The words below are mostly not my own, but a collection of patched facts and thoughts by many great philosophers.
I am the voice of the voiceless; Through me the dumb shall speak, Till the deaf world’s ears be made to hear The wrongs of the wordless weak. And I am my brothers keeper, And I will fight his fights; And speak the words for beast and bird Till the world shall set things right.
Imagine yourself traveling to a distant land where it is customary to eat dogs, puppies in particular. You are invited to a special occasion dinner, where your closest friends are eating baby labradors. You must sit there, faking smiles on the outside while on the inside you are crying, mourning for the lives of individuals you never even met. While they enjoy what to them is merely a meal, you are sad thinking about the months of misery those puppies had to endure for that brief moment of your friend’s pleasure.
Imagine in another distant land where women are considered inferior, and do not share the same rights as men. Your male co-workers happily share their stories of raping women or beating up their wives – all perfectly legal in that place. You want to say something, you want to share your views of equality but you know that if you do you will upset them and risk losing your job for disrupting their peace.
In both those situations, would you respect those people’s opinions and views of the world when it so widely opposes your own? How can you respect people who don’t respect the kinds of people that you respect? You may be forced to co-exist with them, be their friends, work with them, but you will never respect what they do, however much legal it may be in that country.
We all know that there is something so very dreadful, so satanic in tormenting those who have never harmed us, and who cannot defend themselves, who are utterly in our power, who have weapons neither of offence nor defense, that none but very hardened persons can endure the thought of it.
Kindness has no limits, it doesn’t have to end at any particular group. True benevolence, or compassion, extends itself through the whole of existence and sympathizes with the distress of every creature capable of sensation.
Many of us regard our nonhuman companions as members of our families while sticking forks into other nonhumans, such as pigs, cows, chickens, etc., who are no different from our companions. Why don’t you share that same love and respect that you have for a dog or cat with other animals? Why do we smile at videos of a cop helping a mother duck and her ducklings cross a busy road, or a cop who rescues a newborn deer whose mom was hit by a car, or the girl who lifted a 150lbs structure to rescue a kitten?
There’s no real logic behind our ability to enjoy a story about an act of kindness, or our relationships with our pets as much as our ability to enjoy a piece of meat. Basically, we suffer from a sort of “moral schizophrenia” where animals are concerned. We sometimes love some of the ones which cross our paths, and sometimes are apathetic to the ones who don’t.
Because one species is more clever than another, does it give it the right to imprison or torture the less clever species? Does one exceptionally clever individual have a right to exploit the less clever individuals of his own species? To say that he does is to say with the Fascists that the strong have a right to abuse and exploit the weak – might is right, and the strong and ruthless shall inherit the earth.
Racists violate the principle of equality by giving greater right to the interests of members of their own race. Sexists violate the principle of equality by favoring the interests of their own sex. Similarly, speciesists allow the interests of their own species to override the greater interests of members of other species.
In each case, the pattern is identical. Though among the members of the human family we recognize the moral imperative of respect (every human is a somebody, not a something), morally disrespectful treatment occurs when those who stand at the power end of a power relationship treat the less powerful as if they were mere objects.
The rapist does this to the victim of rape. The child molester to the child molested. The master to the slave. In each and all such cases, humans who have power exploit those who lack it. Might the same be true of how humans treat other animals? Because beneath the many differences, there is certainly sameness. Like us, these animals embody the mystery and wonder of consciousness. Like us, they are not only in the world, they are aware of it. Like us they are the psychological centers of a life that is uniquely their own.
We patronize non-humans for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate of having taken form so far below ourselves. And therein we err, and greatly err. In a world older and more complete than ours they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear.
They are not brethren; they are not underlings; they are other individuals, other people, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendor and travail of the earth.
To say that a mentally disabled person is not similarly situated to all others for purposes of being treated exclusively as a resource is to say that a less intelligent person is not similarly situated to a more intelligent person for purposes of being used, for instance, as a forced organ donor. The fact that the mentally disabled human may not have a particular sort of self-consciousness may serve as a nonarbitrary reason for treating her differently in some respects-it may be relevant to whether we make her the host of a talk show, or give her a job teaching in a university, or allow her to drive a car-but it has no relevance to whether we treat her exclusively as a resource and disregard her fundamental interests, including her interest in not suffering and in her continued existence, if it benefits us to do so.
In essence, we never question that every human, whether intelligent, gifted, ordinary, or mentally challenged, has the right not to be treated as the resource of others. The question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?
As such, it’s easy to compare our treatment of animals to the holocaust: one group of living beings anguishing beneath the hands of another. Though some will argue the suffering of animals cannot possibly compare with that of former Jews or slaves, there is an indisputable parallel. And for the prisoners and victims of this mass murder, their holocaust is far from over.
Suppose that tomorrow a group of beings from another planet, who considered themselves as superior to you as you feel yourself to be to other animals, were to land on Earth. Would they have the right to treat you as you treat the animals you breed, keep and kill for food? Let’s hope not.
So when we walk around thinking we have a greater right to eat an animal than the animal has a right to live without suffering, it’s hypocritical. If we are to expect others to respect our lives, then we must respect the other life we see. Don’t do to others what you wouldn’t want done to you.
It’s not that animals are superior or even equal to humans. The whole case for behaving decently to animals rests on the very fact that we are the superior species. We are the species uniquely capable of imagination, rationality and moral choice – and that is precisely why we are under an obligation to recognize and respect the rights of animals.
Albert Einstein once said:
We must finally understand that all sentient creatures are deserving of basic rights; the ability to pursue life without having someone else’s will involuntarily forced upon you. Because by what criteria can you justify denying basic rights to any sentient living thing? Realize that by whatever criteria you employ, someone could deny basic rights to you if they objected to your species, sexual preferences, mental ability, color, religion, ideology, etc.
Extending rights to animals is a matter of taking the side of the weak against the strong, giving them the rights which never could have been witholden from them but by the hand of tyranny.
Hitler’s credo was that “he who does not possess power loses the right to life.” And that’s exactly what people do today towards animals. Virtually every atrocity in the history of humankind was enabled by a populace that turned away from a reality that seemed too painful to face, while virtually every revolution for peace and justice has been made possible by a group of people who chose to bear witness and demanded that others bear witness as well.
When we watch videos of farms and slaughterhouses, we are not merely acting as observers; we emotionally connect with the experience of those we are witnessing. We empathize. And in so doing, we close the gap in our consciousness, the gap that enables the violence of eating animal products to endure.
We eat animals because we have traditionally done so and because we enjoy the taste of it; there is, however, no necessity involved. We can get all nutrients we need from plants and fungi, in fact several studies show that we can live healthier by eating a plant-based diet.
How would you judge an artist who mutilated animals in a gallery because it looked good? Or a musician who tortured animals to capture what he considers beautiful sounds? Try to imagine any end other than taste for which you would find to be justifiable to do what we do to farmed animals. So why is taste, the crudest of our senses, exempted from the ethical rules that govern our other senses?
Your sustenance now comes from misery. How much suffering will you tolerate for your food? And if contributing to the suffering of billions of animals that live miserable lives and (quite often) die in horrific ways isn’t motivating, what would be? If being the number one contributor to the most serious threat facing the planet (global warming) isn’t enough, what is? And if you are tempted to put off these questions of conscience, to say not now, then when?
If your pleasure or convenience comes at the cost of someone else’s suffering, environmental destruction and health issues, it is still morally acceptable to continue with it? Then why not stop?
It’s within your power to choose a different path: we have the opportunity to make our choices freely. But it takes courage to open our hearts to the suffering of others and to acknowledge that, for better or worse, we are part of the system in which that suffering takes place, a system where it’s easier to be cruel than kind.
Cruelty depends on an understanding of cruelty, and the ability to choose against it. Or to choose to ignore it. But compassion is a muscle that gets stronger with use, and the regular exercise of choosing kindness over cruelty can only bring good things to our world.
Any change of habit can be hard, it requires relearning, it requires thinking, it requires experimentation and time. But after a while, it becomes your new habit; a habit that came to be out of logical thinking, compassion and consideration, not out of a tradition of tyranny and apathy towards cruelty.