Jim Sinclair: If you love something, you don’t kill it

If you love something, you don’t kill it

Jim Sinclair

[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 and its dilemma

‘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

compassion_1a

Alex from moralcompassion.org: The Ethics of Eating Lives

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.

This text as a PDF

THE ETHICS OF EATING LIVES

A slaughterhouse worker “processing” cattle for human meat consumption.[1]

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[2] 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”[3]. 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.”[4]

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.[5]

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?”[6]

“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.”[7]

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)”[8] 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.”[9]

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.[10] 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.”[11]

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” [12] . 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!”[13]

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.”[14]

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.”[15]

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.

moralcompassion, 2015.

www.moralcompassion.wordpress.com

[1] Quartz, http://qz.com/178787/forget-hot-pockets-how-did-the-us-government-miss-8-7-million-pounds-of-diseased-and-unsound-beef-in-the-first-place/, last access on 20.05.2015.

[2] Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender.

[3] Millard J. Erickson – Christian Theology, Baker Book House Company, Seventh Printing, 1990, page 543.

[4] Same as footnote no° three.

[5] 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.

[6] Peter Singer – Animal Liberation, An Imprint of Harper Collins Publishers, 1975, p. 9.

[7] Melanie Joy – Why we love dogs, eat pigs and wear cows, Conari Press, 2010, p. 139.

[8] The Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness, written by Philip Low, published on 7.7.2012, available onhttp://fcmconference.org/img/CambridgeDeclarationOnConsciousness.pdf.

[9] Same as footnote no°eight.

[10] Again, see The Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness, written by Philip Low, published on 7.7.2012.

[11] Peter Singer – Animal Liberation, An Imprint of Harper Collins Publishers, 1975, p. 2.

[12] http://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/14444.Isaac_Bashevis_Singer, last access on 20.05.2015.

[13] http://www.mcspotlight.org/media/press/oprah_15apr96.html, last access on 20.05.2015.

[14] Melanie Joy – Why we love dogs, eat pigs and wear cows, Conari Press, 2010, p. 139.

[15] Melanie Joy – Why we love dogs, eat pigs and wear cows, Conari Press, 2010, p. 106.

The organic, humane speciesists

A short narrative:

People I know said: “We stopped eating meat!”

Same people said: “We just love organic stuff, and recently when we went to our local organic farm we saw how lovely these farmers were and just how lovingly they kept their cows … and guess what, it was even the first time we ate some red meat again.”

Speciesism is a sign of not only a lack of basic fundamental necessary human empathy, it also indicates a lack of rational common sense. If you don’t understand what I mean, please read this text by Vasile Stanescu

Why “Loving” Animals is Not Enough: A Response to Kathy Rudy, Locavorism, and the Marketing of “Humane” Meat

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/jacc.12017/abstract

Listen to an abbreviated version here:

Vasile Stanescu, “Why loving animals is not enough: a feminist critique”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nndAHEgwRmM

 

Caring for others with the goal of justice

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:

Empathy???
Compassion???
Mercy???
Justice???

Empathy
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.’

Compassion
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.’

Mercy
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.’

Justice
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

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.

Liberation from “Total”

Dear fellow AR activist,

​I personally don’t know where even any total liberation activists stand in detail. Of course it’s decisively crucial that the interest in nonhuman-related-ethical-issues is continuously gaining momentum, and every event (or activity, or even thought) that is taking place to grow this momentum is an active expression of an overall ethical development evoluting in our societies. I believe in such developments, and I believe they are driven by many different forces and factors.

I am however generally suspicious of the internal structures of movements, for as long as an idea hasn’t taken ground and formed solidly enough in a society for it to be expressed pluralistically enough, so that you can argue with a full spectra of positions.

The canon of Animal Liberation or AR has strong tendencies to be unisono, and I blame that on the movements inner dynamics. And it is this narrowness within the movement why  I always try to double check what exactly is being practised and promoted beyond the bigger messages of any strongly idealistic event.

With total liberation events so far nothing seems transparent to me, structurally more than from the given goals and intentions.

I for myself prefer solutions to be less “total” and more sticking to the realities of the details.

Yours,
Just another fellow AR activist

Moving beyond the horizon of humancentrism. What is an animal and what is a human?

Moving beyond the horizon of humancentrism:

What is an animal and what is a human?

Palang LY

This text as a PDF

The basic question about the categorical division into (nonhuman) “animals” and “humans” (homo sapiens), brings up, probably before the question of its moral implications, the question about what exactly hides beneath both these big generalized identities. Why has the view about that what-animals-are and that what-humans-are finally lead to us only viewing animals under biological terms today? Is it enough to attribute only an instinctual behaviour to nonhuman animals? Is it the ‘fault’ of animals themselves that we can’t relate to them in any further way than how we are relating to them currently? …

If we don’t accept the view that nonhuman animals are those who have to stand below humans within a frame given by a biological, divine or philosophical hierarchy-of-being, then such a claim doesn’t have to be solely morally motivated, but it can mean that we question the way in which both identities („animal“ and „human“) are understood. We can ask if the interpretation of the characteristics that are considered to make up the marking dividers within a human-animal hierarchy, are in reality a negation of the autonomous value of otherness in nonhuman animals. We know that the single criterion that serves as our standard is the human parameter, i.e. the human model counts as the ideal, as the standard, for creating norms. So what happens if we put this standard of measurement into doubt?

Conclusions deduced in the fields of biology and psychology – with those being the main sectors that deal with the foundational explicability of animal identity – nail the perspectives on relevant characteristics and on how animal characteristics (in either, the case of humans or nonhuman animals) have to express themselves and in which exact correlation they have to become measurable, in order to reach a certain relevance or meaningfulness from a human point of perspective.

So the problem lies in the question why humans won’t accept nonhuman animal autonomy when it can’t be made fathomable through the perception of a value-defined comparison. Why are own animal criterions and why is their independent meaningfulness (for the sake of themselves and for their situation within their natural and social inter- and co-specific contexts) rendered irrelevant when they cross our perspectivic glance, when these animal criteria could also lay outside of our hierarchical-framework?

To be willing to accept an autonomous meaningfulness of nonhuman animals, means to question a.) the deindividualization that our views and explanations about nonhuman animals purport and b.) the views that allows us to set nonhuman animals in comparison to us, as the-human-group, and that seek to sort out how the meaning of nonhuman animals might relate to anything that matters to us. The deindividualized view of nonhuman animals almost automatically goes along with a subtraction of their value in terms of meaningfulness and so takes us to the moral question.

If we can view nonhuman animals, apart from their localization in the realm of biology, for example also in a sociological context, then we could ask the question: „How do people act towards nonhumans animals?“ Can we explain the behaviour of humans towards nonhuman animals solely by referring to the common notion that one can’t really behave in any particular way towards nonhuman animals because they are instinctively set and supposedly communicatively restricted compared to us, and that thus our behaviour towards them can’t contain an own quality of a social dynamic? Can we legitimate our behaviour by referring to the narrow dimensions that we interpret into nonhuman animal behaviour? We probably can’t ask any of these questions a sociologist. Most sociologists would most likely prefer to deal with the Animal Rights movement instead of dealing with the interaction between humans and nonhuman animals overall.

Biology has already determined what the identity of nonhuman animals is, and even the Animal Rights movement has satisfied itself to a large extent with placing the moral question (which comes down to “how to we act towards each other” is a very basic sense) somewhere out of reach, by accepting the explanation of the identity of animals as something strictly biological.

A geometrical image ( – an observation alone is not necessarily bound to a moral conclusion)

Imagine two abstract groups. Group A consists of triangles and everything that surrounds them becomes mathematically relevant to their own triangular form. Say this happens as all which either resembles or doesn’t resemble a triangle gets a certain colour. Group B are circles. Now group A says that group B aren’t triangles (because A are triangles) and that they also weren’t squares or rectangles. Would any reason follow from this that they could exclude the circles as equally valid geometrical figures? The triangles are different compared with the circles, but both are geometrical figures and insofar of an equal value. They can be correlated due to each of their geometrical qualities, even when the circles do not match the characteristics of the triangles … .

As far as the question is concerned whether animals can be regarded in any way as moral agents, one should ask, does morality exist outside the human concept of morality? When we discuss morality we presume that the substance matter which the term comprises came into life through our perceptions, and because we define what „moral“ means, we can claim a described phenomenon as solely ours. What does morality consist of? Does morality solely exist because of a theoretical framework? Probably not. Morality on one side has something to do with basic social interaction, through that morality gains value. On the other side are the superordinate agreements about morality, which are declared and decided upon perhaps by an elite or a defining group/process, but through that the agreements about morality only contain a forced validity (the negative sense of the pure “mores” in contrast to the wider frame of ethics), which is disconnected to its own basis, that is: the meaning of social interaction between beings. In other words, a construct about morality excludes that what lays outside of its hierarchy (other forms of interaction that contain „social values“ are being categorically excluded).

But there does exists that what we perceive and experience in our daily encounters as „morally okay“ between nonhuman animals or humans in the whole environmental context.. The superordinate agreements in regards to morality are not of more validity, they are in essence a consequence that follows after an action takes place in reality. When we discard the human decorum that surrounds the term morality, we can say that every action has a moral implication. That would be morality taken as a social value.

Animals obviously have very different philosophies-of-living, seen in a neutral comparison to our philosophies of life, and I clearly believe one can use the term philosophy here to describe the yet unnamed phenomenon in nonhumans animals of how they structure and perceive their own lives.

I ask myself whether the human problem with nonhuman animals isn’t rather to be found in the differences in their „philosophies of life“, rather than in the reasons of biological differences or in an assumed moral impotence on the animals behalf.. The problem always seems to be the difference and the coinciding similarities. In many aspects we equal nonhumans animals, but most notably in the aspect of our dominance claim, we see nonhuman animals as „the losers“, the bottom of the evolutionary or divinely ordained hierarchical order, on which we can postulate our power.

That nonhuman animals are the losers amongst the biological animals is even an attitude that you can subtly lurking through in the AR movement. Only a few theorists and influential theories reckon a consistently unique, self-sufficient quality in both the closeness and distance amongst different animals (including Homo sapiens). There is no theory of Animal Autonomy so far. In the forefront of every argumentation stands: How do they measure against us? How do we compare? As if humans and nonhuman animals had to compete on an single, equal scale within our frameworks. Another related argumentation goes: how much of their „instinct“ could possibly still entitle them to be granted rights (that would protect them from humans (whereby it is questionable whether those who have prejudices against you, can really grant you your own rights)?

Human society, it seems, will always consider the „us“ and the „we“ as objectively more important, insofar as the „we“, the how „we“ are, is the criterion, and nonhumans animals are measured against this parameter. The crucial point is to accept others and to accept the validity of otherness, for expanding our narrow view of the world and understanding moral wrongs.

3 Questions. We asked Kim Socha about her upcoming book ‘Animal Liberation and Atheism: Dismantling the Procrustean Bed’

Kim Socha, a professor for English and an Animal Liberation activist, publishes her new book entitled: ‘Animal Liberation and Atheism: Dismantling the Procrustean Bed’ this October (http://freethoughthouse.com/animal-liberation-and-atheism.html). So we asked Kim three questions pertaining to the subject of ‘secularity as part of an Animal Rights approach’ that seemed most pressing for us, and we are looking forward to reading her book this Fall!!!

Q: Religions typically base that what you could call their “positive” relationship to nonhuman animals, on mercy (and taking care for the nonhuman animal’s “welfare”), and not on rights. We find attitudes similar enough in some secular philosophies, namely that a human only has indirect duties towards nonhuman animals, so that the animal basically depends on the “mercy” of a human/humans. How can an atheist Animal Liberation approach make sure that nonhuman animals are acknowledged in their own rights, and that their rights are proper, and not based on our mercy?

Kim Socha: “There is a common presumption that once one adopts a secular view of life (atheist, agnostic, humanist), he or she has also given up systems of thinking imbued in religious discourse. I don’t believe this is necessarily true. In my upcoming book Animal Liberation and Atheism: Dismantling the Procrustean Bed (Freethought House, October 7, 2014), I use a passage from philosopher Michel Onfray’s Atheist Manifesto to explain what I mean: “Secular thought is not de-Christianized thought, but immanent Christian thought. Couched in rational language, it nevertheless preserves the quintessence of the Judeo-Christian ethic.” In other words, just because one has given up the concept of Christ does not mean that person cannot and does not still think like a Christian in hierarchical, anthropocentric, and speciesist ways. (I do address other religious traditions in the book, but for the sake of brevity, I will focus on Western Christianity in this interview.) Thus, I don’t find it surprising that secular philosophers have also adopted oppressive views of other species, for those writing from that perspective have been raised in cultures saturated with religious thought, even if brought up in atheist environments. Atheist animal liberationists, therefore, must challenge others in their freethought communities to see the ways they have adopted religious views of lived reality, especially in terms of nonhuman animals. For example, while one cannot depict all atheists in broad strokes, the atheists I know support gay marriage because sanctions against it are based in religious ideologies; however, I find a lack of awareness amongst freethinkers about the ways religion has determined their views of other species. But as atheism takes away the idea that humans are special in some sort of divine way (i.e. they have souls), I think it opens a door for leveling hierarchy and destroying the myth of human supremacy. Humans are not, it turns out, as special as we’ve been led to believe—special meaning we have been chosen by a divine creator to escape mortality and live in paradise, assuming we take part in the correct rituals and worship the proper creators. We are animals, and my hope is that by acknowledging ourselves as such, we will consider the lives of other animals with more compassion and sensitivity. They too want to enjoy life, avoid death, and flourish until the inevitable end all beings must face.”

Q: In the history of the natural sciences, nature (i.e. the world) and its nonhuman animal inhabitants have been classified as lower than ‘the human’, and thus as being existent for human use. We see such attitudes expressed in the work of scientists starting from a Galen (http://www.dyingtolearn.org/animalUseHistory.html in antiquity) to a Descartes, and even later in the Linnaean (taxonomical) classification model which put the human as the “sapiens”, the “knowing”, on top of all animals. How much have these outlooks on nonhuman animals been driven or influenced by religious dogma and mythological traditions?

Kim Socha: “I believe there is a false dichotomy at play in Western culture, or at least in theUnited States, which poses science and religion at opposite ends of the knowledge spectrum. In contrast, science and religion often work harmoniously, even when they appear at odds, for they privilege human conceptions of “knowing.” To wit, only humans can “know” god, and humans are obliged to use their “superior” intellect to advance the cause of humanity even if that means using other species in research. (And, of course, we cannot forget that humans deemed less intelligent have historically been used in research and experimentation as well.) As such, the natural sciences have seen human intelligence as either the only type of intelligence of any worth or as the highest level of intelligence—at least high enough to justify the use of other species in the sciences. However, if one were to take the time to understand how other species understand the world (i.e. honey bees), they would be hard-pressed to deny nonhuman intelligence. And to be honest, I could care less if pigs are intelligent, even though they are. What matters to me is that they are suffering physically and psychologically by the billions simply because humans like the taste of their flesh. The worst example of devaluing nonhuman intelligence is Rene Descartes’ depicting nonhumans as “mere automata.”

No matter the religious perspective of history’s natural scientists, I would argue that “religious dogma and mythological traditions” have absolutely influenced the scientific community. Indeed, that is one area where science and religion meld: on the idea that Homo sapiens are superior to other species. This is true in almost all dominant religions, from the Abrahamic traditions to Eastern religions such as Buddhism and Jainism. Perhaps one could argue it is the nature of animals, including humans, to value their species over others, thus making it “natural” to use nonhumans to advance human development. Yes, some species prey upon others for survival, but that is not the whole story with Homo sapiens. We have distorted the “circle of life” philosophy beyond recognition by basing our economies and nearly every cultural institution on the exploitation of other animal species. In that process, we have destroyed natural habitats, caused changes in climate cycles, and ensured the extinction of other species. In a sense, I see humans as a “natural disaster,” but I don’t mean to be completely pessimistic here, for there are many who fight against the dominant discourse and challenge others to interrogate their cultural dispensations so we can acknowledge, and perhaps undo, the damage we have caused as a species.”

Q: Can atheism become the inevitable driving force in the Animal Liberation movement (and have an educating and empowering effect!) in a world that is nevertheless battling with its religious inheritances?

Kim Socha: “I have faith, in the most secular sense of the word, that there is promise in an atheist animal liberation movement. Indeed, there is much evidence to support the idea that most animal advocates are freethinkers (something I address in my book as well), even though many do not inherently connect their atheism/agnosticism/humanism to their perspectives on nonhumans. I think that connection needs to made more frequently and deliberately. Indeed, that is the premise of my book, as is the need for secularists to recognize the truth in Onfray’s observation that “[s]ecular thought is not de-Christianized thought.” I am not completely insensitive to those whose religious traditions are important to them, both culturally and spiritually, nor am I ignorant of the roles religions have played in various social justice movements. However, to get to my book’s subtitle—“Dismantling the Procrustean Bed”—I find that using religion to justify one’s opposition to oppression is not necessary. Our guttural reactions to a human suffering from starvation or a fox urgently attempting escape from a leghold trap is enough to let us know we should act for that being in need. Why do we need an almighty overseer to underpin our responses to cruelty and distress? Why do we need the promise of eternal salvation as reason to take action against subjugating cultural practices? These questions are especially apt when considering that so often the “almighty overseers” with which we are familiar value human life over that of other species. Life can still have meaning, and possibly more meaning if you give up the idea of immortality, without belief in the supernatural. There is still a distrust (and again, this may be more prevalent in the United States) of the godless amongst the general population, even though study after study has proven that areligious individuals are not any more immoral, unethical, or hedonistic than the religious; in fact, sociological studies have proven more radical activism and sensitivity toward the oppressed amongst freethinkers. I think this is because we believe in only one life, and we don’t feel the need to do good deeds to assure our spot in a celestial realm. We don’t want to suffer, and our acceptance of ourselves as animals attempting to survive in this world we are born into opens the door to seeing other species in the same way. As such, we can see our connections to other animals and make our brief time on Earth meaningful by making the world better for others, as opposed to climbing our way to heaven for personal gain.”

Q: Thank you for this interview Kim!

Animals in Mythologies and Religions, Humans, Gods and human-centeredness … and three questions we asked Kim Socha about secularity and Animal Rights.

Animals in Mythologies and Religions, Humans, Gods and human-centeredness … and three questions we asked Kim Socha about secularity and Animal Rights.

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Animals in Mythologies and Religions, Humans, Gods and human-centeredness … and three questions we asked Kim Socha about secularity and Animal Rights.

We ourselves are an AR-project that has a strong interest in the subject of ‘animals in mythology’ (from a relatively non-anthropocentric angle) as an expression of how humans have related to nonhuman animals socially and emotionally in the past.

Inasmuch as we find interest in that subject, we are confronted with the aspects of the human-centeredness of mythological traditions and how they blended over, in traces, into religious scriptures (i.e. the ‘Whore of Babylon riding the seven-headed Beast’ (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whore_of_Babylon); God’s preference of a dead animal, an animal sacrifice, to the offering of a plant-based sacrifice in the bible’s story of Cain and Abel; the Devil, being depicted as half ‘man’ half ‘beast’) and maintained and morphed in popular folklore (fables, fairy tales, dragons and unicorns).

Now since, following this interest in mythology, we are trying to discern between a positive relation and reflection on nonhumans animals (as how they can be depicted in mythology), on one hand, and on the other hand separating between dangerously possessive outlooks on “the animal” by cultures and civilizations, we are well aware of the importance of taking a secular perspective on “animals in mythology”, since one problem prevails in all religious scriptures that we know about: they all put ‘the human’ above nonhuman animals. And we do find that this attitude of a generalized identity of ‘human superiority’ in religions, poses a deep rooted problem in the ethical discourse when secularist and religious outlooks meet.

We thus were extremely glad to find an author who addresses the question of secularity and Animal Liberation:

Kim Socha, a professor for English and an Animal Liberation activist, publishes her new book entitled: ‘Animal Liberation and Atheism: Dismantling the Procrustean Bed’ this October (http://freethoughthouse.com/animal-liberation-and-atheism.html). So we asked Kim three questions pertaining to the subject of ‘secularity as part of an Animal Rights approach’ that seemed most pressing for us, and we are looking forward to reading her book this Fall!!!

Q: Religions typically base that what you could call their “positive” relationship to nonhuman animals, on mercy (and taking care for the nonhuman animal’s “welfare”), and not on rights. We find attitudes similar enough in some secular philosophies, namely that a human only has indirect duties towards nonhuman animals, so that the animal basically depends on the “mercy” of a human/humans. How can an atheist Animal Liberation approach make sure that nonhuman animals are acknowledged in their own rights, and that their rights are proper, and not based on our mercy?

Kim Socha: “There is a common presumption that once one adopts a secular view of life (atheist, agnostic, humanist), he or she has also given up systems of thinking imbued in religious discourse. I don’t believe this is necessarily true. In my upcoming book Animal Liberation and Atheism: Dismantling the Procrustean Bed (Freethought House, October 7, 2014), I use a passage from philosopher Michel Onfray’s Atheist Manifesto to explain what I mean: “Secular thought is not de-Christianized thought, but immanent Christian thought. Couched in rational language, it nevertheless preserves the quintessence of the Judeo-Christian ethic.” In other words, just because one has given up the concept of Christ does not mean that person cannot and does not still think like a Christian in hierarchical, anthropocentric, and speciesist ways. (I do address other religious traditions in the book, but for the sake of brevity, I will focus on Western Christianity in this interview.) Thus, I don’t find it surprising that secular philosophers have also adopted oppressive views of other species, for those writing from that perspective have been raised in cultures saturated with religious thought, even if brought up in atheist environments. Atheist animal liberationists, therefore, must challenge others in their freethought communities to see the ways they have adopted religious views of lived reality, especially in terms of nonhuman animals. For example, while one cannot depict all atheists in broad strokes, the atheists I know support gay marriage because sanctions against it are based in religious ideologies; however, I find a lack of awareness amongst freethinkers about the ways religion has determined their views of other species. But as atheism takes away the idea that humans are special in some sort of divine way (i.e. they have souls), I think it opens a door for leveling hierarchy and destroying the myth of human supremacy. Humans are not, it turns out, as special as we’ve been led to believe—special meaning we have been chosen by a divine creator to escape mortality and live in paradise, assuming we take part in the correct rituals and worship the proper creators. We are animals, and my hope is that by acknowledging ourselves as such, we will consider the lives of other animals with more compassion and sensitivity. They too want to enjoy life, avoid death, and flourish until the inevitable end all beings must face.”

Q: In the history of the natural sciences, nature (i.e. the world) and its nonhuman animal inhabitants have been classified as lower than ‘the human’, and thus as being existent for human use. We see such attitudes expressed in the work of scientists starting from a Galen (http://www.dyingtolearn.org/animalUseHistory.html in antiquity) to a Descartes, and even later in the Linnaean (taxonomical) classification model which put the human as the “sapiens”, the “knowing”, on top of all animals. How much have these outlooks on nonhuman animals been driven or influenced by religious dogma and mythological traditions?

Kim Socha: “I believe there is a false dichotomy at play in Western culture, or at least in theUnited States, which poses science and religion at opposite ends of the knowledge spectrum. In contrast, science and religion often work harmoniously, even when they appear at odds, for they privilege human conceptions of “knowing.” To wit, only humans can “know” god, and humans are obliged to use their “superior” intellect to advance the cause of humanity even if that means using other species in research. (And, of course, we cannot forget that humans deemed less intelligent have historically been used in research and experimentation as well.) As such, the natural sciences have seen human intelligence as either the only type of intelligence of any worth or as the highest level of intelligence—at least high enough to justify the use of other species in the sciences. However, if one were to take the time to understand how other species understand the world (i.e. honey bees), they would be hard-pressed to deny nonhuman intelligence. And to be honest, I could care less if pigs are intelligent, even though they are. What matters to me is that they are suffering physically and psychologically by the billions simply because humans like the taste of their flesh. The worst example of devaluing nonhuman intelligence is Rene Descartes’ depicting nonhumans as “mere automata.”

No matter the religious perspective of history’s natural scientists, I would argue that “religious dogma and mythological traditions” have absolutely influenced the scientific community. Indeed, that is one area where science and religion meld: on the idea that Homo sapiens are superior to other species. This is true in almost all dominant religions, from the Abrahamic traditions to Eastern religions such as Buddhism and Jainism. Perhaps one could argue it is the nature of animals, including humans, to value their species over others, thus making it “natural” to use nonhumans to advance human development. Yes, some species prey upon others for survival, but that is not the whole story with Homo sapiens. We have distorted the “circle of life” philosophy beyond recognition by basing our economies and nearly every cultural institution on the exploitation of other animal species. In that process, we have destroyed natural habitats, caused changes in climate cycles, and ensured the extinction of other species. In a sense, I see humans as a “natural disaster,” but I don’t mean to be completely pessimistic here, for there are many who fight against the dominant discourse and challenge others to interrogate their cultural dispensations so we can acknowledge, and perhaps undo, the damage we have caused as a species.”

Q: Can atheism become the inevitable driving force in the Animal Liberation movement (and have an educating and empowering effect!) in a world that is nevertheless battling with its religious inheritances?

Kim Socha: “I have faith, in the most secular sense of the word, that there is promise in an atheist animal liberation movement. Indeed, there is much evidence to support the idea that most animal advocates are freethinkers (something I address in my book as well), even though many do not inherently connect their atheism/agnosticism/humanism to their perspectives on nonhumans. I think that connection needs to made more frequently and deliberately. Indeed, that is the premise of my book, as is the need for secularists to recognize the truth in Onfray’s observation that “[s]ecular thought is not de-Christianized thought.” I am not completely insensitive to those whose religious traditions are important to them, both culturally and spiritually, nor am I ignorant of the roles religions have played in various social justice movements. However, to get to my book’s subtitle—“Dismantling the Procrustean Bed”—I find that using religion to justify one’s opposition to oppression is not necessary. Our guttural reactions to a human suffering from starvation or a fox urgently attempting escape from a leghold trap is enough to let us know we should act for that being in need. Why do we need an almighty overseer to underpin our responses to cruelty and distress? Why do we need the promise of eternal salvation as reason to take action against subjugating cultural practices? These questions are especially apt when considering that so often the “almighty overseers” with which we are familiar value human life over that of other species. Life can still have meaning, and possibly more meaning if you give up the idea of immortality, without belief in the supernatural. There is still a distrust (and again, this may be more prevalent in the United States) of the godless amongst the general population, even though study after study has proven that areligious individuals are not any more immoral, unethical, or hedonistic than the religious; in fact, sociological studies have proven more radical activism and sensitivity toward the oppressed amongst freethinkers. I think this is because we believe in only one life, and we don’t feel the need to do good deeds to assure our spot in a celestial realm. We don’t want to suffer, and our acceptance of ourselves as animals attempting to survive in this world we are born into opens the door to seeing other species in the same way. As such, we can see our connections to other animals and make our brief time on Earth meaningful by making the world better for others, as opposed to climbing our way to heaven for personal gain.”

Q: Thank you for this interview Kim!