September 6, 2005
"Animal suffering similar to human slaves"
by UPC President Karen Davis
featured letter in the Chicago Sun-Times

African Americans and other groups have expressed outrage over a PETA exhibit that compares animal slavery with human slavery. Yet not so long ago, anyone who dared to compare black people with white people in my neighborhood provoked similar outrage. As a 1960s civil rights activist, I fought with my parents and others incessantly over this point.

Now, as then, I uphold these dreaded comparisons. Reduction of a sensitive being to an object imprisoned in a world outside any moral universe of care links the human slave to the animal slave in laboratories, factory farms and slaughterhouses in ways that diminish the differences between them. Instead of bickering over whos superior and whos inferior, why not own up to the preventable suffering we cause and do what we can to stop it?

Resentment of comparisons between the suffering of humans and the suffering of animals in conditions of atrocity is not an isolated attitude, anyway. Its part of a broader psychology of resentment at having ones suffering linked with that of anyone else.

Resentment aside, it is reasonable to assume that animals in confinement systems designed to exploit them suffer even more, in certain respects, than do humans similarly confined, just as a child or a mentally challenged person might experience dimensions of suffering in being rough-handled, imprisoned, and shouted at that people capable of conceptualizing the experience cant conceive of.

Indeed, those who are capable of conceptualizing their own suffering may be unable to grasp what it feels like to suffer without being able to conceptualize it.

But even if it could be proven that chickens and other animals suffer less than humans condemned to similar situations, this would not mean that these animals do not suffer profoundly or justify harming them. Our cognitive distance from animal suffering constitutes neither an argument nor evidence as to who suffers more under horrific circumstances, humans or nonhumans.

If we cannot imagine what it must be like for a bird or a sheep or a cow to be placed in a situation comparable to a human being shoved in a cattle car packed with other terrified people headed toward death; if we cannot imagine how chickens must feel being grabbed by their legs in the middle of the night by men who are cursing at them while pitching and stuffing them into the crates in which they will travel to the next wave of terror at the slaughterhouse, then perhaps we should try to imagine ourselves placed helplessly in the hands of an overpowering extraterrestrial species, to whom our pleas for mercy sound like nothing more than bleats and squeals and clucks mere "noise" to the master race in whose "superior" minds we are "only animals."

Karen Davis, president,

United Poultry Concerns
PO Box 150 Machipongo, VA 23405
Phone: 757-678-7875 Fax: 757-678-5070