Category Archives: Part-Time Skeptics

Skeptical Thought Easily Bought: Pandering to the Elites

Everyday capitalism on a global scale gives wealth to the few, while oppressing others—to the point of torture in the case of nonhuman animals and even humans in some regions. It is responsible for the gargantuan scale of animal suffering and abuse that has become the norm today. And it all began with agriculture.

As David Nibert points out, “for the past ten thousand years those who were vulnerable to some form of materially motivated exploitation have become the stepping stones for what is euphemistically referred to as ‘the development of civilized society’.”[1]David Nibert, Animal Rights/Human Rights: Entanglements of Oppression and Liberation (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2002), 51. • • •

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Selective Skepticism and Flexitarians

It is true that secular thinkers and organizations have contributed significantly to the rights of nonhuman animals and ongoing cultural discourse on the topic—think the British utilitarians Bentham, Mill and Sidgwick and their philosophical descendants—but these have not been representative of the wider secular community and its priorities. As one of the descendants of British utilitarians, Peter Singer has pointed out,

even the classical utilitarians relegated their comments on animals to the margins of their philosophical writings. Their thinking was influential in leading to laws that sought to prohibit gross acts of cruelty to animals, but it did not lead to reconsideration of the assumption of the priority of human interests when they conflict with the interests of animals.

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Humanism’s Tyranny & Failed Progressives

Humanists are not the most popular thinkers among animal rights groups because they tend to be flat-out speciesist. The very terms humanist and humanism are themselves speciesist, suggesting a human-centered and even human-only focus. Many of these humanist intellectuals are indistinguishable from their religious counterparts in their actions and attitudes toward nonhuman animals. Indeed, you get humanists quite happy to proclaim they are speciesist and exhibit disregard for other sentient animals.

You would not expect it from someone steeped in cultural history with a heighten sensitivity to artworks—someone like Robert Hughes, for example. But he was the same. What would drive an intellectual with an eye for art and beauty, a man with fame and wealth, to go into a landscape and blast away at small animals? • • •

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Cultural Christians & Dominion Worship

The Enlightenment, that great age of secularism, rationalism, materialism and empiricism, could not shake the religious foundations that still informed many of its cultural norms.

One might think that such a thoroughly irreligious society would no longer accept the idea that God created all the beasts upon the earth, fowls in the air and fishes of the sea for the pleasure and sustenance of humankind. But ideas so embedded in the human psyche as the relationship between humankind and God expounded in Genesis could not vanish overnight. The Doctor Pangloss vision of the world, soon to be demolished by Voltaire, was alive and well.

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