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Posts Tagged ‘debates’

Owning 3 Chickens on 12 Acres

Thursday, July 29th, 2010

A friend of mine, let’s call him Dylan, recently asked:

I was wondering with regards to having chickens who lay eggs and then eating the eggs in a 3-6 chickens on 12 acres situation.  This is my situation.  Do you think that eating the eggs of chickens who have as good a life as any other house pet is bad because it contributes to permissive attitudes to other people eating eggs or demand for eggs in general?

I never really understood the anti-egg part of veganism, or, at least, I know that vegans in general hate battery chicken farms and the meat and eggs that occur as a result of that.  But, an egg is essentially a chicken’s period.  Even if it is fertilised it doesn’t start chugging towards life until the chicken has collected several eggs in the same place and it is the right season to do so.  A chicken will want to sit on many fertilised eggs to hatch a lot of chicks.

If the eggs are not fertilised, and the chicken tries to hatch them, she can die from malnutrition or thirst in a behaviour that I’ve come to known as brooding or being broody where she will sit on some egg(s) in a nest until they hatch even though there is no chance of such and won’t even leave for food or water, so perpetuating the lie that she will have children from unfertilised eggs is actually harmful to her.

Long story short, I’m asking if you can tell me whether each of these phrases below are morally true to a vegan:

  • Owning any animal as a pet is wrong.
  • Owning any animal as a pet that produces edible products and then eating the products is wrong.
  • Owning any animal as a pet because it produces edible products is wrong.

Further to this, how does this translate to, for example, alpacas?  Is shearing them and keeping or using the wool bad?  Or, should shearing only be used for their comfort and the wool be discarded to avoid promoting it’s exploitation and use?

I hope my reply to him was good. What do you think? Here it is.

Hi Dylan!

First, I wonder about the end result of thoughts like what you shared. Meaning, what comes out of these mental projects? I hope they are done in an effort to expand compassion and ease the suffering of others, rather than to navigate a maze of technicalities in hopes of justifying speciesism through some philosophical back door.

I tell people that “veganism” can be thought of as shorthand for “peaceful non-cooperation with any speciesist idea.” Speciesism is to animals what racism is to blacks (typically) or sexism is to women (typically). Speciesism, racism and sexism are all forms of discrimination, which ultimately end up in violence. No form of discrimination is based on any logical or morally-consistent criteria.

The three questions above ask about the technical aspects of owning sentient beings, and make the assumption that one can really own another.

My answer to most what-if questions about veganism can be anticipated by replacing the animal in the question with a human. A young girl makes great replacement example, because most of the animals we have enslaved are, in their years as relative to humans, teenage girls.

When I read over your questions I translate them like so: If I paid for a black girl fair and square, is it wrong to shave her head and make wigs out of it whenever I feel like it? Shaving her doesn’t hurt her, and she’s got it as good as any other pet. Would it be okay for me to own her if I didn’t shave her head?

Of course no one in these days really would admit to “owning” another human being.

Is it any different with chickens? Using a chicken as an object, an egg-producing device, requires mentally reducing that chicken from an individual down to a non-individual.

I asked a relative about this email and my reply and such. She asked me what you’re going to do when those chickens die out. Will you keep eating eggs?

You have chickens at home, which are basically rescued (I guess?) pets that happen to produce edible foods which you take from them. In your example, these chickens probably have all sorts of food and water, maybe even access to good veterinary care, and plenty of room to run around, hunt for worms and socialize.

I think that’s great. If you’ve rescued them, you’re providing them a peaceful, lovely end to their days. Hopefully you’ve got them neutered (or keep them far from roosters) so they don’t overpopulate in an area which, without your income and human-provided infrastructure, I’m guessing they could not survive.

Your wool example is great. Animals which produce wool are not simply left to wander, randomly fed whatever food naturally grows nearby (and starved if no food is present?), given medicine, and occasionally sheared to their comfort. They are turned into wool machines. They are fed specific grains, grasses, vitamins, kept lit and in the dark at certain times, and sheared at specific intervals. They are units of production who, at the end of their profitability, are killed anyway. The same is true for a chicken. As soon as she is unprofitable on the egg line, she is killed for her flesh.

There are two schools of thought on animal issues. People like PETA are animal welfarists. They assert that killing animals is A-Okay, as long as we’re “nice” to them for a little while first. I initially was a welfarist, because, to be perfectly honest, the bulk of the material out there is written by people who think this way.

The other school of thought is animal rights. This kind of thinking says that animals are not property. Treatment of the animals is not the problem. Use of the animals is the problem. Until we stop using them, they will always be subjected to horrible lives. Furthermore, using them at all is indefensible morally; every argument in favor of animal use with happy treatment keeps animals defined as property. Until animals are no longer considered property, use of them will never cease. It does not matter how well they are treated. Ultimately, we remove their ability to live their lives in a manner they see fit. That is not our call to make.

There are so many interesting things to say about veganism. Gary Francione’s web site has an FAQ that might interest you greatly.

What if the Killing Was Painless?

Sunday, May 23rd, 2010

People ask me how I would feel if the cows, chickens, geese, salmon, buffalo, ducks, salamanders, crocodiles, sheep, turkeys, goats, camels and dodo birds were killed painlessly. Would it be okay to eat the animals then?

Pain is irrelevant. There are four strong reasons that taking the life of a sentient being against her will is not justified simply because the method is painless.

First, she is being deprived of her further experiences. I rank this first because there is absolutely no working around it. If someone removes your mother from this world against her will, she will never again experience anything. The timeline is cut and cannot be mended. The presence or absence of pain caused by murder is irrelevant.

Second, killing a nonhuman is the murder of an innocent. This is unjust. The method of murder is irrelevant to result from the crime.

Third, it is a speciesist notion that murdering a chicken is acceptable while doing the same to a human is unacceptable. Modern-day court systems would not permit the murder of red-haired children or black children, because those kinds of appeals are racist, illogical nonsense. Like racism, all defenses of speciesism are faulty, if not absurd.

And forth, it removes her from her family. They absolutely will notice her untimely departure. At the idea of sparing one animal from physical suffering, you create suffering in the members of her family who mourn her. (This point could be argued against by suggesting we engineer single animals with no parents or siblings from test tubes; that we kill all the families and friends together at once; or otherwise engage in sterile yet psychotic behavior. The problem with these ‘solutions’ is obvious: they are speciesist. If these acts were committed against humans, it would be like a scene from a horror movie.)

You already know these answers, of course. Replace the nonhuman in your question with a human. Then, the reasons why we must show compassion are endless.

Recycled Speciesism

Sunday, April 18th, 2010

Here is a good example of why people think veganism is a vain, shallow or pointless endeavor.  And here is another way to discuss why that perception is incorrect.

When discussing veganism with people, you  may encounter someone who brushes aside the idea because “it’s just another way of doing something good.”  They will cite examples such as recycling, buying fair trade coffee, and composting to reduce waste as equally useful and compelling steps toward improving our planet.

At first, it sounds reasonable, especially if you are vegan to improve your health, lower your cholesterol, “go green,” or meet some other end or reach some other status.

Let me ask you something.  If you were taking about the rape and murder of human children, could you imagine anyone even trying to compare those atrocities with recycling?  With buying fair trade coffee?  Of course not.  Because juxtaposing suffering and death next to tossing your Pepsi can in a green bin is ridiculous.

This is the kind of power thinking like a speciesist (or racist or sexist) exerts over the ability to think clearly.  And this is exactly why these people think vegans are flakes.

Wouldn’t you?  Imagine a rabid acolyte telling you that recycling is so important, everyone should be doing it, you’re a monster if you don’t do it, and don’t you even care that some city you’ve never heard of is ugly due to plastic water bottles?  Sure, you might think, but why all the theatrics?  You do your part.  Isn’t that good enough?

Bring it back to the speciesism.  Highlight it.  Don’t be distracted by minutia.  Don’t fall into the pointless trap of debating how many tons of carbon are squirting out of an organic beet farm, how many thousands of studies have come out this week showing eating animal meat will clog your veins and give you cancer (if you don’t get sick from E. coli or salmonella first).  All that is true, but is misses the point.

Common do-goodery has no place in comparison to the killing of animals, human or not.

Hair-Splitting and Buddhism

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2010

Buddhist ethics are not a legalistic system that allows us to justify behavior on the basis of loopholes, technicalities, or a strict construction of the text. Buddhist ethics are based on motivation and intent. An ethical act is one that is driven by love and compassion and guided by the desire to do the least harm possible to any living being in whatever circumstance we find ourselves. An unethical act is one that is driven by craving, fear, or anger and guided by the desire to benefit ourselves by harming another living being. Thinking like a lawyer or an academic logician and claiming that it is acceptable to harm another sentient being for our own selfish benefit based on hair-splitting distinctions and nimble logic is contrary to the teaching of the Buddha.

Emphasis mine.

From: The Great Compassion: Buddhism and Animal Rights (Norm Phelps)

What If the Whole World Went Vegan Tomorrow?

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2009

People come up with the strangest questions. It’s as if they run out of perfectly logical thoughts so, to keep the anti-compassion machine burning full steam, they dream up ridiculous scenes to fuel it. I wonder if they’re thinking, as I used to think, “Surely there’s some scenario in which eating living beings makes sense, isn’t there?” It seems any reason is acceptable even if it goes against every fiber of their core beliefs and requires tremendous amounts of twisted logic or outlandish scenarios, provided that reason permits continued consumption of animals.

Some of the questions I’ve been asked by earnest, well-meaning, and apparently very confused friends:

  • What if the whole world went vegan tomorrow? What would we do with all the animals?
  • What would you do if you were dying of hunger in the desert, surrounded by deer and nothing else edible for dozens of miles?
  • What if you went your whole life and never ate meat, then on your death bed you ate a hamburger and wished you had eaten one before? Won’t you feel foolish for missing out on all of those years of pleasure?
  • Hey, can I have some of that lasagna? It smells great. Oh, god, oh no! It doesn’t have any curdled teat milk in it. Never mind. Your plant-based lasagna is weird. It’s extreme. It’s crazy lasagna, that stuff. Get it away from me.

Except for that last example, such questions seem innocent enough, but they’re not. Let us expand their assumptions and meanings a little bit. I’ll pick on the “whole world goes vegan tomorrow” scenario.

Instant Vegan Evolution Globally (the iVeg)

Hog confinement

After iVeg, this hog confinement is history.

The question is, “What would we do with all the animals if everyone went vegan tomorrow?” Your curious friend wants, rephrased a little, your Official Vegan Ambassador seal on a solution. But not just any solution. A foolproof, easily-summarized response to a radical, global shift of consciousness, agriculture, eating habits, ethics, restaurant menus, animal welfare, law and circuses. Oh, and don’t take too long responding, because he has a conference call in a few minutes with Dave from accounting.

We’ll call the global awakening he has dreamed up the Instant Vegan Evolution Globally, or the iVeg for short.

Does your friend think you are qualified to answer such a question? Do you often provide bulletproof strategies for radical, world-changing shifts that occur overnight? Of course not. At least, not without a few beers in you, right?

Your friend doesn’t want a sincere answer. He might think he does, but he doesn’t. How can you be expected to give a sincere answer to an insincere or misleading question? Can the iVeg ever occur? Overnight?

What does he want, then? I can’t speak for all of your friends, or all the people who ask questions like this, but I can analyze this particular example.

It’s not a question at all. Rather, it’s a collection of statements and assumptions bundled and tucked into what your friend probably considers an innocent thought experiment. The real statements behind the question are:

  • Having fifty six billion animals released into the wild would probably result in a lot of starving and suffering (of animals). That is bad and wrong.
  • Killing all ofthe animals instead of releasing them is not something a vegan could advocate because vegans state killing is bad and wrong.
  • Therefore, since the imaginary scenario could not “work,” all tenets of a compassionate, plant-based diet must be invalid and rejected.
  • (Robot voice) Drop your veganism. You have 15 seconds to comply.

What could a vegan do to answer this question? For starters, don’t answer it. It’s outlandish. Do you really think the entire world is going to drop meat and dairy from their diets over night? That restaurants are going to replace their seven pages of pig, chicken, lamb, goose, bison, turkey, fish and cow selections with pepper, potato, bean, cauliflower, broccoli, yam, carrot, rice and greens? Hey, and while they’re at it, all the restaurants will cut back on portion sizes to help prevent gorging and obesity, right?

Some might assert that far-fetched questions like this have purposes besides trolling and taunting. Besides descending into an exercise in creative reduction-to-absurdity, I cannot imagine any other use. One might as well ask, “What if the whole world except three men went vegan tomorrow? How could those men eat all of the remaining delicious, cancer-causing hot dogs?” This question is just as pointless.

The Accidental Troll

Animal welfarists would have us believe this contraption is humane, because it's padded, and we're playing classical music in the background.

Here comes the compassion!

Here’s the easy part: Ask yourself, “What is the purpose of this particular fantastic what-if scenario?” You’ll realize there is none. It’s just trolling. We are not talking about a journalist asking you questions as you deliver your groundbreaking twenty-year research results. We are talking about everyday conversation.

Here’s the hard part: breaking it to your friends that they’re trolling you when they probably didn’t even mean to.

If you’re like me, you’re thrilled that a meat-eater even wants to discuss a reduction in meat, much less veganism. A lady at work once borrowed a vegetarian cookbook, and I was so happy I nearly multi-grain pooped myself on the spot. However, when someone invents a topic like this, they might as well be asking, “Well, what if… I don’t know… what if real, live jackals took over the government? And we had to kill their natural enemies, the noble and gracious lions, in order to get jobs? And to secure land? What would you do then, smarty vegan pants? I saw The Lion King. I know what goes on.”

Dreaming up scenarios like the iVeg sounds a lot like the jackal scenario in my head. It’s ridiculous. It follows the same kind of talk as, “You want to drive a car? What if a piece of the moon breaks off at just the right angle, flies down and crushes your car? Don’t look at me like that, young man, it’s possible the moon could do that. Therefore, driving is unsustainable. Stay home and eat your meat. Oh, you want to write a magazine article about sport cars, instead? What if a driver reads it instead of paying attention to the road, then wrecks and dies? Don’t you even care about your fellow man? Here you are, passive-aggressively trying to kill motorists with your articles. For shame!”

Abandoned Slaughterhouse

The only sustainable slaughterhouse is an abandoned slaughterhouse.

The Real Answer

I said I would not provide a sincere answer to the iVeg, but I will anyway. Here is an easy solution to the questions, “What if the whole world went vegan tomorrow? What would we do with all the animals?”

Since we’re dealing in imaginary, far-flung scenarios, we can simply feed the animals forever on the free Infinity Food space aliens drop off for us. Problem solved. Oh, and we’ll use shrink rays so those pesky animals don’t take up too much space any more.

What? Your friend won’t like that answer? Okay, okay. You want to keep your friends, not alienate them. Fine, I’ll give you a real answer. But before I do, please dwell for a moment on the difference between a meat-eater being able to ask asinine questions and expect to be treated like a deep thinker, worthy of serious responses, while the “crazy” vegan would be judged for answering in a similar fashion.

The serious answer is that we would kill all, or at least most, of the pitiful last generation of food animals. Gasp! Did some vegan guy just recommend we slaughter the last vestiges of our captive, thinking, feeling animals? Isn’t that hypocritical?

Yes, I did and no, it’s not. In the iVeg scenario, no one has room, food or water for the animals. They are, I gather, either killed this week or released into parking lots and grade school playgrounds across the world. In imaginary world that is the iVeg scenario, either all of the animals are “dealt with” or the iVeg cannot happen.

Let’s get some numbers for this scenario, and why I recommend killing all of those in the last generation of victims. Fifty six billion animals are killed each year for their flesh, secretions and other pieces. Some lazy math, for the sake of argument, spreads out the average lifespans, slaughter ages, and such. The number we arrive at is one billion animals enslaved and ready for execution on the day of iVeg. If this number doesn’t work for you, pick another. The exact amount is irrelevant, imaginary, and subject to change based on which bearded expert you query this week.

Here we are, at the dilemma your friend wanted. Either we release one billion animals into the wild or (gasp!) kill them. These animals were going to be (gasp!) killed anyway, so what’s wrong with them being killed now? Seriously. This is one final, the final, swing of the glutton’s ax.

If the iVeg never occurred, those animals would be killed anyway. But it wouldn’t end there, would it? No. There is a cycle of rape (how do you think cows are bred? Through courtship?), abortion, veal crates, genetic manipulation, accelerated growth into salable weight, and eventual slaughter.

This cycle is what must end. When it ends, and whether it ends in an iVeg moment or over the course of fifty years is less important. We must acknowledge: the cycle must end. One way or another, we cannot sustain animal agriculture and continue to grow the human race.

If you spread the iVeg out so it is not an instantaneous transition, but rather one that takes a couple of hundred years, then you have a couple of hundred years of tapering death counts. That’s a long, long tail. It adds up to many more than one billion animals.

From a utilitarian approach, the iVeg which culminates in slaughter by the billions is a heck of a lot better than the slow weaning from blood and milk. A gradual transition to global veganism forces exponentially more animals to die in hopeless, lightless captivity where the only sounds are those of their fellow inmates bleating, moaning, and being skinned alive.

The gradual transition is what is occurring right now. People are waking up from the meat-is-necessary-and-or-ethical illusion. Sure, as countries and regions gain affluence they also increase their meat consumption. But that is the way things are in human history at this time. All societies have some threshold at which point they will no longer increase their meat consumption. Once that threshold is met, demand for meat drops off and will eventually taper down to the civilized, enlightened level of zero.

My answer is probably not the one a meat-eater would expect from a vegan. The image of vegans is that we all want to dance in daisy fields and hold hands and that none of us have any grasp on “reality.” (Somehow the people who cannot connect drinking milk to the veal industry have a tighter grip on “reality” than vegans do.) It may be difficult to imagine a guy such as myself who won’t even eat Chex Mix, due to the milk in it, advising that we slaughter all of the animals in one fell swoop.

City of Bone

Mass Grave

A mass grave.

The natural follow-up troll question to the iVeg scenario is, “What would we do with all the corpses? If everyone is vegan, no one would eat them.” Since vegans are tasked with solving all of the world’s problems, my answer to that is also easy:

We’d feed the flesh to our pets and back to the wild.

With the bones, we’d build a horrific city out of them. We’d decorate alleys and buildings and street corners with skulls, hip bones, horns and beaks. To each corpse we would attach a little sound system playing the heart-breaking, bloody squeals of their final moments. Billions of little music players bleating, mewing and gagging over red-stained tile. Video screens would loop high definition footage of the final days of slaughter. It would show calves watching their mothers die of starvation and disease, wallowing in the feces-soaked mud, while in the distance a river of blood gushes from the slaughterhouse on the hill and pumps into our soil, seeping into our water supply.

The city of bones would be a testament to the greed and unfathomable depths of denial of which humans are capable. Who knows? Maybe we could turn it into an 8th wonder of the iVeg world, and use the proceeds to fund a compassionate education.

Sound grotesque? It may be. What is more harrowing and disturbing, though? Forming a reminder of the killings of the past or continuing to eat animals, silently hiding our consciousness from reality. To me, refusing to admit to ourselves that we are creating cities of bone many times over, and hiding from that fact, is more disgusting.