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Are My Morals Better Than Yours?

Vegans are frequently met with non-vegans who claim we think we’re morally superior. I don’t recall ever telling someone I’m morally superior. But when I remove myself from the equation (tough to do, but stay with me) and I look at the decision, say, to shoot a cougar or a buck or not–and that neither the cougar nor the buck is lunging at me threatening my life, which he could end if he wanted to (and I doubt the buck would ever want to, but you get the idea), I’d say the choice to refrain from taking a life when there is no need to is a morally superior one. Is that outrageous of me?

In fact, I’d say that in any situation I can think of that a suburban writer would find herself in, such as the weekly, potentially-lethal trip (not lethal for me) to Whole Foods, when one is faced with: Should I or should I not end someone’s life or pay someone else (John Mackey’s people) to do it for me, the decision to purchase nutritious items that weren’t once sentient beings is morally superior than the decision to slaughter sentient beings or pay someone to do it for me. Is that outrageous, judgmental and extreme? (Potentially three different discussions there, I realize.)

The decision to refrain from dogfighting was really easy for most people: Michael Vick is morally inferior for committing such unspeakably heinous acts, right? But why? Because dogs hold a special place in our culture? Because we have decided that dogs are more worthy of our respect than chickens? And if so, where’s the morality in that? Isn’t that irrational? (I’ll remind myself that culture and tradition aren’t rational–no need to e-mail me.) The fact that dogfighting is a crime is irrelevant. The outrage didn’t come from the illegality of Vick’s activities; it came from the brutal nature of his activities with a species we have decided is deserving of special treatment.

But then I think: Hmmm, we love horses, right? Have you ever seen what happens to horses at a rodeo? And they’re treated the best of all rodeo animals. We do indeed treat animals we claim to hold dear rather abysmally (e.g., greyhound racing and horse racing).

I return to my original point. Can you not say that choosing not to use an animal for your entertainment and profit, when that individual would surely rather be living his or her natural life rather than the one you decide to create for him or her, is a choice that is morally superior than using that individual for your own purposes?

Finally, let’s say I have a belief that says pedophilia is morally wrong. And let’s say you’re a pedophile. Are you going to accuse me of thinking I’m morally superior and of judging you? Forget the fact that pedophilia is illegal. Or how about you cheat on your spouse and that’s not part of your marital arrangement. I don’t cheat because I think it’s wrong. Cheating isn’t illegal. Am I morally superior to you?

I’m just asking the questions. And some of the examples I have presented aren’t great analogies, so please don’t concentrate on them. The issue, regardless of the analogy, is: Is there such a thing as actions that, objectively, aren’t morally correct? Such as killing without necessity. Don’t say the actions must be viewed through the lens of the context of the culture, as culture shouldn’t have anything to do with morality. Culture is the word we use to describe things that have no good reason for existing: the word for holding something sacred today because you held it sacred yesterday.

Isn’t choosing not to kill morally superior than choosing to kill?

46 Comments Post a comment
  1. I think you're focusing on the wrong argument, Mary. There are many beings that you and I both agree that killing is okay, and others where we both agree it's not okay.

    You draw the line at sentience (or thereabouts; I don't think the precise definition is important for this discussion), so we agree that it's okay to kill plants, the various bugs, single-celled organisms, viruses, etc. I draw the line at human, so we agree that killing another human isn't okay (with specific rare exceptions, at least for myself).

    So our difference isn't that I think it's okay to kill and you don't; it's over where to draw the line between "okay" and "wrong."

    September 13, 2007
  2. emily #

    On the contrary I think that is exactly the right argument. 'Right' and 'wrong' are cultural beleifs so arguing about them between paradigms is almost completely pointless.

    'Necessary' is as objective as any non-noun is every likely to get. As an animal user I think I am obligated to argue that my use is necessary to me in some way, not just easy or fun (unless you want to argue cultural 'needs' but this tend to become circular).

    The only exception I can think of is where the animal gains a net benefit from the interaction, like wildlife rehabilitation or, depending on your perspective, pet keeping.

    September 13, 2007
  3. So, you never kill a bug unless it's necessary? Is it ever necessary to kill a bug?

    No, I still maintain that "need" is not the point of contention; it's how we regard animals and whether we place them above or below the "okay" line.

    September 13, 2007
  4. countertop #

    And hunting (or even eating meat, something we are biologically engineered to do) is now the same as pedophilia?? But I digress.

    The Michael Vick example is somewhat misplaced (as if the Pedophilia isn't) in that we ban dog fighting for a host of reasons – some cultural (we – a largely middle class suburban nation doesn't like to see animals brutally tortured which is a far far different situation than occurs when a hunter is in the woods or even a farmer is raising a pig or a cow or a chicken) but also racial (as you point out animals in rodeos or horse races aren't always treated well and the treatment during training at many (but not all) circuses is shocking – but we allow those activities to continue while we have another activity that is engaged in primarily by people of african or hispanic decent and we seek to stamp it out and ban it at all costs).

    As far as your question on moral correctness, consumption of protein and animal products is indeed a necessity and a vital part of the circle of life. I for one would argue there a greater moral imperative to wear leather goods rather than rely on the continued exploitation of fossil fuels (which, when you think about it are really nothing more than animal by products themselves) to produce clothing. And don't we have a moral imperative to help feed the world?? Population growth is going to occur, and we do a much better job at providing nutrition now, under modern agricultural conditions that we would ever do under a vegan – or even vegetarian – society.

    September 13, 2007
  5. Boyd:

    Need and a *relevant characteristic* for distinction are BOTH the point of contention. There are times when most of us (except the pure pacifists) agree it is necessary to kill a human, e.g. for survival or some other conflicting basic right. The point is that 99.9999% of our actual killings of sentient animals are unnecessary, i.e. not necessary for our basic rights to life, liberty, and to be left alone. That is a fact.

    You “draw the line” at humans, but you have NO *relevant characteristic* to base that on; it is completely arbitrary. It is as arbitrary as saying only white males should be educated. Why? Because they’re white males. But that’s not relevant to an interest in education. So what? They’re white males, and I draw the line at white males. That comical fallacious argument is precisely analogous to your fallacious argument that only humans should have a basic right to life and to be left alone (and not bred into existence).

    September 13, 2007
  6. emily #

    Need is at least potentially factual, i.e. need to survive, need to enjoy life, need to [some goal].
    The two issues are:

    1) when is killing murder (sentience)
    2) when is murder justified (necessity)

    Both important, but quite separate.

    September 13, 2007
  7. emily #

    p.s. even if we go the St Francis route and call animal-killing a 'small' murder, I think it needs to be necessary to be moral. Animals need not be equal to humans to be greater than plants.

    September 13, 2007
  8. Finally, we're getting around to the bone of contention.

    Why do you say I have "NO *relevant characteristic*" on which to base my personal, and humans in general, decision to draw the line at homo sapiens? You know that's not true. It's just that you reject the notion that there's any relevant difference between homo sapiens and any other animal species. I say the difference is self-evident:

    Please tell me about the morals of any other species, identifying the species and what their moral code is.

    September 13, 2007
  9. Countertop:

    Your comment is so “out there” in the Land of Ignorance that it is hardly worth responding to, but just for kicks, I will.

    First, we are more far more “biologically engineered” for pedophilia than hunting. We have sexual organs (which is all one needs for pedophilia). We don’t *naturally* have ANYTHING that makes us good hunters (we’re very slow, very soft, have very blunt teeth, and extremely weak for our body weight compared to other species). Indeed, we are far more comparable to a jellyfish than a cougar.

    Michael Vick is a paradigm example of our moral schizophrenia when it comes to our treatment of nonhumans. We treat pigs, chickens, and cows *worse*, and in most cases *much worse* than Vick treated dogs. The only difference between Michael Vick and 99% of the US population is the respective pleasures we take in the torture and killing. For Vick, it’s the blood and violence itself. For the rest of us, it’s that we like the taste and are in the habit, and those are the ONLY reasons.

    We don’t need meat or animal products and more than we need a six pack of beer every night. Mainstream dietitians are telling us that our meat, egg, and dairy consumption are killing us in the quantities we consume them. They are also telling us that well-balanced vegan diets are optimal for our health.

    Our meat consumption is an environmental disaster, polluting the air with excessive carbon (methane) and water with millions of tons of bowel waste, killing fish by the millions. Cows and pigs use up 10 times more protein in raising them for slaughter as they yield in protein after slaughter, making them the most inefficient way to feed the world.

    September 13, 2007
  10. Boyd:

    Rationality, including the ability to behave morally, is completely irrelevant for moral consideration. There are many (millions) of humans who are NOT rational and cannot behave morally, e.g. infants, the senile, the mentally disabled, and the mentally ill. They, and nonhumans, are what we call “moral patients”. Moral patients are beings who are incapable of moral reciprocation, but can benefit or be harmed immensely from a moral agent’s moral decisions.

    If rationality and moral agency are requirements for moral personhood and serious consideration, then we’ve just eliminated millions of humans from the moral circle. Sorry, but rationality and moral agency are as arbitrary as being a white male is arbitrary for an interest in education.

    To sum up: 1) Moral agency is irrelevant and arbitrary. 2) Even if you were to insist on reciprocity, you would necessarily exclude millions of humans from the moral circle.

    September 13, 2007
  11. Instead of the capacity of the individual for moral behavior, the issue for me is the the capacity of *humans* for moral behavior. They're (we're) part of the club. Beasts aren't.

    Just because you don't accept my rationale for where I draw the line doesn't mean I don't *have* a rationale.

    September 13, 2007
  12. The point is not whether I personally accept “your rationale” or not. The point is whether the reasons you give are adequate to rationally and consistently support “your rationale”. If arbitrary “rationale” for distinguishing “in groups” from “out groups” is acceptable, then it is acceptable for all arbitrary “rationale.” If we accept “your rationale”, we are committed to the approval of similar arbitrary lines, such as racism, sexism, and even ethnic cleansing, because we’ve said that it’s okay to be arbitrary and pick our personal favorite groups and exclude other groups.

    IOW, Boyd, you’ve “justified” the Holocaust and many other atrocities, if we are to accept “your rationale.” Many tyrants have used "your rationale."

    September 13, 2007
  13. emily #

    To put it more simply: why is it okay to kill individuals that lack a moral code?

    Does being ammoral mean one one life is without value, one is unable to suffer, or deserves to die? Various arguments of this type have been made but they seem rather shakey to me in that even ammoral individualks (human or otherwise) seem to enjoy their lives, be able to leave constructive lives, and try to avoid death.

    p.s. yes, moral codes can be distinguished in animals… e.g. a male primate who tried to fend of an attack by picking up an infant was thrown out of his family by the females. Animals have social roles with duties. etc.

    September 13, 2007
  14. Ron Kearns #

    Dr. Mary Martin, your writing skills are excellent as are those of a kindred blogger, Deb; something very positive to say collectively about animal rights persons in general from my readings of your and others’ articles. I fully support and respect your lifestyles and I would welcome more people to espouse your concepts of animal rights. I will have some responses to your writings but I will attempt to keep my known-for verbosities at bay, to some extent.

    To those who may not know, I am the outraged guy who provided the dead collared cougar photo to anyone who would post it and asked others to forward it far and wide. I have hunted, I have shot burros, legally of course, I have been responsible for deaths of many legally harvestable wildlife species as a big game guide/hunter’s horse wrangler, cook, gopher, wilderness latrine digger/cover-upper, atta-boy for helping me find and bag that ram, etc. As a wildlife biologist I located animals during surveys and gave the locations to hunters, some of whom went to the area and bagged their game based on my direct information. During my duties as a federal game warden I weighted the lifeless bodies of many wildlife species, measured the horns of trophy bighorn and the antlers of mule deer, and took other biological and wildlife management data to determine hunt permit numbers. As a senior veterinary animal specialist in the US Army, I injected animals with lethal doses of the drug Succinylcholine Chloride when that was required and assisted in other euthanasia of many varied species of laboratory animals using accepted veterinary techniques every one of you would find horrific.

    I do not eat meat, but I drink large quantities of milk, I eat eggs, and I use leather from domesticated animals. Could I ever become a vegan? Yes, if environmental or human overpopulation pressures required that change or if my philosophy of life changed. I worked on a dairy farm where I milked 200 head of a mixture of Holstein, Jersey, and Guernsey cows twice a day. I raised many species of domesticated animals for eventual slaughter. I also trained Super Dogs while in the military and worked in the whelping area where I assisted many a young, soon-to-be, Super Dog to life and assisted life after birth when a whelp otherwise might have died without my veterinary expertise. I could not count the number of times while attending her young and/or when removing a rectal thermometer from her posterior section that I was licked in the face and mouth by a loving German Sheppard bitch that had just lapped up the mostly liquefied foulest-smelling feces of her young pups; O patoie! Yuk! just part of the job and I am still alive today. By the way, the whelping area was a highly critical and specialized job and only 2 of us vet techs in the entire outfit were qualified to get face-licked and otherwise messed/regurgitated upon by brand spanking new suckling pups and their slightly older cohorts. I also sacrificed animals that I knew would suffer needlessly without my assistance. Now that my likely to be seen as an animal Attila the Hun/animal death dark angel introduction is out of the way, I want to quote something another writer said regarding hunting and it pertains to the morality questions you raised and I will stop there for now:

    Dr. Ann Causey states:

    “It is not morally wrong to take pleasure in killing game; nor is it morally right. It is simply not a moral issue at all, because the urge itself is an instinct, and instincts do not qualify for moral valuation, positive or negative. Thus, the urge to kill for sport is *amoral*, lying as it does outside the jurisdiction of morality." {End Quote}

    Ann Causey "On the Morality of Hunting". Environmental Ethics
    Vol.11 Winter 1989. pp.327-343.

    September 13, 2007
  15. emily #

    I feel that brings us back to other instincts including those to murder human competitor and mate with unwilling females. A line is still being drawn based on species alone.

    September 13, 2007
  16. Ron Kearns #

    Very good reply Emily. I knew someone here would recognize that potential flaw in the statement.

    September 13, 2007
  17. emily #

    If you want to hear my pet theory it is this…

    Animal rights is about individuals, no individual may exploit another ever or for any reason.

    A lot of other approaches are about aggregates. e.g. the organic farmer withholding the most effective analgesics from one animal for the health of the ecosystem, a species being saved from extinction even if it means keeping individuals in substandard zoos, a predatory species hunting a prey soecies even if they no longer need to for nutrition–the system is seen as having an innate elegance and 'rightness' that should be maintained in a 'normal' state even at the expense of individuals. It's a completely different paradigm. I don't hold to it but in a way I do 'get' it.

    September 13, 2007
  18. The unwillingness to understand drawing the line based on species is, itself, irrational.

    And Dan, I've worked really hard to keep from being insulting, but your contempt for my position leads you to insult me by taking huge leaps of illogic and declaring that my position justifies the Holocaust. It does no such thing, and I'll kindly ask you to refrain from sinking to unsubstantiated, illogical insults to support your position.

    Of course, if your intent is to drive away those who disagree with you so you can live in an echo chamber, then I'd have to say you're doing a bang-up job.

    Discuss, don't insult. Sheesh.

    September 13, 2007
  19. Boyd:

    My post was not an insult, but I’m sorry you took it that way. The fact is, arbitrary distinctions in morality justify all arbitrary distinctions and bring down the house of moral justification through reason, which leads to amorality or “might-makes-right.” A sexist has no room to criticize a racist precisely because the sexist is just as arbitrary in his or her selection of who deserves what as the racist is. The exact same thing is true for a speciesist. The speciesist cannot give a relevant characteristic which justifies treating nonhumans in ways that severely violate their important interests, and in that way, is identical to the racist, sexist, and any other person who “justifies” serious harm based on irrelevant, arbitrary characteristics (including Nazis who justified it because “Jews aren’t Nazis”).

    And you are correct; I’m unwilling to “understand” (or more appropriately put, accept) your arbitrary, and quite honestly, self-serving distinction any more than I’d accept such a distinction about a non-white-Christian-male minority group from a KKK member. The only difference between the two prejudices is speciesism is currently widely accepted in our country and racism (including arbitrary ethnic prejudices) is not.

    By the way, I certainly don’t intend to insult you or anyone here, but if I did intend to insult, it would be far more obvious than my previous comments. IOW, if I started insulting, you’d know it like a flying brick. 😉 That said, if it gets ugly, I’ll just dodge or leave.

    September 13, 2007
  20. Ellie #

    A few thoughts here, Emily,

    I agree with the ps. in your comment of 10:41 this morning. Animals do have social roles and duties, and a sense of what is right and wrong within their groups.

    I'm not sure I understand some of your other comments. It seemed you were saying morality ("right and wrong") is determined by culture. If so, I don't agree since some cultures have willingly accepted injustice, and even atrocities which are unquestionably wrong.

    Sorry if I misunderstood, which I think might be the case since you later said 'murder may be justified by necessity', which speaks for more than culture. In my view (and I'm willing to hear disagreement), some acts are moral; some are immoral; and some are neither. I think killing for true necessity is at best amoral.

    I also don't think hunting is instinctual, but it can be a tool for the most basic instinct, which is survival.

    And yes, I agree animal rights is about individuals– it's about recognizing animals as personal beings, and respecting their individual interests.

    September 13, 2007
  21. emily #

    I see 'wrong' as being nothing more than a word cultures use to describe things they don't accept. If it is used in another way IMHO is needs to be defined. Yes other culture think things are 'right' that our culture thinks are clearly 'wrong'– but I can't to say we get to win the disagreement unless a mutaully agreed external reference is establish, or any external reference and a basis for imposing it unilaterally on the other culture.

    We all tend to privately think our morals *are* superior to those of others, I think. But that is no basis for conversation. Unless there is some shared goal or assumption established first it just becomes a slinging match.

    September 13, 2007
  22. Ellie #

    Frankly, Ron, I'm surprised Ann Causey, someone with a doctorate(?), would make such foolish statements. To remove intention from determining morality? To compare enjoyment of sex with taking pleasure in killing? To say instincts don't qualify for moral valuation?

    That's beyond absurd!

    Besides, hunting is not an instinct. If it were, all or most men (at least) would want to hunt, and in fact most don't. And neither is killing.

    I'll stop there too, so I can refrain from insulting Dr. Causey.

    September 13, 2007
  23. Emily:

    I see culture as partly *explaining* actual moral behavior or the lack of moral behavior in any given culture (because of what I call the “herd mentality” of humans in large groups), but except for that purely explanatory role of immoral or moral behavior, I see culture as having absolutely nothing to do with morality. I see morality as a matter of reasoning and genuine empathy or “role taking” combined in an integral way and utterly independent of what cultures have what traditions or how much they all have in common. Any other definition necessarily implies arbitrary practices and traditions, and any significant arbitrariness in morality (i.e. excluding genuine dilemmas and gray areas), as I said in an earlier post, brings down the house of “moral justification through reason,” which leads to amorality or “might-makes-right.” IOW, cultural relativism is simply the absence of morality, with blind tradition to take its place, and therefore is no different from “might-makes-right.”

    September 13, 2007
  24. Ellie #

    Thanks for clarifying that, Emily. I think morality can be objective, yet not decided by agreement.

    September 13, 2007
  25. Ellie #

    Just saw your most recent post, Dan, and I agree.

    September 13, 2007
  26. I'm not sure what you intend to accomplish by discussing your view of veganism, Dan. If you're just telling everyone what you think with no intention of changing anything, then I'll accept that and move on. There's no point in discussing it with you because your arrogance and contempt for what you disagree with remove you from the realm of people worth talking to.

    On the other hand, if you have any intention of persuading non-vegans to your point of view, you're doing an awful job of it. And if you don't think someone would find it insulting to be told that their philosophy would justify the Holocaust, then you're so out of touch with reality that there's no chance of reasonable discussion.

    I'll leave you to the echo chamber you apparently want to live in.

    September 13, 2007
  27. Ellie #

    I've been thinking about your question, Mary, about whether it's morally superior to choose against using others. In my view, it's about whether it's moral or not, rather than which moral is better.

    I would say killing is not moral, although in some situations it's not immoral either. For example, self defense is a necessity, but I think it's neither moral or immoral.

    And I think the way to decide necessity (but not morality) is by equal consideration, by measuring what is gained against the cost to others. So in remote cultures, it may be necessary (but still not moral) to eat meat.


    September 13, 2007
  28. Sean #

    One way of looking at this by way of analogy is to ask whether abolitionists of the 19th century (and before) were morally superior to slaveowners. Do we mitigate the immorailty of slaveowners because so many of that time found it acceptable to enslave others on the arbitrary basis of skin color?

    Do we similarly "excuse" the slavery and exploitation of animals because so many humans find it acceptable to do so on the arbitrary basis of species? How should history judge them?

    In both instances, I feel that perhaps the immorality might be *mitigated* somewhat due to the general cultural acceptance of the exploitation (especially as to the passive exploiters, like your average meat-eater), but the human slavery abolitionists of history, and the animal exploitation abolitionists of today, were/are nonetheless morally superior to the exploiters.

    I fail to see how it can even be debatable that unnecessary killing is morally equal to compassion.

    September 13, 2007
  29. Ellie #

    In my view, Sean, cultural blindness didn't make slavery more moral, but it did mitigate the culpability of those blinded, only to the extent they truly couldn't fathom why it was wrong. If they were capable of understanding, but conveniently refused to acknowledge it out of self interest, then I think they were fully culpable.

    September 13, 2007
  30. Here are two interesting quotes on the matter, from two people who are definitely not AR advocates.

    "Many of our legal and ethical principles depend on the separation between Homo sapiens and all other species. Of the people who regard abortion as a sin, including the minority who go to the lengths of assassinating doctors and blowing up abortion clinics, many are unthinking meat-eaters, and have no worries about chimpanzees being imprisoned in zoos and sacrificed in laboratories. Would they think again, if we could lay out a living continuum of intermediates between ourselves and chimpanzees…? Surely they would. Yet it is the merest accident that the intermediates all happen to be dead. It is only because of this accident that we can comfortably and easily imagine a huge gulf between our two species – or between any two species, for that matter."

    "I suppose we should take comfort from the change that has come over our attitudes (regarding racism) during the intervening century. Perhaps in a negative sense, Hitler can take some credit for this, since nobody wants to be caught saying anything that he said. But what, I wonder, will our successors of the twenty-second century be quoting, in horror, from us? Something to do with our treatment of other species, perhaps?"

    Richard Dawkins – The Ancestor's Tale

    "It seems a fair conclusion to say that – as far as knowledge we can reasonably class as scientific goes – the differences between our species and others are probably of a comparable order, neither much greater nor much less, with those that separate non-human species from each other. Humans are unique, but not with any unique sort of uniqueness".

    "The inescapable continuities between humans and other animals tempt us to a delightfully ironic suspicion: that our species is unique only in its desire to differentiate itself from others".

    "That humans are uniquely rational, intellectual, spiritual, self-aware, creative, conscientous, moral, or godlike seems to be a myth – an article of faith to which we cling in defiance of the evidence".

    Felipe Fernandez Armesto – So You Think You're Human?

    September 14, 2007
  31. emily #

    That is because your culture bases morality on empathy–but I think assuming all correct cultures do is presumptuous. Everyone feel their morality (logic, teligion etc) is 'right', of course. But feeling others can be judged and changed based on it is another matter.

    This is a great difference between saying a culture is more willing to kill or harm (a statement of real actions and consequences) and saying they are immoral. Cultures have reasons for what they do and the first step is to understand that rather than implying some kind of moral blight. If only because understanding causes is the quickest way to creating change (should one feel on has that right).

    September 14, 2007
  32. Ellie #

    Empathy is essential to social cooperation, beginning with non-human animal groups. The rules of all cultures are based on empathy to greater or lesser extent. Morals are an outgrowth of consideration for others.

    The problem, imo, is a hierarchy which discounts the interests of some, while granting too much importance to others. Most cultures do that to greater and lesser extent. So I think there's a big difference between culture and morality. And I see no reason to respect the part of any culture which is based on injustice.

    September 14, 2007
  33. emily #

    That is a pithy description of empathy-based morality–which is not universal to all cultures and species. So it is 'right' only to the extent that our culture is superior to that of others. For example, if there does happen to be an all-powerful God and the goal of our very existence is to please him with blood sacrifice, then the only truly righteous culture is already extinct.

    That's the funny thing, everyone thinks they are right based on univeral 'good' goals. No-one agrees what they are. We tried just having an Empire and forcing everyone to do the right right thing (our thing). I'm not sure that really worked out for the best. Empathy if the new 'right'. Personally I'm okay with that–it's an young, urban, female, individualistic morality so it suits me fine. But imposing it on others is a little like history repeating itself in our bright shining post-post-modern age.

    September 14, 2007
  34. I’ve been away from the ‘net for almost a day, but I’ll respond to a couple of comments.


    I find it amusing that an anti-animal rights hunter comes on an animal rights blog and asks me what I intend to accomplish by discussing my views of veganism (in a logical and straightforward way) on an AR blog, then scolds me for my arrogance and contempt for anti-animal rights views (when all I’ve done is to explain speciesism and how they, in fact, relate to racism, sexism, and anti-semitism), and then suggests that I’m living in an echo chamber on a blog with far more people sympathetic to AR and veganism than uniquely unsympathetic to it (as you are Boyd).

    Boyd, there are at least three kinds of non-AR people in the world with one of the following attitudes: 1) never-evers (e.g. yourself) who cannot possibly imagine themselves as vegans and dismiss the whole idea of AR as wacko and only fit for kooks, commies, and peacenik freaks (unlike you, most of them don’t show up on AR blogs unless they’re drunk, stoned, trippin’, or bored out of their skulls); 2) people who understand the reasoning and morality supporting AR and veganism, but who can’t quite bring themselves around to going vegan for various reasons, psychological and cultural; and 3) people who understand the reasoning and morality, and go vegan either immediately or after a learning period which may last from a month to a few years. Granted, there are many between the 3 broad categories, and 3 categories oversimplifies it, but most people will get the point.

    You didn’t come here to be persuaded, Boyd; you came here for probably two reasons: curiosity about people who you likely consider to be liberal, commie kooks; and, now that you’re here, to tell the kooks that there’s nothin’ wrong with killin’ and shootin’ filthy animals in a way that doesn’t get your comments deleted. YOU are the fish out of water here, Boyd, not me. And don’t worry, you won’t see me on a hunting blog feigning interest in something I have no respect for.


    Actually, my culture (in the US and especially where I live in Colorado) bases morality on the Bible, the law, and tradition, NOT empathy or reason. I have stepped out of my culture and looked at it from an objective POV, from which I have assessed its moral basis and found it impoverished from a standpoint of reason and empathy for others. Again, it has nothing to do with culture. Culture and the herd mentality of humans explains why people don’t think about morality much and just abide by their cultural norms, but, like evolutionary psychology, it has absolutely nothing to say about what is moral and what is not.

    September 14, 2007
  35. Emily:

    Empathy serves two goals: one in moral philosophy, and one in moral psychology. In moral philosophy, empathy allows us to see things from another’s perspective and thereby have a less personally biased and subjective POV, which thereby allows us to apply reason objectively to the situation in a disinterested (i.e. unbiased) manner.

    In moral psychology, empathy is, along with a need to “right the wrong” (a need similar to object to 1+1=5), a motivating factor in our choice to behave morally.

    Empathy is not necessarily, as you say, young, urban, female, individualistic morality any more than pure logic is those things. Empathy is not compassion. Empathy, as distinguished from compassion in moral philosophy, is simply the mental operation of putting one’s self exactly in the unique situation of another as objectively as possible.

    What other cultures do is completely independent of this objective, disinterested, and rational evaluation of actions. It completely transcends culture, tradition, and personal biases, which pollute any rational evaluation of actions.

    September 14, 2007
  36. Cláudio Godoy #


    Our current concept of universal human rights is based on moral absolutism. No human being should have his basic interests in life, physical integrity an liberty violated out of the context of self defense in the name of any culture. That's why human sacrifices, cannibalism, genital mutilation, racism and sexism can't be tolerated even if a specific culture condones them and even if the own victims of such practices are not aware of these violations because they are so brainwashed.

    Animal rights is just an extention of the basic human rights to the other sentient beings, because they have the same interest in their lives, physical integrity and liberty them us and the species they belong are irrelevant in this case as the color of skin is irrelevant for a normal human being in the case of having civil rights.

    That doesn't mean that the concept of culture should be despised, because at least one culture favored rational thinking, which is the base of the concept of moral absolutism.

    September 14, 2007
  37. Ellie #

    Emily, I can't impose empathy on anyone. I simply disagree that morals can exist without it. In fact, morals could not have evolved if not for the ability to empathize with others.

    I don't think it's a question of superior morals or culture, because what's culturally accepted is not necessarily (and probably not) moral. The same for religion, which I regard as a cultural artifact.

    If we're given to reason, rather than bias and selfishness, we can distinguish morals from mere cultural phenomena.

    September 14, 2007
  38. Ellie #

    Yep, there are moral absolutes.

    September 14, 2007
  39. Emily:

    I posted this on another blog, and I think it is relevant here since that “imposing” word came up, and it often does in our culture when discussing morality. The tone is direct and unequivocal; but its directness is not meant to be offensive. Anyway, here it is:

    On “Imposing Beliefs on Others”

    I think it is helpful to define what is meant by “imposing.” Imposing implies force of some kind. Politically, the sovereign state can impose whatever beliefs it wants through force. As a practical matter, the individual cannot really impose any beliefs on anyone in this country that is not already a law without getting into trouble with the law themselves (assuming non-guardian relationships). So, nobody is imposing anything on anyone with these comments, for example; or in real life, unless they are breaking the law.

    If we are talking about persuading or convincing others of certain beliefs, then we should call it persuading or convincing. I see nothing wrong with attempting to persuade or convince others to our beliefs, especially if our beliefs result in less violence and harm in the world. If someone feels guilty, for example, because I’ve told them how buying flesh or animal products contributes to harm and suffering that makes them feel very uncomfortable, I have not imposed anything on them. If anything, I’ve done them a huge favor by informing them of something they ought to know.

    So, I will continue to *not* impose my beliefs on anyone, but I will never willingly stop attempting to persuade people of living a less harmful and less violent life.

    Let’s address this question of who is imposing beliefs on whom when it comes to nonhumans and their right to live free of gross injustice, serious harm, and murder (murder being defined in the moral sense as the intentional killing of the innocent).

    Non-vegans *impose,* in the ultimate sense of the word and its force implications, their lethal beliefs on 10 billion land animals annually and impose that way of life on vegans every day by breeding, enslaving, and killing animals (or buying product from those who do) and forcing vegans, through the law, social institutions, and their vast numbers, to refrain from imposing our much more sane and just beliefs on them. Because non-vegans have so much overwhelming power in every way, imposing beliefs is simply not an option for vegans, while imposing beliefs (on nonhumans and vegans) is the only way non-vegans do what they do. Vegans, as a practical matter, have only persuasion and reasoning as a viable way of changing the world at this time.

    So, the suggestion that vegans impose beliefs on society or individual non-vegans in society is absurd (excluding legal guardian relationships). Vegans will only start imposing beliefs when we have persuaded enough people with enough power to be *capable* of imposing on others who have not been persuaded.

    Finally, imposition itself, like power or intelligence, is morally neutral. It is the moral content of what is being imposed which has either positive or negative moral value. For example, the Nazis *imposed* their beliefs on Jewish people and the allies. I think that was a morally wrong imposition. OTOH, the allies in WWII *imposed* their beliefs on the Nazis. I think that was a morally right imposition.

    September 14, 2007
  40. Since as usual I was unable to comment here I wrote about moral superiority on my own blog and Joel of animalblawg made an interesting comment. He said that to determine if I personally am morally superior would mean dissecting my entire life and dissecting the life of the other person and looking at every aspect. He says that would be a long and possibly fruitless pursuit and even if I WAS morally superior, so what. The real issue is "Is not eating animals the better choice." That brings us back to objective stuff, the evidence, and individual actions, not the value of individuals.

    I wouldn't be vegan if I didn't think that was the best choice available to me. For all the talk of culture and tradition and so on, I grew up immersed in a culture of using and killing animals. Name it, it's part of my family (I actually wrote about this in my blog entry on tradition where I said if you get down to it there's this odd possibility that I wouldn't be here today if my great grandfather hadn't made enough money to open his store off of back alley cock fighting). So, I do come from those traditions and I love my family. Still when I reviewed all the information available to me and in light of new information I didn't have before, I decided that being vegan is the best way for me to live right now in today's world.

    For example, we always justified certain uses of animals because we felt they didn't feel pain in quite the same way we did. Science has proved that at least vertebrate animals feel pain exactly as we do–they have learned to be stoic so as not to show weakness, but brain scans show that they feel and register pain just as we do. They have the same kind of intense networks of nerves. Learning this affected me greatly because I don't like pain, so why would I inflict it on another?

    We said that animals weren't smart, but new research keeps challenging our ideas of what animal intelligence is. My dog knows how to undo latches and let herself out of rooms and gates too… But also reading some animal rights information I was also struck by the idea that I don't justify hurting or exploiting people if they aren't very smart. In fact I feel like we have a moral obligation to protect the most vulnerable among us. I have infinite patience with the grocery store clerk with Downs syndrome for example. Reading this philosophy made me question how I could justify hurting and killing other living beings just because I felt they weren't very smart.

    The environment was a huge factor for me. When I learned how animal agriculture was hurting the environment I felt I had no choice except to find a way to eat that is better for the environment. I'm not a stupid person, but because in my family we let our animals graze, I never knew that most of the grain and soybeans we raise (and thus all that fertilizer, cleared land, irrigation water, etc) goes just to feeding cattle so people can have tons of beef to eat. I never knew how much rainforest was being burned to clear ground for cattle. I never knew how much run off in the form of excrement, hormones, and drugs comes from chicken farms for example. And those are just a few instances.

    Given all of this I have to believe that my choice to be vegan is the best choice I can make. Most of us weren't born vegan, so I don't see a moral failing in the non-vegan, I just see someone who hasn't really investigated or understood all the issues yet.

    September 15, 2007
  41. "We don’t *naturally* have ANYTHING that makes us good hunters (we’re very slow, very soft, have very blunt teeth, and extremely weak for our body weight compared to other species)."

    We certainly do "naturally" have something that makes us good hunters. We have a BRAIN that allows us to create tools that assist us in doing the job. The last time I checked, the brain is a completely natural organ, a natural product of the evolutionary process. To insinuate that we shouldn't be hunting because we don't possess things like claws, fangs, etc. is exceptionally poor thinking. Using that same logic, we could say that we shouldn't be swimming underwater because we don't posses gills or fins, or that we shouldn't be flying because we don't posses feathers or wings. Dan, you've taken twisted logic into a higher art form.

    "Indeed, we are far more comparable to a jellyfish than a cougar."

    Uh, no Dan. This statement is so off base that it's laughable. A jellyfish is a simple invertebrate life form. A cougar is part of the class Mammalia, as is a human. Like a human, the cougar possesses a brain, a complex nervous system, a spine, mammary glands, and complex circulatory and digestive systems. A jellyfish does not. What is somewhat ironic about your comparison, however, is this: both cougars and jellyfish are predators! I'm curious, Dan, how you expect to be taken seriously in this debate when you don't even seem to have a grasp of basic biology.

    September 16, 2007
  42. Ellie #

    Cougars can't survive unless they eat other animals. We can. No one can say a cougar is causing unecessary harm. That's the essential difference. But apparently hunters are not inclined to discuss it.

    September 16, 2007
  43. Grizzly Bear:

    Our brains have also “naturally” allowed us to create thermonuclear weapons and other massively destructive weapons in the chemical and biological areas. Does that mean we’re “natural planet destroyers”? If we go by your definition of “natural hunters” (i.e. our brains), then it means we are, “naturally.” Does that also mean that we should carry out the destruction of the planet? No. Just like we shouldn’t kill innocent nonhumans, we shouldn’t destroy the planet.

    The hunting comparison of humans to jellyfish as opposed to cougars was an obviously rhetorical one to emphasize our physical ineptness at hunting. Literacy is apparently not your strong point.

    September 17, 2007
  44. emily #

    Given that there is no consensus on what is moral and can only be objective to the extent we feel comfortable that our morals are right and those of other (sub-)cultures are wrong (immoral).

    I think it is better to speak of specific goals (not harming, not killing) than claiming the moral high ground and calling all others degenerate or perverse. I have been on the other end of that kind of accusation too many times to consider it helpful or fair.

    September 17, 2007
  45. Ellie #

    I don't mean to be unfair, but I think morals can be objective. However empathy became part of human and (before that) non-human evolution, I think it's inherent in healthy individuals, even though some circumstances work against it. The ability to feel how others feel leads to a universal moral to not cause unnecessary harm. It's only because non-humans were designated beneath moral consideration, that we assume we can use and harm them for our interests.

    We shouldn't think we're "holier" or better than meat eaters, but if we say animals shouldn't be used or harmed, I think it gets back to that universal moral. We ask that non-humans be included where they were once disregarded.

    Does that make sense to you, Emily? I don't mean to evoke memories that are unpleasant. There have been times when I was critized for what others thought was wrong, but it was about tradition, not ethics.

    September 17, 2007
  46. One more comment on the nature of jellyfish and their relative physical ability for hunting being somewhat akin to the physical ability humans to hunt. Jellyfish eat primarily microscopic prey, very small fish, and fish larvae. They have no eyes and no ears. They drift slowly around, cannot swim very fast, and when they catch food, it is by dumb luck, not because they’re “good hunters” (i.e. fast, quick, or seeking out and stalking prey, etc.)

    If a biological comparison (rather than a rhetorical one) were my goal, apes would be the comparison. Apes are about 99% vegetarian, don’t hunt, and make a good comparison for obvious reasons (look at yourself).

    September 17, 2007

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