If a firefighter died going into a burning building to save a human baby, I would regard that firefighter as a hero.
If a firefighter died going into a burning building to save a puppy or kitten, I would regard that firefighter as a tragic victim of bad judgment.
Now, from the cosmic point of Olaf Stapledon’s Star Maker, it could be argued that, from the cosmic point of view, there is not all that much difference between a kitten, a puppy and a human baby. But I don’t have the cosmic view. I have the human view.
To say this, however, is not a sufficient answer to the animal rights warriors when they talk about cruelty to animals, especially the systematic cruelty of today’s industrial agriculture—chickens, cows and pigs forced to spend their entire lives in cages.
You are a typical egg-laying chicken in America, and this is your life: You’re trapped in a cage with six to eight hens, each given less than a square foot of space to roost and sleep in. The cages rise five high and run thousands long in a warehouse without windows or skylights.
You see and smell nothing from the moment of your birth but the shit coming down through the open slats of the battery cages above you. It coats your feathers and becomes a second skin; by the time you’re plucked from your cage for slaughter, your bones and wings breaking in the grasp of harried workers, you look less like a hen than an oil-spill duck, blackened by years of droppings.
Your eyes tear constantly from the fumes of your own urine, you wheeze and gasp like a retired miner, and you’re beset every second of the waking day by mice and plague-like clouds of flies.
If you’re a broiler chicken (raised specifically for meat), thanks to “meat science” and its chemical levers – growth hormones, antibiotics and genetically engineered feed – you weigh at least double what you would in the wild, but lack the muscle even to waddle, let alone fly.
Like egg-laying hens – your comrades in suffering – you get sick young with late-life woes: heart disease, osteoporosis. It’s frankly a mercy you’ll be dead and processed in 45 days, yanked from your floor pen and slaughtered.
The egg-layers you leave behind will grind on for another two years or so (or until they’re “spent” and can’t produce any more eggs), then they’re killed too.
You’re a typical milk cow in America, and this is your life. You are raised, like pigs, on a concrete slab in a stall barely bigger than your body. There, you never touch grass or see sun till the day you’re herded to slaughter.
A cocktail of drugs, combined with breeding decisions, has grossly distended the size of your udder such that you’d trip over it if allowed to graze, which of course you’re not.
Your hooves have rotted black from standing in your own shit, your teats are scarred, swollen and leaking pus – infected by mastitis – and you’re sick to the verge of total collapse from giving nearly 22,000 pounds of milk a year. (That’s more than double what your forebears produced just 40 years ago.)
By the time they’ve used you up (typically at four years of age), your bones are so brittle that they often snap beneath you and leave you unable to get off the ground on your own power.
via Rolling Stone.
This is the opposite of the way animals were treated on my paternal grandfather’s farm. My grandfather, my father and my uncles had no compunction about butchering when the time came, but which in the meantime led the normal life of a farm animal.
I’ve long believed that torture is a worse crime against humanity than killing. I think the same thing is true of animals.
I’ve long known about the animal suffering that goes into producing the milk, eggs and meat that I eat, but I have not thought a lot about it and it hasn’t affected my eating habits.
The human mind—my particular human mind, anyhow—can only assimilate so much, and I devote my limited time, energy and brainpower to other matters.
I suppose that if I’d lived in the United States before the Civil War, I’d have criticized slavery and written checks to the Abolition Society, but continued to wear shirts made of slave-grown cotton, and stirred slave-grown sugar into my slave-grown coffee. Actually I drink coffee black, but you get the idea.
But even though I give the animal rights activists credit for trying to arouse the consciences of people like me, I still don’t think language such as “species-ism” or “animal rights” is the best way to frame the issue.
If animals really did have rights equivalent to human rights, then animals would be interviewed on what they wanted. They would be invited to write leaflets for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals or to testify before state legislatures.
Of course this is absurd, and this is precisely my point. All the discourse about animal rights is discourse among human beings about how they think animals should be treated. Until and if we learn to communicate better than we do with higher animals, it can be no other way.
The Bible says that human beings were given dominion over the fish of the sea and over the fowl of the air and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth [Genesis 1: 28]. That is not a commandment. It is a statement of fact that cannot be reversed, unless humanity reverts to the hunter-gatherer stage.
The tragic fact about the biological world is such that no living thing can exist except at the expense of other living things. Even if all human beings became vegetarians, our actions still would affect the animal world because of the habitat that growing our plant food would necessarily destroy.
We cannot avoid this. What we can avoid is unnecessary cruelty. If rats are needed for medical research, then use every rat necessary, but not one rat more.
The way to speak of things, especially if you want to appeal to people like me, is not: “What right to we have to control other species?”
The way to speak of things should be: “With great power goes great responsibility.”
Animal Cruelty Is the Price We Pay for Cheap Meat by Paul Solotaroff for Rolling Stone.
Why My Baby Doesn’t Eat Animals by Laura June for The Awl. [Hat tip to Mike the Mad Biologist]
Animal models in research are necessary and ethical by Benjamin Cordy for The Daily of the University of Washington. [Hat tip to Mike the Mad Biologist]
Animal Man Retrospective Part 2 by Fourth Age comics criticism and reviews. Some interesting arguments from an unusual (to me) source.