This scene is acceptable because it could have been worse. The attacker could have been driving a dump truck over infants while shooting the man on the left. That imaginary scenario makes everything better.
The could-be-worse reasoning is applied every day to attempt justify exploiting cows, chickens, geese, sheep, mice, rats, dogs, elephants, women, minorities, the old and the young. With animals, people compare current, “humane” slaughter methods to some horrible alternative, and then state that snuffing out the life of an enslaved, helpless creature is now honorable and free from any moral condemnation.
Let’s go back to the analogy of theft. If I steal your television, I don’t get out of jail by stating I could have also emptied your bank account. When we do something wrong, we do something wrong. It’s as simple as that.
Moral relativity to encourage animal exploitation is simple manipulation to keep us dim-witted and spend-thrifted (say that five times fast). Many people want to believe they can make a difference without changing a thing. As Gary Francione says, the “happy meat” and “humane” slaughter ideas are nothing more than the modern day equivalent of the church selling indulgences.
When we hear ourselves or others saying, “well at least I buy organic eggs,” or “at least this was free-range beef,” we need to remember that those allegedly great strides in animal freedom are illusions. We do not free animals by encouraging people to eat more of them. “Free range”, “grass fed”, “organic” and “humane” labels encourage consumption. These labels move us in the exact opposite direction of liberation and justice.
At the core of this issue is the notion that people are still okay with using the animals, it’s the “excessive” suffering they’re uncomfortable with. This is simple speciesism. Except in extremely trivial cases, no one would wave away a crime against a human because “it could have been worse.” That would not even work in small claims court. When the crime is against those who cannot speak for themselves, it seems, we sing a different tune.
The could-have-been-worse perspective backfires on meat eaters and works against exploiting animals; we can always define “do not interfere with them at all” as the relative comparison. Why must the relative marker be placed closer to torture, and not closer to amnesty? Easy:
The goal of arguing in favor of exploiting animals is never on behalf of the animals.
It is our duty to remind people that treatment does not need to be “worse than” to be wrong. Slavery is slavery. Nutrition options exist. Let’s use our options, not individuals.
No justice exists when crimes are dismissed by simply dreaming up “worse” crimes that could have happened instead.
The one on the left will be ground up with about a thousand siblings so you can eat his mother's eggs.
Is it immoral to cut a dog’s throat because we like the sound of the blood gurgling onto the soil? To stomp on a box of kittens because the squishing under our feet is lovely and refined? To sever a lizard’s tail and legs, leaving her to bleed to death, because the trail of blood she leaves behind makes interesting patterns?
Most of us would say yes, these acts are immoral. Would they be any better if the aggressor was paid to do it? If a young man is paid ten dollars every time he crushes a kitten to death, is the act then acceptable? How about ten thousand dollars? Of course not.
We agree that receiving pleasure from the sound, sight or feel of bloodshed is immoral (if not downright creepy), as is profit.
What if the pleasure is taste?
If the pleasures on our ears, under our feet, or upon our eyes are unacceptable reasons to inflict harm, why do we make exceptions for the pleasures of the tongue? It is just another organ.
Eye, nose and skin pleasure may be seen as entertainment. If we agree that killing for mere entertainment is bad, then certainly crushing kittens to death is bad. Stabbing a cow to death for entertainment, then, is also bad because a cow is no different a moral specimen than a kitten is.
The difficult part of talking to meat and dairy consumers is helping them understand that eating flesh and non-human milk are unnecessary. Because these food items are not necessary, they are entertainment. Buying steak at a grocery store which also sells beans and fresh vegetables is no more defensible than stomping on a box of kittens.
We must reject killing not just kittens, but also cows, chickens and all living beings, in pursuit of the specific sensations given to our tongues and noses.
There is no magic morality purifier device built into our taste buds. Criminals are not released on the condition that they greatly enjoyed the crime. And, despite what the bacon advertisements tell us, pigs are not happy to die today because a plate will hold their body parts tonight.
Our enjoyment is as irrelevant as profit. The price paid per kitten squished has no effect on the immorality of the act. Be it ten dollars or ten thousand dollars, funding murder is funding murder. In the same way, a tickle or a taste does not change the exploitation.
Let us be consistent with our beliefs. Being so is much easier than trying to explain to our children why assaulting kittens is bad, but assaulting pigs is okay, provided we eventually eat them, too.
Summary: Do not blame being an asshole on this organ.
Who could predict this thriving, fantastic outcome based only on looking at the seeds?
All seeds for one plant pretty much look alike and, until we engage them, all people’s minds pretty much look alike as well. We sometimes make the mistake of assuming people are completely closed off to veganism when in fact they are not. And sometimes we spend all our time trying to educate completely disinterested captives (coworkers, family members, schoolmates).
But regardless of success or failure, we should never be discouraged, because that next vegan blogger, fitness guru, grandma or executive is probably not going to come from where you imagine.
People will surprise you. The man you would never discuss veganism with because of his demeanor or background might actually be completely disgusted with meat, only able to eat carefully disguised bodies in the form of hamburgers or nuggets. Or you might just catch him at a particularly receptive moment. The sweet vegetarian mother of two active children might just be completely shut off to the idea of animal rights, with no concern for the direct relationship between cheese and veal. We never really know until we engage others.
We should approach every opportunity for advocacy as the sowing of a new seed. Even when speaking about veganism with people who have heard it before, consider that maybe circumstances have changed.
The sprouts from nonviolent, intelligent discussions are fantastically creative and different and inspiring for each person.
All growth requires a little seed, or seed energy, and steady nurturing. As advocates for peace and justice, vegans are asking people to grow and expand their circles of consideration. And if the animal’s lives mean anything to us, they should mean, at a minimum, the willingness to engage people in whatever comfortable way we feel is appropriate.
Let us be kind and honest with people and about the animals we represent. We don’t need bullhorns, we need dinner parties.