May 23, 12
In an MSN article today – a headline article – a Pit Bull mourned his friend for fourteen hours after she was killed by a car. Here’s the link, if you want to depress yourself for a while. This is front-page news because people still want to believe that only humans have “higher” emotions such as grief and love, despite all the evidence to the contrary.
When people write, discuss and link articles like this, it is usually because they are saying, “Well of course the dog feels that way,” and “How sad!” It is not until they think about what they eat that people will cite some outlandish fallacy to describe why this dog is different, and eating a pig or drinking cow milk is perfectly fine.
I disagree strongly with the idea that dogs mourn while chickens do not, and science backs up my belief.
When news articles and discussions like this come up, it’s a good time to interject some observations. Before people get to the point of citing inherited cultural stupidity as if it were their own (“Jesus ate fish 2,000 years ago therefore yay bacon and foie gras“), this is an excellent time to bring up a few discussion points:
- All animals mourn the losses of their loved ones. (See also: my “bear machines” article). These dogs are no different than pigs. What makes us so certain that we can inflict this kind of mourning on innocent animals?
- Killing the dog painlessly still inflicts a harm upon her friend, the survivor, even if you do not accept that removing all future experiences from killed animal is a harm. (Try telling a grieving family member that their grief is not suffering).
- Pigs are allegedly smarter than dogs. (Not that it matters). When we eat pork chops, bacon, pig lard, we create scenes like this for them.
- The location could change but the grief would be the same. Standing in line waiting to be slaughtered does not magically render the animals happy to smell blood and hear the screams of their friends and loved ones ahead of them in line.
- Going vegan= eliminates, among other things, the mourning a mother cow does when her child is ripped away so humans can steal her milk.
Many of us accept that animals love, play, fear and fight. We need not eat them to survive, therefore we cannot justify eating them for pleasure.
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.
To be vegan is to be consistent. We extend our natural feelings of empathy not just to dogs and cats, but to cows, geese, and humans.
Today a neighbor of ours found a stray Dachshund mother wandering in the woods between our neighborhood and a very busy road. He took her home. She was not spayed, had no collar, and shivered with more than a little fear as he brought her food and water. She had recently given birth.
Let us do a little visualizing. This won’t hurt, and it won’t be disgusting. Bear with me.
You are a Dachshund. You are alone, wandering through unknown territory. Your babies are where you left them, whimpering and hungry, still wet from birth, crawling over each other in search of you, their sole sources of warmth, love, and of course life-giving food.
What would drive you to leave? What would have to go through your head that you would leave your freshly born children defenseless in a strange place?
I cannot speak for her, but I imagine it was fear and desperation. Maybe all she wanted was water. Or maybe she hadn’t eaten in days, and now she was going to risk her children’s lives because it was either stay with them, and die of starvation herself, or wander off and risk her children being eaten by a predator.
My heart goes out to her. I really cannot imagine being in desperate, hopeless situation. I work a desk job. Maybe you feel similarly. Maybe you agree. Most people wish her what she deserves: safety, shelter, food, water and a clean place to raise her children.
Now transpose those feelings onto a cow. Why is she any less deserving of our mercy? Why are her children relegated to a few short days, or weeks, of terrible life before being slain for their pale flesh? Surely, the cow and her calves are every bit as scared and sensitive as the Dachshund.
Before I was vegan, reading stories like these evoked sickening feelings of guilt and helplessness. I was only able to console myself with a (false) reminder that eating flesh and drinking non-human milk are necessary for human life. Now I know that vegan diets are healthy – extremely healthy. I know that flesh is not mine to take, nor milk mine to demand from captive, lactating mothers.
The idea of exploiting a Dachshund for some weird, personal pleasure was as repulsive to younger me as it is today. But, back then I ate flesh and drank dairy. I had not made the connection yet. What pleasure, you might wonder, could anyone gain from her? Shudders arise at the mere suggestion.
One day, we will protect and respect all sentient beings. Be consistent. Go vegan.
Cows, chickens, fish, goats, geese, and all other individuals are every bit as deserving of justice and compassion as is any beloved family member.
In the wee hours of the pre-dawn morning, our cat Titus was struck by a car and killed. Judging by his wounds, and the fact that he crawled not an inch from where he was struck, we can guess he died instantly. I’d like to think so.
To help cope with his passing, I posted some pictures of him online as well as a video I made the night before, in which I scratched his belly and rubbed his head. He playfully batted at my hands, flipped himself over and over, and rolled around, alternating between swatting at me and hugging me. We will miss him dearly.
I don’t think anyone would say that the car which ran him over was a compassionate car, nor would they say that the act was exonerated if the driver got out and chanted or prayed or somehow showed respect to Titus. No, Titus is still dead, regardless of the means, intent or ritual around it.
Are baby cows any less worthy of our compassion simply because they had no humans to love them, to name them, and to dote upon them? Do they deserve freedom any less?
When we can mourn the passing of a neighbor’s cat, yet feed our children the milk of a mother cow, we are denying the connection between them. When we snack on the dessicated remains of sentient beings (“beef jerky”) on the way to the veterinary clinic, we practice numbness and denial. The animals we consume are every bit as deserving of life as my cat was, and in consuming them we reinforce a disharmony and a confusion in ourselves that reverberates with every meal.
If inflicting pain on any helpless creature, human or not, brings you unease, then I beg of you to cease eating animals. If we are ever to experience the world honestly, without fear, and without denial then we must begin by facing our actions toward all animals that way.
The murder of “food animals” is more tragic than accidentally flattening them with our cars because these unnecessary deaths are intentionally ordered. We pay individuals to kill individuals. We crush them under our own machinery for absolutely no good reason.
Let me leave you with a deeply salient point Dr. Will Tuttle makes in his book, The World Peace Diet:
Most of us have had the experience of receiving pain at the hands of doctors or dentists, yet the hands that administer the pain are, we feel, ultimately well-intentioned. The fact that they are doing these painful things for our own good makes the infliction of pain tolerable and gives it a meaningful context. To imagine those same hands performing painful procedures on our bodies with the sense that these hands do not care at all about our good, but are causing us pain simply because it profits them or they enjoy doing so, is horrifying in the extreme, particularly if we are powerless in their hands. When we put animals in this position by purchasing their flesh, fluids and eggs, we must bear responsibility not only for their suffering but for the hardening of the human hands and hearts that inflict this suffering.
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.
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.