Tag Archives: animal rights

Understanding the Anti-Animal Rights Viewpoint

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

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