We speak about the atrocities of the genocides,
and meanwhile we speak about the ecocide,
but when are we going to speak of the zoocide that is taking place?
Gruppe Messel / Tierautonomie / Animal Autonomy
Five neo-vegan perspectives by Farangis G. Yegane and Gita Yegane Arani, revised version as of 1st July 2017.
Neo-vegan perspectives – 1
Why Animal Rights can’t be treated as secondary to Human Rights
Let’s assume we can’t overcome human conflicts, and let’s assume we do not want to consider animal rights (as an equivalent to human rights) and environmental issues as ways in which we could also find fundamentally better approaches to conflict solution, because there doesn’t really exist an openness in the viewpoints of the majority to allow new or different perspectives on what is to be considered as relevant and ‘sense-possessing’.
Animal rights, even if not considered as touching a sphere of meaningful phenomena, is objectively not a secondary concern.
This is so, since the fact that human persons relegate animal individuals into “irrelevance”, as
a sector created for the nature-animal complex, doesn’t hold any factual account for the leakage we can call an obvious one if we look at:
a) the grade of destruction aggravated by any forms of speciesism (and humancentrism
b) the essential bond of the human notion of an ideal justice in the moral practice lived by societies (idealism) with the natural and the animal world; and the unknown factors reciprocal
of nature and animals overall as they display themselves back to human society (the other
intelligence – designed by life basically).
Neo-vegan perspectives – 2
Animal Rights and Human Rights, your rights, as interconnected
How can animal rights and human rights be interlocked politically in a constructive way, instead of using human rights against animal rights?
We often tend to think that animal- and human rights would exclude each other, and the stereotypical „AR vs. HR” question, about whom you would save first if you had to: your dog or your child, is being asked as if one had to pass a witch-test which is going to decide your fate as a proper human- or animal rights advocate. A more reasonable view would let us come to the conclusion that narrowing things down to the extremes isn’t really a useful approach upon which a rights debate can be lead.
The focus in such a question that seeks to radically separate two instances (two situative phenomena occurring in a wider context) from each other, is almost suggestive if not ignorant in its view towards the facets of reality that make up the complexity of life as living beings experience it.
Put in a situation where we had to decide between rescuing one living being and another, it is
likely that we would not want to decide for one and against the other. We should consider the
perspectival option that we’d want to save every being that’s in despair. We could think for instance: in any situation where a being needs help, a being needs a helper!
As animal rights advocates we clearly want both: a full consideration of (reasonable) human interests and rights and a full consideration of what we can understand to be the rights of other animals as natural holders of such – by virtue of their self-autonomous existence in this world. And to take this a step further: we probably want to interlock animal- and human rights, so that both reaffirm and solidify each other. How can this be reached? And how can this, even more so, be reached in our current human societies, where the notion of animal rights is not regarded as positively relevant for the “’own’ – collective human concern”.
One aspect that builds an (euphemistically said) “automatic” way to bind animal- and human
Rights together, is, as simple as it may sound the natural environment. Whereby ‘the (natural) environment’ can be a term for what the German poet-thinker Goethe more comprisingly called “das AllLeben”, the all-live – a term that hints at the interconnectedness of all life forms on earth and beyond.
The environment, nature, is the habitat of nonhuman animals and humans alike. It’s the sphere of living existence where both humans and nonhuman animals meet in their natural state of being, and it’s the very political ground (that is: a sphere of life and thus of interests) that needs to be re-captured for the ethical side that is to it in regards to animal liberation and animal rights.
There are three core aspects that bind humans and animals together in their enviromentalistic
and nature-bound context:
a.) existentially we got the shared ‘outer world’ on which life depends in its individual and
collective existential value
b.) the conflict between the (major) life forms is produced by ‘the culture’ in which life finds
its contextualization, ranging from predominantly destructive in current humancentric human societies and, environmentally seen, constructive in animal cultures and their form of relating to the natural
c.) the solution, the bridge, lays in the will for re-establishing a natural balance, that encompasses its participants, the living beings, as co-creatant, co-existential “agents of an self-created contextualizing existence” – that can be understood as something that we emotionally would induce with “dignity”.
Dignity is the felt and the realizable foundation of rights. Being co-existent in this world and
acknowledging the agency of nonhuman animals in the environmental context, is a basis that
should tie human- and animal rights constructively in a potentially fundamental way.
Neo-vegan perspectives – 3
Neoveganism as a way forward in our current day Western and other emerging democracies
It seems the more you realize the political scope of human action and human thought, the less
you think of the absurd idea that there would be one single power (the establishment, the fiscal world, a people, a god) that runs everything in a totalitarian style: the big complexes of “might” stifle the individuals power to impact things, but individual action can’t be substituted in democracies.
What can I, as a seemingly powerless individual, do when I see an unfathomable disaster such
as the BP oil spill, a disaster caused by the ‘ruling’ part of our civilization? Our civilization bases (in its majority) upon humancentrist ideals today, it doesn’t need to take the natural environment and its “wild” inhabitants into account. To deal responsibly as an individual means I have to be willing to see the bigger contexts of phenomena, and widen my view over the limits of any anthropocentric limit.
On the opposite side of the big context of things it’s the individual that has an impact on the
situation she lives in: by action (political action, in a basic sense) and by thought (any form of it). It’s an ethical impact living beings ‘live’.
When I make the sensible claim that ethics should be the factor upon which to decide what’s
wrong and what’s right, I should also acknowledge that ethics means to behave respectfully towards life. What is respectful? And what type of life matters and can be treated with which forms of respect?
Every living being on this earth has its own place in the universe – practically. The world should not be seen anthropocentrically simply because we can’t fathom the meaningfulness of other life in regards to those dimensions which we don’t know much or even anything about. Other “dimensions” of meaning aren’t restricted to physics and mathematical abstraction: ethics, and its substance (life!) too has dimensions beyond a narrow anthropocentric reach.
If I take the ethical vastness and comprehensiveness into account, I am able to see that every
action I can do, and every wrong I don’t do, wherever I am, has an impact on the life around
me. Taking the interest of all life into a wide ethical (in a sense of setting oneself in a creative relation) consideration makes the action of the individual meaningful.
When I see that human progress is built mostly on a destructive relationship towards life – that we use and degrade to “resources” – I should be able to realize that the step I have to do, is to take up a plant-based ethical (radical antispeciesist and vegan) lifestyle and go further from that point on.
Neo-vegan perspectives – 4
Neoveganism, pluralism and antispeciesism
It should be normal for animal rights advocates (with that I mean people primarily or partially
interested or active in the global animal lights and liberation, etc. movement) to accept different positions, without assuming that divergence would harm the cause. No need to say that exempt from such a form of mutual tolerance would be people who claim to be AR but practically advocate theories and practices harmful to nonhuman animals (euthanasia of “stray” feral animals, “humane” slaughter, hidden forms of speciesism, mild speciesism … ).
I often notice that there exists a self-prescribed narrowness in parts of the AR/AL movement
which hinders the necessary plurality of expressed opinions for the cause. Naturally people hold different opinions about issues, especially when it comes to the details of something that could be described as a newly established consciousness as we have and develop it in the human-nonhuman animal relation today.
Why should animal rights be exempt from a highly diversified discussion such as we normally expect and have practically on every other big ethical, political and rights issue? Finding the truth (the acceptable truths of many insights) upon which to build a reasonable common grounds that reflects the needs of reality, finding a suitable and fruitful political and
also legal language, and a language of liberation needs a full discourse made up of all our individual opinions. When we take our individuality away from our political agency (speech, thought and action) in our daily lives, we lose exactly that which enables us to make progress. Progress is plurality – the exchange of many powers and how they can synergize.
It’s understandable when you take a look at the animal rights movement at its single place in history – possessing a newly understood form of an extended “beyond-social” interspecies context – that people are likely to assume that they would need to follow a school of thought or political opinion. In reality though animal rights is a phenomenon as fundamental as human
rights, so basic and immediate to the individual existence that every person can become clear about her own understanding of basic rights terms in a valid way and that every person can figure out herself how she weighs out what’s right and what’s wrong in her own “common sense” rights-terms.
The relation towards nonhuman animals is ultimately an immediate one, it’s a social connection in a new, antispeciesist way. And I think we should take it as such, if we truly are for human and animal liberation.
On a basis of accepting the presupposition that
a.) we can relate to nonhuman animals in a reasonable way obviously, and
b.) that the relation to nonhuman animals can thus be handled from the individual human in a
similar way in which an individual human can assess human rights issues by applying her
own common sense,
we can take our position of defence when we are addressing the “speciesist lobby”, which usually argues that there exist decisive barriers between the “values” of human and nonhuman animal life, a notion established on the premise that humans have the right to simply give the nonhuman animal world their definitions – in all detail (the result of which is mass murder on the biological argument).
We as animal rights/liberation/autonomy activists can constructively and positively relate to nonhuman animals, and we side with their interests from our position as fellow (human) animal beings. Practiced anti-speciesism to its best level is an ongoing learning process which makes us mature and responsible as human beings or better as basic individuals. Our engagement and fight for the legal and earth-political rights to live, to possess habitat, to be a rights holder under nonhumancentric terms, will re-establish the integrity of an ongoing existential relationship we have with nonhuman animals. And this amounts to an entire paradigm-shift.
Neo-vegan perspectives – 5
The face of an animal rights revolution, call it total liberation … it is about making these paradigm shifts
The uncountable deaths each day, every second, are the factual individual nonhuman animal victims that a human humancentrically driven full destructive force are directed against. We have to phrase clearly that speciesism is not just an accidental heritage of our human past which supposedly took place as “hunters and gatherers”, though the question remains open if in fact all human cultures have been hunters at some stage. Speciesism means, in the past inasmuch as in the present, a war by means of denial of rights, namely the right to live and exist freely, that is being waged against nonhuman animals and their world.
The majority of the ‘human group’ determines how this world is to be explained and understood. We, as humans (in a collective sense), don’t accept that concepts which are not born out of a human logic (again, in a collective sense) and which are not shaped by our human perceptions and rationalizations can in fact exist. The revolution for animal rights, animal liberation or a acknowledgement of animal autonomy means to set forth that nonhuman animals have their very ways in which they shape this world. Their ways – their integrity in the natural sphere – need to be protected by rights that we as humans will have to enforce within the scope exclusively of human destructivity. That would at least take the burden of human oppression from the nonhuman animal ‘realm’.
On the ethical side we can state that: in whichever context nonhuman animals are forced to live and to die in right now, their integrity can’t be stripped away from them – since in a fundamental and important sense nothing can negate their independent meaning.
What happens when our speciesist societies confine, torture and kill nonhuman animals is that
Humans collectively claim a total might over the physical life of nonhuman animals, in the final consequence.
Animal rights means to continuously work on the paths towards an anti-humancentrist human society in which the integrity of all animal life and the integrity of the entire natural world are being protected against so called “human interests”; which are in reality profane collective enmities towards “everything” and everyone who is not a human but a nonhuman animal and their natural living contexts.
And finally animal liberation should also mean the deconstruction of speciesist theories: Before the final consequence of physical harm and destruction we need to address the reasons and causes of the collective humancentric enmities and desires to subject animal-others and ‘nature’.
If you love something, you don’t kill it
[This is a response to Temple Grandin’s writing about her work in the slaughter industry, especially as described in Thinking in Pictures.]
If you love something, you don’t kill it. I didn’t need to spend time in a squeeze box to learn that. Love is not killing.
If you know what another being feels–not just how you feel when you touch it–then you know that living things want to remain alive. It doesn’t matter if they’re not afraid of death before they know what’s going to happen to them. In the moment when the killing happens, they know, and they want to stay alive. I have seen this, and I have felt death happen. I haven’t seen as much of death as someone who is obsessively drawn to slaughter factories, but I’ve seen enough to know. Life does not consent to be killed. I don’t need a Ph.D. in animal science to recognize that.
Dying as a natural process is not the same as killing a healthy living creature. I have witnessed sudden death from injury, and gradual death from aging or disease. They’re not the same. (I have not witnessed deliberately inflicted death, because I will not stand by and allow killing to happen in my presence.) It’s irrelevant if a middle-aged scientist can say that she doesn’t fear death, that she understands it as a natural part of life. Almost all the beings whose lives she helps end are immature or just barely mature. Almost none of them are close to natural death. They’re not ready to die. If someone were to shoot or stab or electrocute the middle-aged scientist today, she might find that she’s not ready to die either.
If you understand life, you know that it wants to continue. If you feel life throbbing under your touch, you know it’s desecration to set your hand to stop that living pulse. If you love something, you don’t kill it.
There’s a special technique involved in tying a hangman’s noose so the victim is killed instantly by a broken neck, rather than slowly by strangulation. I suppose it’s part of a hangman’s professional expertise to learn to tie this knot properly. That expertise doesn’t make the hangman a caring or compassionate person.
The hangman’s knot, the guillotine, the electric chair, the gas chamber, and the lethal injection were all designed to make deliberately inflicted death less painful to the victim. But I’ve never heard the inventors or the users of these technologies hailed as great humanitarians. I’ve never heard them praised for their great empathy toward the lives they’ve ended.
Certainly it takes some ingenuity to invent new equipment. I’m a pretty smart person, but my expertise with knots is limited to being able to tie my shoes, to make a slip knot and a square knot. I tie these knots the way others taught me to tie them; I’ve never invented a new kind of knot by myself. If I were to try to design a knot that could quickly and painlessly kill someone, I’d never be able to figure it out. Whoever invented that knot had a type of mechanical creativity and skill that I don’t have.
But if I did have it, I’d use it for other purposes. I wouldn’t need to invent a way to kill with a knot, because I would never be willing to participate in any way in killing a bound and defenseless person. Skill and ingenuity are not the same as empathy and caring.
And love is not the same thing as killing. If you love something, you don’t kill it. It’s as simple as that.
Copyright (c) 1998 Jim Sinclair
‘Compassion’ is something you speak of (and ask for on behalf of someone) from a position of privilege.
If we have an intersectional view on nonhuman animal oppression and see how oppressive mechanisms functionally interact, then we might understand that the discussion about nonhumans needs to be brought on the level of justice, liberation, autonomous dignity, etc.
In other words nonhuman animal issues need to be brought onto a political level – in legal and ethical terms – while ‘compassion’ tends to simply stand for an individual sentiment; in this case granted from a privileged human standpoint.
Renuardine, vegans of color / DE
Defining Nonhumans as ‘INSTINCTUAL’ is species-derogative and biologistic …
and even vegans innocently/unreflectedly apply this definition, because veganism only acts on the practical but not so much on the theoretical level: the definitions of nonhumans in culturally anthropocentric terms leave no space for a language that enables us to talk about Nonhumans in otherness-appreciative terms.
Alex from the new site http://www.moralcompassion.wordpress.com/ shared this informative and important info touching on the foundations of ethical veganism (in its pure sense) with us: Meat consumption from a moral point of view: Is eating lives ethical? An essay that examines the problems with eating meat.
THE ETHICS OF EATING LIVES
A slaughterhouse worker “processing” cattle for human meat consumption.
Human society has a long history of invented distinctions which have artificially been drawn between race, gender, class, sexual orientation and other perceived boundaries. Over the years, these perceptions and hierarchical structures have proven to be unjust, exploitative, and most of all, arbitrary. Granted, all of these segregations have been built within human species, yet they all show the same characteristics. Whether the system is called racism, separation of the classes, separation of the sexes or homophobia, they all state that the concerned target is less worthy because of its membership of another group than our own and that therefore its oppression is justified. Foreign races, women, lower classes, religious people, the LGBT people and many more have all been oppressed solely because of their otherness in comparison to the oppressors. At some point, all of them have been seen as non-feeling, mere objects and there were almost no restrictions as how to treat or make use of them. It is astonishing how long it took humanity to acknowledge that once oppressed groups are sentient – able to feel pain and pleasure – in the exact same way as we are. Though no man for example can ever fully prove that women have the ability to feel pain and happiness just like they do, we have fortunately come to a point in history where we no longer seek to prove this; it has become common sense. Similarly, although white people can never scientifically show evidence that black people have the same emotions like they do, human society dedicatedly believes that they do have the same emotional life along with other races. Even though the experience of pain and other feelings are subjective, we just know that black people, women or homosexuals are every bit as sentient as we are, regardless of skin colour, gender or the difference in sexuality.
Slavery has been enabled by racism, the belief system that ones own race is superior to others and that those others can therefore be mistreated and systematically abused. Slaveholders and their defenders argued that slavery had existed throughout history and that it was the natural state of mankind. Our ancestors in many different civilizations, even long before its heyday, had practiced slavery, a fact that the defenders often used to support their actions. The argument that slaves were better treated than elsewhere and that they were taken care of, even after they had reached the end of their working lives, was often heard in the southern parts of the U.S., for example. Slave breeding was a common act which aimed at improving the skills and quality of slaves. Forced pregnancies lead to slave children, which meant an increase in supply and could thus replace old, useless or worn out slaves inexpensively. Women who tended to give birth to more than one child per pregnancy and consequently produced more than others were favored. Through breeding, the slaveholders could avoid buying new slaves or fill labor shortages. Religious arguments were also widespread, so too the belief that Africans must be animals on two feet. This assumption is based on the biblical belief that all humans on our earth stem from the eight white persons who were on Noah’s ark, yet black people are here with us today. Consequently, the deduction seemed to be that “the black has no soul to be saved”. The author Millard Erickson comments: “Here we have the ultimate justification for […] discrimination and even slavery: blacks are not humans; consequently, they do not have the rights which humans have.”
The debate of women’s suffrage involved many supporters who went to great lengths to justify their beliefs. A particularly peculiar justification was that once women were given the right to vote and became involved in politics, they would stop marrying, stop having children and that as a result, the human race would die out. Another argument often used was that women and men simply have separate spheres; men were naturally seen as superior to women.
In Ancient Greece, education was withheld from women and they were married to adult men as soon as they were sexually mature, as though they were mere property. Women did not have the right to buy, own or sell land and could not leave the house without a supervising person.
Not too long ago and in many parts of the world even today, LGBT people are being oppressed, simply because their sexuality differs from heterosexual’s. Not only do they face psychological dejection when born into a society that condemns their naturally felt sexuality, but often physical assault too, which can in some cases lead to murder. At work they might have to bear the constant threat of victimization and discrimination. All too often, lesbian mothers are systematically denied the custody of their children and in schools, young people who open up about their sexual orientations, are bullied and socially excluded.
All the above-mentioned justifications surely seem ludicrous and silly to us nowadays, but they were taken very seriously by a wide section of society.
However, most countries have abolished slavery and many have made enormous progress concerning the women’s rights-issue and the LGBT’s-rights issue. Black people that were once subject to oppression are now accepted as citizens with the same rights as everybody else. Women that were once refused the right to vote, are now politically equal to men and are in some cases heads of state. With time, more and more states enable marriage-equality and thus create a society where LGBT people are accepted and can live free of prejudice.
All of these simplified examples show that we, as a species, seem to have finally understood that sentience, respect and ultimately compassion do not depend on external characteristics and that they do not need to be proven in order to exist. And what’s more important: we live by the realizations of the consequences of these awakenings, we have put them into practice.
Why is it then, that we still do not properly put those moral realizations into practice for all beings concerned? Why should the arguments, based on the facts of sentience and emotion be less valid when someone has fur instead of skin? Or if someone has feathers instead of hair? How is the line between nonhuman animals and human animals any less arbitrary than the one we drew between blacks and whites? “To mark this boundary [the boundary of concern for the interests of others] by some other characteristic like intelligence or rationality would be to mark it in an arbitrary manner. Why not choose some other characteristic, like skin color?”
“Virtually every atrocity in the history of human kind 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 other bear witness as well. The goal of all justice movements is to activate collective witnessing so that social practices reflect social values.”
Animals, especially the ones we abuse for consumption, are all sentient beings. There are many scientific proofs that shatter the perception that animals are mere meat-machines, soulless, numb objects, as they are often portrayed by meat-proponents. The Cambridge Declaration of Consciousness states that “[…] neural circuits supporting behavioral / electrophysiological states of attentiveness, sleep and decision making appear to have arisen in evolution as early as the invertebrate radiation, being evident in insects and cephalopod mollusks (e.g., octopus)” and finally concludes that “the absence of a neocortex does not appear to preclude an organism from experiencing affective states. Convergent evidence indicates that non-human animals have the neuroanatomical, neurochemical, and neurophysiological substrates of conscious states along with the capacity to exhibit intentional behaviors. Consequently, the weight of evidence indicates that humans are not unique in possessing the neurological substrates that generate consciousness. Nonhuman animals, including all mammals and birds, and many other creatures, including octopuses, also possess these neurological substrates.”
The pretext ‘Human kind has always eaten meat’ very much follows the same logic that allegedly justified racism, as shown above. This idea, however, cannot count as a justification for the continuation of meat consumption, because – needless to say – actions that have always been done, are therefore not automatically rendered just. We have a long history of rape and murder, yet we oppose to those actions today. Again following the paths of racists and slaveholders, we might hear that some animals are better treated than others, that they have been given a little more space so that they actually could turn around or have had the possibility to go to a space to move about in. Regardless of the number of illusory, conscience-reassuring but false arguments we might come across, they can never change the facts. Meat always stems from an animal that once was alive and has then been killed for the consumers eating preferences only. When it comes to meat, the right of these sentient beings is being harmed as soon as we inflict pain on them solely for our purpose. When meat is no longer a necessity, it has become a choice. Anybody who eats meat is actively placing his appetite above the interest of the animals and above their very lives.
Just like slaveholders did, we breed animals, we shape their bodies to facilitate our exploitation of them. We impregnate them and steal their offspring, which we then eat. Psychologically, we have to degrade them to senseless machines in order to still function as humans next to this limitless horror. We reduce them to less than they are, the word “animal” itself is perceived as an insult. We do not have the decency to correctly name what we eat, we have to talk around it by using terms such as “pork” or “beef”. Slaughterhouse workers tend even more towards these euphemisms, as they refer to chickens as “broilers”, to pigs as “rashers” and to cows as “udders”.
Just as the membership of a race, gender, class or sexual orientation is of no importance when it comes to basic rights, neither does the membership of a particular species matter. The term speciesism has been established following the terms racism or sexism. Speciesism describes the discrimination based on species, just like racism describes the discrimination based on race. In other words, it is the belief that another species can be oppressed, abused and exploited solely because of their species. In virtually all cases, animal species are the victims of human speciesists, never vice versa. Generally, speciesists attach more value to humans than to animals not because of different qualities or capabilities but because of biased prejudices.
Speciesists often cynically ask whether – according to animal rights activist’s views – animals should be seen as equals to human beings. But animals do not need all the same rights that we humans do. The right to vote would be useless to them, because they do not have the desire to vote. The concept of preference utilitarianism, mostly coined by Peter Singer, suggests that animals deserve the same rights as humans where they have the same preferences or the same interests. Virtually all sentient beings have the strong desire to live, they avoid pain and do not want to be hurt. Furthermore, they feel emotions such as happiness, sadness, they grieve and are aware of their environment and their companion animals. This results, or rather should result, in them having the same rights for exactly these aspects: the right not to be hurt, the right to live freely and the right not to be held as property. In his own words, Singer argues that “the extension of the basic principle of equality from one group to another does not imply that we must treat both groups in exactly the same way, or grant exactly the same rights to both groups. Whether we should do so will depend on the nature of the members of the two groups. The basic principle of equality does not require equal or identicaltreatment, it requires equal consideration.”
If we take this system into consideration it is quickly shown that animal’s needs are not met at all. In fact, they are by far the most oppressed and mistreated group of all time on our planet. The Jewish writer Isaac Bashewis Singer is quite famous for his statement that for the animals “all people are Nazis” and thus for them, life “is an eternal Treblinka”  . All animals used for food are oppressed, mistreated and ultimately killed. We use their lives, we take their lives and we eat their lives only because we believe ourselves to be superior. But the superiority is an illusion when it comes to basic needs and emotions. They can and do suffer when harm is being inflicted on them.
The discussion of all these issues on a philosophical level can be summed up by the word ethics. Animal ethics focus on the relationship between human animals and nonhuman animals and how one interacts with the other. However, there are some major problems when it comes to animal ethics.
Too often, animal ethics only discuss aspects of a practice without actually questioning essential basic conditions. They push fundamental questions aside and accept the legitimacy of purpose as appropriate standard. Unethical practices are often correctly recognized as such, but ethics fail to bring out the practice’s abolition. Instead, they seek to improve or rather adjust the system in which they place animals in a way that requires minimal improvement in real welfare and gives the impression of meeting consumer’s demands for ethically produced meat. This is where meaningless labels like “cruelty-free” come from. Animal welfare is a real barrier to profit, from a business point of view. It is cheaper to produce animals in masses and let some die before slaughter age than to care for them adequately.
Violent ideologies depend upon promoting fiction as fact and discouraging or even prohibiting any critical thinking or action that threatens to dismantle this system. A good example might be the defamation trial in Amarillo, Texas in 1996. A group of beef producers sued Oprah Winfrey for over $10 million for slandering beef in one of her shows. The program discussed mad cow disease and featured warnings which showed that American cattle are likely to find ground-up members of their own species in their feed – those who had died from BSE. Clearly, the disease could thus be found in the meat Americans eat, which prompted Winfrey to declare “It has stopped me cold from eating another burger! I’m stopped!”
Her mistake was not that she had brought into light the more than dubious procedures of cattle business. Anyone can easily access those details if desired. What the group of beef producers did not like was her influence, the sheer number of people following her broadcasts. In other words, she simply reached too many people.
It is in this context that the so called “Ag-gag” laws have been put in place in the U.S., which forbid undercover filming or photography of agricultural activities. While supporters might claim they serve to protect agricultural industries from negative images, they are mainly used to keep activists from exposing the abusive and horrific truths that take place in today’s agricultural businesses. They make it almost impossible to prove mistreatment of animals used in agriculture, since they prohibit and outlaw the pieces of evidence themselves.
These precautions strongly suggest that there is something worth hiding. In fact, it is well hidden. It is striking, how easily one can spend a lifetime of meat consumption without once entering a place where it is processed.
“Because mass witnessing is the single greatest threat to carnism [the belief system that conditions us to eat some animals and not others], the entire system is organized around preventing this process. Indeed, the sole purpose of carnistic defenses is to block witnessing.”
Chances are that we have been fed meat products during our childhood, based on our parent’s habits. The decision has often been made and the meat-based diet habit has been accepted even before a child is on its way. One could ask: “Is it really ever a decision? Do carnists even consider raising their children without meat and then decide that they prefer feeding them corpses?” In fact, it is a pattern that continues until it is thoroughly questioned. Most of us are born into a system that we become accustomed to without knowing it. It is the reason why we see the consumption of the few animal-species our ancestors have consumed as normal, the way it has always been and consequently we never ask ourselves, why we do so. Obviously, this does not justify our actions in any way. In contrast, it should push us to act according to our own values and should lead us away from passiveness towards activeness. In that sense, rethinking the grounds for our actions is a necessary liberation. Arriving at this level of consciousness, we have the possibility to make new choices and to adjust or alter old habits that we falsely think of as beliefs.
“Most people who eat meat have no idea that they’re behaving in accordance with the tenets of a system that has defined many of their values, preferences, and behaviours. […] And by carving out the path of least resistance, norms obscure alternative paths and make it seem as if there is no other way to be; […] meat eating is considered a given, not a choice.”
I have recently been involved in a discussion about animal rights and the goal of activists to shift towards a world where animals are respected and not killed for any human purpose. We were talking about nations and the many different opinions that exist within them. My interlocutor explained to me that a state needs to be seen as a whole. Though many groups of people with many different views on life that they want to realize all coexist in the nation’s philosophy, the country is not capable to take them all into account. There may be a group whose goal it is to abolish all freeways and who demands a speed limit of 20 miles per hour in the whole country. There may be another group whose idea it is to ask the state for subsidies in order to build more parks and thus make cities greener. And there may be animal rights activists, who demand the closure of slaughterhouses, the ending of livestock breeding and finally the abolition of meat-consumption. Now, my friend asks me, what would happen to a state if it took all demands into consideration and helped with realizing every single one of them? If every idea of every group could ultimately sell itself and be put into action, the state would be torn apart quite quickly.
In that sense, my interlocutor wanted to demonstrate that certain ideas can neither be absorbed nor realized, even if they may be justified and beneficial. I logically agreed, because I recognized the problem that would occur if every inhabitant of a country could freely change the law according to his values. The big difference between animal rights activist’s demands and all the demands of other opinions however is, that there is a third party involved. This fact makes animal rights activist’s demands by far more important in comparison to other demands that one might have. Animal oppression is the cause for our demands and animal’s inability to ask for them themselves is the reason why it is us human beings who must fight for them. Animal right’s advocates do not have the opinion that animal abuse must end, but they are the ones that have acknowledged this truth.
This example might help understand why animal right’s demands cannot be shrugged off as if it were a phase that some people go through. Consequentially follows the promotion of a meat-free diet, as meat consumption represents the main contribution to the injustices that animals face.
Animal ethics are not only theoretical thought processes, but applied practices. The things we learn from them must have consequences in our daily lives. Meat consumption is not possible without taking lives and whether we have the right to do so does not solely depend on our perceptions. All sentient beings involved have rights, most importantly the basic right to live. Humans thus have rights too, but their rights end where those of the others begin.
Meat consumption strongly violates those rights as it always takes lives.
We have seen the numerous similarities of previous historical oppressions on the one hand and today’s topical oppression of animals on the other hand. It is of extreme importance to understand that animals are just as sentient as human beings and thus as every previously repressed group, an ethical fact which indisputably prohibits their slaughter for consumption. Meat products are no longer a necessity for the great majority of our planet’s population and thus have become a choice. We have this choice every time we act, especially as consumers and costumers. Our actions are powerful, given the fact that demand determines availability. Since we have that opportunity, it is our duty to choose the most ethical, rightful and compassionate way there is, which clearly is not to eat meat.
 Quartz, http://qz.com/178787/forget-
 Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender.
 Millard J. Erickson – Christian Theology, Baker Book House Company, Seventh Printing, 1990, page 543.
 Same as footnote no° three.
 Unfortunately, women are still systematically oppressed in many parts of the world. The example above, however, should illustrate a situation that has since changed dramatically.
 Peter Singer – Animal Liberation, An Imprint of Harper Collins Publishers, 1975, p. 9.
 Melanie Joy – Why we love dogs, eat pigs and wear cows, Conari Press, 2010, p. 139.
 The Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness, written by Philip Low, published on 7.7.2012, available onhttp://fcmconference.org/img/
 Same as footnote no°eight.
 Again, see The Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness, written by Philip Low, published on 7.7.2012.
 Peter Singer – Animal Liberation, An Imprint of Harper Collins Publishers, 1975, p. 2.
 Melanie Joy – Why we love dogs, eat pigs and wear cows, Conari Press, 2010, p. 139.
 Melanie Joy – Why we love dogs, eat pigs and wear cows, Conari Press, 2010, p. 106.
8 Questions – that we asked Can Başkent about the interfaces of Atheism and Animal Rights
We have asked Can Başkent about the visible and the invisible forms of violence against nonhuman animals and the environment carried out in religious contexts, and if an ethical veganism should entail a rejection of a top-down hierarchical view on the evolution and existence.
Can Başkent was born in Istanbul, Turkey. He studied math and philosophy as an undergraduate, received his masters degree in logic in Amsterdamand his doctorate in computer science in New York. He continued his academic path at the Sorbonne and the École Normale Supérieure in philosophy and worked at the French Institute for Research in Computer Science and Automation (INRIA) as a researcher. As an activist Can has published a wide range of texts on anarchism, atheism, veganism and animal rights, he’s been engaged with the “Food not Bombs” campaign and launched a campaign to support the vegan prisoner of consciousness Osman Evcan. In 2011 Can founded the “Propaganda Press” (http://propagandayayinlari.net/), in 2013 he co-authored together with the vegan journalist Zülâl Kalkandelen (http://veganlogic.net/) the first enchiridion in Turkish about the political and economic aspects of ethical veganism: “Veganizm: Ahlakı, Siyaseti ve Mücadelesi” (Veganism: its Ethics, Politics and Struggle: http://propagandayayinlari.net/vegan.html). Can’s website is at http://canbaskent.net/.
Tell me, did you think it was easy to be an atheist in this country, with the main problem being that offending the religious sentiments of others has been branded as a “crime”?
Ramazan’da Ateizm / Ramadan atheism, http://www.canbaskent.net/politika/86.html
Today religious discrimination is recognized as a violation of human rights. While it has been forgotten that religion is itself is a violation of human rights.
Bir Devrimcilik Olarak Ateizm / Reformist atheism, http://www.canbaskent.net/politika/85.html
Can: I’ve always thought that people panic for no reason inTurkey. As an atheist, I had no real difficulty or a problem except from receiving some ridiculous threat emails. The thing inTurkey is that such law is applied only to those people who are very popular. Unless you are on TV every now and then, be on newspapers all the time, prosecution does not care if a regular random citizen violates the law or not. So, it is safer than it looks, and we should not hide behind the fear of law.
1. Witnessing an act of killing
In your text ‘The Festival of the Sacrificed’ (Kurban’in Bayrami, http://www.canbaskent.net/vegan/19.html) you question why an argument of cognitive dissonance in a human being, who does not want to become aware of his/her own cruelty, (because he/she does have to become aware of it), could not be fully applied in the case of public animal sacrifices, so that the notion: ‘if slaughterhouses had glass walls, people would go vegetarian’, seems to be wrong at the annual Feast of Sacrifices for example. It seems there is a social acceptance for an outlived and visible brutality to nonhumans when such an event represents a tradition within the context of a religious praxis.
In the secular West the visibility of the kind of speciesism that is going along with the “killing for ‘meat’” (specifically) is a modified one: killing itself tends to stay mostly or partly invisible, being delegated to be carried out by others. Yet in a mass event of a ritual killing in the name of a religion, the same callousness: Animal = Meat and Animal = Sacrifice is directly visible for anybody, if he/she wants to see it or not. And if someone is willing to partake in the act, he/she can do so and kill a nonhuman on the street. These events have a strong public visibility and count as tied to specifically religiously coloured traditions.
Some people argue that it would be more honest if everybody would have to witness the killing of nonhumans. Is the killing of nonhumans, when it is sanctioned if not encouraged by a religion still the more basic act of speciesism, as being something deeply engrained in our society, while the killing of nonhuman animals for generating “meat” carried out mostly by the butchers or in a slaughterhouse represents a modernism of speciesism, which needs to be deciphered in different terms?
Can: First of all, I never thought that the reason why most people are not vegan is epistemological. It is not because people do not know or are not aware that what they eat/kill is sentient animals. You know, real psychopaths kill their victims physically facing them. Eating those animals, which is beyond hunting for instance, is a similar act. It is more violent, more “manly”.
Clearly, the religion simply reflects this dictum. As there is no god, as the religions were not really sent by a so-called-god, the “holy” texts simply reflect the dominant paradigm.
I have never thought that prioritizing different reflections and practices of speciesism can be a useful idea. However, as they are different reflections, they must be fought against in different terms.
Here is another piece of thought. Understanding the religious practices, the fear behind them, the neediness that established them are important steps in really comprehending as to why people really engage in such horrible acts. You cannot dissolve such crimes without crashing the ideal of “heaven”, fear from unpredictable, etc. So, there is a “humane” and “social” reason as to why it is rational why people sacrifice (young girls, animals, etc.) under these assumptions. So, as long as you cannot smash these assumptions, the rest cannot follow.
2. Coming to terms with entrenched positions?
Ethical vegetarianism can look back on a long history and tradition, dating back before the big monotheistic religions (Islam, Christianity and Judaism). Yet, it’s these religions that take a leading role in our discourse today about the ethics of life and moral behaviour.
The ethical critique against the general society (in the secular sense) phrased by vegan Animal Rights proponents is normally met with different grades of either dismissal and rejection (speciesism) or a relative open-mindedness and willingness to reconsider the questions about the dramatically problematic constitution of society in regards to nonhumans and the natural environment.
With religious belief-systems it seem we only can expect an opening for fundamentally new conceptions to a lesser degree, since their dogmas and principles have already been fixed in their goals in the historical past of the religion – and this would also include the evaluation of live and the determination of hierarchies of beings/existence: fauna, flora and the earth overall stand below God and below the human and will have to be either protected or tyrannized. Also, religious practices and traditions (apart from the dogma) bind the believer to the belief-system, and often imply a view on animals and nature as objects that must be dominated, and that “Man” can handle with benevolence but also with ignorance, without having to fear any further social reproach.
Religions don’t list the destructivity towards our fellow beings and the environment as a top sin, but claim an entitlement of their positions as moral instances and ethical signposts in every question of life. Can this claim of the big world religions, to be able to hand out ethical answers about the entire purpose and meaning of life, be authoritative and/or helpful at all, in times in which society increasingly develops a sensitivity towards the questions of animal- and environmental ethics?
And, to what extent do we have to allow religiously driven positions to access and shape our own ethical debate? Equally: to what extent can we, as Animal Right proponents, simply dismiss them as mainly anthropocentric positions?
Can: Pragmatically, who can deny the dominance of religious vegetarianism inIndia? As you can see, sometimes religions provide some pragmatical benefit, but it is, in the case of Hinduism, entirely coincidental. However, the real problem with people avoiding killing animals for religious reasons, is simply because it is a limited point of view. Yet, most people, religious or not, have limited point of views in life. What I mean is if we politically ignore or refuse the religion as a sociological fact, we risk losing the majority in our political struggle. A revolutionary political struggle can have one of its foot on reality while keeping the other on the future.
Religion is a social phenomenon enabling ruling people. It has an economical side as well as a “moral” side. Thus, it is not difficult to see that the moral code helps the clergy to gain economical (sexual, governmental, etc.) benefits. Thus, we cannot even call it an honest morality.
Politically, there must be a balance, I have to grant. If most people are somewhat believers, and if those people are your target in the animal liberation movements, you have to formulate anti-religious perspectives delicately and directly. This is more or less an art.
After all, in the animal liberation movement, people like you are not my targets, as you are already there. What I am trying to change is the people who eat sausages every day and go to church every week. If I annoy them, it means that more animals will die due to my arrogance and wrong strategy. This is a cost I am not willing to take.
3. Is the apex of existence where “Man” is?
Animal Rights and the protection of natural spaces and habitats for all living beings make up other political, social and moral goals than the goals that the main big religions pursuit, which hold men, being made in the “image of God”, at center-stage. Contrary to this, our non-anthropocentric and anti-speciesist resistance movements phrase new questions about ‘hierarchies-of-being’. Is the questioning of the ‘hierarchies-of-being’ – namely that man can’t dominate the world acting as a “crown of the creation” – a necessary paradigm shift in our thinking, or would it be enough for humans to just pledge to take more responsibility for their co-world and fellow beings, even if that would still just take place with that sense of anthropocentric hubris?
Can: Perhaps now it is a good time to underline that an anthropocentric approach is not an evil in itself. After all veganism is also anthropocentric. People / anthro does not have to be an evil. Thus, it is neither philosophically nor practically useful for us to think or act as non-humans. We have to be humans to be vegan, in other words (forcing your pets to be vegan does not count, for obvious reasons). That said, I believe in a variety in such movements: some people can be more people oriented, some can be more animal/ecology oriented, which is fine. This is [also] relevant to a broader and perhaps more heterodox understanding of god. This is a delicate issue.
If people come up with a harmless notion of god, what would I think? In my opinion, harm is not the only evil associated with god, and removing the harm element does not immediately make it alright. But, in practice, it can help humans and non-human animals. As I said before, we have to be alert when it risks losing animals for political correctness.
I hope you can see the paradox here: animal rights activists sometimes (indirectly) sacrifice animals too, for political correctness. This is an important point to consider.
4. Borders / Barriers?
Religions speak of the indirect duties that we have towards nonhumans and the environment as the compassion and reverence that we ought to have with Gods other creation, and this would count as a human virtue that is favored by God. In the animal liberation movement we form equations that describe nonhumans and the environment in their independent and autonomous dignity, we seek to describe them in their own value, and in this way we postulate different foundations that serve their protection and their defence.
If we confront the animal advocacy- and the environmental movements (as non-anthropocentric ethical frameworks) specifically with the religious belief-systems, as two different social epistemologies that are defining ethics, does the departure from anthropocentrism (the demand of the Animal Rights and parts of the environmental movement) contain a potential of conflict at the moment in which religion (as an anthropocentric framework) takes up a larger space within a society?
In other words: Does religious dogma and authoritarian aspiration (as aspects of religious belief-systems), create restrictions when it comes to the ethical debates that consider anthropocentrism as a barrier in ethical thinking?
Can: No. First of all, the religious philosophy is a very rich and broad field. There are so many great minds who spent their lives writing amazing treatises trying morality with religion. Averroes and Abelard are the first mind coming to my mind. Religion is more complex than what most atheists think, it had many many more great minds than what most atheists think as well. Of course, not every believer is like Abelard (one wishes that), but religious morality can create a crazy and very smart philosophy, and it did.
Of course, in practice, 99.9% of believers consider religious dogma as a framework of restrictions and taboos. In such a world, rational reasoning becomes impossible.
5. A duty to protest?
Can we presuppose a fundamental moral right to create our own spaces for perspectives in freethinking, in which nonhuman animals and the environment are included into the ethical centre, even if this puts us into an antagonist position in particular to strongly religious people and religious communities?
And going a bit further: Can such a freedom in thinking about the human-animal and the human-environmental-relation, exclude us from a “societal contractualism”?
Can: No. Any presupposition in morality can lead to an authoritarianism. If you look at all fascist and dogmatic moralities, you can always find such an essentialist point: they may assume people are evil, or in contrast, they assume people are good in spirit. Clearly, this makes the philosophy easier to construct and digest, but, it simply adds yet another metaphysical assumption to the moral philosophy and risks essentialism. Human and non-human contractualism is a very dangerous field in my opinion, which takes veganism beyond its realistic boundaries and reconstructs it, well, religiously. Namely, I advocate an empiric, dynamic and interactive morality that does not need a foundational assumption or right, that includes the right to live.
6. If there is no golden mean?
If both: religion and animal liberation could be connected in specific points, would we not have to worry that Animal Rights/Liberation and environmental protection again would only have to be contingent/conditional ethical concerns, and that through making compromises or through the combination of animal rights ethics and anthropocentric religion, we would again miss out on the desired fundamental shift in thinking?
In other words: Is it a legitimate fear that in a society, that is ethically and morally strongly influenced by religion, no really new and just perspectives and politics “beyond Homo sapiens” can be evolved?
And connected to this: Does a strongly biologistically assigned field (that is: all the subjects that evolve around nonhuman animals and their natural habitat/the environment) even require a fundamental shift in its ethical, social and political variables?
Can: Well, evolution is a continuous phenomenon. I cannot imagine how the animal liberation movement will be in a hundred years. Even in the past century, we have read an insane amount of good and original ideas supplemented with exciting revolutionary practices. I don’t see any reason why we would consume all future possibilities.
7. A utopia?
Could an anthropocentric religion be stretched and modified so far in its interpretation, that for example, the human alone wouldn’t have a privilege of being an “image of God”, but that instead the entire world would represent a value that needs to be equally merited with the highest respect and reverence? Would religion even be able to maintain its own meaning, in their ability to create a form of exclusive or/and exceptional identity, if it didn’t have these hierarchical views on worldly existence?
Can: Of course. Many different interpretation of each major religion (including Islam and Buddhism) has this taste. Heteredox Islam provides quite interesting and cool examples on this for instance where every organism is seen as a reflection of god’s good.
8. Physical instincts vs. abstract mind?
With nonhuman animals we define sentience as the decisive and main criterion (in the secular and scientific context) to qualify the meaning and value of their lives in the world. These qualifiers are solely based on the biological constitution of a being and on our understanding of the biological traits.
In the great Abrahamic religions the meaning of live depends on God’s decrees and on the concept of “sin”. The notions of right and wrong, value and non-value, are measured against the parameter “God”.
So, on the secular, scientific plane we have the biological sentience of animality on the one hand, and on the other hand we have an abstract human framework of mind and belief in the religious view of “Man”. Aren’t such separations between sentience and mind perhaps the very point, that keeps the hierarchies and distinctions, that we deal with in speciesism, arbitrarily alive? Isn’t “feeling” also “mind”? The concepts of “Nature” and “God” thus create a dichotomy between a devalued bodily physicality and a God that is the upvalued mind of non-earthen-being. Is the reductionary and narrow concept of “instinct”, i.e. that the animal body should exclusively be ascribed sentience, but not vital mind and spirit, not the necessary conclusion of a religious past, which had already pinned down nonhuman animals as the despised nature-physique of a mindless and non-intelligent earthenly existence?
Can: These are very difficult questions to answer in one paragraph. There are examples for each cases ranging from Spinoza to Averroes, from Abelard to Siddharta. However, the Cartesian approach to animals has been refuted countless times, thus the philosophy adopted a broader and more scientifically oriented approach.
Thank you so much for helping us out with these questions Can!
Can: Thank you for these difficult questions :)
All links have been last accessed on: Oct 12th 2014.
Note: The German translation of this interview will later be published in TIERAUTONOMIE.
Caring for others with the goal of justice
If systemic oppression lead to you having to live a life under constant fear, if you were being tortured and eventually murdered, and your life and death was accompanied by ridicule and despise, and it was said that you’d only act upon instincts, no one would believe you, no one would in fact even understand you and your language and your ways, and they’d look upon your behaviour and dissect your brain, to explain to the rest of the world who and what you were – as if they knew. And the same that happened to you, was the same that millions and billions of those who were like you would have to endure like you, with you.
Which reaction of others, who weren’t in the place of your group, and who’d even belong to the oppressors group, and, who’d even have a say to some extent in that group, would you think was the most appropriate:
Google says it is ‘the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.’
Merriam Webster says it is: ‘ the imaginative projection of a subjective state into an object so that the object appears to be infused with it’, ‘the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner; also : the capacity for this.’
Google says is the
‘sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others.’
Merriam webster says is
‘a feeling of wanting to help someone who is sick, hungry, in trouble, etc.’
Google: ‘compassion or forgiveness shown toward someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm.’
MW: ‘kind or forgiving treatment of someone who could be treated harshly.’
Google: ‘just behavior or treatment.’
MW: ‘the quality of being just, impartial, or fair’, ‘conformity to truth, fact, or reason.’
The vegan habit of relativizing one form of speciesist praxis with the other one, seems to assume that a juxtaposition of two problems is in itself already a functioning argument against speciesism. Why do we have to compare one speciesist action with another one, when both occur in a different context and when both occur as specific variables on the horrid map of human speciesism?
It seems to be assumed that the roots and causes of speciesism are the same as what the arguments against it already convey, …
so that the equation would be: speciesism is speciesism is speciesism, and since speciesism is ethically wrong we’d thus have a magic exit from that complex problem.
Yet fellow vegans, think about this:
a religious reason to kill a nonhuman, is another one then a more ideologically driven one – in the one case you do it for God and your spirituality, in the other case you might do it in order to stay part of a more modern type system or community that believes that the size of the brain and it’s functions are all that matters … you just idealize the human species sui generis. Equally a philosophical argumentation for speciesist biopolitics differs for example from an economical calculation of bodies as chattel, … and so on …
Realistically seen there are many forms of speciesism, and conflating everything only causes an unhelpful mishmash of unjust and tragic human errors that we might help prolonging by not digging deep enough and not differentiating enough within the contexts …
Objectifying nonhuman animals takes various forms:
– in legal terms nonhumans are classified as property
– in religious terms the separation is being made spiritually, man is preferred and given the right to dominate all that is on earth
– philosophical schools may give an array of different reasons for why whichever form of speciesism might be ethically sound or a right view to maintain
– the natural sciences differentiate between beings driven by instinct, the lower forms of life, the higher forms and man with the supposedly most complex make up of mind and brain.
– carnism could be said to be a term for one form of speciesism that classifies domesticated farm animals only (or finally, as in the case of horses and some exotic animals that are eaten such as ostriches) as “meat” or suppliers of food.
– pets on the other side are. in spite of being loved by our society, also affected by speciesist views on them.
– wild animals are forced to make up the object for hunters and hunting culture’s needs to re-exercise continuously the idea of a primeval and supposedly ideal condition of man as the hunter and gatherer.
– but also wild animals are affected by argumentations that target them in terms of whether they are intrusive species or should be seen as protectable.
For every animal species we seem to get one or more forms of speciesist views, classifications, argumentations. In every aspect that defines the human view on his or her environment we seem to come across a derogative stance on nonhumans.
When we discuss speciesism we should bear in mind how complex and difficult to analyze the subjugative view on animal life is in our cultures and societies.