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Sustainability: Same Idea, Different Name

"A fork confronts us in the path to a sustainable global civilization: a choice either to continue domination and exploitation in a green guise, or to adopt a new ethic that recognizes all sentient beings as members of the moral community" (Animal Rights, Human Needs, 2).

Angus Taylor takes on environmentalists as well as those who champion the misguided, not to mention usually inaccurate or even entirely-incorrect notion of human exceptionalism with his "new argument from nature."

"This view justifies domination by insisting on an overlap between nature and culture. As natural beings, the new story goes, we retain our prerogatives as top predators, even while culture supervenes to limit the morally acceptable ways we can treat each other. We respect and have obligations to nature in terms of preserving and enhancing ecosystemic values, but non-humans remain excluded from the moral community. Perversely, it is now our intimate natural connectedness with non-humans that renders them legitimate objects of exploitation . . . . What counts is not the capacity to suffer or even, in the last analysis, the capacity to reason, but rather the ecological niche of one's species" (3).

You've heard this, though certainly not worded this way, from commenters all over the Internets and the Googles (I miss Dubya already). These are the people who claim that eating animals is "natural" because we're at the top of the food chain–the uber predators. Angus "outlines an environmental ethic that reconciles the flourishing of ecosystems with the right of sentient beings to pursue their individual flourishing" (4).

It's been almost exactly one year since I first posted about "Animal Rights, Human Needs." I know that some Animal Person readers are new (and thanks for reading!), and revisiting the essay is a great idea considering all of the focus on sustainable animal farming.

Yesterday, Angus asked for comments on the essay as well as the Best Futures site. I'm checking it out now, and I hope you do, too.

3 Comments Post a comment
  1. Dan #

    Hear, Hear!

    I’m a vegan and an advocate for animal rights (including humans) and sustainability, and that’s never going to change. However, I sometimes think that if I did change, I’d go big and take Darwinism to its logically consistent conclusion.

    That is, I wouldn’t stop at applying Darwinism to nonhumans, like the self-absorbed and speciesist Sustainability Movement does, but I’d be a social Darwinist and rational egoist also. I wouldn’t care about sustainability, because I’d be dead before any symptoms of my behavior occurred. Also, I don’t have kids, so why would I care what other people’s kids and grandkids deal with? Human rights? Why would I care about that as long as my rights were being taken care of? Just in case my rights weren’t being taken care of, I’d join the NRA and stockpile weapons. The only thing that would prevent me from shooting people who inconvenienced me would be the greater inconvenience of dealing with law enforcement or angry relatives.

    This idea that we should maintain our predatory and exploitive nature against nonhumans but not against other humans doesn’t make sense. Future generations will not be able to compensate us if we choose to save the environment any more than animals can compensate us for leaving them alone, so the idea of social contract and reciprocity doesn’t apply here. Why be ‘sustainable’? We have nothing to gain from it.

    By rejecting veganism and animal rights, Natasha at and her ilk undermine the moral foundations of their own claims. We’re all inconsistent in some ways and moral purity is virtually impossible, but what we can do is eliminate the gross and obvious inconsistencies. The failure to achieve moral purity is entirely understandable, and ‘committing’ small inconsistencies that would require asceticism to overcome does not amount to hypocrisy. Big, glaring inconsistencies like Natasha’s, however, do amount to hypocrisy, and eliminate the moral authority to suggest to the rational egoists of the world that they should behave any differently than a rational egoist and social Darwinist would.

    January 26, 2009
  2. Deb #

    I never understand this myth of humans as top predators. We aren't. Even my uber conservative anti-environmental dont-care-about-animal coworkers know that.

    But then, they watch animal planet, and I guess that makes it hard to see humans as anything other than the tasty treat that we are to the real predators. You know, the ones with sharp teeth and claws.

    We're like cicadas, really. We don't have any good defenses. We are slow and have poor hearing and sight and we have no exoskeleton for protection.

    We rely so heavily on the fact that we can change our environment to more extreme levels than other animals, and that we've invented guns and poisons and traps so that we can kill from afar, that we have deluded ourselves into thinking we're predators.

    January 26, 2009
  3. I actually had a conversation with a woman hunter who justified herself using the expected reasons to hunt including: "natural", healthy, not factory farmed, part of my heritage, less fat, sacred life, eat-what-I-kill, I like nature, I'm a predatory species and a "survivalist". In fact she said her skills might one day enable her survive… should she need something to fall back on after the collapse. "Civilization is such a thin veneer" she said… This doomsday mentality that enables her to remain in her cave – She is poised in an unknown destiny whose prize is the right to claim *supreme*. Ugh. Hunters do get so full of themselves… especially the ones who also boast being "conservationists" – Jeeze!

    Anyway, about the BEST site: Yes, we are living in an unsustainable consumer driven culture. Buying yet ever more things to fill spiritual and emotional voids… All at great consequence to cultures, people, animals and earth…

    That we use the resources from 4 planets to maintain our American standard, is testament to the inequities. It is a matter of distribution. Lots of belts will need tightening. There's going to be some kicking and yelling about it too. Perhaps even a (R)evolution, should justice be further denied on our clumsy road to 'progress'… but it would be nice if not.

    Sustainability is definately all about working within the bounds of a "finite" planet… (more than just about me). It has to include political and economic democracy, as well as respect for the environment and those in it. Sustainability has to include fairness.

    How did that hippy-slogan go? "Live simply so that others may simply live". I think that's a good step towards sustainablity.

    January 27, 2009

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