Richard Dawkins Redeems Himself, Sort of
New Animal Person reader Fredrik commented yesterday on a post about Richard Dawkins and his book, The God Delusion. You may recall that Vegan Screenwriter posted part of an interview with Dawkins in a comment last month and it broke my heart. Dawkins said he saw no reason to not use animals for their meat as long as they’re treated humanely. And thus he toppled from the pedestal on which I put him. But it appears that his thinking has evolved regarding our moral obligation to nonhuman animals. In a podcast, which I’m going to try to locate, he admits that he still isn’t a vegetarian, but thinks we ought to be.
Fredrik recalls the interview and writes:
Dawkins also gave a NEW argument, at least to me, for why we should
be vegans. I’m not as eloquent as Dawkins, but in short, it’s based on
speciesism. "We" claim that we have the right to use animals because
they are different than us, just as white men used skin color as a
justification for slavery. However, from a genetic perspective the gaps
in genes between us and our closest animal relative is arbitrary. We
just happen to be the lucky survivors in the evolutionary race. As a
thought experiment, it’s perfectly acceptable to imagine a world where
all the genetic "gap species" were still alive. Thus, between us and
the bonobo (I think?) there would be a continuum of living beings, all
almost identical to their genetic neighbor. In such a world, it would
be impossible to draw a line between us and the bonobo where we could
say "From hereon oppression begins", and justify it with any kind of
argument. The primates on either side of the oppression line would be
identical except for one gene. The differences in appearance,
intelligence and senses (if such a word exists) would be so small that
no test except a careful DNA test could tell them apart, and I’m not
sure even DNA tests are accurate enough. Thus, they would be identical
to each other, yet one of them would be doomed to be oppressed while
the other would benefit from our protection. Since this would be a
totally unacceptable and morally indefensible stance, we’d have no
choice but to grant the bonobos the same rights as humans, to not be
used as property. Of course, the though experiment is easily expanded
to include ALL living beings since we share a common ancestor.
What do you think? The only counter-question I could imagine is the
fact that we also share DNA with plants. The thought experiment would
also have to include plants and where would WE draw the line for what
is acceptable to eat or not?
I like the thought experiment! Of course, if you begin with the premise that killing sentient beings without necessity is morally unjustifiable, you don’t really need it. However most people simply don’t grasp the idea that killing animals is morally unjustifiable, unless of course we’re talking about cats, dogs and maybe horses and dolphins. They have actually bought into the idea that animals are here for us to use as we wish. And I think the thought experiment is a great idea for them. I’ll have to try it and report back what happened. As you know, people say all kinds of wacky things to convince themselves it’s okay to eat bacon and eggs.
Stay tuned . . .
And let us know what you think of the thought experiment.