At the risk of playing devil’s advocate here, another topic recently got me thinking along these lines. 100 years ago or more, most people were used to killing (or seeing killed) animals (livestock, varmints, predators) as a routine (and necessary) part of their daily lives. Viewing animals as subhuman was a natural way to not see themselves as evil for doing so. A side effect of that was that deeming certain groups of people as subhuman inherently justified abuse and killings (eugenics and racism) and they did not view themselves as evil or feel too upset by it.
Nowadays, very few of us routinely kill animals (other than insects) and we’d feel bad if we did. We also generally see eugenics and racism as evil. When people bring out the term ‘subhuman’, it is inherently tied to how we view animals, and to how comfortable we are with abusing or killing them. At those edges, our attitudes toward animals definitely affect our attitudes toward our fellow humans.
Another thought was that people back then spent a lot more time with animals, and relied and depended much more on them, including work horses and dogs, etc. It would seem reasonable that they would have had more respect for them. But by viewing them as a lower class only fit for (slave) workers, predators, or food, then it makes sense. And from a class standpoint, that lies on a continuum with the lower and middle classes of humanity, all of which might be seen as subhuman by the upper class. Viewed as a continuum like that, raising the floor of how animals are perceived and treated also raises the bar even for how the upper middle class is perceived and treated.
Interestingly enough, much of the negative Twitter response to these comments included pics of him with slaughtered animals, including this one from Mark Hamill:
True, though I’m not sure the causation runs in that direction. It seems more likely that we have more respect for animals now as a by-product of how we treat humans, or that both are caused by a third influence. In the latter case, if we take on the philosophy that most creatures feel pain, and that it’s bad to cause undue pain, we treat both animals and people better. In the former case, if we start treating all of the humans better, it removes justification for bad treatment of animals. If you’re comfortable abusing the lower classes or owning slaves, how are you possibly going to mind the suffering of something less intelligent, and that doesn’t even look like you? Once you start treating all humans as equals, it opens up the question of how moral it is to cause animal suffering.
Another potential third factor is scientific advancement. As time goes on, we’re less dependent on animals. For most first world nations, it’s fully possible to have a healthy vegan diet. It’s much harder to question the morality of killing animals for food when you actually need to do it in order to survive. That’s not the case anymore. We also don’t need to uses horses for transport or labor anymore, so we can question how ethical it is to force an animal to haul heavy things around. Likewise, it’s harder to keep an underclass as technology advances. Things like, say, the printing press made it possible to mass produce writing, which meant lower classes had access to books, and thus reason to learn to read. That allows for self education, which allows people to get all sorts of ideas the upper classes might not like.
Deep down, aren’t all threads the questions thread?
I have not seen any evidence that this is true.
Everyone I know personally that has gone “full vegan” has suffered health issues eventually - although a couple of them did make it work for at least a decade.
I do know people who have been on semi-vegetarian diets (that include unfertilized eggs and/or milk and/or fish) who have remained healthy and happy for an extremely long time, and their diets appear to suit them just fine.
Truly, most of us today are walking death incarnate, leaving obscene carnage in our wakes, but this is hidden by the mechanisms of our culture. Every time you fill up your gas tank you help kill humans, every time you drive down the street you kill countless insects and contribute to the cancer deaths of millions of mammals, every time you buy a corporate product you contribute to the coffers of warmongers and death merchants of the worst sort. You aren’t given very much choice in the matter, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t happening.
Some people cope by denying their essential identity with other living things, as you’ve said. I find this is much more prevalent in modern societies than in the past, though… in the past many peoples slaughtered far more lovingly and humanely than we do today, and some were worse than we are - but I don’t think there has ever been such a uniformity of detachment from our food sources as we have today. Almost nobody looks at a hamburger and immediately sees the sacrifices of cows and wheat.
Ivor Cutler, “Whale Badge”:
A young hiker with leather boots relieved herself in a ditch by a remote field.
It was a disaster.
She pulled up her jeans and strode off singing a folk song,
leaving millions of dying organisms unable to cope with the sudden change in the composition of their medium.
It was fortunate she never found out, for she cared deeply
And wore a “Save the Whale” badge.
‘The Thinker’ in it’s original context inside ‘The Gates of Hell’ is even more apropos.
I’ve never seen that!
You realize that even discussing how humans treat animals starts from the position of a false dichotomy? Many people know this intellectually, but also don’t truly integrate the knowledge that humans are indeed another kind of animal in the basic framing of their thoughts and actions in daily life. It is not some mere puerile abstraction, delusion about this can affect everything about how one relates to others, the planet, and life itself. Many in Euro/colonial culture have knowingly or otherwise internalized the religious notion that humans are somehow special and been divinely given some inept custody of all other living things.
Like with other forms of bigotry, the main obstacle to pointing it out to intelligent secular people who would seem to know better is that - not unlike knowing and acting in daily life to counter deep racism and sexism - acknowledging the injustice is simply inconvenient. “If we recognized this and acted upon it in daily life, we would need to change how we do everything!” Yes, that is true, it’s the whole point. That’s why changing how one lives once one knows better is always so difficult.
I suspect that if the OP was somebody reminding people of the pernicious reality of racism or sexism as it intersected with the main topic, it would have just gotten a quick high-five instead of being shunted off to the free-speech zone.
I hate to break it to you, but this is something that actually isn’t unique to western civilization or Eurocentric thinking. There are very few cultures in the world that don’t eat meat of some kind and at some point, not even all dharmic religious cultures are all vegetarian, even if some are. And note that coming back as an animal is often considered a kind of demotion and the result of bad kharma, moving away from buddhahood, not towards it.
I agree with you that we need to rethink our attitudes towards animals, especially regarding their capacity for things we imagine as being uniquely human. But that doesn’t negate our need to discuss human rights issues without it being derailed with discussions of animal rights. One doesn’t invalidate the other, honestly, but I do think that interjecting animal rights when ever human rights comes up does come off as a derail tactic. I have little doubt on your sincerity on this issue, but when you bring this up, it makes others feel like you’re not really interested in having a conversation about human rights and their role in the world.
I see the sacrifices of cows, and environment, and much else, that went into the meat (which is why I don’t eat factory meat). But yeah, less so those that went into the wheat, though I have wondered what sort of big-ag abuses resulted in it.
This topic was automatically closed 30 days after the last reply. New replies are no longer allowed.