I AM VEGAN

 

THERE ARE ONLY TWO months of the year that mean anything to me: October and February.

Not because of Halloween and Valentine’s Day.

The reason why October and February hold such a dear place in my heart is because October and February are the months when The Walking Dead seasons begin.

First half of the season begins in October. Second half begins in February.

It’s March. Second half of season 8. They just killed Carl Grimes.

No old man Carl. No Lydia licking Carl’s empty eyehole. No Carl doing ANYTHING.

Dammit.

Oops. Spoiler alert.  

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Well, anyway….

 

While watching a tv show about flesh eating ambulatory revenants, my mind drifts, from time to time, to the subject of flesh – namely, the fact that zombies consume human flesh.
In the world of The Walking Dead, living humans are just meat to eat.

Even the vegetarian zombies chow down on the non-undead.

It must be quite odd for a person who has their entire life not eating animal flesh to die, knowing that their reanimated corpse will compelled to eat nothing other than the substance they’ve sworn off.    

I mean, is a vegan zombie morally offended every moment they’re devouring a person?

Can a zombie experience an ethical dilemma?

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A zombie probably can’t, but a living person certainly can experience the ethical conundrum – should I eat meat?    

Now, I’m not asking if a person can eat meat – most humans have canine teeth, meat is digestible, and we can derive nutrients from animal products.

Heads up: I’m not making my argument here.

Not doing a because-we-can-we-ought-to kind of argument kind of thing.

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But I will say this. I’m gonna say it right now:

I eat meat.

This is a fact about myself that I’m not exactly proud of.

As a person who is halfway aware of the way things are and remotely concerned about my health, I’m aware that the unnecessary suffering and abuse inflicted on animals on factory farms is not only cruel to my fellow living beings, but also the unsanitary conditions (and excessive use of antibiotics) makes for meat that is potentially harmful to human health as well.

And as a philosopher, the infliction of pain and suffering on sentient beings should bother me (at least a little bit) morally.

 

It does.

 

But still… despite what I know about harvesting and eating, I continue to consume meat. I feel like there’s something that is keeping me from joining the growing chorus of voices that have abandoned their meat-eating ways and declare I AM VEGAN.

 

…and not just because bacon tastes yummy.

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I think the reason why might have something to do with speciesism.

A lot of humans, whether they know it or not, practice speciesism.  

In his book Animal Liberation (1975), the Australian philosopher, Peter Singer (born: July 6, 1946), describes speciesism as a bias in favor of one’s own species and against a species because that particular species is that species. That is, people are biased in favor of people (and people-like animals like primates) at the expense of the interests of other non-human species.

We are less inclined to consider the interests of species that do not resemble humans or ones we cannot anthropomorphize. 

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THE ONLY REASON WHY YOUR FIRST THOUGHT ABOUT THIS MOUSE IS “AWW” INSTEAD OF “KILL IT BEFORE IT INFECTS THE SHIP”, IS BECAUSE FIVEL IS ADORABLE. HE’S ADORABLE BECAUSE OF A-N-T-H-R-O-P-O-M-O-R-P-H-I-S-M

The fact that non-human animals are not human or can’t be given human-like qualities shouldn’t exclude them from our moral considerations. Non-human animals feel, and that, Singer argues, is enough to consider the interests of non-human animals.

 

 

Preferably using utilitarian ethics.

 

According to Singer, speciesism is as morally wrong as racism or sexism.

We recognize that prejudice against humans based on religion, gender, or race, is arbitrary (therefore, unjustifiable). Most people would reject the argument that a particular race or religion is more valuable than another. The notion that men are more valuable than women is…well, we like to say that we’ve advanced beyond thinking about women like Aristotle. Or Nietzsche.

 

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YEP…HE WROTE THAT

 

Likewise, according to Singer, valuing human life over non-human life or treating a species better because it is cute and cuddly (and it does “human” things) is arbitrary and unjustifiable. To insist that a cat or a dog is more valuable than a cow or a chicken is, according to Singer, a double standard.

Historically speaking, philosophy hasn’t been kind to animals. Aristotle referred to non-human animals as “brute beasts”. Rene Descartes (1596 -1650) maintained that animals are incapable of reason and do not feel pain. Animals, Descartes stated, are mere organic machines.

Because animals cannot reason, Descartes argued, they don’t have souls. And because animals don’t have souls, we are not morally obligated to consider their interests.

Remember, folks… that howling you hear isn’t the sounds of an animal screaming in pain.

 

It’s the sounds of the clock’s springs breaking.

 

Although the German Enlightenment philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) believed that animals are mere beasts, Kant rejected the notion that we can do with non-human animals as we please. Kant argues that, although we are not directly morally obligated to animals, we have an indirect moral duty to care for their welfare. Kant argues that our treatment of animals is tied to our treatment of those we have a direct moral obligation to  people.

Kant argues that people who are cruel to animals are often also cruel to people.

In Lectures on Ethics, Kant states:

American philosopher Christine Korsgaard (born: April 9, 1952), not only argues that it is wrong to kill animals for consumption, but also argues that the factory farming, specifically the production of meat, is more damaging to the environment and human health than a plant-based diet. Korsgaard argues, like Singer, that our moral obligation to animals is not negated by the fact that animals are not human.  

Korsgaard states:

 

…the loss of life matters to a human being in certain ways that it wouldn’t matter to another sort of animal… I don’t think it follows that a non-human animal’s life is of no value to her: after all, the loss of her life is the loss of everything that is good for her.

On factory farms, Korsgaard states:

 

…the whole human enterprise will be supported by a bloodbath of cruelty, hidden away behind the closed walls of those farms.

 

Korsgaard also observes the irony of maintaining the belief in the higher rationality and morality of humans while simultaneously justifying the killing of other, supposedly less developed, species. 

Ok… Factory farms are bad. And maybe we shouldn’t eat animals. But that doesn’t mean that we should start treating non-human animals like people, right? Humans are just different from other animals… right? But what, if anything, makes people different from non-human animals? What makes people different from cats and dogs and cows and chickens has something to do with a little concept called personhood.

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Our friend, Wikipedia defines personhood as:

 

the status of being a person. Defining personhood is a controversial topic in philosophy and law and is closely tied with legal and political concepts of citizenship, equality, and liberty. According to law, only a natural person or legal personality has rights, protections, privileges, responsibilities, and legal liability.

 

If you are a person, you are worthy of moral consideration.

If you are worthy of moral consideration. your interests matter.

And exactly what makes you a person with interests that matter?

If you ask Immanuel Kant, you are a person with interests that matter if you are rational.

Kant writes:

 

…every rational being, exists as an end in himself and not merely as a means to be arbitrarily used by this or that will…Beings whose existence depends not on our will but on nature have, nevertheless, if they are not rational beings, only a relative value as means and are therefore called things. On the other hand, rational beings are called persons inasmuch as their nature already marks them out as ends in themselves.

 

Non-human animals can’t be “persons” because they are not rational.

Hold on a minute, you say. There are plenty of humans that aren’t rational.

 

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PICTURED: NOT RATIONAL PERSON

 

Small children are notoriously irrational. Mentally ill and developmentally disabled people may also lack the degree of rationality required for personhood. On the other hand, non-human animals such as crows, pigs, octopuses, certain breeds of dogs, and primates (like chimps and bonobos) often display a degree of cognitive ability (aka, rational thought) not seen in some humans. 

So, that means some animals are persons, right?

 

 Well….

 

In 2013, the Florida-based Nonhuman Rights Project filed a lawsuit in the state appeals court of Manhattan on behalf of a pair of chimpanzees named Kiko and Tommy, arguing that the pair should be released from captivity and placed in an outdoor habitat. The lawsuit claimed the chimpanzees’ captivity violated their rights. Wise argued that Kiko and Tommy are entitled to the same legal rights as persons.  Their lawyer, Steven Wise, argued that chimpanzees (like Kiko and Tommy) possess the mental capacity for complex thought and can perform tasks and make choices.

 

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KIKO AND TOMMY

 

Now, if philosophers (including Aristotle, Descartes, and Kant) hold that the capacity for cognitive thought and decision making are qualifications for personhood, it should follow that a non-human animal capable of complex thought and decision making – even to a minimal degree − is a person.

If not legally, then at least philosophically.

And if we hold moral objections to eating animals that are like us or are us, then we should not eat non-human animals.  

Unfortunately for Tommy and Kiko, the Appellate Court in Manhattan ruled that Kiko and Tommy are not persons under the law and therefore not entitled to human rights.  

The Court ruling stated:

 

The asserted cognitive and linguistic capabilities of chimpanzees do not translate to a chimpanzee’s capacity or ability, like humans, to bear legal duties, or to be held legally accountable for their actions

The Court added that non-human animals “lack sufficient responsibility to have any legal standing.”

 

So…. What are we to do?

 

As of now, non-human animals are not entitled to legal personhood. Legally speaking, speciesism remains the law of the land. Killing, eating, or experimenting on (most) non-human animals is legally permitted, if not, in large part, socially acceptable.

Unless the law changes (or a zombie apocalypse turns us all into meat eaters), the question of eating meat will remain a philosophical conundrum – a matter of personal taste between you and your ethical theory of choice.

Until then…. Subway® Chicken & Bacon Ranch sandwiches. Forever.

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SOURCES:

https://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/05/27/peter-singer-on-speciesism-and-racism/

https://green.harvard.edu/news/ethics-eating-animals

https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/moral-animal/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Personhood

http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/captive-chimps-tommy-kiko-not-entitled-human-rights-court-article-1.3231598

 

On the Question of So-Called Superchimps, Their Place in our Moral Universe, and What Their Inclusion Means For the Average Idiot

I have a dog. I care about my dog. I care about my dog’s well being. I want him to be safe from moving cars or tainted dog food. I want others to be nice to my dog and respect my dog’s “right” to live a full, fun-filled dog life. My sentiment is not uncommon or even discouraged among pet owners. If asked, most pet owners would say that they care for their pets. They care about whether their pets have enough food to eat, or whether they are kept warm at night or safe from harm. But why is this so? Why do we value our pets so dearly?

The answer is because we include our pets in our moral sphere, that is, our pets are morally considerable. But, if we say that our pets are morally considerable, what do we mean when we say that something counts morally? What criteria do we use to determine who is in and who is out of our moral universe?

We say that something has “moral status” if that thing ( or being ) counts for us morally. That is, we owe certain moral obligations to certain, other beings. Status is most often defined in terms of  moral agents and moral patients. Individuals who possess rational autonomy and are self-legislating are moral agents. Moral patients are those individuals who lack, either by age, physical or mental condition, etc, the ability to self-legislate or rational autonomy are moral patients. For example, a year-old child lacks the ability to engage in rational, self-legislating behavior. The child is a moral patient. The child’s parent, if the parent is autonomous and self-legislating, is the moral agent who must act to the benefit of the child. An individual is in our moral sphere only if we grant the individual moral consider ability.

But, the act of considering an individual’s moral status relies on an important supposition: The act of considering the effects of our actions upon others indicates that those individuals that we take into account are already included  in our moral sphere. So, if moral considerability indicates that others are in our moral sphere, then we must ask, how do we include others in our sphere? That is, what are the criteria for the inclusion of other beings?

The West’s traditional view of moral status is grounded in the biblical texts of the Old Testament and Aristotle‘s hierarchy concerning nature and the natural order. The book of Genesis clearly states the relationship between man and animals:

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and

let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the

air , and over the cattle, and all over the earth, and over every creeping

thing that creeps upon the earth”. (Genesis 1:26. Emphasis added).

The traditional biblical view holds that man, as a being created in God’s image, is given the earth to rule as he sees fit. The fact that animals are not made in God’s image  discharges any human from any moral obligation to the welfare of animals. According to the biblical view, the lack of any ability to morally wrong any animal means that animals are not morally considerable.  Aristotle brought the hierarchy to nature (and the natural order of things) which placed humans, more specifically free human males, at the top of the “natural” hierarchy. Aristotle wrote that man’s power of reasoning endowed him with natural superiority (and a soul). The way of nature, in Aristotle’s view, naturally places superior beings in positions of authority over inferior beings. In other words, if a rational soul is a superior trait, then it is the way of nature for animals who possess this trait to rule over animals that do not possess the same superior trait. Aristotle stated that animals, by contrast, are governed by their passions or instincts. Aristotle wrote that man’s rational soul ruled over his passions, and that this trait indicates that man’s natural place is to rule over animals. Aristotle reflects the traditional view in that inferior animals are “natural slaves” that are benefited by serving the interests of superior animals. Aristotle writes,

“…the other animals exist for the sake of man, and tame for use and food, the wild, if not all, at least the greater part of them for food…”

Descartes continued the traditional view of moral status. Descartes wrote that animals are mere “machines” meant to serve the need of their human masters. Although Descartes maintains the traditional view that man’s intellect confers superior status, Descartes gives an additional criteria for man’s moral superiority to animals. For Descartes, the capacity for speech is indicative of an individual’s intellectual capacity. The fact that animals possess no capacity for speech (at least no speech that humans can understand), animals cannot “… use speech… as we do when placing our thoughts on record for the benefit of others.”

It is important to stop at this point to clear up an immediate objection to Descartes’ speech criteria.  If Descartes means to state that any being that lacks the capacity to express their thoughts in speech also lacks the capacity to think, one might put forth that Descartes is excluding humans who are mentally or physically challenged from the moral sphere. Humans who cannot speak due to physical or mental impairments, if Descartes’ criteria is used to define moral status, may be reduced to the status of “brutes” or animals.  Descartes, however, explains that his speech criteria does not exclude the mentally or physically disabled, on the grounds that individuals who lack verbal speech often find other ways to communicate their thoughts to others. For instance,  person who is born mute may learn to communicate through sign language. A person who is mentally handicapped may learn to express themselves, despite the fact that they lack the ability to communicate verbally. Descartes states that a disabled individual may have a diminished intellectual capacity, but is not excluded from the moral sphere due to the fact that humans who are intellectually “inferior“  possess some capacity for self expression. An animal, on the other hand, not only lacks a minimal capacity for rational thought, but lacks any capacity for rationality at all.
Although Descartes explains that his speech criteria will not exclude humans (including the mentally and physically disabled) from the moral sphere, Descartes’ explanation fails to recognize the fact the speech criteria may indeed reduce some humans to the status of mere “brutes”. Some humans do lack any capacity for speech, such as profoundly retarded individuals or the comatose. In addition, some animals have acquired the capacity to express their thoughts through non-verbal human languages such as American sign language. And, if the traditional hierarchical view places a rational soul at the top of the natural order, the fact that some animals possess a capacity for rational thought leads us to question whether an animal that possesses the capacity for rational thought may assume a higher position in the natural hierarchy. An animal that possesses a rational soul may disrupt man’s assumed position at the top of the natural hierarchy. A human who lacks the capacity for rational thought, such as the mentally challenged or the comatose, may be relegated to the status of animals and excluded from the moral sphere.

As humans, we feel reluctant (intuitively) to exclude people who we feel not only merit moral consideration, but also fit into the moral sphere. We feel that it is wrong to exclude any human from moral consideration on the basis that a person lacks the capacity to articulate their thoughts. We feel that despite their physical or mental handicap, a human mentally or physically disabled human is still a human, and that their humanness demands moral considerability and inclusion in the moral sphere. But, what about an animal who, despite a mere physical or mental difference from other rational beings, possesses human-like qualities, such as rationality and the ability to articulate its thoughts through language?  Is there a criteria for moral status that will allow us to include both rational animals and marginal cases? I believe that the answer is yes. I hold that Kant’s criteria for moral status allows us to include rational animals, but more importantly, Kant’s moral status criteria allows us to preserve marginal cases for moral consideration in the moral sphere.

It is  possible that nature may produce a chimpanzee with cognitive abilities that exceed the capacities of the average human. The fact that this “super chimp” ( let’s call him “Arthur Crackpot”), surpasses the intellectual capacity of the average human cannot be ignored, nor can it be dismissed as a mere aberration. It would not be difficult to imagine that Arthur Crackpot or any chimpanzee that possesses a high capacity for rational thought would not hesitate to articulate its thoughts or express what it considered to be its own interests. We can be most certain that Arthur Crackpot and any other “super chimp” would demand immediate inclusion into our moral sphere. The fact that the animal can do so forces us to deal with it in a manner that does not conform to the traditional biblical, natural hierarchy, nor can we treat the animal as a mere machine that is fit to serve man’s needs. So, if the difference between man and animals — primates in particular — is trivial, and a naturally occurring “super chimp’ is not outside the realm of possibility, then the mere fact that man and animal are different species is not a morally relevant difference to account for the exclusion of animals from the moral consideration or the moral sphere.

If we grant moral consideration of smarter animals, and we include Arthur Crackpot and other “super chimps” in our moral sphere because they rank higher on the hierarchical scale, then, if we are to be consistent, we must exclude certain marginal case humans who possess intellectual capacities far below the capacities of other animals. But, as I said before, this sounds intuitively wrong. We should not exclude humans simply because they lack the ability to articulate their thoughts or the capacity for rational thought. So, what perspective allows us to include both “super chimps” and marginal cases? I believe that the Kantian approach to moral agency allows us to  not only extend moral consideration  and inclusion of animals such as Arthur Crackpot, but the Kantian approach also allows us to keep marginal case humans in the moral sphere.

Kant states that rational beings must be treated as ends in themselves. That is, beings that possess the ability for rational thought cannot be used as a mere means to another person’s ends. Rational beings, according to Kant, are self-legislating and autonomous. The fact that rational beings possess an autonomous and self-legislating will grants them moral agency. Moral agents are not only morally accountable for their own actions, but are also morally obligated to moral patients. For Kant, rationality is not a matter of degree, but a characteristic that is all-or-nothing. Beings are either rational or they are not rational. Although Kant’s criteria seems to push us once again towards the hierarchy, the concept of moral patients pushes us away from excluding rational animals and irrational people.

Kant states that man’s duty to animals is indirect, in that our duties to animals are limited to treating them in a non-abusive manner, but Kant also states that our treatment of animals reflects how we are likely to treat other humans. Although we consider our treatment of animals from the Kantian perspective, we only consider their welfare from our own perspective — we do not want to cultivate abusive personalities in people who might harm their fellow man. This approach gets us away from the hierarchy it seems, but perhaps not very far. But, let us remember, Kant states that his criteria for our moral obligation is rationality.  More importantly, Kant does not specify a degree of rationality that qualifies a being for admission in our moral sphere. For Kant, rationality is all or nothing. So, from this perspective, an animal that possesses a minimal degree of rationality is included in the moral sphere. So, one might say this criteria requires that a “super chimp” like Arthur Crackpot, who possesses a level of rationality rival to that of a human must also be regarded as a human moral agent.

If Arthur commit’s a moral transgression, he must be held accountable for his actions. So, for instance, if Arthur kills a human, he could be held accountable for his actions not only morally but legally as well. But this is not correct. For Kant, having moral agency does not necessarily follow from having rationality. There are minimally rational people who cannot be moral agents. These individuals are moral patients. Moral patients are included in the moral sphere insofar as their interests are the subject of moral consideration, but are excluded, in a sense, from a moral obligation to other moral agents. On the other hand, moral agents are morally obligated to moral patients.  It is clear that the concept of holding a trial for a chimpanzee is ridiculous (not to mention next to impossible to find a jury of Arthur’s peers). A chimpanzee, no matter how rational it may be, should not be held accountable for his actions in the same way that a human is held accountable for her actions. Like a child, an animal that possesses a minimal degree of rationality may  be incapable of comprehending the moral ramifications of his actions. If an animal is like a child or an other moral patient, we are obligated to consider the welfare of that being. Likewise, if a human possesses a minimal degree of rationality, we are obligated to consider the welfare of that person. And, the fact that we have taken these individuals into our moral consideration signifies that both some animals and marginal case humans possess moral status in our moral universe.

The traditional, biblical, and Cartesian perspectives on moral status and moral considerability fail to enable to include animals who should be granted moral status. Even more detrimental to these perspectives is the fact that adherence to these perspectives forces us to remove humans as well.  Kant’s rationality criteria allows us to include rational animals like “Arthur Crackpot” in the moral sphere without excluding human marginal cases. The concept of moral patients and moral agency allows us to include individuals that may not be fully rational in the sense that they are capable of moral responsibility, but rational to the degree that they count in the moral sphere. Kant’s approach — though it is not perfect — is the best perspective we have to determine moral considerability, moral status and the inclusion of human marginal cases in the moral sphere.

An Opinion From A Meat-eating Non-vegan

For My money, the best thing to happen to vegans is the factory farm. There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t hear someone, on the radio, on TV or in my face prattling on about how bad it is that we still live in a world where people still eat meat. What nonsense. I’ve noticed lately, that this sentiment seems to be spreading. I see a whole crop (yes, I meant to use the word crop — totally intentional) of anti-meat eating business out there. Books like Fast Food Nation and The Omnivore’s Dilemma, (and who can forget that wonderful Skinny Bitch?) movies like Food, Inc., websites like “Meet your Meat”, philosophy professors (in general), and all those other folks who like to say that they can’t eat anyting with a face or experiences pain (there are two really good dirty commants there, but I’ll ignore them for now). I don’t think that in all of my lifetime that I’ve ever heard the word “organic” as much as I’ve heard in the past six months. I’m trying hard not to think that Obama has something to do with all this health talk. But it does seem a little more than coincidental. I heard it said before, but the standard cud-chewers litany goes a little like this: if people had to render their own meat, the wouldn’t eat meat. This suggests that, for most people, having to look a cow in those big, dumb, eyes before you take him out to devour his muscle would turn even the most die-hard meat eater into a sniveling apologist for every person who ever ate an animal’s flesh. There’s the othre point that if we saw what goes on in the factory, none of us would want to eat meat (that’s why they like to pull out the pictures of veal calves. It’s funny, now that I’m thinking about it somewhat, that so many people who are plant eaters are also pro-choice. They are unphased by pictures of dead, aborted fetuses, but moved to action seeing a chicken in a cage. I’m not trying to open up that can of worms, but it is something worth thinking about.) I think that, at least on the first part, that they are wrong. I cannot say that having to kill my own food would turn me against eating meat. In fact, for some people, it has the opposite effect. Until quite recently, many people lived on farms, or at least had more to do with where their food came fromm other than waiting for it to be delivered in 30 minutes or less. For some of us, we are a generation or two from people who had to kill their own meals, at least from time to time. People who are raised on farms know that the animals amy be cute and cuddly when they are young, but they are not pets. There is s reason why you have cows or pigs or chickens on a farm — one day, you will be eating them. The ast of killing one’s dinner is, of course, not for everyone. And we’ve all heard the stories from people who were raised on farms who (usually when they were kids) spirited away papa’s best tom turkey before it became Thanksgiving dinner. The story usually ends up that the kid eventually wins over the family, and they have a wonderful, cruelty-free vegetable dinner (I’m not saying that these stories are made up, but they do tend to sound the same. All I’m saying). If you don’t want to kill your own food, don’t. I’m not going to question anyone’s manhood if they don’t or can’t. What I’m saying is, is that for every person who hid the chickens from grandma so she couldn’t wring their necks, there is a Ted Nugent, who gleefully hunts his food with a bow and arrow! By the way, a Time Magazine article called “Cow-Pooling” (June 15, 2009) shows the new “trend” in meat eating — families who buy meat directly from the farmer. A woman who was profiled for the piece called this practice “inspirational”. They say that the meat is better quality and it allows people to get to know the farmer who is raising their meat, so it eliminates the potential yuck factor in that knowing the farmer means seeing where the meat was raised and more importantly, rendered for human consumption. As for the second point, that the conditions under which meat is made meat, there’s a point there. I do have a slight queesiness when I look at the label of my ground beef, and it reads, “product of Canada, Mexico and USA”. It’s a little unnerving when you don’t know exactly from where your food comes from. Especially when it is a mix of every cow from here to wherever. I’ll cede the point that there is a problem with the fact that most Americans don’t know how to provide for themselves (myself included), and that we are too far removed from the food-making process. I think this is why there are people who are revolted by the meat industry. We should be. It’s disgusting how we get our food — meat and vegetable. But, I don’t think that that’s enough to give up eating meat. The fact that cows are made to eat other sick cows or that chickens are pumped up with hormones to the point that they are all breast meat can be remedied. I heard in a movie, it was a pretty shitty movie, but a character said to another that she thought that her friends were vegetarians because they’re afraid of death. I don’t think that that’s too far off. The fact that, in order to get meat, something has to die, and the fact that something does does not sit well with alot of people. Maybe the problem really does have something to with death. Death, no matter how you pull it off, has some amount of brutality to it (some may say it is the fact that things die that makes death brutal, regardless of the circumstances). I think that some people see becoming another animal’s meal as especially unbecoming of a creature. It’s kind of a low reason to die. But if we look around, that’s the reason why I’d say the majority of animals go. If you ask me, a lower reason to die would be that some asshole who runs your government decides that he wants to invade another country, so he send a bunch of people to go fight his war for him — compared to that, nourshing another animal seems like a downright noble reason to die. I’m politicizing here. Sorry. What I think is happening in the mind of my vegan planet earthers is a very noble, albeit misguided (maybe a little too simplified) notion of human nature. Most people that I know who object to eating meat on moral grounds are generally optimistic people. They tend to see the good in people. (or say that they do). I think that they see eating meat as a brutal practice that is done by brutal animals (although you may be hard pressed to get then to admit that any animal is actually “brutal”). They see people, because of their intelligence and capacity for self improvement, as better than what we often are. So, if we get rid of those parts of us that are brutal, we will be better people. If we stop eating meat, we will end world hunger, save the whales, end the genocide in Darfur, end the oppressive patriarchy that enslaves women and brown people across the world, and of course, spread a wave of socialism that will lift each person up and oppress no one. There will be peace finally if everyone would stop eating meat. Somehow I feel that even if everyone decided that we sould reduce our carbon footprint and stop eating meat tomorrow, that …. well.

Monsieur Descartes, My Clocks Usually Don’t Bleed: On the Moral Status of Animals

I was listening to a radio show some time ago. The topic was anything in general, but somehow drifted specifically to the subject of animal rights. The host talked to a caller who is dedicated to preventing the mistreatment of dogs in New york (in New York because that’s where she lived). The host spoke some time about PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals). Now, I like animals, I own one. He’s cute and I like him. And I generally try to treat (most) of my fellow living beings, human and not-so-human, with some degree of respect, but I CANNOT STAND PETA! I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with any organization that seems to like animals more than they like people. I agree with that sentiment wholeheartedly. There are some animals that are totally more likable than some people. But, whenever I hear one of their non-celebrity spokespeople speaking (speaking would make one a apokesperson, wouldn’t it?), I get the creeps. These people are hiding something. Some really unpleasant agenda that entails breeding more jackrabbits and breeding less people. Which brings me to why I’m writing this in the first place. Despite the fact that I have this blog, I don’t do much in the way of web surfing. Only recently was I made aware that the frontman for my favorite band did some bit for my least favorite animal-crazy organization (that organization being the aformentioned People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals). It seems that there is some sort of market for the wearing of animal furs out there. Since wearing the hides of chinchillas or mink or Siberian white tigers is not so PC — as this activity tends to cause animals to go extinct — the fur marketeers, instead of not selling fur, simply moved on to a more available source of fur — namely cats and dogs. I was totally not aware of this. So, I was trolling the web, and Icame upon this very topic (using cats and dogs for fur) when I was looking for info about the latest nine inch nails cd, The Slip (an outstanding cd, I might add). It seems that Trent Reznor did this thing for PETA about the use of cats and dogs for fur. The first thing I thought wasn’t, ‘wow, this guy is really cool and super compassionate. he cares about our furry friends’. No, it wasn’t at all like that. My immediate reaction was something like, ‘et tu Brute?’. I mean really, don’t you just hate it when someone you dig does something so not diggable? I like his band, and I think he’s hot (I am such a girl), but I SIMPLY CANNOT STAND PETA!!! And really, think about it: if there’s any group of animals that, if we should wear fur, it should be cats and dogs. I can say right now that there are approximately four dogs and an infinte number of stray cats currently running around my neighborhood at this time and all would make fine coats. Especially that mottled cat that has taken to shitting all over my front lawn. Now, let me get one thing straight. I don’t think that people, unless you live somewhere near the North or South Poles, should be in the habit of wearing fur. And, I definitely think that animals shouldn’t have to endure what could only be described as “torture” to get their fur off of their bodies so I can look good ( as if that were possible). But, I confess, I eat meat, I think cows are pretty much useless, and I have at least one pair of shoes with genuine leather uppers, so I realize that I’m not entirely off the hook. And I’m not so dumb to not realize that there’s a slight hypocrisy in saying that wearing animal fur is bad, yet enjoying the taste of said animal’s flesh with cheese and thousand island dressing. Worse yet, I’m not immune from “cuddly animals syndrome” — the tendency of humans to not care one lick about animals who aren’t cute and adorable (but then, we treat people the same way, which explains alot about why I am here writing this post, and not out doing something with other people). The way that I feel — about fur, about my dog, about animals in general, has to do with the way that I feel about whether they do or do not fit into our moral sphere. The question of fur simply put is a question of moral status. When we consider moral status, for humans and animals, we are asking , among many questions, who counts morally and why and who should be included and what justifies the inclusion? So, looking at something close to home, when I think of my dog, I think that he is a being that is worthy of my concern and care. I try to make sure that he is well cared for and that he lives his life as pain free as possible. Why? Why do I feel morally obligated to care for him? First off, he’s not human. Second, he is unable to care for me (at least in a way beyond barking whenever he feels that there is a “danger” — which includes barking at the wind, at birds chirping too loudly outside, at the neighbors getting it and out of their cars…). But, I still care for him. I more than care, I feel that if I did not, I would be in the wrong. Somehow, my dog fits in with all of whom I feel morally obligated to care for. He’s in my moral sphere despite the fact that he is not human. The fact that he is a mere dog is not a difference significant enough to count against him. I see what I’m busy doing here: when I think of why my dog is morally includable, I automatically shoot through a list of criteria for inclusion. I see at the top of my list is the question ‘ is it human?’ . For some, this has been and is a deciding factor for inclusion or exclusion in the moral sphere. So, when I consider my dog, I have in my mind a set of criteria that he must meet for moral inclusion. These criteria include his similarity to humans, whether he can speak or reason, etc. These, when considered, make up a list of morally relevant characteristics. These are the characteristics I will consider when I decide whether another being will or will not be included in my moral sphere. Wait, I’m beginning to jumble my words as well as my thoughts. I’m trying to think up too much at one time. Let me try to write this a little more scholarly. When we consider any being, be it animal or human, we look for any morally relevant characteristics that we’ll consider when we determine whether that being will be included in our moral sphere. These characteristics are morally significant — in that they make or break a being’s inclusion. Historically, the fact that other animals were not human was more than enough for moral exclusion. The Bible (well, actually it was God) gives man dominion of all the animals. The book of Genesis states: Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds if the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth (Genesis 1:26). The ancient Greeks pretty much held the same view: In his Politics, Aristotle stated that man’s rationality (as opposed to the biblical view that man’s superiority over animals rested in the fact that he was created in God’s image) placed him above all other creatures. Aristotle states, ” all tame animals are better off when they are ruled by man”. Asistotle reasoned that animals were passionate and governed by their urges. An animal that is subject to the whim of his passions cannot, by nature, rule himself and therefore, must be ruled. Since man (and he did mean MAN) was governed by his intellect, he was naturally fit to rule. Aristotle wrote, “the other animals exist for the sake of man, the tame for use and food, the wild… for food and the provision of clothing and various instruments”. Man was supreme, and all other animals (and a fair number of other people) existed merely to serve the needs of Man. The birth of modern philosophy, starting with Descartes, didn’t do much to change the classic attitude. Descartes claimed that animals are (get this) machines. Although animals communicate with people, Descartes wrote, the fact that they lack the capacity for “real speech” indicated that they lacked the intellect that qualified them for inclusion among sentient beings. According to Descartes, the fact that animals lacked the capacity for speech indicated that animals lacked the capacities for “pure thought” and that speech was the only indicator that we could be certain that a creature possesses the capacity for rational thought. Like the ancients, Descartes also believed that animals lack the ability to control of their “natural impulse”. So, for Descartes, the mere machines we call animals were fit for whatever use we saw fit — including nailing them to walls and disecting them. The sounds of their wailing in pain, Descartes claimed, was no different from the twangs and pings made by a clock as one dismantles it. So ignore the shrieking and blood, Rene says. It’s just makes that noise when you unscrew its parts. I’m not kidding. Darwin’s theory of Natural Selection challenged the old ideas of man on top ( I could insert a dirty joke here — I just did), and apart from nature, in favor of a view of man as a part of nature. According to Darwin, man’s intellect made him better at some things (better than animals) but in other capacities, say the capacity for flight, non-human beings had the advantage. For Darwin, “better” did not automatically infer superior (at least in the sense that one animal is superior to all others in all capabilities). Better, according to Darwin, was a matter of successful adaptation to one’s environment, rather than an innate superiority to others beings. In The Descent of Man (1871), Darwin intends to show that “there is no fundamental difference between man and the higher animals in their mental faculties”. As for the “lower” animals, Darwin states that the they “like man, manifestly feel pleasure and pain, happiness and misery”. Darwin writes, “Terror acts in the same manner on them as on us, causing the muscles to tremble, the heart to palpitate, the sphincters to be relaxed, and the hair to stand on end”. Darwin, breaking with the traditional view, further states, ” the difference in mind between man and the higher animals, great as it is, certainly is one of degree and not one of kind… the various emotions and faculties… of which man boasts, may be found in an incipient animal, or even sometimes in a well-developed condition, in the lower animals”. I suppose this is where someone would say Descartes can shove it. According to the Darwinian view, the fact that man possessed speech or even reason gave us no reason to assume, based on those qualities, that man was naturally superior to all other animals. Our ability to speak may be, in the evolutionary sense, a mere result of homo sapiens adaptation to his environment. The fact that other animals lack speech isn’t a sign of inherent inferiority so much as it reflects the possibility that other species did not need speech to successfully adapt to their environment. Our differences are manifestations of adaptations from which we cannot confer moral biological or moral superiority. This, the Darwinian view, is how we look at many animals — that is, for most of us, mere biological differences bear little or no moral significance when we decide who counts for us morally. Wait, that’s not exactly true. We, as humans, tend to be inpressed by the visual. We tend to cast our moral nets over those who seem most like us. We would be less likely to exclude a gorilla who “speaks” using American sign language from our moral sphere than would exclude a honey badger or a totally un-cute animal like a shrew. We still count what can tell us “ow!’. If I step on my dog’s foot, he yipes in pain. If I slam a 6 foot python around, it doesn’t make a sound. And besides, my dog is cuter than a python. My dog can learn to do tricks and has a bit of a personality. From his body language, I can tell when he is hungry (which is all the time), when he needs to go outside and do his business, when he’s upset, or scared… but the python just lies there. I can’t tell anything about him — even if he’s living or not. So, I find myself applying a bit of Cartesian morality when I think of snakes. The snake, from my point of view, cannot articulate anything to me. It lacks any capacity to communicate at all to me. This is a problem. How do we include something that doesn’t seem to interact with us at all? I think that someone would have to be an absolute weirdo to deny the fact that many humans see themselves as something different or apart from other animals. Even though many of us care about animals, we still hold on to the notion that humans (generally) hold a place apart from other beings, and the fact that other animals are not human plays (whether we like it or not) a part in our moral attitudes and practices. Human are special, and that’s that. Enter moral consideration. Peter Singer suggests that we approach our moral attitudes from the view that we consider the needs of other animals when we behave in a manner that will affect other non-human species. The only thing is that we consider their needs equally. Singer’s approach isn’t a claim for equal rights, but a claim for equal moral consideration. In Animal Liberation Singer writes, ” Equal consideration for different beings may lead to different treatment and different rights”. Even if we consider how other animals will be affected by our actions (say, for instance, we’re planning to cut down a section of Brazillian rainforest to raise beef for McDonalds), we might decide that our needs outweigh those of the animal. If we planned to slaughter millions of potentially life-saving tropical plants and animals in order to feed overweight Americans juicy BigMacs, we may, after considering the needs of the rainforest’s flora and fauna, decide that we should get to slashing and burning right away. The point is that we considered the needs of the animals before we killed them and destroyed their home. BigMacs aren’t really all that juicy, come to think of it. Singer says the fact that we (humans) are physically different from other animals gives is no moral justification for simply dismissing the needs and interests of other species. Singer parallels our moral attitudes towards animals to the way that we once thought about race and gender. At one time, one’s gender or race dictated one’s opportunities or treatment. If, for instance, a person were born a woman, she was considered property of her familt and then, if she married, the property of her husband. Her needs and interests were not up for discussion. But, as we’ve become more enlightened, we’ve seen that the lack of a penis does not make one’s status less than an individual who just so happens to have been born with one. And more importantly, it shouldn’t count for unequal moral consideration. Women, like men, feel anger, happiness, fear, pain and suffering equally. And as Darwin (and Bentham) noted, animals also possess the capacity to feel these emotions as well. Bentham says that the capacity to suffer is a vital characteristic for moral consideration. The ability to feel happiness or pain transcends the capacity for language or the ability to perform complex operations like mathematics (thank god for that!). I step on my dog’s foot, and he cries out in pain. Likewise, if I drop Clorox into the eyes of a rabbit, it will probably make some sort of “that hurts” noise. If someone belts me a good one, I’m probably going to tell them that it hurt a little. If someone decides to wrap a guy’s head in towels and pour water on their face to simulate drowning, they’ll probably describe the experience as painful or unpleasant. In all of these situations, each animal, human and non-human experienced pain and indicated it. The fact that If an animal can suffer, Bentham says, means that we cannot ignore the fact that it does. Singer also uses the capacity to suffer as a morally relevant characteristic. Singer states, “if a being suffers there can be no moral justification for refusing to take that into consideration”. But wait, someone says. If I have to consider whether some animal is going to suffer every time I do anything, I won’t do anything because I’ll be too worried about inflicting pain on some gnat or something. This is a concern especially from those who care about the suffering of animals but still want to eat the occasional chicken sandwich. The fear is that we’ll be so worried about doing anything harmful, that everyone will become a vegan, and no one will ever find the cure for cancer. But Singer himself says that suffering isn’t the same as killing. We should remember that equal consideration doesn’t mean equal treatment. For instance, we understand that children lack the same capacity for reason than adults. Let’s say that a 6 year old child had killed his best friend while playing with his mother’s Ginzu knife set. We know that a child does not operate on the same intellectual level as an adult. We may think that he did not fully understand the possibility that plunging a butcher’s knife into the heart of his BFF would result in his friend’s immediate and irreversable death. The fact that the child lacks the capacity for reason does not mean that we throw the kid out to the wolves. In fact, we feel an even greater moral obligation to him because he does not know what he did. We feel that the child deserves the same fair trial and protection under the law as we would extend to any adult. When we decided to charge the little tyke as an adult, we considered the fact that he’s just six year’s old. But, after w considered that fact, we decided that the demonseed needed to fry anyway. Which is where, I think, Singer was going when he said that inflicting suffering on a being isn’t the same as killing it. If there was no other way to cure a certain disease beyond performing animal research, then, in the interest of saving human lives, we might go ahead and do the research. We know that there are speedy and virtually painless ways to slaughter animals ( that is, unless you consider death itself a harm, but that’s a different issue for another philosopher). There are some situations, Singer admits, that we cannot treat animals equally. I appreciate the fact that this is the way that I’m supposed to feel about animals. And if I were a real philosopher who was concerned about appearing to be enlightened, I would probably feel more inclined to travel along the same lines as Singer. But I’m not. I admit that, no matter how hard I try, I cannot divorce myself from the feeling that being human carries more moral weight than some of us believe it does. I reject the idea the humanness is not a morally relevant characteristic — and that different (in the Darwinian sense) does not mean better. The fact that I cannot say what makes humans different does not mean that there is no thing that does. And, because I totally reject the notion of my being a philosopher, I will leave my opinion at that. I got some music I gotta go listen to.