertent motor vehicle fatalities” situation (“Situation A”) given above with another situation, which we’ll call the “prisoner execution” situation (“Situation B”). Situation B is as follows: To reduce the financial and economic burden of housing prisoners and to rid the country of its most violent sector, both for short-term relief of the violent burden and as a long-term “social improvement” program, we have adopted a policy of executing 38,000 prisoners annually, with the 38,000 to come from the prisoners with the most jail time left to serve. As the prison population declines due to our new execution program, the policy will eventually be tapered down from “38,000 prisoner executions no-matter-what” to executing anyone convicted of a crime normally garnering a sentence of greater than or equal to 4 years in prison. Of course, many of these prisoners will not have murdered anyone and will be receiving a punishment greater than their crime, but we anticipate that it will have positive deterrent and “social improvement” effects on society. Also, there will come a point when we’re killing far less prisoners than 38,000 per year. In addition to that, we kill 38,000 innocent people on our highways annually because of our lax driving restrictions, so why not kill not-as-innocent prisoners?

What’s the problem with Situation B? The problem is most of us would call this prisoner execution policy a very serious human rights violation.

Why do we come to different conclusions about human rights violations in the above two situations? In both situations, we can clearly foresee, with virtually no doubt, that 38,000 humans will be killed as a result of our policy. In both situations, the economic, social, and/or practical gains are significant.

There are at least a few reasons we come to different conclusions with regard to human rights in these two different situations, and they are as follows:

1) In Situation A, the policy of “allowing speed limits greater than 35 to 50 mph on expressways” is not wrong in itself. By contrast, in Situation B, the policy of “executing prisoners innocent of capital crimes” is wrong in itself.

2) In Situation A, the bad consequence of 38,000 traffic fatalities is a foreseen side-effect, but not an intended consequence of the policy of “allowing speed limits greater than 35 to 50 mph on expressways”. Our intent in our policy of “allowing higher speed limits” is not “to kill more drivers.” By contrast, in Situation B, the bad consequence of 38,000 prisoner fatalities is a foreseen and intended consequence of the policy of “executing prisoners innocent of capital crimes”. Our intent in our policy of “executing prisoners” is “to kill prisoners.” The dead prisoners will not be merely “foreseen side-effects” of our executions.

3) In Situation A, the good economic and practical consequence is a direct result of “speed limits greater than 35 to 50 mph on expressways”. The higher speed limits themselves bring about the good consequence. The 38,000 annual traffic fatalities – which we are also taking reasonable measures to prevent from being higher – do not themselves bring about the good consequence. By contrast, in Situation B, the good economic and practical consequence is a direct result of the 38,000 annual prisoner executions. The prisoner executions themselves bring about the good consequences.

A Parallel Comparative Analogy in Animal Rights

Because of our policy of allowing speeds in excess of 35 to 50 mph on our highways, we inadvertently, but predictably kill thousands of humans. In the same way, because of our policy of allowing machines to till soil and harvest crops, we inadvertently, but predictably kill millions of wild field animals.

We, as vegans supporting animal rights, are willing to incur the crop production fatalities for the same reasons that a majority of people in our society, as citizens supporting human rights, are willing to incur the traffic fatalities on our highways. We, as vegans supporting animal rights, are unwilling to incur intentional slaughterhouse fatalities for the same reasons that a majority of people in our society, as citizens supporting human rights, are unwilling to incur the prisoner execution fatalities. The reasons stated above for the human rights case are the exact same reasons stated below in the animal rights case for easy comparison. We’ll call the inadvertent crop production fatalities “Situation C” and the intentional slaughterhouse fatalities “Situation D”.

1) In Situation C, the policy of “allowing machines to till soil and harvest crops” is not wrong in itself. By contrast, in Situation D, the policy of “slaughtering nonhuman beings” is wrong in itself.

2) In Situation C, the bad consequence of millions of crop production fatalities (to feed hundreds of millions of people) is a foreseen side-effect, but not an intended consequence of the policy of “allowing machines to till soil and harvest crops”. Our intent in our policy of “allowing crop production using machines” is not “to kill more animals”. By contrast, in Situation D, the bad consequence of billions of animal deaths is a foreseen and intended consequence of the policy of “slaughtering nonhuman beings”. Our intent in our policy of “slaughtering animals” is “to kill animals.” The dead animals will not be merely “foreseen side-effects” of our slaughterhouse operations.

3) In Situation C, the good consequence of obtaining economically affordable vegan food for hundreds of millions of people is a direct result of “allowing machines to till soil and harvest crops”. The machines themselves bring about the good consequence. The millions of wild field animal fatalities – which we should also take reasonable measures to reduce – do not themselves bring about the good consequence. By contrast, in Situation D, the (so-called) “good” consequence (and perhaps bad health consequence) of obtaining animal products for consumption is a direct result of “slaughtering nonhuman beings”. The slaughterhouse operation itself brings about the consequences.

The three reasons why Situations A and C are not rights violations can also be applied (and are applied) to rights questions involving self-defense, just war theory, triage, and health care economics. Crop production deaths are merely another paradigm case among many analogous cases where we accept regrettable consequences due to various other factors, such as intent, direct causation, and significantly worse alternative consequences.

It should be clear by now that if animal exploitation advocates are going to accuse vegans of animal rights “violations” because of inadvertent, but foreseen crop production deaths, they certainly ought to lead the way in criticizing our society’s human rights “violations” because of inadvertent, but foreseen traffic fatalities. If animal exploitation advocates think vegans should avoid machine-harvested crops, then they should literally ”walk” the talk and avoid modern rapid (and potentially lethal) transportation, not to mention go vegan and grow their own food manually. Of course, if they are reasonable and care about the rights of animals, the only imperative is to be vegan.

Comments Off on Do Vegans Violate Animal Rights?

Filed under animal rights, moral philosophy, objections to animal rights, objections to veganism

Property Status and Animal Welfare: Two Deep Roots of Cruelty

Before we start on this essay, we should be aware that both last week’s essay, and as we will see, this one, are dealing with moral philosophy (i.e. reasoning from basic moral principles), the law (property rights, individual rights, and welfare laws), and empirical and rational fact (e.g. the full sentience of nonhumans and its relevance to a basic right to physical security). Yes, there are gray areas and dilemmas in some questions of moral philosophy, but the areas we’re covering now, despite controversy, are mostly black, white, and straight forward.The controversy comes from our acculturation and our moral psychology, or the question, “Why be moral (especially when nobody else is)?” Most people are intelligent enough to at least follow the easy moral reasoning that I’ve set forth and will continue to set forth in this blog. The controversy and conflict comes from the social momentum of the acceptance of animal consumption (i.e. acculturation) and the psychological conditioningof life-long habits that current non-vegans experience in the face of and opposed to straightforward moral reasoning from basic moral principles; moral principles which were already plainly accepted long before a consistent application in clear reasoning was made to nonhumans. I understand the inner emotional turbulence faced by conscientious non-vegans, but I encourage non-vegans to continue with moral and emotional strength and courage in honestly questioning the status quo and making the modifications in behavior which recognize the moral value of nonhuman beings.In last week’s essay, we established the moral fact of the basic right of nonhuman beings to physical security against humans in virtue of their sentience. Since sentient nonhumans are no different from humans in the only relevant criterion for holding the basic right to physical security (i.e. sentience), this moral fact is just as secure in knowledge when applied to nonhumans as when applied to humans. If sentient nonhumans don’t have this basic right, then humans don’t either. If a nonhuman being’s life is worthless, then so is all life worthless, obviously including ours. From my viewpoint, however, all life with a high degree of sentience (which includes all “food”, “entertainment”, and “research” animals) has inherent value which must be respected as an end in itself.

Inherent Value

There is another basic right which will be the topic of this essay which is essential to the basic right to physical security: the basic right not to be treated as a thing. We often value humans as a means to an end; but morally, most of us agree that valuing humans exclusively as a means to an end is wrong. We might pay one employee far more in compensation and rewards than another employee, but we don’t kill, maim, torture, dispose of, or own that employee as a thing. Another way of conveying the same idea is that humans, regardless of their utility value to others, or the quality or misery of their life, or their intelligence or severe lack thereof, or any other characteristic, have equal inherent value or value as ends in themselves. If the equal inherent value of a human is ignored and the only value that human has is his or her utility value or the value of some other characteristic, then that human being is treated as a thing and is therefore also outside of the moral community.

It is important to remember that equal inherent value, like the basic right to physical security, is based on sentience, defined in last week’s essay as a non-cognitive experience of a self (which includes the experience of pleasure and pain). Also, for precisely the same reasons that we cannot exclude sentient nonhumans from the basic right to physical security as explained in last week’s essay, we cannot exclude them from having equal inherent value. To exclude sentient nonhumans from having equal inherent value is as arbitrary as excluding intelligent and curious humans from education based on race or sex.

Property Status and the Law

American law recognizes two types of entities: persons and things. There is no middle category. During American slavery in the 19th century, a middle category was attempted, and slaves were considered “quasi-persons” or “ things-plus” or “3/5ths of a person”, but that category utterly failed to bring any significant “legal personhood” to slaves or any relief of the cruelty they endured as property of their owners. The law protects the rights of persons to do what they want with the things they own, and if there is ever a conflict between a person with property rights and the thing they own, property rights always win, regardless of any other law whatsoever “protecting” the thing. This was true without exception during American slavery, and it is true today in all of our relations with nonhuman beings.

The importance placed on property rights in Anglo-American law cannot be overemphasized here. Although I will not make any judgments about the propriety of this priority of property rights, it is not an overstatement to say that property rights are revered and sacred in the United States. Indeed, as irrational as it may be, it is not an exaggeration to say that some people in the United States consider their property rights to be just as important, if not more so, as their basic right to physical security (e.g. their right to life), and would just as soon be shot to death as give up even a trivial portion of property rights. This reverence for property rights is reflected in our courts and it is no surprise that the strongest slave welfare laws in the antebellum South did nothing to protect slaves, as chattel property, from unspeakable cruelty inflicted by their property owners. When the property rights meet welfare laws, it’s like a speeding freight train meeting a light warm breeze; the effect is negligible.

As long as it is the case that nonhumans are owned as things and their owners hold property rights over them (which is one and the same thing), welfare laws will never be able to protect against the flagrant and extreme cruelty which is routine in all of animal agriculture, much less protect equal inherent value or the basic right to physical security. The first fact that anyone genuinely concerned about animal cruelty must fully understand and accept is that welfare laws are and always will be impotent to prevent cruelty. The most welfare laws will do is to protect the interests of property owners in utilizing their property to its maximum economic potential. Welfare laws will always be disastrous for sentient nonhumans, doing no more than they have in the past: making humans feel better about the exploitation and cruelty inflicted on nonhumans.

Deep Roots of Cruelty

It has been established in this essay and last week’s essay that, if we are to avoid the exact same kind of cultural prejudice that upheld slavery and the subjugation of women for many centuries until the 20th century, then nonhuman beings must have equal inherent value and the basic right to physical security under the law, as they already do morally, whether it is recognized by law or not. A deep root of cruelty and one of the largest barriers to the prevention of cruelty (both industrial cruelty and household cruelty) is the moral and legal status of nonhuman beings as “things”. Another deep root supporting cruelty is the notion held by new welfarists that welfare laws can stand up to property rights and improve conditions for nonhumans in any significant way.

We do not need welfare campaigns to show the general public how cruel nonhumans are treated. Videos like The Faces of Free Range Farming and constant, widespread information on industry conditions will suffice to educate people over time. Industry cannot fight this because if they were forced to open their “free range”, “cage free”, “humane” and “compassionate” concentration camps and abattoirs to the public for regular widespread tours and viewing (even if only on television), the public reaction to the cruelty would defeat them quickly. Industry also cannot change because it is economically and logistically impossible to raise and slaughter billions of nonhumans for consumption without extreme cruelty. Indeed, it is each and every consumer of animal products, regardless of any “special labels” on those products, who are ultimately responsible for this extreme cruelty. With persistence and perseverance, our efforts at education will result in more people shedding cultural prejudices about sentient nonhumans and discovering that veganism is the only solution to the inevitable, widespread, and extreme cruelty endured by farmed animals, again, regardless of what “special label” is placed on the package, and that veganism is the only way to live in a morally adequate relationship to nonhuman beings.

Comments Off on Property Status and Animal Welfare: Two Deep Roots of Cruelty

Filed under abolition, advocacy, animal rights, animal welfare, moral philosophy, property status

Sentience: The Morally Relevant Characteristic Justifying Basic Rights

In this essay, we will look at the moral relevance of sentience as the characteristic justifying a basic right to physical security (as defined in the next section), but first we should cover some preliminary notions which will set the stage for understanding how and why sentience matters when we are thinking about animal rights.A Brief Introduction to RightsA right is a way to protect an interest. Rights claims can be expressed as follows: A has a right to X against B by virtue of Y. A is the right holder; X is the interest protected by the right; B is the duty bearer; and Y is the relevant characteristic giving rise to X (i.e. the interest protected). We can also say that Y is the reason A has a right to X.

As there are many interests which vary widely in degree of relative importance from crucial to trivial, so there are many “rights” which vary in degree of relative importance in relation to the interest they are protecting. A right, the way the term is used in our society, can be as important as our basic right not to be tortured and killed or as trivial as our non-basic “right” of first refusal to buy an inexpensive and relatively unimportant item that a seller has set aside for us. It is therefore important to distinguish between basic rights and non-basic rights. In Introduction to Animal Rights [1], Gary Francione quotes the political theorist Henry Shue in Basic Rights [2] in describing a right as basic if “any attempt to enjoy any other right by sacrificing the basic right would be quite literally self-defeating, cutting the ground from beneath itself.” Shue also states that “non-basic rights may be sacrificed, if necessary, in order to secure the basic right. But the protection of a basic right may not be sacrificed in order to secure the enjoyment of a non-basic right” because a basic right “cannot be sacrificed successfully. If the right sacrificed is indeed basic, then no right for which it might be sacrificed can actually be enjoyed in the absence of the basic right. The sacrifice would have proven self-defeating.” [2]

The most important basic right Shue identifies is the “basic right to physical security – a right that is basic not to be subjected to murder, torture, mayhem, rape, or assault.” [2] As Francione says on page 95, “If a person does not enjoy the basic right to security, and may be murdered at will by any other person, then it is senseless to consider what other “rights” she might have.” [1] Of course, another basic right which is essential to a basic right to physical security is the right not to be the property of another; however, the basic right not to be property is beyond the scope of this essay. I will discuss the property status of nonhuman beings and their right not to be property in a future essay.

Sentience Defined

Sentience, narrowly defined, is the ability to experience, or to be conscious of, sensations. Sensations include pain, pleasure, sight, hearing, taste, and smell. More broadly defined, sentience includes the experience of a self. The experience of self which defines sentience is emotion- or sense-based and non-cognitive. In this essay, I mean sentience in the broad sense which includes a non-cognitive sense of self.

Sentience often varies in degree. If we are on pain killers or a substance which makes us less alert to our surroundings, our sentience is not as acute as when in a drug-free state. Also, some species have greater degrees of sentience with respect to specific senses than other species do. For example, dogs, pigs, and bears have a heightened sense of smell compared to most other species, and many birds have a comparative heightened sense of sight.

People often ask if insects are sentient. I don’t know to what extent they are. The question of where to draw the line on sentience, particularly its degree, is a difficult and lengthy topic to cover, and I will not address it in this essay. What we do know for certain is that birds and mammals are sentient in a way and to a degree highly similar to humans; so much so that any differences in sentience are morally immaterial. We have good reason to believe that other vertebrates, such as fishes, reptiles, and amphibians are also sentient to a high degree; although as we get further from biological similarities to humans, such as in the case of insects, it gets more difficult for us know what a being’s sentience or experience is like, in kind or degree.

An Interest in Physical Security [3]

Very closely related to sentience is a being’s interest in physical security. In fact, the only way we can determine whether an organism has an interest in physical security is to ask whether and to what degree the organism is normally sentient (or potentially sentient). A tree is alive, but because a tree has no sense organs or any other apparatus which might lead us to believe that it is sentient, nor does a tree behave outwardly in any way indicating sentience, we think it quite obvious that the tree cannot have any conscious interest in its physical security (since it cannot experience its physical security). On the other hand, chickens, pigs, cows, deer, sheep, goats, and many other nonhuman beings do have sense organs and well-developed central nervous systems, which, along with the outward behavior of fight or flight when facing perceived danger, cause us to know, to the same degree that we know with respect to humans, that they all have a strong conscious interest in their physical security.

So there is an obvious and strong connection between sentience and a conscious interest in physical security such that, to whatever degree there is sentience, there is a conscious interest in physical security; and to whatever degree there is a conscious interest in physical security, there is sentience.

Back to Rights

We said that a rights claim can be expressed as follows: A has a right to X against B by virtue of Y. Let’s fill in the terms: Sentient nonhuman beings (A) have a right to physical security (X) against human beings (B) by virtue of their sentience (which is virtually interchangeable with a conscious interest in physical security) (Y). We should note, and will explore more in the next section, that sentience is the same reason and the only reason why humans have a right to physical security.

Irrelevant Substitutes for Y

Self-interested animal exploitation advocates often attempt to suggest characteristics other than sentience for Y. As I stated in Understanding the Anti-Animal Rights Viewpoint”, animal exploitation advocates work backward from the conclusion that they want to exploit nonhuman beings and look for “premises” to “support” their preconceived, self-interested conclusion. So animal exploitation advocates think up characteristics that only humans possess to substitute for Y and insist that their selected (irrelevant) Y is the “justification” for humans possessing the basic right to physical security, but since nonhumans don’t have that Y, nonhumans don’t possess that basic right.

The objections to animal exploitation advocates are obvious in two ways, both of which we’ll explore in more detail below. First, the suggestions that animal exploitation advocates come up with for Y are irrelevant to a conscious interest in physical security. Second, animal exploitation advocates’ suggestions for Y, with only one exception, are not characteristics which all and only humans have, and therefore exclude millions of humans from the moral community. The one exception is human DNA, or species, per se; which is as irrelevant to an interest in a basic right to physical security as race or sex, for example, are to an intelligent and curious human’s interest in education.

Let’s unpack the first objection that the suggestions for Y are irrelevant. A very common suggestion is cognitive ability (sometimes referred to as “rationality” or “intellect”). How or why cognitive ability connects to a conscious interest in physical security is far enough beyond me to seem silly, but I’ll play along by acknowledging a couple of facts which may make it clear to the self-interested exploiter that cognitive ability is a dead-end possibility for Y in this case.

The first fact to acknowledge about cognitive ability is that it varies widely from human to human. Some humans are mathematical, linguistic, and logical geniuses, while other humans are functionally lower than dogs, pigs, and turkeys in cognitive ability, while the rest of us fall somewhere in between the two. Does this mean that the mathematical geniuses have a more significant conscious interest in physical security than the less cognitively endowed humans? No, it doesn’t. A high level of cognitive ability may cause us to dread the future or realize that the future will be fine, but a lack of such cognitive ability may cause similar dread or comfort, depending on the situation. For example, a human may dread the possibility, during wartime, of being captured and tortured by an enemy army or political faction which never actually happens; and a rescued, formerly tortured farmed animal or canine may dread her sanctuary or shelter rescuers for several weeks or months not knowing that the rescuers will show nothing but sympathy and kindness toward her. It is the emotional and sentient activity that we have in common with nonhumans, not the abstract reasoning activity, from which our interest in physical security comes.

The second fact to acknowledge is that today’s computers have mind-boggling mathematical and logical ability, but absolutely no conscious interest in their physical security. If exploiters want to assert intelligence for Y, then insentient and unconscious, but highly intelligent computers get a right to physical security (even though they cannot experience physical security); and the much less intelligent, but sentient humans go without such a right.

Other suggestions for Y are the ability to assert or defend rights and the related ability to reciprocate morally; but again, that leaves millions of humans without rights. The ability to defend rights also possibly grants rights to anyone who asserts or defends their “right” to commit genocide, rule as the world’s tyrant, or any number of other such absurdities, to which the sane among us agree that no such rights exist. The ability to reciprocate the observance of a basic right to physical security only becomes relevant if our own physical security is immediately and actually threatened; and if such security is threatened in this way, the capacity of our attacker for moral agency becomes irrelevant anyway. We are at least excused, if not justified, in defending ourselves from anyone, moral agent or moral patient, who immediately threatens our physical security using the minimum force necessary, and such a defense at times can include killing. [4]

The second objection against animal exploitation advocates is that there are no characteristics which all and only humans have which differentiate us from other species in any morally relevant way to a conscious interest in physical security. In fact, there is an overlapping continuum of all characteristics, except DNA (which is irrelevant for reasons already stated), such that for any given characteristic, there are nonhuman beings who hold that given characteristic (e.g. intelligence, emotion, sensitivity to pleasure and pain, etc) more than some humans.

It should be clear by now to any coherent and reasonably intelligent reader that sentience is the morally relevant characteristic for the right to physical security. When we are in a position of power over others, the choice of whether or not to act morally, as in all cases of morality, is our choice to make. But the question of what is moral and what is not moral is not our choice in such clear cases; and it is a matter of moral fact that sentient nonhumans have a basic right against humans to their physical security in virtue of their sentience, regardless of how we happen to feel about that fact. Survival situations may excuse us in overriding the rights of others, but in our exploitation of nonhuman beings in our modern era, nothing even remotely similar to survival is at stake.

This inevitable conclusion, combined with our modern knowledge of vegan nutrition and alternatives, entails a moral obligation of ours to go and stay vegan. Fortunately, being vegan is much easier and far more delightful than most people imagine it to be. We just need to learn the ropes and develop the habits. We’re on autopilot after that.
__________________________________________

Notes:

[1] Gary Francione, Introduction to Animal Rights: Your Child or the Dog (Temple University Press, 2000), pages 94 and 95

[2] Henry Shue, Basic Rights, 2d Ed. (Princeton University Press, 1996)

[3] Although sentient beings have an interest in absolute physical security, some violation of physical security is unavoidable, inevitable, and therefore “necessary” for all of us (e.g. car accidents and disease). It does not make sense to talk about a right or interest in physical security if the breach of physical security is really unavoidable. I have therefore limited the discussion to an interest in physical security where it is protectable, but it should be clear that I mean “protectable” in the strong sense as protectable even at a very high cost, actual or perceived. Given this definition of protectable, it should be clear that somewhere around 99.999999% of our society’s intentional uses of nonhuman beings violates their protectable interest in physical security, and are therefore violations of their right.

[4] Upon re-reading this paragraph the day after it was posted, I decided it wasn’t written as clearly as it could have been. It is clarified below by changing/adding language as follows (changes are in bold):

“The ability to reciprocate the observance of a basic right to physical security only becomes an issue if our own physical security is immediately and actually threatened, since if our security is not immediately threatened, our right to security is not being violated; and if such security is threatened in this way, the capacity of our attacker for moral agency becomes irrelevant to our response anyway. This is because we are at least excused, if not justified, in defending ourselves from anyone, moral agent or moral patient, who immediately threatens our physical security using the minimum force necessary, and such a defense at times can include killing.”

Comments Off on Sentience: The Morally Relevant Characteristic Justifying Basic Rights

Filed under animal rights, moral philosophy, sentience, Veganism

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.

Comments Off on Understanding the Anti-Animal Rights Viewpoint

Filed under advocacy, animal rights, anti-animal rights, objections to animal rights

New York Times: “Two Pigs” by Verlyn Klinkenborg

On October 25, 2007, the New York Times published an opinion piece by Verlyn Klinkenborg entitled “Two Pigs” about, as Klinkenborg puts it, “taming” two pigs and then having a farmer and his son come over to kill the pigs while Klinkenborg and his wife watch (kill them because, as Klinkenborg says, “That’s part of the job”).

Whenever I read about intellectual folks like Klinkenborg or Michael Pollan [1] raising an innocent nonhuman being to be killed or hunting an innocent being and writing an article rationalizing the ordeal, I imagine a similar rationalization is probably what goes through the mind of a person with a calm, rational plan to kill an innocent human being. Not that Klinkenborg or Pollan would ever remotely think of killing a human (they are very well-socialized); but the detachment, indifference, and morally vacuous rationale are probably disturbingly similar regardless of the species of the innocent victim of the deed.

To demonstrate this parallel in detachment, indifference, and moral vacuity in more detail, I’ve re-written Klinkenborg’s article as “Two Orphans”, penned by a fictitious character named Will Killjoy. I’ve used orphans in this re-write to eliminate the issue of the emotional suffering and pain endured by those left behind, whether those left behind are human or nonhuman. [2]

My changes consisted almost entirely of turning phrases like “stop eating pork” into “avoid cannibalism” and “pigs” to “orphans” and if you read the NYT article, you will see how very little I’ve changed it. Although this re-write is satirical, cannibalism is an unpleasant reality in human history; it’s where meat-eating is taken one more step closer to kin, and in some human cultures, kin is also why it is done (although “kin-cannibalism” doesn’t generally require killing since the relatives wait until [insert choice of relative here] dies naturally). The idea that Killjoy is a human cannibal is not as remote in history or the world as it would seem to our culture. In fact, we can think of the progression of human civilization as going from uncivilized and violent cannibalism to a slightly more civilized but still intentionally violent diet of flesh and bodily fluids excluding those of human origin to the most civilized and non-violent diet by far (i.e. the only civilized and morally adequate diet): a vegan diet.

One more note: Killjoy moved from where he adopted the orphans to a rural area remote enough that nobody knows about the orphans – Killjoy’s actions are beyond the reach of the law. Like for Klinkenborg and modern meat-eaters in general, there are no social consequences against Killjoy’s behavior in this article. Now, on to Killjoy’s article…

October 25, 2007
The Rural Life
Two Orphans

by Will Killjoy

Very soon, I will kill my two adopted orphan children. If that sentence bothers you, you should probably stop reading now – and you should probably avoid cannibalism. The orphans are 3 years old, fat and happy, and killing them is the reality of cannibalism. I treat the orphans very well, and ever since June, I’ve been building their trust in me, reading children’s books to them and tucking them into a comfortable, warm bed. There are two reasons. I truly love being with the orphans. And building their trust in me will make it that much easier to kill them swiftly, immediately. If I had no more foreknowledge of my death than these two orphans will have of theirs, I’d consider myself very lucky.

The questions people would probably ask (after they called the police) would make it sound as though I should be morally outraged at myself, as if it’s impossible to build a relationship of trust with the orphans and still intend to kill them. If I belonged to a cannibal tribe that performed human sacrifices – one that has elaborate killing ceremonies for burnt offerings to the gods – I would get to celebrate the ritual in it all, the sudden blessings of the gods bestowed upon us and the succulent pork-like flavor of human bacon. It’s hard to act that out when it’s just me in the backwoods silenced by the solemnity of what I’m about to do.

Because I do carry it out. That’s part of the job. It’s how we come to understand what cannibalism itself means. And to me, the word “cannibal” is at the root of the contradictory feelings the orphan-killing raises. You can add all the benefits you want – that the orphans were well-fed and cared for – and yet somehow the fact that I’m doing this for meat makes the whole thing sound like a bad bargain. And yet compared with the various genocides of the 20th century, this is beauty itself.

Knowing that you’re doing something for the last time is a uniquely human fear. I thought that would be the hardest thing about killing these orphans. In fact, it’s not so hard, though it does remind me that humans have trouble thinking about who knows what. One day soon I’ll read the orphans a story, gently tuck them into bed, and say good night. They will have the pleasure and comfort of feeling safe and having a good night sleep. It will be the last time. I will know it, and they simply won’t.

WILL KILLJOY

_______________________________

Analysis

Now there’s some rock solid moral reasoning, eh? It seems that replacing a few words here and there makes salient to non-vegans just how empty, calloused, indifferent, and detached Klinkenborg’s rationale is (it was already quite salient to vegans before the re-write).

“I will know it, and they simply won’t.” In that statement, we see that Klinkenborg and Killjoy seem to apply the ancient Greek vegetarian philosopher Epicurus’ teaching that “death is nothing to us.” Only instead of using Epicurus’ teaching to reduce worries about their own death, they use his thinking to ease their worries about unnecessary killing and someone else’s death. I wonder what we might think about that rationale turned around – if a stranger in a dark alley considered our death “nothing to us.”

But what is death? Epicurus was right when he indicated that we won’t care at all about our death after dying. But then why is unnecessary killing wrong? If we don’t know we’re going to be killed and our killer kills us painlessly, there are literally no consequences for us that we can know. We can’t object that we had plans for the future, because after our death, not only will we not care, but we cannot possibly care. So is killing wrong only because of the emotional suffering of those with whom we had connections in life? If so, then painless, unnecessary killing is okay as long as the emotional connections to others are weak or non-existent?

Oh, wait. Is it because we’re human that killing us wrong? But why should that matter? Humans know no more than pigs after death and humans can be killed painlessly and without their knowledge just as pigs can be. It seems unnecessarily (or preferentially) killing humans without their knowledge is fine, at least by Klinkenborg’s reasoning about the insignificance of death.

Is it because of social cohesion that killing humans is wrong – a kind of social contract? If so, then the unnecessary killing of humans isn’t wrong per se, it is just wrong because of unpleasant consequences to ourselves that we must live in the cutthroat, low-trust society that is created by random killing. I suppose that reason might fly with egoists and amoralists, but it is false for those of us who live within a moral worldview.

Is it because humans aren’t food? What if humans are food to a certain culture and what if those cannibals experience humans as delicious and as an important ingredient in a festive meal? Would that make it okay for them to kill humans, perhaps from other tribes? No, it wouldn’t. Cultural prejudices and strong, sacred traditions that serve injustice are things to be overcome, not accepted, revered, or admired.

Most importantly, what is the relevant characteristic that all and only humans have which distinguishes us from pigs or any other nonhuman being such that our pain and death matters and theirs doesn’t? The fact is that there are no such differences. Stop and think about it. And if you come up with such a “relevant difference,” please email it to me. If it is not too ridiculous, I’ll post and evaluate it in this blog. (Caution: you may want to evaluate it carefully yourself before emailing it for public scrutiny. There simply are no adequate answers to my request. It is as if I asked you for an even integer between 2 and 4.) If killing human orphans painlessly for whatever desirable, but unnecessary reason is morally wrong; then killing pigs for whatever desirable, but unnecessary reason is also wrong.

Unnecessary killing is wrong because of 1) the depravation of life in such an unnecessary act which, under ordinary circumstances (i.e. excluding comas, torture, etc), severely harms its victim and 2) the strong and very primitive desire to survive that is innate in all sentient beings, such survival which is of crucial importance to that being (human or nonhuman) regardless of how unimportant it might be for any other being or group of beings. I see these two reasons as self-evident, beyond reasonable doubt, and standing each alone by itself as sufficient reason for the wrongness of unnecessary killing. Whether the potential victim (human or nonhuman) of an intentional unnecessary killing is unaware or not of their fate is irrelevant. Whether they have spun grand plans for the future in their mind or not is irrelevant. Their capability or incapability of achieving grand plans for the future is irrelevant. Their potential longevity is irrelevant. The size of their ego is irrelevant. And what DNA they share with what specific species is irrelevant.

It’s not that intellectuals like Klinkenborg and Pollan can’t comprehend this; it’s that they blow as much smoke as they can to avoid acknowledging it and to avoid cultivating an appropriate level of empathy toward nonhuman beings.

If we are to have adequate form and content in our moral reasoning and not fall into the detached moral nonsense of Klinkenborg, Pollan (in The Omnivore’s “Dilemma”), and Killjoy, we must go vegan.

___________________________

Notes:

[1] Michael Pollan, a professor of journalism at UC Berkeley and author of the overrated book The Omnivore’s “Dilemma” (quotes are mine) falls into this category of intellectuals behaving bizarrely with respect to their current moral pseudo-qualms about killing nonhuman beings. Hopefully someday the pseudo-qualms will become genuine and more serious and appropriate qualms: Moral progress is beautiful.

[2] Contrary to the general public’s misinformed views on the grief of animals over lost companions, such grief can be significantly more severe than human grief over lost companions. The bond between a cow and a calf while the calf is young and between certain species whose members mate for life can be stronger than human bonds and the grief in separation is emotionally devastating for them. Claiming that their emotional devastation doesn’t matter because they’re not human is the same as saying that a certain ethnic or racial groups’ emotional devastation doesn’t matter because they are that certain ethnic or racial group. Such claims are our 21st century bigotry and such claims are just as nauseating as the 19th century bigotry.

Comments Off on New York Times: “Two Pigs” by Verlyn Klinkenborg

Filed under animal rights, moral philosophy, two pigs

On Trivializing the Causes of Other Groups

A few weeks ago, there was much hubbub on Grist.org when Bruce Friedrich of PETA wrote as a guest on the benefits of vegetarianism for the environment. Indeed, there are very significant benefits which a vegan diet bestows on the environment which I will not go into here. However, there was much unwarranted hostility [1] toward vegans who were posting in the comment section and much ignorant trivializing of veganism both as a benefit to the environment and as an imperative for justice to nonhuman beings.

Also occurring a few weeks ago was PETA’s publicized photo of Hollywood vegan Alicia Silverstone posing nude. Might this kind of sexism have a causal connection to the severe oppression, violence, and exploitation endured by economically, educationally, and socially disadvantaged women? It certainly isn’t helping the fight against such exploitation. And if groups seeking to protect the innocent are engaging in sexism at all, what does that say to society and to groups that don’t care about protecting the innocent? Where do we draw the line on hypocrisy? Do we perform some utilitarian calculus? No. Instead, if we are serious about opposing exploitation, we do what we can to avoid any and all exploitation, including the promotion of sexploitation. In the process, we avoid hypocrisy and maintain moral consistency and credibility. We don’t make publicity a priority over principles.

Other Examples of Hypocrisy

I brought up the environmental hostility toward vegans and PETA’s sexism to give some recent examples of what goes on regularly by groups and individuals who like to fashion themselves as “progressive” and against oppression, violence, exploitation, and greed; but fail to live up to their professed beliefs and self-image when they trivialize other forms of oppression, violence, exploitation, and greed.

Another example is feminists trivializing the exploitation, violence, and death of nonhuman beings because of the arbitrary claim that they are “only animals” and besides, they taste good. What about male chauvinists who trivialize sexism and sexploitation for similar reasons of personal advantage, pleasure, and habit?

Another example is people who defend civil rights trivializing very basic rights for nonhuman beings based on their crucial interests in not being tortured and killed, presumably because “might-makes-right”, they’re “only animals”, and they taste good. How is that different from violations of equal opportunity based on privilege and prejudice? How is it different from white, propertied males excluding other groups from opportunity out of greed? How is it different from “in-group” majorities refusing to treat “out-group” minorities who have similar relevant characteristics similarly (think religious beliefs, sexual orientation, gender group, ethnic group, or race)? It’s no different. Racism, sexism, and speciesism are all from the same source of arbitrary “in-group” selection.

Of course, the examples I’ve provided are only a few examples, not a complete list of the hypocrisy of the various causes, movements, groups, and individuals claiming to be fighting for justice and against oppression, violence, exploitation, arbitrary exclusion, and greed; and all of the various combinations of who is trivializing whose cause. It is really quite a spectacle of human folly when we stop and give it some thought.

The Common Enemy

There is a common enemy underlying all true social justice movements which can be called “might-makes-right.” Injustice is injustice. Oppression is oppression. Exploitation is exploitation. Arbitrary exclusion is arbitrary exclusion. Greed is greed. Sure, they all admit of degrees. But seeing our own fight against these underlying conditions applied to our own unique cause as trumping all other causes to the point where we are fine with trivializing other causes is myopic and hypocritical.

There’s nothing wrong with believing our own unique cause is very important, and even more important than another cause if we have good reasons for believing so. There is also nothing wrong with dedicating ourselves to one single injustice issue or even opposing another movement because it is an obstacle to justice in our movement. [2] But there is no excuse for trivializing another movement’s battle against injustice which is fighting the same underlying enemy merely because the subject of the other issue is one that we have failed to carefully consider or we have some personal prejudice or intellectual dishonesty of our own which we probably ought to address, and this is usually the case when individuals or groups trivialize other causes.

People and groups who are fighting injustice ought to look at all injustice, actual or potential, as likely to be interrelated with their own cause and look to work with other movements instead of against them. With some notable exceptions [2], social justice movements are usually complementary to each other rather than opposed. And if it is asking too much to cooperate with a group that is not a barrier or obstacle to our cause, then we should at least do no harm, get out of the way, or be quiet.

________________________________

Notes:

[1] The hostility toward vegans likely arose out of a fear of the unknown, including ignorance about what to eat, commitment to veganism, and how others might react to such a perceived “bold step” as going vegan. As is true of most “fears of the unknown,” however, the only thing to fear is fear itself (as FDR once said) and, of course, ignorance about the topic in general. I find it interesting and amusing how some non-vegans seem to think that they know more about being vegan than long-time vegans know. Contrary to the inexperienced and untutored opinions of some non-vegans, going and staying vegan is easy, the food is delicious, and the reactions we get are generally positive, as long as people aren’t threatened by our behavior. If going and staying vegan was perceived by environmentalists to be as easy as purchasing a fuel-efficient car instead of a Hummer, a very large percentage of environmentalists would be vegan. While it’s not that easy, it is much easier than the average environmentalist thinks it is, and if you are a non-vegan environmentalist, you really should do some research and try going vegan for a year or two. (Unlike buying a hybrid car, veganism takes from about 6 months to a year or more of honest effort and application to learn enough about the options available, pick personal preferences, and change old habits. Once those habits are changed though, you’re on auto-pilot and it is effortless.)

There was also ignorance from environmentalists in the Grist blog about the benefits of a vegan diet on the environment. Now I’ll admit that just as buying and driving a Prius instead of a Hummer will not “save the environment” by itself, going vegan instead of consuming significant amounts of animal products will not “save the environment” by itself either. Both are merely excellent steps to take to reduce one’s “footprint.” What makes veganism a moral imperative is not utilitarian considerations about the environment, however, but justice and the moral right of nonhuman beings to their life and bodily integrity against moral agents.

[2] It is possible for socially progressive movements to conflict. One example goes back to the voting rights of African Americans in the passage of the 15th Amendment to the United States Constitution in 1870. Fredrick Douglass wanted to exclude women from the 15th Amendment because he thought that while it was important for all to vote, it was more important that freed male slaves obtain suffrage at that time. Douglass reasonably feared that if women were included in the 15th Amendment, it was considerably less likely to pass at all. This conflict fueled the women’s movement to eventually get the 19th Amendment passed and ratified by the states 50 years later in 1920.

A second example of conflict between progressive movements concerns the current abolition movement versus the “happy” meat movement (also known as the “new welfarist” movement, the “industry-welfarist partnership” movement, and the “animal husbandry” movement). The abolition movement correctly sees the new welfarist movement and their partnering and consulting relationship with industry as a barrier to any significant progress in combating the severe and violent exploitation of billions of nonhuman beings annually for food, research, and entertainment. As long as veganism as a moral imperative is rejected or ignored by society and so-called “animal rights” groups (like PETA, HSUS, and “Vegan” Outreach), nonhuman beings will always be property under the law, always treated as economic commodities, and violently exploited by the billions in ways which most people cannot bear to watch.

As long as so many vegans assist the new welfarist movement in cooperating with and attempting to reform industry instead of engaging in creative vegan education and outreach, including films and photos of the inevitably cruel treatment of nonhumans, societal acceptance of veganism will be delayed unnecessarily and perhaps indefinitely. Due to this obvious barrier and threat to justice, abolitionist vegans are attempting to educate new welfarist vegans about the existence and consequences of this barrier and are often very critical of the new welfarist movement. This unpopular criticism, however, is a necessary part of educating people about what justice for nonhuman beings is, and justice is about abolition and going vegan, not about reforming industry.

 

Comments Off on On Trivializing the Causes of Other Groups

Filed under abolition, advocacy, animal rights

Animal Rights, Science, and Religion

The five major religions (Buddhism, Christianity, Hindu/Brahmanism, Islam, and Judaism) all have a heavy influence on the thought, especially the moral thought, of people throughout the world, even in highly educated countries, and even at a time when science has knocked humankind off our imagined pedestal of being at the center of the universe with the sun and stars revolving around us, and utterly separate from and clearly above nature and other species.Science: An Astronomical Perspective of Our Universe

We now know that not only is our Solar System heliocentric rather than geocentric, but that our Sun is just one very typical, garden-variety star of billions of stars within our own galaxy, and that our galaxy is just one of hundreds of billions of galaxies within the visible universe (visible using the Hubble Space Telescope), each galaxy containing billions of stars themselves. Many of the galaxies in our Universe seen through the Hubble are over a billion light-years away (for perspective, our Sun is 8 light-seconds, or about 90 million miles away; one single light-year is about 3.9 million times that distance). The Universe is vast, and we are most likely not at the center of it. From this perspective, we have significantly more in common with gnats, dust mites, and amoebas than we might have otherwise thought and mammals are our brothers and sisters on this miniscule home we call Earth.

Science: An Astronomical Perspective of Time

The Universe is estimated to be approximately 14 billion years old. Many galaxies, including our Milky Way galaxy, formed about 13 billion years ago. Our Solar System formed about 4.6 billion years ago. The Cambrian explosion of diversity of life on Earth occurred about 550 million years ago. The first humans appeared about 350,000 years ago. If we put the 14 billion year age of the Universe on a 24 hour scale for perspective, then Earth formed almost 8 hours ago and the first humans appeared on Earth a little over 2 seconds ago, at 11:59:58pm. No longer can we claim a privileged position in the Universe. Again, we have much in common with beings who we consider having very short, relatively insignificant lives.

Science: Down to Earth

The theory of evolution is so foundational to our current knowledge of living organisms, including ourselves, that biology and modern medicine would not make sense today without it. Established scientific theories like evolution and relativity are not “just theories” randomly tossed onto the wall to see if they stick. On the contrary, established scientific theories provide the core principles of a scientific body of knowledge which have been confirmed thousands of times by empirical studies performed by independent scientists attempting to falsify them. If evidence from empirical studies counter any of a given theory’s principles, the theory is appropriately replaced in part or in whole. We know from evolution and modern biology that we are on an overlapping continuum of sentience with all other living organisms, with many more similarities than differences. Indeed, there are many nonhumans, some of whom we kill by the billions annually for trivial preferences, who are smarter, more sentient, and more self-aware than many humans. For example, normal pigs, chickens, dogs, and “cattle” are far more self-aware and intelligent than any infant or severely mentally disabled human. Humans are 2 – 4 years old before they can compare in self-awareness to so-called “food” animals. No longer can we claim a privileged position in the biosphere, at least not one untainted by characteristics which overlap in highly relevant ways (morally speaking) with many other species. Indeed, the difference in characteristics between us and other species, like Darwin said, is one of degree, not kind, and we can verify that the degree is significantly overlapping, even in that sacred characteristic which generates so many anthropocentric claims of superiority: intelligence, which by itself, is really little more than a handy tool that can be used for good or evil.

Science: Putting Us in Our Place

It is true that none of the science above disproves claims about the existence of God, the Absolute, Brahma, or Ultimate Reality. In fact, science, given its epistemological standards of empirical verification of logical theory and its insistence on scientific claims being falsifiable, has nothing to say about such matters. Science also has nothing to say about morality and ethics and what we ought to value in our life. But our newly and more properly conceived place in the Universe given to us by science over the past 150 years ought to offer us a different perspective about morality, especially as it relates to nonhuman animals. Apparently, God has had little or no effect on our folly and hubris in relation to Earth and other species, which we are continually polluting and abusing, respectively. Perhaps science can provide the information and perspective, and with appropriate maturity and judgment, we can recognize that we are not the center of the Universe; that we are not different from many other species on Earth in any morally relevant way which would justify our use and abuse of them; and that if we continue on our self-destructive trend, Earth will take care of the problem by becoming so sick and hot that we cannot survive here.

Religion: Monotheism

Let’s very briefly turn to the monotheistic religions of the Middle East and ask a few questions. If God is beneficent, would God want us, as individuals, to personally contribute to the torture and slaughter of 10 billion of animals annually in the United States (50 billion worldwide)? Perhaps we can get a hint from Genesis before The Fall of Man: “God said: ‘See, I give you every seed-bearing plant all over the earth and every tree that has seed-bearing fruit on it to be your food; and to all the animals of the land, all the birds of the air, and all the living creatures that crawl on the ground, I give all the green plants for food’. And so it happened. God looked at everything he had made, and he found it very good.” Given these verses in Genesis, is not breeding, torturing, and slaughtering 10 billion animals annually the epitome of The Fall? How many animals do we need to breed, torture, and slaughter annually before we hit the rock bottom of The Fall? Wouldn’t a beneficent God want us to treat animals as we would like to be treated by God, perhaps with kindness instead of ruthless cruelty? Wouldn’t a beneficent God be utterly disgusted and revolted by our carelessness, ignorance, indifference, cruelty, greed, and gluttony? I think so.

Religion: Mindfulness and Compassion

For those who look to Eastern religions for moral guidance and inspiration, are we really mindful, compassionate, and observing the skillful means of nonharming when we personally contribute to the torture and slaughter of animals, including when those animals and their bodily fluids are labeled with marketing slogans like “certified humane”, “free range” or “cage-free”? Is slaughter ever humane or compassionate? How much do we really know about these so-called “humane” animal products? Is ignorance preferable? Would we like to be born as the future victim of someone’s oral cavity? Does “cutthroat compassion” make any sense? We cannot eat animal products with both mindfulness and compassion operating concurrently. If we are consuming animal products “mindfully,” we cannot be also consuming them compassionately, which also calls into question the existence of genuine mindfulness; and if we are consuming animal products “compassionately,” we cannot be mindful of the reality of that being’s slaughter, which also calls into question the existence of genuine mindfulness and compassion. Perhaps all we are mindful of when consuming animal products is our attachment to trivial preferences and unskillful actions.

Coming Up: Secular Moral Philosophy

For agnostics, including many scientists, the next blog entry or two will address secular moral philosophy and moral psychology. We’ll see that regardless of our religion or lack thereof, there are always much more compelling reasons to embrace animal rights and veganism than to continue onward in the glaring moral blind spot which has defined and grossly distorted our moral obligations to animals, especially in light of modern knowledge of nutrition and veganism.

Comments Off on Animal Rights, Science, and Religion

Filed under animal rights, objections to veganism, religion