Wednesday, August 14, 2013

All animals are created equal. Humans are special?

It was a realization, yet again, that if I didn't read and think, then I will have no problems.

Yesterday, I walked around my home with a broom to clear away the cobwebs and knock those spiders off.  I hate killing them and, thus, merely sweep them away, fully knowing that they will come back and spin more webs.

For years, my neighbor has suggested that I spray chemicals that will nuke them, which is what he does.  But, I don't ever see a need for it.  It is a live and let live contract that I have with these critters.  I have my space and they can have theirs.  If they wander into my home, well, that is their death wish!

Like most people, I have a tough time dealing with the question of how much I ought to respect other life forms.  If my relationship with spiders is this complicated, then one can imagine, or read about, how uneasy I get whenever I venture outside my mostly vegetarian lifestyle.

My point of departure is a simple one--this world does not exist merely for me.  Not merely for humans to do whatever they want.  We are one of the forms of life.  Perhaps one of the smartest ones around.

On this, I overlay my atheistic framework--we are all made from cosmic dust.

Establishing these starting points is the easiest task.  The tough challenge is not to think about these issues, or read about them.  But, I did!
Depending on whom you ask, Western monotheistic religions, while seeing humankind as God’s special creation, ranged in attitude from passive disaffection to active malice towards animals. Christian doctrine has practically no injunctions against treating animals as a means to human ends, so no sin is committed when mistreating or killing animals. Rather, animals were declared vastly inferior, incapable of possessing souls, and created for the use of humans, who stood right below the angels. And so Western monotheisms have long seen animals as dispensable for human interests, desires, and whims. (This is also true for the “Confucian zone” of East Asia.)
In the modern age, even secular humanism, with its nearly exclusive focus on humans, has shown little regard for the treatment of animals. “In the West,” writes Mary Midgley in Animals and Why They Matter (1998), “both the religious and the secular moral traditions have, till lately, scarcely attended to any non-human species.” With notable exceptions like Jacques Rousseau, Jeremy Bentham, Arthur Schopenhauer, and contemporary animal welfare organizations like the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), the dominant strands of Western culture have remained heavily invested in denying moral consideration to animals.
The dominant narrative is that we humans are somehow special and that we do not have to worry about those other creatures.  But, to me, who doesn't want to kill even spiders, despite them irritating me with their extensive cobwebs, denying animals their rights is no easy task.  Despite my atheistic framework in which life is merely a chance probability of matter combining in some unique ways and evolving over time thanks to a whole bunch of interesting mutations.
How can we confront our colossal indifference regarding animals? Clearly, most people don’t even know about the horror and pain we inflict on billions of birds and mammals in our meat factories. But there’s no good excuse for this, is there? It’s more likely that we don’t want to know—can’t afford to know for our own sake—so we turn a blind eye and trust the artifice of bucolic imagery on meat packaging.
Yep, the fact that these come in clean, sterile, packages, makes it immensely easy to forget that the chicken breast was once part of a living animal. It then helps me overlook the abuse that happens in the manner in which those animals are raised and slaughtered.  As I have noted here before, the in-your-face butchering in India is also why I am a vegetarian in India.
honest deliberation would require that we make our meat factories open to the public—give them glass walls, so to speak—even visit them with our kids, so they too can decide for themselves. That might be a step towards a clear conscience.
The essay provides a link to this 12-minute video, of which the wuss that I am I could barely reach the halfway mark!

It is not that I am a big time animal food consumer--I will be surprised if my consumption averaged even two pounds a month.  And that too is from free-range animals.  But, that does nothing to ease my conscience!

I really should stop reading and thinking to create a guilt-free existence!


Ramesh said...

Your first sentence is one of the rare pieces of nonsense I have encountered in your blog. You'll have lots of problems, my friend, if you did not read or think.

Yes, this is an issue you have talked about in the past. I am comfortable with each person making the right balance for himself. As for me, that's one of the reasons I am a vegetarian and the animals I will kill are those that will harm me. But I m not anybody to preach that point of view - its just mine and I'll respect anybody else's as long as they have thought about it and decided for themselves.

Sriram Khé said...

Yep, it is for an individual to decide, and I am not ready to go around preaching either ... but, I doubt that very many people seriously think about this issue before they decide. In fact, I would think that most people, especially in advanced countries like the US, do not even care to find out where that food comes from ...

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