Wednesday, October 19, 2022

The Selective Compassion of Speciesism

"Kids Can Be Cruel"

A vegan mum posted in a local mixed "vegetarian/vegan" group on Facebook about an uncomfortable incident at a party which she had just attended with her vegan youngsters. Apparently, other kids (including the host's own offspring) decided to make a game out of catching and killing frogs around a pond on the property. The vegan mum's children were horrified and expressed as much to her when they went to tell her what was happening. She then raised the issue with the host and the host vaguely re-directed his kids who, then, started catching and killing various insects. The vegan kids distanced themselves from what was happening and went off to play by themselves. When the non-vegan kids then went back to killing more frogs, the vegan mum simply packed up her youngsters and left. She shared her experience with the local mixed "vegetarian/vegan" discussion group, saying that she wished her kids had more vegan friends to avoid situations like these. 

On Purporting to Define Monsters (or Necessity)

Many immediately weighed in, myself included. The vegans were obviously horrified since part of being vegan means rejecting that it's in any way a big joke to treat other sentient beings as existing for our own amusement or pleasure. We don't want to be a part of any avoidable actions or processes which involve treating other beings as things -- never mind causing those beings harm or even taking their lives. We could all definitely feel empathy for these poor kids who ended up witnessing these acts. And if these others non-vegan kids were in any way deliberately trying to upset the vegan kids (and from the mom's story, it sounded as if some of them were well-aware of the vegan kids' discomfort), it does make it feel a bit more gross. That said, how many times have vegans witnessed adult non-vegans taunting vegans with pro-animal use comments and anecdotes, disturbing photos, memes, etc. on social media (and how often are they not just shrugged off, but often actively cheered on by other non-vegan adults on the sidelines)? 
Like grown-ups, kids can be jerks.

"Psychopaths!" was a term brought up by many in the discussion thread to describe the kids. "Monsters!" was another. Many pointed out that serial killers often start out as kids who engaged in behaviours involving cruelty to animals. Quite a few people who joined in the discussion condemning the actions opted to self-identify as non-vegans, singling out what had happened as "unacceptable" and insisting that their non-vegan kids would never have done anything similar:
"You don't have to be vegan to have compassion. There was no need for those kids to be killing those frogs!"

"I'm not a vegan, but I would never let my child kill another animal like that."

"My kids eat meat but would never do anything like cruel! Those kids were killing those frogs for fun! They were ENJOYING it! Their parents should be reported to the authorities!"

"This isn't a vegan issue! These kids are sick in the head!" 

I pointed out that living in a pretty overwhelmingly rural Canadian province means that a lot of the parents at that gathering probably indulge in hunting or fishing and find great joy in either of these acts, sometimes even bringing beer along to add to their fun. Furthermore, many parents get absolutely giddy about bringing their kids along with them to teach them the "thrill of the hunt" or to teach them how to catch and kill fish; the kids in turn often feel great delight at getting praise and approval from their parents. These kids end up more or less killing animals for pleasure, as well -- theirs, as well as their parents'. 
"It's not the same thing. Most of the people who hunt or fish do so because they need the food. At the very least, the meat is eaten or given to family and friends and it doesn't go to waste." 
So if the kids at the party had ended up cooking and eating the frogs, I asked, would it have made it more OK for them to have been killing the frogs? A non-vegan replied that it would have been "unnecessary" killing since "there was already food at the party". I pointed out that some people hunt and fish when their freezers are already full of food. A lot of people go out and purchase meat when their cupboards are already full of beans, grains, nuts and seeds and others foods and purchasing that meat is (following that line of thinking) unnecessary since there's "already food at the party" (or in the pantry, in this case). 

On Arbitrary Justifications

To call a killing unnecessary -- and thus wrong -- if whomever is killed doesn't end up eaten, but ethical if the being who ends up killed can be eaten (i.e. and not "wasted") just seems odd. And it's weird to discuss "waste" when already dealing with abundance. The fact that you can kill and eat a being doesn't mean that you need to kill or eat that being and the fact that you can doesn't mean that you should. At the end of the day, neither those frogs at the party, nor a fish caught with a hook, a deer shot with a gun, nor a pig stunned and slaughtered by a human ultimately cares whether or not he or she ends up -- or could end up -- in someone's belly. 

As for taking joy in killing other animals? If it's wrong (according to those non-vegan parents) for children to take pleasure in killing frogs, why should the joy children (and adult) humans obtain from hooking fish by their mouths or using other weapons to steal the life from another being be any different? And why should the joy or pleasure they experience from eating or otherwise using a being whose life was taken by another individual be any different? That life was still taken for their pleasure, even if the taking of it wasn't directly at their own hands. Some argue that people who fish or hunt don't want to see an animal suffer -- that they don't derive pleasure from that, yet how often do you hear people sharing their tales of favourite fishing outings were great and lengthy struggles are involved as the fish fights desperately for his or her freedom? Or the excitement they feel when the animal they're hunting realizes they're being followed and becomes anxious and fearful?

Compartmentalization is such a strange thing. When it comes to other animals, we work hard to convince ourselves that one of two very similar things isn't really what it is -- that it is somehow significantly different from the other -- until it eventually becomes so ingrained in us, we just never bother giving it another serious thought. We don't bother reexamining the reasons we tried to convince ourselves that it wasn't what it really is in the first place. Shooting a stray dog is wrong; shooting a deer is OK. Eating a cat is wrong; eating a pig is OK. 
So many of us take things like these as givens without asking whether they really make any sense. We don't stop to ask why. We just take it as a given because we think it's easier that way, when actually it takes what's really simple to most of us on some level or another and convolutes it. When someone decides to go vegan, it's usually in a moment of great clarity where someone finally gets it: A dog is a pig is a cat is a boy is a parakeet is a chicken. A member of one species shouldn't somehow deserve more than a member of another species just because we think it's our right to impose labels on them according to how we decided they're best used by us.

At least this is what vegans realize and what vegans desperately hope that their friends and family -- their neighbours and coworkers and acquaintances -- around them might eventually realize. We hope that they, too, might become aware of the cost of speciesism to those whose ability to live their lives on their own terms truly matters dearly to themselves and to recognize them as the sentient beings they are instead of continuing to view them as things existing for human use and pleasure.

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