“I went Vegan once,” mocks Michael Shermer, “it started just after breakfast one day and ended at dinner that night.”Michael Shermer, “Leaving Las Vegas… Rich,” Skepticblog, July 17, 2012, http://www.skepticblog.org/2012/07/17/leaving-las-vegas-rich/. Oh, what a card.
Shermer’s dismissal of veganism is a direct reflection of his ethics and flexitarianism as a skeptic. And yet years later, his take on morality is in keeping with the paradigm set out by Sam Harris in his The Moral Landscape, where the ideal is the maximum “flourishing of sentient beings.” One flaw in Harris’s book noted elsewhere was the glaring omission of the vast majority of most sentient beings on the planet from it, other than some minor asides. • • •
Ancient humans, with not a hint of science to hinder them, conjured up whatever outrageous self-serving fantasies they wanted. In the service of some of these fantasies, innocent victims—animals, children, prisoners—were sacrificed. This was with the sanction of social and political leaders. Today we continue to have ritual slaughter for food, passed down through generations from superstitious and barbaric tribesman, backed by social leaders. But there is a problem with this.
For the faithful, how an animal is slaughtered has meaning in relation to some form of lame-brained cosmological order. In other words, fabricated meaning based on ancient texts is inherent in the slaughtering of animals for food. • • •
You need to be heartless to be a factory farmer, but if you do begin to see and acknowledge the suffering around you, what do you do?
This farmer was prompted to speak out after hearing Joe Perdue’s agrispin in a promotional video, saying “Doing the right thing is things like treating your chickens humanely.” This is a standard platitude for the meat industry, which appropriates the language of animal welfare for self-promotion and profit. In fact, the Perdue family has a long history of animal abuse and run-ins with animal advocates, along with their “pile of poultry puffery hiding the brutal realities of an inhumane industry.”Henry Spira took them to task back in the 70s for this, see http://www.upc-online.org/henry_tribute.html. • • •
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’.”David Nibert, Animal Rights/Human Rights: Entanglements of Oppression and Liberation (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2002), 51. • • •
it was my 40th birthday dinner, which I cooked myself with the help of a Ph.D student at the U of C, John Willis (he’s now a fancy professor of biology at Duke, and has always been a superb cook). I don’t have the menu at hand, but there were about a dozen courses, each accompanied by a different fine wine from my collection. It began with a fino sherry, olives, and almonds, an entire side of smoked Scottish salmon, then foie gras (brought from France) with a fine Sauternes (Chateau Climens), and progressed through fish courses, meat courses (chicken with 40 cloves of garlic and then a tenderloin of beef with Roquefort sauce, the former served with a 1982 Bordeaux, the latter with a 1982 Hermitage), to cheese and then homemade desserts.
In his book Eating Animals, Jonathan Safran Foer observes an inversion of values when it comes to one of the greatest disgraces of the modern world, concentrated industrial farming. The worse the conditions on a factory farm, the better for profit. “In the world of factory farming,” Foer writes,
expectations are turned upside down. Veterinarians don’t work toward optimal health, but optimal profitability. Drugs are not for curing diseases, but substitutes for destroyed immune systems. Farmers do not aim to produce healthy animals.”Jonathan Safran Foer, Eating Animals (New York: Back Bay Books, 2010), 184.
The factory farm is where sick not healthy animals are raise; it is where imperfection is the aim using drugs and genetic peculiarities nature could never abide; it is where perversity at every level now counts as normality. • • •
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.
The following video has what is probably the most disappointing thing I’ve ever heard Sam Harris say. He admits to being unable to defend the eating of nonhuman animals, yet nonetheless continues to eat them. What is it with these rationalists—even the most publicly prominent—giving themselves free passes?
Here is the relevant section around 25:30 minutes in:
I actually can’t ethically defend eating meat. I do eat meat. I was a vegetarian for six years and began to feel that I wasn’t getting enough protein and started eating meat again and found that I actually felt a lot better. So, I think it’s hard to be an intelligent and active and fit vegetarian.
When it comes to ethics, many secularists talk the talk but stumble when it comes to walking the walk. Peter Boghossian is one of them. He’s a philosopher who likes to talk about “walking the talk,” or behaving in a way that is consistent with one’s moral reasoning and critical thinking. In other words, practicing what you preach. Boghossian devoted an entire speech to “walking the talk” at the 2012 Freedom from Religion Foundation national convention in Portland.“Peter Boghossian – FFRF Convention 2012,” YouTube, 17:34, January 17, 2013, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9ARwO9jNyjA.
Why our farm animals would be better off on the other side of the Atlantic
George Orwell once wrote that the Spanish are cruel to animals, but he added, “such things don’t matter.” Over the years the second generalization has probably startled more readers than the first. Whether or not Kant was right that hardness to animals causes hardness to people, we tend to think the two go together, and no one wants a matador for a babysitter. But among the eloquent essays compiled by Cass Sunstein and Martha Nussbaum in the new book Animal Rights is one by Richard A. • • •
Religions created a hell on earth for animals. It was achieved openly, it was officially condoned, it enthusiastically maintained, it was paraded in religious blood festivals. No peaceable kingdom came from religious doctrine. Regardless of when Genesis was written—by a divinely inspired Moses as less rigorous theologians maintain around 1450–1410 BCE, or in the 6th century BCE—the following is what we ended up with millennia later, as observed by Anna Kingsford in the late 1800s:
The great need of the popular form of the Christian religion is precisely a belief in the solidarity of all living beings. It is in this that Buddha surpassed Jesus – in this divine recognition of the universal right to charity.