By Alex Posa
The question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?
A Vegetarian philosophy based on the belief that animals are truly equal to humans is fundamentally flawed. If this were true, cannibalism, rape, incest and theft should all be perfectly acceptable because that’s what animals do. And feminism would be absolutely absurd. Equality is not a pre-requisite for treating a person with dignity. The concept of equality is arbitrary and one few people adhere to.
For example, assassinating a political leader is a more serious crime than killing the average person, in part because it usurps the democratic process we hold so dear, but also because they are more important than the rest of us. It doesn’t matter that animals are not equal to us. Although there is evidence suggesting that non-humans have a moral compass, we are likely alone in the ability to form an ethical system.
Playing to people’s emotions has long been the tactic of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and many other animal rights organizations. Doing things like showing animals in factory farms and botched slaughtering may be successful in the short run, but in the long run guilt fades and many will return to their cruel practices.
The arguments that we are superior to other animals comes from the same place that Europeans used to defend chattel slavery. Blacks are different than Whites so it’s okay. But since there are clear genetic differences, why is it not okay to kill animals?
The problem is objectification, treating fellow animals as objects. If you eat animal products, you are treating our fellow Animalia as objects, merely tools, not for survival, but for pleasure. Omnivores say that their reason is intelligence or what is, perhaps, a more sophisticated pain response. Then why is it wrong to abuse the severely mentally retarded or people with dementia or babies, people who are arguably less aware of their surroundings than many animals? So it is obviously not intelligence that separates us from animals. Again, it goes back to the same excuses slave traders used; using backwards reasoning to explain why their actions were legitimate.
What if there were still other extant Homo species such as the Neanderthal? Would it be acceptable for them to enslave or eat Homo sapiens sapiens or vice versa? I think most of us would say no. Then what about apes, or primates? Where do we draw that line? One easy place would be between vertebrates and invertebrates. But that ignores the fact that octopuses have been observed using tools a definite demonstration of intelligence. I’d rather err on the side of caution and exclude all animals from my diet.
Even if you exclude all meat and continue to use animal products you are still objectifying animals and indeed compliant in the meat industry. Milk production is especially cruel. In a dairy farm, a cow is useless unless it’s lactating. How do you keep a cow lactating? By having a permanent cycle of pregnancy. If she births a cow, great, you can add to your stock when it matures, and if it’s a male, not too bad either. You can use the bull to inseminate your cows or, more commonly, use them for veal. Hens used in egg production are not simply allowed to live out a natural life, even if they are so-called free range. They too will be slaughtered as a source of revenue.
I wouldn’t say I value non-human life above human life. I largely agree with the Jewish principle of pikuach nefesh, that saving a life overrides almost all other considerations. I therefore believe it is not unethical to consume animal products when it is necessary for survival. I take a utilitarian view and say that it is not wrong to kill humans if absolutely necessary for survival (which is not in-line with Jewish religious law). Of course, there are few situations where this would arise, but survival supersedes other ethical considerations.
I also realize I benefit from the subjugation of animals. I will never get polio, measles, or mumps because of vaccines that were tested on animals. But how many animals are worth one human life? Do we equal three chimps and six thousand mice? Even forgetting the possible equation, from a utilitarian standpoint, it would be worse to ignore this research and let them die in vain. We do the same with research gained from unethical human experimentation, though admittedly with some trepidation.
I am often asked how I can live without meat or cheese. The answer is not about taste or pleasure but something outside of myself where taste makes no difference. It is so wrong that the pleasure I could derive (if I was able to ignore the discomfort caused by ignoring my conscience) cannot be taken into account.
I present the opposite question to omnivores. How do you live with yourself consuming animal products knowing full well that you are causing the death and suffering of another animal?