Whose "personal choice" are we talking about? Pictured above: a calf roping at a rodeo.
The act of exploiting animals is often justified as a “personal choice,” but personal choices stop being personal when they affect others.
When we eat a vegan diet, when we refuse to attend rodeos and zoos, when we pass up leather jackets, wallets and shoes in favor of synthetic or plant-based goods, we are practicing peace. We are behaving consistently in a manner that directly fosters justice.
It is ironic to hear people use their power of choice (typically, only as consumers) in and of itself to justify harming animals. “It’s my choice to eat or not eat animals,” they assert. But this directly violates the freedom and choices of another living being who has every right not to suffer.
Only the aggressor, or the more powerful, can choose to inflict misery and death upon others. By definition, victims are victims, they do not have a choice in the matter of being used.
What about crimes against our fellow humans? We do not say that rape is permissible because rapists are “making a personal choice,” yet rape is absolutely what is done to female cows to force them into pregnancy and thus eventual lactation. We do not say thieves and murderers are excused of their crimes because they chose to commit them. Yet what is more theft and murder than stealing breast milk and killing the children, then their mother when her body is too worn out to produce milk at a profitable rate?
The aggressors want to wiggle out of the truth of using words like “rape” and “murder,” because of a simple speciesist view that only rape and murder can be done to humans.
One fact which cannot be wiggled out of is by enslaving others, we strip them of their most basic choice: to be free. Actions we take are only a “personal choice” until they infringe upon the freedoms of others. Freedom to move about, freedom to avoid pain, freedom to reproduce (or not) at will: these are all choices denied to enslaved animals who would naturally make them if left alone. When we confine and eventually kill our powerless captives, we deliberately and irreversibly engage in violence that annihilates all of their choices.
We all have the capacity to inflict harm. We all have the capacity for enormous good, as well. Abraham Lincoln put it perfectly when he said, “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”
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.