COLUMN: Month of vegetarianism nixes hypocritical feelings Rob Switzer Issue date: 4/24/07 Section: Perspectives
I've engaged in an experiment in vegetarianism for the past month or so. I haven't touched meat and I don't think I'm going to again.
I've been sympathetic to vegetarian/vegan arguments for years, but like everyone else, I usually decided to ignore the issue, mostly on the grounds that I just really like meat. Or, I would justify it with the argument that animals just don't have the cognitive capacity that we do, and hence a similar capacity to suffer. But I don't buy that anymore. Other animals suffer and suffer very badly; anyone who's watched their pet die, or a pet watch a family member die (or even leave for the day) knows this.
For several reasons, I am not able to ignore the issue anymore. I like animals; I think raising them in factory farms and slaughtering them is wrong; I don't want to be a part of it anymore.
In my Darwinism and Philosophy class we've been discussing the ethical implications of Darwinism. Back in Darwin's day the philosophical consensus - advocated by the likes of St. Thomas Aquinas and Immanuel Kant - was that all non-human animals were automatons, with no consciousness and no capacity to suffer. We believed that all animals were created by God in their current state and that we were created separately, above and beyond animals, such that we aren't even animals at all, but somewhere between them and the angels ontologically.
Well, we now we know that all of that is utter rubbish. And we used to use those beliefs to justify vivisection (living dissection): the practice of cutting open animals like dogs to physiologically analyze their bodily systems while they were still fully operating. We would slash the vocal chords to silence the animal, certain in the fact that the animal wasn't really suffering because it didn't have a soul; certain that it only seemed to be suffering.
We don't do that anymore, and when you tell an average person about that practice, they are revolted. How could we do something like that to animals? But the thing is, what we do today to pigs, cattle and chickens isn't much different. When you tell them that and describe how they cut the tails off of pigs, the beaks off of chickens, or how they never allow veal calves to move so that their meat stays tender, their shock doesn't subside; they just prefer to pretend they never heard what you just told them.
I'm not judging anyone or telling them what to believe, but I want you to understand what I am thinking in doing this. I have no delusions about saving the world, but I don't want to feel like a hypocrite anymore.
I don't consider myself an "animal rights" advocate per se, because I don't really believe in "rights" at all. I don't believe in God so I don't believe in "natural law," hence I don't believe in divine, unwavering rights. I am something of a legal positivist, meaning that I think it only makes sense to talk about "laws" or "rights" when we're talking about the ones that we have made for ourselves.
What I do believe in is ethics and compassion, and that we should treat each like we would want ourselves to be treated. I think this should extend to other animals, since they so clearly have personalities, feelings and/or consciousness.
One happy surprise with this whole thing has been how empowering it feels. It feels great to turn down something that I have craved, and to do so righteously and without fail. And it feels great to know that I am separating myself from one of the most disgusting, powerful industries of the capitalist machine: the factory farm industry.
The simple fact is that I don't need meat. I can get all my nutrition elsewhere easily, so I'm going to do that. And I'm going to feel better for it. I already