“The question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but Can they suffer?” ~ Jeremy Bentham
Vis a Vis Viability, Homo Sapiens
You are viable. I am viable. We are all viable. We all want to be viable in the eyes of another.
Historically, this self-proclaimed viability paved the way to basic rights to life, happiness, and pursuit to that end, not to interfere with another viable person, etc. These ‘rights’ are a purely human construct as are the laws which protect them. They are crucial for tribes of Homo sapiens in the 21st century, numbers no longer in the hundreds but rather in the hundreds of millions of differing individuals. Order and mutual understanding goes a long way toward curbing the natural instinct to kill competition for resources.
Not every citizen individual was endowed these ‘rights’ straight away, and even today, superiority and oppression over others reigns elsewhere in the world. Informed consent is what separates the civilized from the uncivilized, the baseline for the eventual abolition of cannibalism, racism and — more recently — sexism. No one wants to be eaten or enslaved or raped or kidnapped by another. No one wants to endure pain or suffering or death.
With informed consent and laws to protect, it’s easy to mutter a ‘No, thank you,’ as you choose to be on your way. You are viable. Choice. In this way, you can reasonably predict that another human won’t take your life, your children’s lives, or perpetuate something objectionable upon you without your explicit consent as you plan your days with complete strangers intertwined within them. Prediction is key to living a good life.
It’s rather nice that way, don’t you think?
The same viability and informed consent is the keystone of embryonic ethics. Individuals with no voice for consent like the mentally incapacitated or the unborn or parent-less child are easily exploited by the more powerful. These laws are extended to protect them as well. Religious doctrine aside, it is scientifically and morally accepted that the human fetus’ brain enables him/her to feel pain (as with, say, an abortion) at some point during its development in-utero.
The current law interprets viability it to be around 20 weeks before birth.
Human? Dog? Cow? Who knows?
Photo Credit: Unknown
Isn’t it plausible that pain can be felt earlier, say, at 16 weeks? What about 7 weeks? If not at the point of conception when cells are merely splitting and being assigned to tissues, how about just as the brain is cranking up and neurons are firing to feeling limbs and muscles?
It seems as difficult as splitting a hair; no one can reasonably agree exactly when that magical moment is.
And that is why they fight.
Human Embryonics Agenda
‘Pro-life’ activists are careful to demonstrate what they’re for. They are concerned that any lapse in ethics will turn what are viable human embryos or fetuses into commodities in the lab (like we’ve done with other animals), harvested or used in nefarious ways, or at the least, that their little souls are snuffed out against God’s will.
They tirelessly advocate for the unborn child whom they declare:
- is not ‘property’ of the mother inside which he/she grows, but rather a full individual
- is viable at conception
- feels pain and can suffer greatly (as in curettage with no anesthesia)
- requires additional protections under the law, even from its own parents and especially from doctors or others
Pro-life advocates work to place obstacles in between pregnant women and their doctors, petitioning abortion clinics, and making the whole death-of-a-fetus generally difficult. They have fought all the way to the Supreme Court, the stairs of which they’ve sat for 40 some-odd years since Roe vs. Wade was decided.
Sure, they love embryos, but are they really pro-life? After all, feeling pain and suffering isn’t exclusive to human embryos.
Plus, it’s really hard to tell them apart.
Credit: Christian Milia
As animals, we enter the world on our first day from our mother’s womb or egg casings into a home atmosphere of air or water, we immediately feel pain and can suffer. As sentient beings with complex brains, we each share the same basic functions of that organ, evolved to propagate us into our futures on Earth. It’s how we have survived millennia in this world of eat-or-be-eaten.
Fish, mammals, birds, reptilians, amphibians — we are all animals. We share the basic tenets for life: procreation, avoiding death, feeling pain necessarily to avoid death. We are capable of suffering at the hands of another, but unlike plants, we are all endowed the means by which to escape that suffering, barring physical bondage. Some are better equipped at escape than others; a spindly human is hard-pressed to catch a deer with no gun, no spear, no snare.
With that clarification, it is necessary to include more individuals than just the unborn human child within ‘pro-life’ advocacy. Whether civilized or uncivilized, in the womb or out, black or white or brown skin, all animals’ lives are viable in their own eyes.
Life and pain is what connects us all — it’s the stuff of all animal Earthlings.
An Animal Lover’s Responsibility
Many upstanding moral individuals within the civilized human society call themselves animal lovers.
Generally speaking, defined ‘passion, copulation, or fondling’ is not necessarily applicable in this context. Likewise, ‘to thrive in’ pertains more to inanimate objects than living ones.
We’re left with love meaning:
- to hold dear
- to take pleasure in
It is generally understood an ‘animal lover‘ intends ‘to hold dear, ‘ as though she would a person. She might rescue or foster abandoned others, bring them into her home, even volunteer at a shelter to make an other’s life less miserable. She might assure that a suffered state ends in the most ‘humane’ way possible — without pain or drama, quickly, perhaps with anesthesia. She buys toys and special food treats for her animal companions who usually reciprocate, giving her pleasure — a different kind of ‘love’ — in return. The best of animal lovers will spend small personal fortunes to give animals the best life possible in human care, and neuter/spay to prevent sexual stress or to needlessly create more animals (who can suffer).
Animal lovers will tell you they care deeply about animals, even as they eat or consume them in some way, and they will validate their actions with their love.
What? No Puppies Or Kittens?
Photo credit: Instagram
How can this be? Exploitation begins with an acceptance to use another. In advocacy circles, it is agreed the best way to protect another is not to use him/her in the first place. Eating another large scale can only result exploitation of him/her. It’s kind of a rule.
So which is it? Do you exploit animals? Or do you love them?
Or perhaps you love some and exploit others (have others exploit for you) to make you feel better. However it is, you can be an animal lover or and animal exploiter, but not both. You get to pick only one.
Carnism, Speciesism = Sexism, Racism
Animal lovers who consume animal flesh would never do this of the those they protect and hold dear. Because of them, dogs and cats are fully off limits to food consumption or products (skin, milk) in America while they continue to be eaten all over the world. Though not equals to us, our pets are under protection of our laws. These self-proclaimed ‘animal lovers’ are really just pet lovers. The distinction must be made.
A pet lover could love a Ribeye steak and iced cream, but she doesn’t love her poodle in the same fashion. A bovine and her calf’s milk certainly tastes good, but a dog feels good, connected to her, like family. The line has been conveniently drawn to separate who is eaten and who is loved, who is cute (puppies, kitties) and who is disgusting or creepy (cockroaches, rats).
Senses are trained and wired in the brain by collective experience, including taste and feelings. We forget (or perhaps never even knew) that much of our brain circuitry is a constructed reality, entirely malleable and changeable. This ability to shut off empathy for one (say, a pig) and turn it on for another (a dog) has been trained into us by societal norms.
But your mind — and tastes and feelings in your mind — can be changed.
Credit: Melanie Joy, ‘Carnism’
Melanie Joy calls the current belief system of eating some and loving others ‘Carnism.’ It certainly explains the contradiction in behavior and words, conditioning over hundreds of years of civilization. As we use fossil fuels to exploit others more efficiency, carnism explodes uninterrupted, even as we also have more non-animal choices to eat than we ever did before.
In difficult times, carnism may have been the difference between our survival or not. Times have changed; defunct belief systems are slow to go.
You may not even fully realize the harm and betrayal that befalls another for your meal, but the fact is you directly caused the pain and suffering of another by your very consumption of it. Animals for food have become marketing commodity provided by a demand by us; for every purchase of a ‘product’ while living or not, there are people (farms, industry) who profit from it.
When we exploit another, the livelihood that enslaved individual cannot be considered in the process. Remember: non-humans have no rights under our laws, no informed consent. To hold a few animals dear while ignoring all the others is a form of speciesism that is both irrational and irreconcilable.
Sentient beings want to live a healthy, productive life, free of pain and suffering just as we do. Domesticated ‘farmed’ animals currently crowding out human populations and wild animals worldwide also want to live, even if they can’t say so. The only reason that they even exist is because we eat them — we create their very existence. If we ate each other at the same rate we ate the non-humans, our species would go extinct within a month.
And to think that animal flesh and the ‘products’ we take from them is not even necessary for survival. As a consenting, civilized species, we continue it entirely out of habit.
Animal lovers, pro-lifers, it’s time to get real. The only path for you is vegan, or find a different cause.
Erase the dividing line between species;
the only animal life that belongs to each of us is our own.
Be vegan. It’s that easy.
7 thoughts on “Advocacy And The ‘Love’ Of Others”
Thank you for this, Shannon. I greatly enjoyed the rabbi’s talk about fish love. It is true that what we refer to as “love” is self-love. Then again, it could be argued that self-love has preserved our species for as long as it has, and that this applies to every species. We think we are so different from other types of animals, but we’re not. The truth is that many of us love other species up until the point that they interfere with our self-love, and no farther. Cultural norms are, of course, critical, as you alluded to. Some of my family were chatting last night about how horrified they are that pedophilia is perfectly normal and accepted in many countries. I explained that this taboo is western, and does not apply in much of the world. Just like those in many places wouldn’t think of murdering cows for the hamburgers my family happened to be eating. I particularly like a saying of southern China: “We will eat anything with legs but a table, anything with wings but an airplane.” At least they’re honest.
I once had a friend who had six pigs in her home, all wonderful pets. I wonder if things might be different if many of us kept cows and pigs in our homes.
Great comment as usual, Uncle Guac. Aside from our ability to love (self or other), we are also instinctive animals. Killing is one of the strongest instincts for survival. Some are better evolved to curb that instinct successfully, others are not, it would seem.
I know people personally that ‘keep’ cows and pigs — they’re like family to them, I’m told. These people will betray their ‘loved ones’ with a bullet to the head unexpected. I can’t explain the love in that at all.
A treatise well thought out and presented. Indisputable. As a related item of interest, Fish Love.
‘Fish love.’ Great lesson there. Thank you for sharing.
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Incidentally, and speaking of fish, many (whom I know) are vegan in every way except that they eat fish (and only on Friday). There is some perception that fish cannot feel pain and aren’t considered sentient beings. Of course, we know nothing could be further from the truth.
Farms for the fish we eat are in many ways more destructive than that of the terrestrial animals. What we do to our oceans for ‘fish love…’
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Hello Shannon, Thank you most warmly for the well taken perspective on living in a society accustomed to ignoring the inconceivable pain that feeds a lifestyle. Those indistinguishable embryos should give pause in mid bite. The photograph of that open palm with an ambiguous object certainly took me by surprise.
Eating a dog repulses so many people — loving pets vs. loving animals. “Who would eat a *dog*? How can they do that? What kind of people do that?” — I’ve heard those questions innumerable times.
I’ve just started watching Melanie Joy’s Ted talk and am already speechless. Thanks for introducing me to Melanie!
And greetings to all DirtNKids 🙂
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Thank you for your comment, Bill. This post has been a long time coming. I am also plagued by the inconsistencies of my friends’ and family’s self-proclaimed compassion for others, others as it relates to only a handful of beings. If they won’t see the connection between us all, fine. Let them choose better words to describe themselves then. Cheers!
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