I read an excellent essay this afternoon by Angel Flinn, posted over on the (unfortunately mostly welfarist) Care2 forums. It's called "A Mouthful of Flesh", and in it, Flinn examines whether there is a meaningful ethical difference between eating a nonhuman animal such as a dog (or a cat, hamster or horse) and eating a nonhuman animal such as a pig (or a cow, chicken or deer). She writes:
Frankly, it's a little baffling trying to figure out what combination of factors puts certain animals off-limits to certain people. Rabbits are a case in point. We're horribly confused about rabbits – some of us shoot them, some of us pet them, some eat them and some enjoy watching dogs tear them apart, limb from limb. As a society, we don't seem to know what rabbits mean to us. Are they our pets, are they our prey… or are they, in fact, persons: individuals who exist for their own reasons?She considers how some claim that the difference lies in the fact that there are some nonhuman animals we welcome into our families--we insist that they matter more because we have come to "care about" or "love" them, and how that sort of language has now become what's more or less a creepy marketing tool for farmers pushing guilt-free "happy meat" (i.e. animals most humans customarily view as food and who are touted as having been raised under loving and cruelty-free conditions until they're slaughtered to be eaten). Flinn views this as yet another attempt by humans to justify "morally reprehensible" acts against nonhumans and she's right. It's the reactions immediately following her essay, however, that are most telling when it comes to illustrating the absolute moral confusion humans have concerning the use of nonhumans. I encourage fellow-vegans to read the piece and to go through the comments left in response to it and to even jump into the discussion itself. There is so much work to be done to fight speciesism.
Earlier today, though, it was another article online that got my attention and got me wondering about how thoroughly confused some humans are about nonhumans. In an opinion piece in USA Today yesterday called "Veterinarian Isn't Necessarily Synonymous with Vegetarian", veterinarian columnist and admitted welfarist (and Pollanite) Patty Khuly decided to explain why she feels that professionals who earn their money by bettering and saving the lives of some animals shouldn't be expected to not want to spend some of that profit on products that involve the suffering and slaughter of other animals. Khuly admits that "our human science convincingly demonstrates that animals do feel pain, fear and stress — presumably to the same degree we do" and that "animals are not so very different from us". She then takes issue with what she describes (and resents) as the following general implication:
The problem is that doing so brings us in uncomfortably close proximity to the suffering of animals we've pledged an oath to protect. So it is that when we buy the meat, milk and eggs like everyone else does, we get less of a moral pass when it comes to checkout time. We understand animals. So we should know better.To a certain extent, I agree with her that this is a non sequitur. After all, the fact that someone profits from enabling others' use of nonhuman animals in no way entails that those who are profiting are, in fact, motivated by anything other than profit (and we have seen this ad nauseum with prominent regulationist animal welfare organizations, for instance). Unfortunately, Khuly chooses to take it further to make an argument concerning herself and her fellow-veterinarians, that
[f]or some veterinarians, first-hand knowledge leads to veganism, vegetarianism, reduced animal protein consumption or a highly selective diet of home-grown or non-factory-farmed animal products. And while all such variations are geared toward an animal welfare position that's defined by how animals are used or how they're treated should they be used, not a one includes an insect-sweeping observance of animal life preservation wherever possible. We all impose limits … somewhere.Not a one, Patty? It becomes obvious that this was a lead-in to justify what follows as her description of her own lifestyle, in which she raises chickens and goats for personal consumption and "cherish[es] [her] leather" shoes. It's in her final paragraph, however, that she almost petulantly expresses what I think are the bonafide gist and raison d'être of her article:
In short, I'm not perfect. None of us should be. We're only human. Now, if only the naysayers could begin to accept that individual moral progress is far preferable to a slavish adherence to any one particular animal rights dogma … then perhaps veterinarians could catch a break every once in a while when the dinner bell rings.I can't help but find such animosity towards the very idea of animal rights a bit disturbing from a woman who just earlier in her article was insisting that "animals do feel pain, fear and stress — presumably to the same degree we do" and are "not so very different from us"--even worse, that she'd hold this much animosity after she'd insisted that those such as herself "who devote [their] careers to finding ways to diminish animal stress and alleviate their suffering are more keenly aware of it than most". What's not surprising, however, is that an animal exploitation industry funded group such as the Center for Consumer Freedom would have hopped on her pile of moral confusion to present it as some sort of evidence that it's not, in fact, hypocritical to supposedly "dedicate [one's] life to helping animals" while accepting one's place "in the food chain"--that caring and concern need not apply to what's on one's plate.
The only thing that seems clear from this entire ball of moral confusion is that there is an overwhelming need for those who do take the rights of nonhuman animals seriously to adopt veganism as a moral baseline and to address the use (and not merely the treatment) of animals by educating others about veganism. Clarity and consistency about this are the only things that are going to change people's mind in a significant enough way to end animal exploitation. Anything less is disengenuous.