“The question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?”

9 04 2009

The above title is a response by philosopher Jeremy Bentham to Kant’s lack of interest in animal. Cited in Nicholas Kristof’s NYTimes Op-Ed column, “Humanity even for Nonhumans“, it raises the ethical issue that has always puzzled me. Not that I don’t think that animals can suffer, but what puzzles me more is the advocating of treating cattle well. Cattle, in the end, are raised to be killed. To me, it seems to be a contradiction to advocate both for the well treatment of cattle and the eating of meat… My humanitarian side does say, ‘Sure, it’s bad to torture even cattle needlessly’ but it does not seem to make rational sense.

I think it enlightening when Kristof quotes John Keynes to explain that there are trends in ideas that are accepted just because they are popular and the “in” thing.

“ideas, ‘both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed the world is ruled by little else.'”

Maybe I’m understanding the quote wrong, but ideas that become commonly accepted, or fashionable, also become powerful. And animal activism may fall under that grouping.

I’m not an animal hater. I have pets. But I resonate with Kristof when he says, “I eat meat.” And would even add, I love meat, for consumption. But I do want to understand the reasoning of animal rights activists, especially those of cattle. Anyone care to explain?

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21 responses

9 04 2009
tonEX

People want fair treatment for animals sometimes, not because they are looking out for the animals’ interest, but their own. For instance, did you know that pigs tdong twice as much as a human being in a year? Yet American capitalism allows hog farms to be built where they have 500+ hogs on land that is as small as possible in order to reduce costs. That places a risk on the community (and adds a nasty smell!) because lagoons need to be constructed in order to contain the waste and it razes the land. That kind of destruction can be prevented with sustainable farming. Check this out!

But then again, I love meat consumption too! :mrgreen:

13 09 2009
Simone

I think it’s more about respecting the food chain and the natural order of things (or at leas that’s the way i see it). Humans are omnivores. We eat meat. Many animals do. Yet very few of them will torture their meat in the process. The most effective carnivores will kill their prey within seconds. Humans are one of the few species who use clumsy techniques, such as electrocution (which don’t have a 100% success rate) to try and kill the animal before preparing it for consumption. Unfortunately this results in some animals, such as cattle, being conscious while their throats are slit open and their blood drained out. Ideally, it’s best if the slaughter is done as quick and painlessly as possible.

Don’t get me wrong, I eat meat too, but I’m an advocate for animal welfare and providing them with as good as quality of life as possible. I mean, we all die in the end anyway, but it seems a little better if we enjoy our lives, to a degree, before we go.

9 04 2014
Tim

If you eat meat, you are still an advocate for animal abuse and by no means an advocate for animal welfare. You are still prioritizing a 10 minute meal that you’ll forget about in a week over the life of a living creature that didn’t need to die so you could have a stupid hot dog.

14 09 2009
Paul Park

Thanks for the comment Simone. I understand what you are trying to say, but it still doesn’t explain the contradiction. If humans (yes, we die but never is it ok to kill humans) and animals are inherently different, and the fact that it’s not ok to kill humans and it’s ok to kill animals seems to somewhat attest to that, then the question still remains: why feel bad about the animal’s standard of living when we don’t feel bad about killing them to eat them?

14 09 2009
Rea Warrecker

What is our rationale for not ‘harming’ human beings? It is based on their ability to feel pain or “suffer” as Bentham puts it. If this is not immediately apparent, consider the case of an infant or mentally retarded person: they are not capable of rational thought and they can’t communicate the way other humans do, but they still have the right to live and it would be an abomination to harm them. Why? Is it because they are protected and loved by family members? No. I would argue that it is because they have the ability to experience pain and that gives them inalienable rights. Animals also experience pain, thus they should be granted the same rights. We extend these rights to cats and dogs because they are companion animals; however it is convenient to deny the same rights to animals we use for food. Intelligence is not a valid or logical basis for granting or denying rights to any living thing. In fact, our ‘superior’ intelligence burdens us with greater moral responsibility towards those that cannot protect their own rights. I know there are many ’emotional’ arguments and counter-arguments for this topic, but I truly feel that it comes down to logical deduction. The previous reasons are simple and they hold true; they just might be a bit inconvenient for the consciences of those who choose to eat meat.

15 09 2009
Paul Park

Thanks, Rea, for your comment. First, my comment to Simone was pointing out the inconsistency of our abhorrence of mistreatment of animals while we are unaffected by taking their life to eat them. As for ‘harming’ humans, it cannot be that pain is our measure of right to a non-violent standard of living. It would turn us all into Buddhists, since stepping on an ant would violate this standard. There is a distinction between humans and animals and the reason cannot be pain (nor superior intellect). Though you say it must be based on logical deduction. Your argument has many inconsistencies as I have just mentioned one (nervous system as standard). In order to be fulling consistent, the standard has to be outside of the object under consideration, whether animal or human.

18 09 2009
Rea Warrecker

Hi Paul,
It’s true; the majority of people are inconsistent in their treatment and views of animals, i.e., outrage over poor treatment of certain animals, but no problem ordering a cheeseburger at McDonald’s. This is largely due to a ‘disconnect’ in our culture between the process of farming and the food that ends up on the table. Meat is cleaned, cut and packaged in saran wrap – no evidence of the cattle prods, suffocating stalls, and slaughter (if you think ‘happy cows live in California’ just drive the I-5 past Harris Ranch). People don’t have to think about it – and they don’t WANT to. That’s why the animal rights/veg movement is still peripheral and considered an annoyance by many – they don’t want to hear the truth because it would force them to deal with a moral dilemma requiring lifestyle changes they aren’t willing to make.

If pain is not the yardstick, then what would you suggest? Don’t we aspire to “Do no harm?” I think this is our ultimate moral challenge. But it does not seem attainable because life is cannibalistic – life eats other life. Obviously to take a life is to cause harm to the being that lost its life. However, we can MINIMIZE the harm we cause in a million different ways and that is key. We can always ask ourselves if there is a more compassionate way to do something – this applies to ALL our choices as consumers – animal testing, factory farming, sweatshops, environmental concerns. As the saying goes, we vote with our pocketbooks.

I agree that there is a distinction between humans and animals, which is why I believe we are obligated to make compassionate choices. The scales are so far tipped in the wrong direction we shouldn’t have to question an opportunity to prevent harm.’ If we see an opportunity, we should just take it!

14 10 2009
Tracy

To suggest that an animal should live a life of pain and abuse because of it’s final fate at the slaughterhouse is, excuse me, rather asinine. Whether or not you think it moral, the condition of these animals is unnatural and, therefore, they require a regular diet of antibiotics to prevent rampant diseases within their communities. They are fed and live in excrement. They are pumped full of growth hormones to produce a full grown animal in a shorter amount of time for greater profit. You take in all of these things when you consume the animal.

It befuddles me that Americans are not enraged to learn that the food industry, backed by the government, is producing engineered, nutrient-lacking produce, meat and dairy so they can profit financially. The sickest and worst quality meat products are fed to our children in school lunchrooms. Is it any wonder that childhood diseases are on the rise? We’re all medicated and spending umpteen hundreds of dollars on doctor visits when what we really need is healthy food.

You are what you eat, so you’d better know what you’re eating.

8 12 2011
Paul Park

Hi Tracy, this is a long overdue reply. I agree, from an emotional standpoint, that animals should be treated well, weather or not for reasons of their nutritional content. But you say it’s unnatural which assumes morality. My question is why not find a paradigm (a consistent one) that fits decent treatment of animals but not going overboard to think it the most important issue in the world.

14 11 2009
jo bojangles

There’s something morally objectionable about objectifying a living creature so much that it becomes okay to raise it exclusively for the purposes of slaughter and consumption. Pigs are (arguably) more intelligent than dogs, but most people would be outraged if we raised our pets for the same purpose as we raise pigs. Why? I guess because they’re more cuddly.

I eat meat. I enjoy meat. But the slaughter house industry disgusts me.

8 12 2011
Paul Park

Bojangles, I think you raise an interesting point about cuddly being a standard for good treatment.

17 11 2009
Alexia

I have very randomly come across this page but have become engrossed in the above discussion.

Paul, I feel it a real shame that you cannot see the distinction between life and death of say cattle raised for food. You mentioned yourself its ‘bad to torture cattle needlessly’…well why dismiss this instinctive thought just because you feel it contradictory to the fact that the animal will be slaughtered? The fate of the animal should not affect its intrinsic value, it will spend more of its life alive than it will being slaughtered. Would you say that a terminally ill human should be left to suffer and not be given any pain meds because they’re just going to die anyway? Or even extend that to a healthy human, were all going to die so why does it matter if we suffer unnecessarily? Cattle have just as much ability to feel pain as humans…any decent scientist will tell you that.
I think its important to remember that humans aren’t the only animals who kill for food…it is the cycle of life for most species and whilst it is wrong for humans to kill humans you also generally don’t see other species killing their own for food (with some exceptions of course). When animals hunt in the wild it is usually quick and efficient and whilst the intention is not to minimise the pain of the prey the difference between humans and non humans is that we have the compassion to minimise the suffering of the animals we eat especially because we keep them in captivity.

It is impossible to be absolute in such issues, you mentioned stepping on an ant…well of course that would probably be unintentional and you can hardly compare the ability to suffer and cognitive capacities of an ant to a cow. In truth it is usually a cost- benefit analysis. If we are using animals for their instrumental value i.e breeding them for food then we must in return show them respect for this for instance by ensuring the highest possible welfare standards. Is it that you do not want to accept that we should treat livestock animals such as cattle with this respect because you would then feel obliged to become a vegetarian?

Unfortunately conventional farming techniques are so intensive nowadays that were not only massively harming livestock but we’ve also reached a dead end whereby it is not longer a sustainable way to raise animals for food. Organic techniques (in Europe) are implementing their way into conventional systems not only because they recognise overdue higher welfare standards but because they also provide us with a future where we can continue to eat meat responsibly.

31 01 2010
Klod

A year ago I went vegetarian because I am concerned and disturbed by the practices of industrial farming. However, when I visit other countries where animals are raised in natural wild habitats without drugs and feed on organic vegetation I don’t feel the same inclination not to eat meat. I understand that you are puzzled Paul at the paradox of showing concern for an animal then seemingly withdrawing that concern by eating it. I can tell you that intuitively for me there is a difference between what I call a ‘happy’ cow and a miserable diseased product of industrial farming. I think the quality of life of the animal matters. It matters that it lives the full biological potential of its life. That it is able to roam freely in the wild, consume organic vegetation, socialize with other animals, reproduce naturally with a mate of its choosing, take care of its young, have the occasional territorial conquest with other alpha males or females. For the animals that we eat the biological potential also includes predation; in this case us. At some point the animal would or could meet this end. However, I think we overconsume meat. This contributes to mass slaughtering and maltreatment of animals that does not seem natural or right to me.
A lot of other problems stem from this overcomsumption. 25% of the world’s resources are currently being used to meet this demand, the farming of animals. Only 5% is used for raising vegetation outside of that fed to animals in farms. If we reduced our meat consumption by half-which could very easily be done I think-we would be saving at least 10% of our resources from that one change alone. Let’s grow back some of our vanished forrests, which will improve biodiversity etc. etc.
There is no biological need to eat meat everyday or as some do ..at every meal! It is not healthy in fact to do so and I would recommend that you read John Robbins’ Healthy at 100 if you want to know more about why. Overconsumption has lead to greater demand which has lead to some of the farming practices mentioned above that are just abominable.
Further, there is a problem with producing food with the primary motivation of profit. The problem is not unique to meat production. Some environmentalists have explained that ‘improving the pump does not improve the well’. Some of the vegetation we grow in north america is grown on depleted soils. This means that our foods, though they may look good due to technological feats that serve that end, do not have the nutritional value that they should have. Sometimes we are able to detect this with our tastebuds.. pretty apples that are tasteless, perhaps. Some of us have gotten so used to tasteless produce we can hardly tell the difference until we taste say a tomato in Greece and wonder in amazement. The consequences of this will no doubt be felt down the road. Thank God for advanced medicine and pharmaceuticals that will keep pumping out those drugs. They might never come to the cause of it but they will treat the symptoms as they see them.

I think it’s the “in” thing to keep yourself informed about what you are eating and to arrive at an educated, well-considered conclusion that will help you and the earth be healthy and happy.

3 12 2010
spiderman

I feel the same. The animal activism you are refering to are those done by these large animal welfare groups or the new welfarist groups who claim themselves as “animal rights” group, well they are not. I see no sense and logic in treating a cow “humanely” when you are anyway going to slaughter that cow. To me, it’s like advocating “humane” rape or “humane” slavery. Anyways, you might find your answers here in this interesting article => http://www.abolitionistapproach.com/mary-bale-michael-vick-and-moral-schizophrenia/

=> Who’s the animal exploiter? this is an audio file, very interesting interview http://www.abolitionistapproach.com/media/mp3/vegan-freak-20090723.mp3

8 04 2011
Merlin

Clearly there is some logical inconsistency in caring for creatures that we plan to kill. I believe this is one of the times that inconsistency is better than consistency. What I mean is that it is better that we try to provide a decent life to creatures we plan to kill than, in order to preserve our ‘intellectual consistency’, we decide that their suffering does not deserve our attention.

8 12 2011
Paul Park

Hi Merlin, I agree with you that it is better to give attention to ‘animal suffering’ but if we are to throw out inconsistency or pick and choose what we can be consistent about, how are we to determine a consistent standard for what suffering even is?

22 06 2011
The Rise of Humanitarianism « Paul's Mental Meanderings

[…] It is not hard to see that there has been and is still a rising trend towards humanitarianism becoming the “in” thing. Tolerance has been a revered ‘virtue’ of the postmoderns, though its philosophical grounding of ‘relative truth’ has long been disproved, the sentiments of tolerance linger on. Many young people are looking to be a part of non-profit organizations, joining an NGO seems more virtuous than attaining joining the CIA, and more and more businesses are using donation to charity as a way of advertising their commercial products (i.e. donating part of the purchase cost to charity). Even the most visited post on this blog is, to my surprise, the one concerning animal cruelty. […]

11 01 2012
B.K.

It’s really quite simple: They suffer incredibly under the conditions of factory farming beyond anything you or I could tolerate without going insane. I’m sure they go insane as well. They are unable to ever turn around during their lives. Why would you ever want or allow that for anyone? These animals have to suffer and endure all this for no pay or leisure. It’s stealing plain and simple, just like slavery. Animal rights people are are trying to be their voice. You have to consider what it does to a nation of compassionate people who know this torture is going on and we as humans suffer greatly with this knowledge. Children especially I do not want my children growing up in a society that treats animals without respect and dignity.

I am 45 year old female who has been vegetarian 26 yrs, vegan most of that time on and off and now vegan for 3 solid years. I am also trained in MMA fighting and a model. You don’t need animal products to be healthy. Quite the contrary. You will be much healthier without it. So ask yourself, why make anyone suffer excruciating pain, fear and loneliness in the confines of a concrete and metal cage for years just so you can have a one meal that is done and gone in a few minutes? It is extremely selfish.

24 07 2013
Toran

The problem/paradigm you are all confined too is you see animals and humans a separate/different and do not realize that in fact, (we) are all individual beings, (we) are not species, groups, or races. (We) are all earthlings, which makes us all the same.
A question I often ask is, when will humans begin to use the intellect we have been so gifted with? Humans kill and destroy and for some strange reason we call this progress regardless of the collateral damage. (We) are all apart of the bigger picture, humans, animals, plants and microorganisms as well. That is what you need to focus on, not the pseudo cravings of your belly. We have to stop pretending that humans still some how fit in with the natural world as we have for the most part removed ourselves from it, nothing about human life is natural at least not in the westernized parts of the world. So comparing a lion taking down it’s dinner as being far more violent than our shameful, wasteful concentration camps is just silly banter. Wild carnivorous animals take what is necessary to survive they do not, farm, hoard, modify, or cause prolonged suffering. Simply what is sufficient to sustain life, humans on the other hand have a very opposite approach as pointed out. So if you are really looking for the defining the differences between humans and animals I will save you the trouble. The difference is animals are capable living in harmony with the natural world around them and humans are NOT!

25 07 2013
Paul P

Thanks for the comment, Toran. I think you offer an interesting point of view. But two things I’d like to point out is that one, you are also proposing a different paradigm so you too are ‘confined’ in that sense. Second, that the paradigm to see that we are all earthlings is NOT “in fact”, but an assumption in need of support. And your following description actually shows the difference (humans negative while other animals positively, but difference nonetheless) rather than showing that we are all the same.

But again thanks for reading and commenting!

27 08 2016
JC

Just because one eats an animal does not mean one should endorse the suffering and torture of that animal while it lives.

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