Philosophy > General AR Philosophy

Agenda for a New America
Part 1
The Politics of Vegetarianism
By Vasu Murti
Author of: They Shall Not Hurt or Destroy

Chapter 1 - Liberation

          "The reasons for legal intervention in favor of children apply not less strongly to the case of those unfortunate slaves--the animals."

          ---John Stuart Mill

    A rational case exists for the rights of preborn humans. The case for animal rights is stronger and more readily apparent. Animals are highly complex creatures, possessing a brain, a central nervous system and a sophisticated mental life. Animals actually suffer at the hands of their human tormentors and exhibit such "human" behaviors and feelings as fear and physical pain, defense of their children, pair bonding, group/tribal loyalty, grief at the loss of loved ones, joy, jealousy, competition, territoriality, and cooperation.

    Dr. Tom Regan, the foremost intellectual leader of the animal rights movement and author of The Case for Animal Rights, notes that animals "have beliefs and desires; perception, memory, and a sense of the future, including their own future; and emotional life together with feelings of pleasure and pain; preference and welfare interests; the ability to initiate action in pursuit of their desires and goals; a psychophysical identity over time; and an individual welfare in the sense that their experiential life fares well or ill for them, logically independent of their utility for others and logically independent of their being the object of anyone else's interests."

    A liberation movement is a demand for an end to prejudice and discrimination based on an arbitrary characteristic like race or sex. The classic instance is the Black Liberation movement. The immediate appeal of this movement, and its initial, if limited, success, made it a model for other oppressed groups. We soon became familiar with Gay Liberation and movements on behalf of American Indians and Spanish-speaking Americans.

    When a majority group--women--began their campaign some thought we had come to the end of the road. Discrimination on the basis of sex, it was said, was the last form of discrimination to be universally accepted and practiced without secrecy or pretense, even in those liberal circles that have long prided themselves on their freedom from prejudice against racial minorities.

    We should always be wary of talking of "the last remaining form of discrimination." If we have learned anything from the liberation movements we should have learned how difficult it is to be aware of latent prejudices in our attitudes to particular groups until these prejudices are forcefully pointed out to us.

    A liberation movement demands an expansion of our moral horizons. Practices that were previously regarded as natural and inevitable come to be seen as the result of an unjustifiable prejudice. In comparison with other liberation movements, Animal Liberation has a lot of handicaps. First and most obvious is the fact that the exploited group cannot themselves make an organized protest against the treatment they receive (though they can and do protest to the best of their abilities individually).

    We have to speak up on behalf of those who cannot speak for themselves. You can appreciate how serious this handicap is by asking yourself how long blacks would have had to wait for equal rights if they had not been able to stand up for themselves and demand it. The less able a group is to stand up and organize against oppression, the more easily it is oppressed.

Chapter 2 - Equality

    The principle of the equality of human beings is not a description of an alleged actual equality among humans; it is a prescription of how we should treat humans. Thomas Jefferson saw this point. He wrote in a letter to the author of a book the notable intellectual achievements of Negroes in order to refute the then common view that they had limited intellectual capacities:

      "...whatever be their degree of talent it is no measure of their rights. Because Sir Isaac Newton was superior to others in understanding, he was not therefore lord of the property or person of others."

    Similarly when in the 1850s the call for women's rights was raised in the United States a remarkable black feminist named Sojourner Truth made the same point in more robust terms at a feminist convention.

      " ...they talk about this thing in the head; what do they call it? ('Intellect,' whispered someone nearby.) That's it. What's that got to do with women's rights or Negroes' rights? If my cup won't hold but a pint and yours holds a quart, wouldn't you be mean not to let me have my little half-measure full?"

    If possessing a higher degree of intelligence does not entitle one human to use another for his own ends, how can it entitle humans to exploit nonhumans for the same purpose? In a forward-looking passage written at a time when black slaves had been freed by the French but in the British dominions were still being treated in the way we now treat animals, Jeremy Bentham wrote:

      "The day may come when the rest of the animal creation may acquire those rights which never could have been witholden from them but by the hand of tyranny.

      "The French have already discovered that the blackness of the skin is no reason why a human being should be abandoned without redress to the caprice of a tormentor.

      "It may one day come to be recognized that the number of the legs, the villosity of the skin, or the termination of the os sacrum are reasons equally insufficient for abandoning a sensitive being to the same fate.

      "What else is it that should trace the insuperable line? Is it the faculty of reason or perhaps the faculty of discourse? But a full-grown horse or dog is beyond comparison a more rational, as well as more conversable animal, than an infant of a day or a week or even a month old. But suppose they were otherwise, what would it avail? The question is not, Can they reason?, nor Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?"

    The capacity for suffering and enjoyment is a prerequisite for having interests at all, a condition that must be satisfied before we can speak of interests in a meaningful way. It would be nonsense to say that it was not in the interests of a stone to be kicked along the road by a schoolboy. A stone does not have interests because it cannot suffer. A mouse, on the other hand, does have an interest in not being kicked along the road, because it will suffer if it is.

Chapter 3 - Reasoning Ability

    What separates humans from the other animals? Psychologist Paul Chance struggles with this problem in the January 1988 issue of Psychology Today. The ancient Greeks considered man "the rational animal." Recent studies prove animals do many of the same things we consider evidence of reasoning ability. Chimpanzees, for example, can solve puzzles on their own, in much the same way as humans, and will even do it for no other reward than the mere satisfaction of having done it.

    Does creativity set us apart from nature? Porpoises can be trained not just to perform tricks, but to invent tricks of their own. Making tools? Animal behaviorist Jane Goodall observed wild Chimpanzees use toolmaking in obtaining food. Language? Two psychologists in Nevada taught a chimp named Washoe the sign language of the deaf. Not Only did Washoe learn hundreds of signs, he used them in new ways to express new ideas. Sign language has been taught to other chimpanzees and to gorillas and orangutans as well.

    The negative traits of humanity have also been observed in the animal kingdom. humans may rape, murder and go to war with greater efficiency and intellectual prowess than other species, but these are not uniquely human acts. Male apes have been seen forcing themselves upon unwilling females of their kind.

    Apes have been known to attack and kill members of their own tribe, as well as outsiders, sometimes for trivial reasons. Goodall has even observed organized battles between rival troops of chimpanzees that can accurately be called wars.

    Dr. Chance suggests that it is the human quest to find a quality which separates us from the rest of creation which really appears to set us apart. We are the only creature struggling to find its identity, the only creature asking, "How am I different from all the other creatures?" Beyond survival, eating, sleeping, mating and basic bodily maintenance, humans seek to knew their origin, the past, the universe around them and the future. Only we humans ask such questions and appear to have any interest in the answers.

    As far as everyday ethics are concerned, there are no morally relevant differences between humans ant the rest of animal kingdom. The one quality which distinguishes humans from other species appears to be spiritual: man's desire to find his place in the universe, his relationship with God. This is irrelevant as far as the oppression, enslavement, torment and annihilation of creatures like ourselves is concerned. If anything, the theistic position of "human dominion" remands that humans show greater justice and mercy towards animals. As far as suffering is concerned, the animals are our equals.

Chapter 4 - Rights

    Patrick Corbett, Professor of Philosophy at Sussex University, captured the spirit of the animal rights movement with these Words:

    "...we require now to extent the great principles of liberty, equality and fraternity over the lives of animals. Let animal slavery join human slavery in the graveyard of the past."

    Dr. Tom Regan, one of the intellectual leaders of the animal rights movement has often pointed out that the animal rights movement is a part of (rather than apart from) the human rights movement. The campaign for animal rights is secular social and moral progress. The crusade to abolish every kind of animal exploitation and cruelty -- including the use of animals for food -- can in no way be equated with religious "dietary laws," "sacred cows," or various forms of "ritual slaughter."

    The animal rights movement is comparable to the abolitionist movement that ended human slavery, the women's rights movement, the labor movement, and the various campaigns against poverty, racism, drunk driving, child abuse, rape and nuclear power. A number of the early American feminists, including Lucy Stone, Amelia Bloomer, Susan B. Anthony, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, were connected with the 19th century animal welfare movement. Together with Horace Greeley, the reforming, anti-slavery editor of The Tribune, they could meet to toast "women's rights and Vegetarianism."

    With the power of the religious right and a Republican Controlled Congress, has come concern in liberal circles for the separation of church and state. On the abortion issue, the Catholic Church has been accused of trying to impose its morality upon the rest of society. The animal rights movement, however, is a secular and nonsectarian campaign comparable to women's or civil rights.

    Religion has been wrong before. It has often been said that on issues such as women's rights and human slavery, religion impeded social and moral progress. The Church of the past never considered slavery to be a moral evil. The Protestant churches of Virginia, South Carolina, and other southern states, actually passed resolutions in favor of the human slave traffic.

    Human slavery was called "by Divine Appointment," "a Divine institution," "a moral relation," "God's institution," "not immoral, " but "founded in right." The slave trade was caller "legal," "licit," "in accordance with humane principles" and "the laws of revealed religion."

    New Testament verses calling for obedience and subservience on the part of slaves (Titus 2:9-10, Ephesians 6:5-9, Colossians 3:22-25, I Peter 2:18-25) and respect for the master (I Timothy 6:1-2, Ephesians 6:5-9) were often cited in order to justify human slavery. Many of Jesus' parables refer to human slaves. The Epistle to Philemon concerns a runaway slave returned to his master.

    In 1852 Josiah Priest wrote Bible Defense of Slavery. Others claimed blacks were subhuman. Buckner H. Payne, calling himself "Ariel, " wrote in 1867, "the tempter in the Garden of Eden was a beast, a talking beast...the negro." Ariel argued that since the negro was not part of Noah's family, he must have been a beast. Eight souls were saved on the ark, therefore, the negro must be a beast, and "consequently he has no soul to be saved."

    The status of animals in contemporary human society is not unlike that of human slaves in centuries past, Quoting Isaiah 61:1, Luke 4:18, II Corinthians 3:17 or any other biblical passages in favor of liberty, equality and an end to human slavery in the 19th century would have been met with the same response animal rights activists receive today if they quote Bible verses in favor of ethical vegetarianism and compassion towards animals.

    A growing number of (mostly politically left-liberal) Christian clergy, theologians and activists are beginning to take a stand in favor of animal rights. The teachings of the Reverend Andrew Linzey and Reverend Marc Wessels are especially significant in this regard. A 1988 statement issued by the World Council of Churches called for "The Liberation of all Life. "

    Many notable revolutionaries have come from powerful classes, radicalized by acute contradictions between the realities of class exploitation and whatever ideas of justice were harbored within their breasts. We humans, stratified, divided, and warring among ourselves, are nonetheless the indisputable ruling class of planet earth. In fighting for our own intra-human liberation, we have largely ignored or trivialized the oppression and violence perpetrated in our name--often in response to our direct and personal economic demand--against nonhuman animals.

    Seventy to one hundred million, including lost and abandoned pets, are quite literally injected, infected, mutilated, driven insane, strapped immobile for years on end, blinded, concussed, burned, mechanically raped, dismembered, disemboweled, mutilated, and otherwise violated--often without adequate anesthesia--in order to test shampoos, oven cleaners, make-up, and scientific hypotheses; to advance medical science or personal careers; to develop and test nuclear, biological, chemical, and conventional weapons; or for general scientific curiosity, and because public funding is available.

    Twenty million unwanted pets undergo euthanasia every year and countless others are abused by their owners. Spay-neuter clinics get little or no public funding, while the pet-breeding industry continues to enrich itself by pumping out living, disposable toys.

    Seventeen million wild fur-bearing animals (and twice as many "trash" animals) are mangles in steel jaw traps and 17 million more factory farmed, then gassed or electrocuted, that we may wear furs.

    170 million animals are hunted down and shot to death in their habitats, mostly for sport, often leaving their offspring to die of exposure or starvation.

    Industrial pollution, habitat destruction, and our transportation system kill and maim untold millions, while we kidnap and imprison others for our entertainment in zoos.

    Six billion animals are killed in America every year*; 95 percent of them are killed for food. We force-breed, cage, brand, castrate, and over-milk them, cut off their beaks, horns, and tails, pump them full of antibiotics and growth stimulants, steal their eggs, and kill and eat them.

    *(Ed. - USDA 2000 figures reported that nearly 10 billion animals were slaughtered for food.)

          "I have no doubt that it is part of the destiny of the human race in its gradual development to leave off the eating of animals, as surely as the savage tribes have left off eating each other when they came into contact with the more civilized."

        ---Henry David Thoreau

Chapter 5 - Physiology

    Humans differ completely from the naturally carnivorous species such as wolves or tigers. Carnivores have a very short digestive tract--three times the length of their bodies--to rapidly consume and excrete decaying flesh. Their urine is highly acidic and they possess hydrochloric stomach acid strong enough to dissolve muscle tissues and bones. Because they are night hunters who sleep during the day, carnivores don't sweat. They perspire through the tongue. Their jaws can only move up and down and their teeth are long and pointed, in order to cut through tendons and bones.

    The carnivores are quadrupeds with keen eyesight and sense of smell. They possess not only the necessary speed to overtake their prey but they also have sharp, retractable claws which enables them to pull their victims to the ground and hold them fast. The anatomy of natural omnivores, such as the bear or raccoon, is almost identical, except they possess a set of molars to chew the plant foods that they eat.

    Herbivorous creatures such as sheep and cattle have a digestive tract 30 times the length of their bodies; they have several stomachs, which allows them to break down cellulose--something humans are unable to do. This is why we can't graze or live on grass. The urine and saliva of the herbivores are alkaline, and their saliva contains ptyalin for the predigestion of starches. The frugivores (gorillas, chimpanzees and other primates) have intestinal tracts twelve times the length of the body, clawless hands and alkaline urine and saliva. Their diet is mostly vegetarian, occasionally supplemented with carrion, insects, etc...

    Flesh-eating animals lap water with their tongues, whereas vegetarian animals imbibe liquids by a suction process. Humans are classifies as primates and are thus frusivores possessing a set of completely herbivorous teeth. Proponents of the theory that humans should be classified as omnivores note that human beings do, in fact, possess a modified form of canine teeth. However, these so-called "canine teeth" are even more prominent in animals that traditionally never eat flesh, such as apes, camels, and the male musk deer. It must a so be noted that the shape, length and hardness of these so-called "canine teeth" can hardly be compared to those of true carnivorous animals. A principle factor in determining the hardness of teeth is the phosphate of magnesia content. Human teeth usually contain 1.5 percent phosphate of magnesia, whereas the teeth of carnivores are composed of really 5 percent of these substance. It is for this reason they are able to break through the bones of their prey, enabling them to reach the nutritious marrow.

    Linnaeus, who introduced binomial nomenclature (naming plants and animals according to their physical structure) wrote: "Man's structure, external and internal, compared with that of other animals shows that fruit and succulent vegetables constitute his natural food."

    The myth that humans are naturally a predator species remains popular. "The beast of prey is the highest form of active life," wrote Nazi philosopher Oswald Spengler in 1931. "It represents a mode of living which requires the extreme degree of the necessity of fighting, conquering, annihilating, and self-assertion. The human race ranks highly because it belongs to the class of beasts of prey. Therefore we find in man the tactics of life proper to a bold, cunning beast of prey. He lives engaged in aggression, killing, and annihilation. He wants to be master in as much as he exists."

    The fact that predators exist in the wild does not imply man must automatically imitate them. Cannibalism and rape also occur in nature. Robert Louis Stevenson. in his book In the South Seas, noted that there was little difference between the "civilized" Europeans and the "savages" of the Cannibal Islands. "We consume the carcasses of creatures with like appetites, passions, and organs as our own. We feed on babes, though not our own, and fill the slaughter-houses daily with screams of pain and fear."

    Moreover, the popular argument that it is "natural" for us to utilize murdered animals as a source of food does not (ecologically) justify factory farming and raising livestock as we know it today. It justifies hunting. The Native Americans, the Eskimo and other hurter-gatherer tribes have traditionally lived more in harmony with their environment than does modern man in urban civilization.

    Studies indicate flesh-eaters have less endurance than do vegetarians, while vegetarians have two to three times more stamina and recover five times more quickly from exhaustion. Most major forms of cancer, as well as heart disease, osteoporosis, kidney disease, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, hemorrhoids, diverticulosis, arthritis, obesity, gallstones and gallblauder disease are all preventable and treatable or a vegetarian diet.

Chapter 6 - Temperament

    The ill effects of alcohol, opium, morphine, nicotine, etc. upon individual users have been well-documented. The Federal Bureau of Investigation, for example, reports that some 60 to 75 percent of all violent crime is alcohol-related. Might there be a similar relationship between the consumption of animal flesh and human behavior?

    In a letter to a friend on the subject of vegetarianism, Albert Einstein wrote, "besides agreeing with your aims for aesthetic and moral reasons, it is my view that a vegetarian manner of living by its purely physical effect on the human temperament would most beneficially influence the lot of mankind."

    U Nu, the former Prime Minister of Burma, made a similar observation: "World peace, or any other kind of peace, depends greatly on the attitude of the mind. Vegetarianism can bring about the right mental attitude for holds forth a better way of life, which, if practiced universally, can lead to a better, more just, and more peaceful community of nations."

    According to Count Leo Tolstoy, "A vegetarian diet is the acid test of humanitarianism."

    "Who loves this terrible thing called war?" asked Isadora Duncan. "Probably the meat-eaters, having killed, feel the need to kill...The butcher with his broody apron incites bloodshed, murder. Why not? From cutting the throat of a young calf to cutting the throats of our brothers and sisters is but a step. While we ourselves are living graves of murdered animals, how can we expect any ideal conditions on the earth?"

    "I personally believe," wrote Isaac Bashevis Singer, "that as long as human beings will go on shedding the blood of animals, there will never be any peace. There is only one little step from killing animals to creating gas chambers a' la Hitler and concentration camps a' la Stalin--all such deeds are done in the name of 'social justice.' There will be no justice as long as man will stand with a knife or with a gun and destroy those who are weaker than he is."

    Acts of selfishness must be defended, disguised, rationalized and restructured to make them acceptable, even to oneself. In Passions and Constraints, van der Haag points out that before a people car be made to treat an enemy with cruelty, it is common to deny that the enemy is even human--the enemy must first be redefined as subhuman, bestial, scum.

    The way we treat animals is indicative of the way we treat our fellow humans. One Soviet study, published in Oqonvok, found that over 87% of a group of violent criminals has, as children, burned, hanged, or stabbed domestic animals. In our own country, a major study by Dr. Stephen Kellert of Yale University found that children who abuse animals have a much higher likelihood of becoming violent criminals.

    Studies of inmates in a number of U. S. prisons reveal the almost none of the convicts had a pet as a child. None of them had this opportunity to learn respect and care for another creature's life and to feel valuable in so doing.

    But these attitudes can be reversed, even in criminals. Heartwearming research has been done in which convicts nearing their release dates were allowed to have pet cats in their cells with them. The result? "Of the men who loved and cared for their cats, not a single one later failed as a free man to adjust to society." This in a penal system where over 70% of released convicts are expected to return to jail.

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