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Wrap Up on Moral Superiority

Yesterday, two things happened in addition to Violet coming close to death while I was 770 miles away:

1.    Dan reminded me of something I haven’t heard in a while, but is very important to address: that we are "imposing our beliefs" on others by educating, raising awareness, and encouraging people to question why they do what they do. From the vantage point of the vegan, and I submit also from any attempt at objectivity, it is indeed the opposite. Everywhere we go, every time we turn on the radio or the TV, and certainly virtually every time we enter a restaurant, we are bombarded with a specific message with regard to nonhuman animals. That message is: It’s not just okay to eat, wear and use animals–it’s American! And if you’re not with us, you’re against us! There is, in fact, something wrong with you if you don’t use animals. Is there some kind of religion that forces such harsh restrictions on you (yeah, it’s called nonviolence)? What happened to you to make you this way?

The world is a hostile place to vegans, constantly shoving images of dead sentient beings in our faces, constantly lying to us about where food comes from, telling us cows and chickens and pigs live in luxury, making it difficult to purchase a luxury car that doesn’t have the skin of a handful of cows lining it. Our schools don’t have adequate (or any) nonviolent options for children in their cafeterias. We are not the ones imposing our beliefs. We are simply asserting ours and encouraging you to think about yours.

2.    Next, Wronald sent a chapter of a book he is writing. The chapter is about animal rights and animal welfare and he has said I may pilfer wildly. What I would like to do is present some of the chapter, verbatim, and welcome you to comment.

We can start by defining righteousness as being morally correct or upright.  Self–righteousness, then, at a minimum, means that one is confident of one’s righteousness.  It means one believes—or, more strongly—that one is certain or totally correct about one’s opinions, ideas, and behaviors.  But most definitions add an extra layer or two, extending the meaning to indicate a moral superiority over and an intolerance of the opinions, ideas, and behaviors of others.  Describe that intolerance as smugly or narrow-mindedly moralistic, furthermore to an irritating degree, and you’ve got the whole enchilada.

Does the definition fit?  I think generally it doesn’t apply to vegans in their normal interactions with you omnivores.  If we talk about ourselves, you take it as a judgment of you.  For instance, if you ask Joe Vegan why he doesn’t eat dairy products, and he talks about how they needlessly cause cruelty, death, environmental damage, world hunger, and ill health, you feel judged because you’re still suckling at the bovine teat, as it were.  Or you may feel judged by Joe’s very presence if he eats with you, as though there’s something wrong with your food (which there is), although he says nothing about what you’re eating.  Just by being there, he reminds you that it is possible for people, including you, to make a conscientious effort to minimize their roles in the web of life as an agency of death.  It’s possible, but you’re not doing it.  He is a beacon of righteousness in your dark world.

. . .

If I’m self-righteous, I’ve earned it.  I have researched all the reasons why my way of life a better way.  Veganism is above all a moral imperative.  If I seem to write from a place of moral supremacy, it’s because I’m writing about an ethically superior way to relate to our fellow creatures.  It is inherently difficult, if not impossible, given that self-righteousness means at its core making a judgment about morality, to discuss the ethics of animal exploitation (I’m using “exploitation” in this sentence in the non-judgmental sense of utilization) without making the exploiters feel that we vegans are passing judgment on them.

Unless, like me, you have fully considered your way of life, you have earned your self-satisfaction with your cruel lifestyle only by sloth.  Underlying the accusation of self-righteousness is the assumption that the accused is not morally superior in his actions or beliefs, despite his opinion of his supposed virtues.  If you want to call me self-righteous, do your homework so that you can determine whether your way of life stands on firm ground or on a moral foundation of quicksand.  Compare the vegan diet and lifestyle I recommend with the way of life to which you have succumbed via the three “shuns,” or have chosen consciously.  Examine the evidence for yourself to decide whether consuming animal products is kinder, more environmentally sustainable, more healthful, and feeds more of the world’s hungry than Wronald’s way.  Better me: approach the question honestly, endeavoring not to justify your position (as I admit I have done), but neutrally in search of the truth.  Or, if you’re going to have a bias, be aware of it, and decide if your bias reflects your values, as mine does for me.  I don’t mind my ahimsa bias.  Do you mind having a self-serving bias that seeks to justify causing suffering and death because you are habituated to consuming animal products and don’t want to change? 

When you’re done with your research, if you determine that your present way of life is better, that my ethical standards are no higher than yours, that people, animals, and the planet benefit from your reliance on animal products, you can state your case, and write your own book if you like, giving all the reasons why I’m all wet.  Socrates said, “An unexamined life is not worth living.”  I posit that it is of utmost importance to examine this aspect of your life because of the enormous impacts of your choice to be dependent on animal products.

UPDATE: Wronald is not the same person as Ron, and there may have initially been some confusion about that in the comments.

21 Comments Post a comment
  1. Ron Kearns #

    I have several questions and a few comments. Is it better for all current domesticated food/fiber producing animal species to go extinct than for them to have a chance at life in a humane, working relationship with humankind? Is it better to have lived as a humanely treated sentient being in a less than perfect world as a producer than to have never been afforded a chance at life because your species did not fit in an already crowded world and you were just too costly and large a being to nurture as a pet?

    On the dairy farm, I knew each of my 200 cows’ habits. Which ones were the highest producers of milk volumes and/or percentage milkfat. I knew which ones I could slap on the rump and which ones would kick the snot out of me if I did. A few were so obstinate, like the one we called “Lightenin’ I had to put “kickers” over their hip area to even get the milking machines on. Some liked “sweet talk” while others were just there to feed from the stanchion hopper, do their duty, then exit as quickly as I could remove the” milkers”. (No analogies whatsoever regarding anyone's former girlfriends or ex-spouses should be drawn from that passage). I sometimes was slapped in the face with feces-laden tail switches that often were studded with big gnarly, sharp Texas cockleburs while I was bent over stripping the teats or placing or removing the milkers. Despite these problems, each one of “my cows” was my pet regardless of their individual temperaments. However, they and I would never have had the opportunity of our humane relationship if they were not needed as milk producers; they simply would have never existed. Just as with your favorite dog or cat pet, I grieved when one of those cows died or had to be “put down”.

    As, I think I am termed by others, a lacto-ovo- vegetarian , I will likely continue to “suckle on the bovine teat”, further admit to loving the evolutionary marvel of mammalian breasts in homo sapiens, and I will concede that I have, and will most likely continue to suck hind teat in many aspects of life. However, just as with domesticated animals, I at least was given the chance at this wonder called life. I fully accept that even as a moral man who tries to do right, my own life could end with a violent death through no fault of my own at the hands of my own species; the same species that slaughters domesticated animals for flesh everyday and a practice I would welcome the cessation of entirely.

    When looking into the glistening eyes of every sentient being I have seen come into this life from species of wildlife, to domesticated animals, to my newborn son, there appears to be, anthropomorphically speaking in the case of nonhuman young, an immediate recognition and expression of wonder. Alternatively, the death gaze and glazing over of the eyes with the dry fog of lifelessness of a once vibrant being evokes pause, reflections of, and a reverence for the life of that once sentient being from the mourner's own lively moist and often tear-stained eyes.

    Therefore, is it better to have lived as any sentient being at whatever station in life, notwithstanding life’s myriad vicissitudes, or to not have been given the chance at life to begin with because your ‘kind of being’ would not be productive, necessary, wanted, or needed?

    September 15, 2007
  2. Ellie #

    Mary, thanks for today's food for thought. I know you're entirely realistic about the attitude animal consumers have toward vegans. The fact is humans are competitive, often measuring themselves against other members of our species, in one way or another. I'd prefer to not think in terms of 'moral superiority' or 'self-righteousness', but this is often how animal users translate our message. Guess we just have to keep reminding them this about other sentient beings.

    And whatever happened with Violet, I'm happy she's ok.

    September 15, 2007
  3. Ellie #

    Ron, if I may address your questions, I see nothing humane about breeding, raising, and killing animals to serve our interests. Some methods of farming are less cruel than others, but these animals do not live for themselves. Whether or not they're named, they exist to produce products, until (sooner or later) even their bodies are packaged into nameless parts which are processed for profit and consumption.

    So I think reverence for these animals requires– not less cruelty, or mourning their deaths– but respect for their most basic interest in not being farmed, and in not being bred as useful dependents.

    While our lives may end in violent deaths, the violence awaiting most domesticated animals (including millions of pets) is planned and systematic.

    If they were not bred, we could not share whatever relationship some of us may have with them, and we would could not consume their products– but bringing these animals into existence for our sake doesn't justify their lives as objects of property, whose every action is controlled, more often than not for our benefit.

    September 15, 2007
  4. Ron Kearns #


    Therefore, your comments confirm you would unequivocally accept the extinction of all species of domesticated animals bred and reared only for the expressed purpose of humankind’s use of them for food or fiber. Is my interpretation correct?

    September 15, 2007
  5. Ellie #

    It's Ellie 🙂 And yes, that's correct, Ron, but since this is sometimes misunderstood, I'm in no way suggesting these animals be killed– just not bred to be objects of property.

    September 15, 2007
  6. Ellie #

    And Ron, it might be possible for some domesticates to learn to live outside of human control, but I say that cautiously, lest it seem I advocate an exodus of farm animals. That's not, of course, what I mean– though some animals, like chickens I've heard, can do well living in the wild.

    I don't know about others, or what this would mean for the environment. But if this were possible, I would expect it to be very limited. That it couldn't be done for most animals is not, imo, reason to continue to breed them as property for zoos, etc. Most could live out their lives, as our pet do, yet not be bred, or exploited as they had been.

    September 15, 2007
  7. emily #

    Was "Therefore, your comments confirm you would unequivocally accept the extinction of all species of domesticated animals bred and reared only for the expressed purpose of humankind’s use of them for food or fiber. Is my interpretation correct?" directed at me? Because if so I have no idea why….

    September 17, 2007
  8. Ron Kearns #


    No ma'am, my comment was not directed at you. I wrote emily when I meant to write Ellie, as Ellie pointed out earlier: "It's Ellie :-)"

    My apologies.

    September 17, 2007
  9. Ellie #

    I can understand why you'd wonder, Emily. Ron Kearns addressed you, but he was responding to my post.

    Wonder where Ron is. I'd like to ask him why he thinks in terms of extinction–which seems very negative–rather than in terms of protecting animals from being bred as products.

    September 17, 2007
  10. Ellie #

    Oh, here you are, Ron. Just saw your reply. So how 'bout it? Did you mention extinction in the usual negative sense of the word?

    September 17, 2007
  11. Sean D. #

    I see there is another Sean.

    Ron's argument, if valid, would mean that we should breed as many animals (and humans) as we possibly can, because each animal not born means that a potential, non-existent being did not get the chance to experience life.

    I imagine too, that all men should masturbate into test tubes so we could try to match up the sperm with eggs so that as many potential, non-existent human children could have a chance at life.

    I don't get it.

    To the extent that this is only about extinction, there are feral versions of virtually every "food" animal. And domesticated food animals are hardly natural versions of their species, so letting them go "extinct" shouldn't be a bad thing, any more than it is "bad" to fail to create a new breed of dog. In other words, if I created a new variety of dog, Ron's argument means it would be wrong to spay/neuter them all because that means a variant of dog would go "extinct."

    September 17, 2007
  12. emily #

    Domesticated species are going extinct very rapidly anyway as confinement agriculture tends to centralise and standardise the breeds used–only one for turkeys, a few for chicken, half a dozen for beef etc. I have mixed feelings but for domesticated species human agriculture is the 'habitat'. If the habitat goes, the animals goes. The main 'mass extinction' event has already happened — there used to be distinct a breed of cow/horse/chicken etc in every village suited exactly to its conditions.

    September 17, 2007
  13. Ellie #

    Well, since Ron hasn't replied to me, I don't want to presume he feels negatively about animal rights. It's just a question I had in retrospect, because we didn't discuss it further, and because extinction in the most usual sense is usually unfortunate.

    I gather from Ron's first post above (and I hope he'll correct me if I'm wrong), that he wants to drink milk, and he thinks animal husbandry can be based on a caring relationship. In fairness, Ron asked if it's better for these animals to be exploited "humanely", than to not have lived at all.

    I explained why I don't think farming can be humane, but didn't even mention the male calves who are sold to the veal industry, which is part of the horror of milk production.

    Conscious living beings have an interest in living and in not being harmed– beings who never existed can't miss anything. So if we bred and kept (former) farm animals in sanctuary settings, that would be for our interest alone, not theirs.

    I agree, Sean D., domestication is not at all a natural process. These animals were compromised thousands of years ago by the stress of captivity, which changed them physically and mentally. In that sense I would hardly regret no longer breeding them, but far more than that I would rejoice in their emacipation.

    Speaking of dogs, I think it's immoral to breed so-called "purebreds", knowing our selective control has caused them over 300 genetic abnormalities. Not to mention how breeding "purebreds" is largely responsible for the deaths of millions of dogs. I dislike breeders, as much as I love dogs, and that's a lot!

    September 17, 2007
  14. Ron Kearns #

    Ellie, I am not negative regarding animal rights.

    Simply, if domesticated animals are not bred they will eventually go extinct. Yes ma’am, I drink lots of milk and animal husbandry can be based on a caring relationship.

    I accept and appreciate your views. My purpose is to ask questions in attempts to gain a bit more understanding of animal rights.

    September 17, 2007
  15. Sean D. #

    We get the "agricultural animal extinction" argument all the time, and it really is horrible. It is unbelievable that people who exploit animals and kill them try to suggest that we — the ones who choose not to abuse animals — are the ones who do not care about them.

    Animal abusers simpy cannot take the high road on this. You do NOT care about animals more than we vegans do.

    September 17, 2007
  16. emily #

    This is, as with hunting, the species-level and individual level arguments at cross-purposes. AR is an individual level argument so if the extinction of a species prevents its members from suffering, it is a good thing.

    Even as a person with a belief in the possibility for caring farming, the modern dairy/veal industry is not the first place I would look for it.

    September 18, 2007
  17. Ellie #

    Yes, if domesticated animals are not bred, they will eventually become extinct, but importantly, animal rights advocates are not seeking an end to species– they are seeking an end to exploitation. There's a crucial difference there, and a focus on extinction would (intentionally or not) thwart the understanding of animal rights.

    While farmers may care about animals, it doesn't change the essence of the relationship, which is to profit from using them. I don't mean to throw stones, but it's hard to imagine dairy farmers care about animals who are continually impregnated, and whose male babies are promptly taken from them to soon be slaughtered.

    I love my dogs as members of my family, but I have to admit their disadvantage in a world dominated by my own species. They weren't bred for profit, and thankfully, I can protect them them from a system that doesn't even recognize their right to live, independent from my ownership.

    But millions of others are not so lucky, so if I judged pet ownership on how much I love my dogs, that would be a very myopic view.

    September 18, 2007
  18. Porphyry #

    First of all I deplore mentioning this, but it is relevant. Pro slavery advocates made the same paternal protection defense for their livestock.

    “It is refined philosophy, and utterly false in its application to general nature, of the mass of human kind, which teaches that existence is not the greatest of all boons, and worth of being preserved even under the most adverse circumstances. The strongest instinct of all animated beings sufficiently proclaims this. When the last red man shall have vanished from our forest, the sole remaining traces of his blood will be found among our enslaved population. The African slave trade has given, and will give, the boon of existence to millions and millions in our country, who would otherwise never have enjoyed it, and the enjoyment of their existence is better provided for while it lasts.”
    The Pro-slavery Argument, as Maintained by the Most Distinguished Writers of the Southern States – 1852 – William Harper’s Memoir on Slavery – Page 15 (available for free on Google Books)

    It is prudent to read and understand (and avoid if you don’t agree with) the proslavery rationales before inadvertently recycling those beliefs when critiquing animal rights. If you feel offended or do not accept slavery parallels with animal rights, move on to the specific subject matter.

    There is tendency to focus on the projected imminent crimes of veganism concluding that it seeks to render domesticated animals extinct. Vegans are convicted on a future offense that may or may not transpire and are condemned while those that accept exploitation of animals are somehow exempt, against their own reasoning, from the past and current violence committed against animal species whose slaughter, endangerment and extinction were a direct cause of their dominion mentality.

    There is a false dichotomy set up in this proposition that animal rights mandates animal extinction, or, as the prosecution asserts, since animal rights proponents considered nonhuman species as persons – veganism promotes genocide. The manufactured dilemma is: if we don’t exploit animals, the animals will go extinct all by themselves. Animal species that have survived without human “help” for hundreds of thousands of years become extinct and are on their way to extinction only very recently primarily due to human activity both indirect, but mostly direct; in particular by non-animal rights based thinking, “If we can’t use them, what good are they?”

    But let’s go ahead and assume that the immediate end of animal husbandry tomorrow means domestic species extinction assuming a systematic dismantlement of the institution, not the asinine assumption that all the pens are opened up at once and the billions of land animals are let free to roam. For the animal species so removed from wilderness that they cannot return, vegans already have animal sanctuaries in place that care for these refugees of factory farming… today. It is the animal rights people who have already taken great pains to ensure survival of the domesticated species expecting no tangible reciprocation from the animals farming industries so conveniently discarded. The same animals they “cared for”.

    Favoring domesticated species and causing them to propagate in unsustainable numbers crowd out multitudes of wild animal species. An example would be cattle in the American continents. The species is not native to the New World nor are pigs or chickens. When traditional diet advocates promote eating from their local bio-region it is preposterous that they consume the non-native domestic animals (in the Americas). Our resolve to “care for them” since their very brief introduction on these continents (1492 and upwards) has meant the endangerment, extermination and extinction of countless indigenous species, i.e. wolves and other predators or animals whose habitats got in the way.

    According to the recent paper United Nation paper, (Livestock’s Long Shadow) livestock are in direct competition with the resources of native species on a global scale. The land livestock uses up, the cropland required to feed them and the waste they produce is one of the biggest detriments against survival of numerous resident species. Even idyllic pastoral cattle farmland becomes difficult to defend as South American rain forests, teaming with a massive variety of life forms, are slashed down to make room for increased appetites of lauded grass fed beef. Granted, plant based agriculture and human expansion causes species displacement as well, but comparably with far less environmental and species impact.

    When endangered sea animals: mammals, reptiles and fish are killed deliberately or “unavoidably” in trawling nets and written off as acceptable collateral damage to provide fish as food, please don’t lay blame on vegans when these species’ inevitable extinction fulfilling the grim prophesies marine scientists have predicted.

    The true genetic descendant of domesticated bovine, the Aurochs, has already met their extinction; that is how much “we cared” for the ancestors of the species. The domestic bovine’s hardy genetic material survived for thousands of centuries only to be artificially selected against in favor of preferentially haphazard genetics suited to human animal exploitation. Turkeys are breed with breasts selected for their enormous size so that they cannot stand offer that species no favors and is hard to justify that it is benevolent of us to grant them this existence. Pigs are bred so large they suffer from early heart disease and other complications. Specific dog breeds are prone to certain inbreed afflictions in amounts that their untamed ancestors do not possess. The potential (as demonstrated this week with foot and mouth disease in the UK) for a virus to wipe out monocultures of domesticated species by the hundreds of thousands due to our deliberately breeding a lack of genetic variation is contrary to the objective of mating and merging DNA. The matter is beyond mere treatment, we constantly contrive to breed obstacles and suffering into the existence of these animals.

    If the purpose of animals mating with one another to produce offspring were to be numerous and merely exist in any state, it would be far easier to split apart like bacteria and not bother with the complication of sexual reproduction and the conventions of animal societies (yes, animals have societies) that all complex organisms engage in.

    That domestication is an “evolutionary dance” between humans and domestic animals is contrary to what evolution means. Evolution in the context of natural selection means without human intervention (Mr. Pollan), otherwise you are describing artificial selection and human sociobiology. Further, farmlands are not ecosystems they are agroecosystems. (If journalists wants to extol science, they need to learn not to conflate scientific language.) Scientists interpret the process of recombination of genetic material as not merely survival through abundance but survival through mutation and variation suited to ecological environment; not precarious fabricated habitats or arbitrary human dietary and cultural biases.

    We may take Ron at his word that he practiced caring animal husbandry and permit the premise that such a thing is possible and favorable for domestic and wild animal species. Unfortunately, "animal husbandry can be based on a caring relationship” is not the demonstrated norm by any stretch of the imagination in our current systems. Even in conditions where non-humans are treated as our devoted companions, those lucky pets only accounts for the small fraction of animals that society breeds into existence and then euthanizes the unlucky majority because the future of their existence wasn’t a consideration before our immediate desires, profits and wanton carelessness. We can wish for nicer treatment under this regime, offer examples of how well a minority is treated, and come up with all sorts of legislations, but it is not going to make a difference with the sheer volume of the superfluous demand for meat, animal products, dubious medical tests and reprehensible enjoyment imposed on animals by our societies with our largely indifferent — often hostile — attitudes towards non-human individuals and their species true well being.

    Dominion and exploitation does not take individual rights nor species rights for the pursuit of life into consideration. The displacement of a local mammal species by livestock can result in the reduction of a neighboring plant species that leads to the loss of an insect that makes an ancient regional ecosystem collapse. It’s no surprise that the environmental and species conservation movements grew closely with vegetarian ideologies. It is incorrect to state that animal rights just favors individual animals; it benefits biodiversity by favoring the survival, interests, and right to uncompromised life considerations of a variety of animal species (including homo sapiens), not a limited selection of a handful of breeds with genetics that are no longer suitable for wilderness survival due to human genetic meddling. Animal rights, in essence – the protection of the self-interests of animals — benefits their species, the planet and it benefits us; for we cannot recreate genetic material that is lost from the Earth’s balanced ecosystems.

    September 19, 2007
  19. Sean B #

    Wow Porphyry, that was well said and I really hope Ron returns to read it.

    September 19, 2007
  20. Ellie #

    Porphyry, I find it hard to disagree with such a thoughtful and informative post, and a view I share on dominion and non-human animals. Still, I don't think animal husbandry can be based on a caring relationship, any more than a marriage, in which one partner uses the other to depletion, can be.

    That's not to say farmers can't care about animals, and I do take Ron at his word — but the condition of the relationship grants rights to one party while it denies the other, as it's designed to benefit one at the expense of the other.

    I agree this is also true of pet ownership, no matter how much some people love their pets. But I don't think killing healthy or treatable animals is euthanasia. And imo, it's important for advocates to refuse the language of animal control, which co-opted the term to make killing more acceptable.

    If animal husbandry were dismantled, we could preserve a species by breeding animals in sanctuaries, but I doubt that would be good for them in the long run.

    September 19, 2007
  21. Ron Kearns #

    Sean B, I did return to read Porphyry's post and what Sean D, Emily, and Ellie have written. Porphyry's was an informative post and all of you are providing the information I asked for.

    I am also glad to see that people follow-up on posts and that they go back to read older posts. In some ways, it would be nice to have new posts in thread topics bumped up to the top. However, Mary is such a prolific writer and topic starter (has does she find the time) leaving those who are interested in a topic to search for updates is likely the best strategy for a blog like this. Besides, the Recent Comments index on the right side of the page notifies people of updates to older threads.

    Thank you all for your posts.

    September 20, 2007

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