Sash thoughts: Animal Exploitation, Farming, Veganism and the Ethical Questions.
Please note, as with all my babbles, this is not a scripted, planned or in any way pre-meditated write-up. It comes straight from my mind (and heart) on subjects I spend a lot of my time thinking about in great detail.
I don't usually post (potentially) lengthy thoughts on subjects mostly unrelated to technology, processors and such. But this one, in my honest opinion, warrants an exception to that unwritten rule.
In this post I will type a bit about my thoughts on Veganism and the Ethical questions it raises, that are oftentimes lost on most people who staunchly defend their exploited animal product consumption - even without thinking outside of the 'box', so to speak. So here we go. As usual, I will try to keep it concise, but I will probably babble a lot...
The Ethical Question
I'll start by presenting an Ethical Question that pretty much, at least for me, underpins the entire premise of Veganism (read: the way I interpret it, I don't follow 'textbooks' so keep that in mind), and that question asks "Why it is okay to exploit sentient beings for industrial reasons". Those reasons, of course, are pretty much based around the farming industry - more specifically, the industries across the world (proliferated in the USA) that do not uphold strict animal welfare standards. The question itself also applies to those that do, and I will explain my point on that in a moment.
In order to present this question in a more neutral, and hopefully more easy-to-relate-to way, I will propose a scenario that you, the reader (most likely a human being!) will be able to relate to directly. It's about Aliens, but before you go off on one and tell me I'm being 'unrealistic' or 'crazy' for including aliens, just humour me. Because hypothetical scenarios are often ideal as metaphors...
Suppose humanity encountered an Alien Civilisation that possessed cognitive capabilities and capacity far exceeding that of the human brain. In this scenario, human beings - despite their dominance on Earth, were merely 'animal's; without advanced understanding of the higher civilisation. Compare humanity in this case to animals on Earth, those with complex nervous systems and developed brains - I am talking about all farm animals such as pigs, cows, chickens - and even fish. These are creatures with sufficient cognitive capacity to be conscious of their surroundings and experience suffering and pain - much like humans do.
This scenarios draws a comparison to the superiority complex that human beings possess, over animal life that is exploited and subject to suffering for industrial purposes. Here, the Aliens believe they are sufficiently advanced enough over us to ignore the apparent ethical questions of their actions. But wait... Sash is talking about ethics in... Aliens?
Ethics in Aliens?
Okay, so some people might have an issue with this. Firstly, I will say that in this example we can assume the alien species has developed ethics and morality like human beings. But if you really must know, advanced alien species are very likely to have advanced ethics / morality beyond that which we ourselves possess. Art and Culture are a few of the truly unique concepts that intelligent life can provide to the universe... Wanting to preserve that is something an alien civilisation would potentially strive for... Regardless; sufficiently advanced civilisations would have all the means (technology, science) to produce resources (food, nutrients) without exploiting sentient beings, but I digress.
Back to the human exploitation scenario
Back on topic, then. Okay so assume these aliens arrived on earth and they decided that us humans - despite our apparent self-awareness and civilisation - were 'below them', so they exploit us for resources such as food (human muscle is protein-rich meat just like animal muscle), we are mammals and are capable of producing milk, and thus, cheese, etc. I don't need to go into too much detail there because it's the concept that applies.
In this scenario, you are raised to be killed, you are subject to appalling conditions that draw parallels to historic atrocities, all for the Aliens' food/product industry - despite other viable alternatives being available - which I will discuss shortly.
If you read a bit about the suffering humans have endured in history, if you have any sense of compassion during that, you have successfully drawn a comparison to the animal exploitation industry.
This section is dedicated to the fairly common rebuttals against the concept of veganism, by non-vegans. Here I will attempt to address these points with my own opinions and thoughts. Remember, that I am not a 'text-book' vegan and I interpret all these points in my own personal way. Other vegans may even disagree with me, but I don't care what they think. I don't get a delusional 'kinship' from associating myself with the 'vegan tribe'; I do this because I have asked myself the Ethical Questions and as an individual, I come to my own conclusion - that of which I will explain with my logic and reasoning here.
But Sash, they're 'Just Animals'!
Think harder than that. Go back to the start of my example and read it again, because you have just made the biggest mistake that mainstream non-vegans make. The scenarios explains that 'Sub human' is an subjective point of view based on the species making the comparison - in that case, humans are 'just humans!'. Yet we feel, and we suffer, just like animals do.
Our Ancestors have been eating meat for thousands of years!
Correct. Pre-historic humans have hunted and eaten meat for thousands of years before modern civilisation. Human beings are, in fact, quite well adapted to processing protein from animal flesh, and we have proven ourselves the Apex Predator of earth, long before we had firearms or farms.
That draws me to a few points made in this initial statement. The first point I want to make is regarding 'hunted'. I define this word to draw parallels with natural predation, which is practised by all non-herbivorous, non-scavenger by nature creatures on our planet. This is indeed natural. So why is animal farming and exploitation, unnatural and ethically wrong? Because this transcends natural predation into a form of meta-predation whereby animals are subject to suffering and pain that does not occur in the natural world. Yes, a Lion will kill and eat a Zebra while it is still alive and the Zebra suffers, but it is not on a industrial scale and it is not despite viable alternatives from a species with self-proclaimed advanced ethics and morality. Big Cat Lion is killing the Zebra to eat and survive, to feed their cubs and continue the species. Do Humans need factory farms and animal suffering to merely survive? No, because Science. Let me explain that more later... I digressed a bit here.
Anyway, hunting and eating meat is natural. Even for humans (some 'hardline' vegans will disagree with me here, and that is fine. I didn't claim to follow a 'trend' with my ethical beliefs regarding this matter). In fact, I find it ethically acceptable to hunt a single, wild animal to eat its flesh or use its products - like our ancestors have done for thousands of years. My definition of hunt requires:
The Animal is in its natural habitat, it is wild.
The Animal has a fighting chance, much like in the natural world.
The Animal is not killed for 'sport' or 'pleasure'; it is killed for necessity, much like in the natural world.
"Necessity" doesn't include farming or stockpiling products for resale. Our ancestors had a much healthier, more respectful relationship with nature - whereby they take what they need and respect all things from the natural world.
As a morally advanced creature, I will also add another clause that states that the animal is not subject to unnecessary suffering. Why? Because human beings have the choice, and the capability to do that - choosing not to is hypocrisy as I will explain in a moment.
The Science of why 'Humans are above animals'
While researching a few things I came across an article that I can address here in the rebuttals section.
While this article does put forward some genuinely valid points, such as the understanding of what ethics and morality are; distinctly human concepts, are animals able to even understand if they are free or not? These questions require further time to address in full but the concept of morality, and I have stated, and will state below, is indeed a distinctly human concept, and therefore it is something unique to us on Earth that we can apply to creatures that do indeed fit the scientific definition of capable of suffering.
I also agree that the definition, the threshold - if you like, of declaring whether a lifeform can be 'capable of suffering' is a tricky one to address. But I believe scientific understanding (nervous system, brain activity etc), behavioural analysis (drawing comparisons between human suffering and animal suffering behaviours) can provide the means to make that a definition we can respect.
For example, on the lower end of this spectrum, there are plants - which do not possess a developed nervous system or brain, and do not possess advanced cognition and awareness. Plants are essentially biological machines that are 'programmed' to react to certain stimuli, and one of the reasons why I neglected to include a rebuttal to the "Vegetable suffering" argument I have heard online, is because I believe there is sufficient scientific evidence available to make that distinction.
Anyway, back to the snippet above. This statement is what I consider a logical paradox. I say that because the entire premise of animal-rights movements is to change the human attitude that animals are 'below us and it is morally acceptable to cause them great suffering through exploitation'. The author clearly harbours that perspective and should read my points here.
Does treating animals that science has deemed capable of suffering, 'deprive humans of their uniquely advanced and rich mental capabilities?' - No it does not. That is an arrogant point of view made by a person who believes animals aren't worthy of respect. In the comments to that article, many people draw the comparison I made above with the aliens example. it's all about perspective - and it's all too easy to make that conclusion that animals are 'lower than us' when you're in the dominant position of power.
Speaking of Science: technology gives us choices, truly viable choices.
I wanted to add this because it's highly relevant while on the topic of Science! Animal flesh that you eat; is mostly muscle tissue. It is protein-rich tissue that can be digested by our bodies and broken down into useful nutrients, along with providing a pleasurable taste sensation. Now I will present to you an alternative that can be facilitated by science, that many people either do not see as truly viable, or would reject my point as 'fantasy'. (Mostly because these people lack any kind of future-looking vision beyond their daily lives).
Muscle-tissue that would provide nutritious, tasty meat, can be grown separate from the advanced nervous system - brain - and the creature that has to endure the suffering - essentially acting itself as a self-contained meat production container. Science has the ability to allow 'synthetically' grown meat. I was cautious to use the word 'synthetic' due to the negative connotations invoked by 'artificial or modified' concepts referring to food. That said, this 'synthetically' grown meat would be biologically identical to the muscle growing on the original host animal, except it doesn't have the brain to suffer. It's just food - not only that, it would be vastly more space-efficient, better for the environment (cattle emissions and transport, etc) along with allowing mass, industrialised production of a meat-based food source.
Is this possible? Yes. However, as with any potentially wide-spread, easily-accessible technology it needs to be developed enough to be cost-effective. In order for that to happen, people must dismantle the financial incentives for businesses and the industry to continue exploiting the 'cheap' alternative - farming live animals.
Remember that you have the choice in your life, to decide what you eat. Wild predators like Lions do not. You have a conscious choice to buy products complacent in animal suffering, while the Lion is eating to survive.
I will note, that for some people, especially those at borderline poverty or on the 'breadline', cheap meat-based products are often significantly more accessible in terms of cost and availability, compared to vegan-friendly alternatives. In fact, the entire issue surrounding the relative expense of vegan-friendly food items is a subject I would, at some point, like to make a dedicated post on. But for now, it will have to suffice to say that the cost will come down as companies and the industries begin to address our (the people) lack of appetite for purchasing animal products complacent in suffering and exploitation.