Animal Rights Zone

Fighting for animal liberation and an end to speciesism

We Eat Meat Because We Can ~ Tim Gier

From Tim's blog ~

At the beginning of the last segment of a four part YouTube video of an interview with Animal Rights
Philosopher Tom Regan originally shown on Irish TV, a member of the
audience said this: “We eat meat because we can” and “We’re at the top
of the food chain” and “As a species we instinctively like to eat meat.
Kids, instinctively like to snack on a burger or whatever” and “Don’t
try to put into some sort of philosophical thing because Nietzsche
will…say exactly the opposite of what you’re saying.”

The speaker was intelligent and articulate, and though it is tempting to write him off as ill-informed or ill-intentioned, that would be a mistake. According to various poll data, 97% of the US
population in neither vegetarian nor vegan. It cannot be true that
most, or even many, omnivores are boorish barbarians – most of them
(you?) must be thoughtful well-meaning people. Rather than dismiss
these sentiments, we must engage them.

“We eat meat because we can”

Well, that is certainly true, but does it make it right? Do we do everything we are able to do, and does the mere doing of it make it right? As a parent, I had the ability to force my children to scrub the
bathroom floors with toothbrushes – who would have known and who could
have stopped me? As an employer, I could have lied to my commissioned
sales people about the profits the company was earning, cheating them
out of part of their income – they had no real way to know whether I
was or not. As a country, the US has the military power to destroy just
about any civil government on the planet, creating as many failed
states such as it did in Iraq as it chooses – is there a power on the
globe strong enough to stop it?

Is there any difference between these examples and the contention that we can slaughter the other animals of the world at will because we are able? There is not. Power, when wielded arbitrarily, without
respect for the rights of others is despotism and violence. It is not
justice and it is never right.

“We’re at the top of the food chain”

What is the food chain, and what would it mean to be on top of it? Is the food chain an unbroken series of links, from microscopic organisms at the bottom, to human animals at the top? If so, does that
mean that we ought to be eating elephants, whales, Pekinese puppies,
and anything else that suits our fancy? Does it mean that if we find
ourselves in the company of a hungry pride of lions that we must accept
our fate as their food, given that in those circumstances, the
advantage is to the cats? Does it mean that because of our intellect,
because we have developed the technologies to subjugate almost all of
creation, that we are justified in doing so? Isn’t that just a
restatement of the fallacious “Might makes right”?

It is convenient that we as a species get to define what the food chain is and who gets to sit atop it. But it is an artificial construction, one without a basis in actuality. For instance, from the
viewpoint of the Ebola virus,
the chain, and our place on it, probably appear somewhat differently.
In reality, there is no chain; there is an ecosystem of which we are
but one small part. We owe it to the whole system to respect the rest
of the parts.

Roger Yates has two podcasts that deal specifically with the religious and philosophical ideas behind the “top of the food chain” argument that
you can listen to here and here. (It was in the first of these two that Roger linked to the Tom Regan YouTube as well.)

“As a species we instinctively like to eat meat. Kids, instinctively like to snack on a burger or whatever”

As a species, we are instinctively territorial and prejudicial. We are also cooperative and altruistic. In terms of biological evolution, we are descended from fruit and nut eaters, but we also benefited from
consuming meat in our evolutionary past. What does any of this have to
do with how we act today? Well, “Nothing” is the answer. But, what the
speaker really means to say, I think, is that we evolved to eat meat,
therefore we should eat meat. But that is wrong as well.

Suppose that two million years ago our small brained ancestors happened upon the eating of fish which enabled or hastened the eventual species-wide growth of their brains. Does that mean that we now must
either continue to eat fish or watch as our brains shrink again? Of
course not. For example, we also evolved opposable thumbs, just like
many of our primate relatives, as the result of a variety of complex
forces and interactions over millions of years. Now that we no longer
swing from trees, or root out termites from dirt mounds, we are not in
danger of losing our ability to grasp things in our hands.

Biological changes occur as a result of random mutations within populations in response to environmental pressures over time. Eating fish may have facilitated the growth of mutated big brains, but for our
brains to shrink once again, there would have to be environmental
pressures that disfavor big brains, and many people, over perhaps
thousands of years or more would have to somehow mutate smaller brains
in response to those pressures. Moreover, it is perfectly logical that
the same things that once benefited our evolutionary success might now
hinder it. Eating animal proteins may have helped small brains get
bigger, but they may be causing damage in our newer, bigger brains.

As far as children go, they will eat what their parents eat, whether it be burgers, fish eyes, grasshoppers or tofu. In any case, when it comes to what instincts are and how they affect animal behaviors, it
remains an open question.

“Don’t try to put into some sort of philosophical thing because Nietzsche will…say exactly the opposite of what you’re saying.”

This final comment is the most irksome to me. What the speaker is saying is that Regan cannot be right because someone else in a position of authority might disagree with him. As I wrote in a Facebook note yesterday:

Either it is immoral to use other sentient beings as property and things, or it is not immoral to do so. Whether everyone agrees about it makes no difference. I don’t accept Moral Relativism or
majority rule when it comes to ethics.

For example, just because I might disagree with my neighbor, and contend that my stealing of his car is actually not wrong, I would still be obligated not to steal it. And just because a dwindling
majority of people still think that homosexuality is immoral doesn’t
mean that it actually is.

I don’t know what Nietzsche particularly had to say about the rights of other animals and given that he died, insane, over 100 years ago, I don’t know that any of his thoughts are relevant to us here, today. The
truth is, lots of smart people can be, and often are, wrong about
things. It matters not at all to me how many philosophers one can line
up on either side of an issue. What matters to me are the merits of the
arguments, not by whom, or by how many, those arguments are made. One
person, without position or power, alone and crying in the wilderness,
can still be speaking with the voice of reason, and can still be right.
That is the voice we should be seeking out and listening to.

I think that when we calm the noises in our heads and hearts, and listen closely to the truths that we all know are self-evident, we can hear that voice within ourselves. I think you know it too. You already
accept that many other animals deserve to live. You may love a dog or
cat as a member of your family. You may anguish over the terrible
pictures of oil-soaked birds in the Gulf of Mexico. You may recoil in
horror or sadness at the videos of dolphin and whale hunting off the
coast of Japan. You already know that at least some of the other
animals of the world deserve our respect. Why not extend that respect
to every one of them?

Please think seriously about how you use other animals – for food, for entertainment, for clothing, for whatever purpose – and ask yourself if you really have any good and compelling reasons to do so.

All sentient beings share basic characteristics. We all are alive. We all know that we are alive. We all act in ways to keep ourselves alive. We all deserve to live. It is our right; it is the right of all
of us.

Go vegan. It’s better for you, it’s better for the world around you and most importantly, it’s the morally right thing to do.

Please read Prof. Gary Francione’s important work about the rights of other animals here.

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