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Animals, Food and Desire

 
DanielGrings
 
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DanielGrings
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12 May 2015 12:24
 

[Note this is Part 23 of a series of emails to Sam Harris. The first part consists of my comments on a conversation between Psalm Isadora and Alexandra Jamieson (the video appears to be no longer online, but a similar more recent conversation is available here). The second part is inspired by Magnus Vinding’s criticism of Sam’s stance on animal use. While I agree with that criticism, I also see several problems with Vinding’s arguments for veganism in general, especially concerning “speciesism”. In the third part, I comment on Christopher Ryan’s theory of evolutionary psychology. The first and the third part are included here, because I believe that the only reason we still consume animal products is our appetite for them and because I believe that it is essential to explore the links between appetite and sexual desire.]

[TL;DR: We should encourage men and women, but women especially, to free up the mental energy that is now bound up in worrying about food and sex. “Cravings” should be treated as suggestions for how to improve our life, while at the same time we must make overall health and well-being our priority.

This also requires that we become clear about which ethical imperatives we believe apply to the way we treat other animals and which rights we believe we should give them. I look at the concept of “speciesism” and find it incoherent. I argue for a sense of human “stewardship of other animals”. I describe my own efforts at becoming more vegan. I quote the Upanishadic perspective on food and mutual devouring in nature.

While our evolutionary history and similarities between humans, chimps and bonobos are interesting to explore, we should use our ability to adapt to new situations to maximize (psychological) well-being in the present. This requires making distinctions between more and less healthy behavior and “training” one’s appetites accordingly but ideally without resorting to guilt and shame.]


On Food and Desire


Overall, I think that the two of you are approaching the subject of food and desire exactly from the right angle. In fact, I believe what Alex said is well-phrased and literally true (i.e. not an exaggeration):
“I believe that if we could free women’s energy from obsessing and feeling shameful about those two things, food and sex, that we could heal the earth’s troubles and be traveling the universe right now. That’s how much mental energy is wrapped around these two things.”

As with many other issues, the challenge is to move from constant anxiety, shame and self-criticism towards radical self-acceptance, while still maintaining the ability to make useful distinctions regarding less and more healthy behavior. This means that while we should be compassionate towards individuals and their unique challenges and struggles, we should not be afraid to hold up physical and psychological health as an ideal.

Both of you felt that there were mixed messages for women around sex and food. The mixed message on sex is easy to identify: Look pretty and even sexy, but don’t desire sex or do anything sexual. However, neither of you could articulate a mixed message regarding food. If there is one, I think it might be this: Eat only healthy food and as little as possible (in order to be as skinny as possible) — and yet when you see people indulge in a socially acceptable way, it is by eating sweets or fast food. (Like Alex says, food becomes safe sex.)

I like Alex’ emphasis on observing oneself and one’s body’s reactions and overcoming mental constructs, including during what she called “stealth dating”. She also gave good advice on using play and fun as a way of “enabling positive energy”, i.e. living in a way that makes you naturally want to eat in a healthy way. “Savoring”, as the two of you recommend it, has many benefits, including that one naturally tends to eat less if one enjoys every bite; in fact, I believe that it can be a form of meditation (certainly in the sense of improving one’s concentration) that is perhaps especially helpful for women. Finally, I am glad that she talked about gratification delay (although not by name) when she said that you should consider how you will feel, for example, one hour after you have eaten Doritos and ice cream, and how you want to feel then.

Unfortunately, she is in danger of creating another kind of mixed message: Sometimes she seems to treat “cravings” as unequivocal commandments that should be obeyed to the letter (“your soul’s to-do list”), while at other times acknowledging that “if you really listen and ask the deeper question, ‘what do I really need right now?’, more times than not it is going to be something besides food”. This tension is really the crux of the matter and needs to be addressed with greater clarity and honesty. Her own story of going from being vegan to eating meat adds a whole other ethical dimension to this problem (which I’ll talk about, further below).


Here is how I approach the issue of dealing with cravings:

The first step should really be, as you say, to “bring our desires into the light”, which means to listen to one’s cravings (physical and psychological) and to be honest to oneself about what they really are. This should happen in a spirit of self-acceptance and compassion for oneself as an imperfect human being, and the first assumption one should make is that one’s body and/or psyche is trying to make a helpful suggestion for how one can live a healthier and more fulfilling life. The second step is then to evaluate the likely outcome of acting out those cravings to the letter and to consider whether there are perhaps less literal but more healthy ways to give one’s body and psyche what they need. This also requires admitting that cravings are not always positive: Deep down everybody wants to be happier and healthier, but some cravings we experience can still be entirely self-destructive. Also, to admit that one is an imperfect human being should also involve accepting that one is in need of improvement, which must include improving one’s appetites [I address this below in my comments on Christopher Ryan’s talk].

A major goal should be, as Alex says, to free up mental energy. For this, we should worry about our daily habits regularly and strive to improve them as much as we can, but not daily (and not in a moment-to-moment fashion). In other words, having created the best framework we can for the time being, we should focus on more important things than, say, counting calories.

You point out to Alex that you consider meat a “grounding” type of food and that “what you really wanted was stability, a sense of safety and security” and that she felt that “these are the foods that really give it to me”. I, too, believe that she craved meat primarily for psychological reasons: It represented a radical breaking away from her previous lifestyle and a listening to her more primal desires (including sexual desires). As a symbol for completely changing her life, it seemed to have worked extremely well for her, but there are still two problems with it: First, she says that it was her body that “needed” meat, which is to make a very problematic claim that is in direct contradiction to the scientific consensus, which states that, at least in terms of nutrition, a vegan lifestyle is appropriate for everybody at all stages of life. The second problem is that she only considers the health effects of eating meat on her (which may be mostly or even entirely positive), without giving enough attention to the effects on the health of the animal being eaten. 

 


On Speciesism


When discussing the issue of animal rights, I was going to start by arguing that eating meat is obviously wrong and that the first necessity is for meat eaters to be honest. Then, I saw the comment by Magnus Vinding and had a look at his writings, which persuaded me to consider the complexity of this issue in more detail.

I have argued before [in Part 7] that rights are ideas, and, like Vinding, agree with Sam that ethics is about trying to maximize the well-being of conscious beings. I also agree with Jeremy Bentham that the ability to suffer, not the ability to reason, should be the criterion for ethical considerations.

On the other hand, since only human beings have ideas, only human beings can decide who should be awarded rights. This is already a problematic situation for other animals to be in (we are having a conversation about them and not with them). It also means that because animals can suffer, they can be perceived as having rights by us, but because they cannot reason (or speak), they cannot tell us whether we are giving them the rights they feel they should have. Most people agree that at least some animals should be awarded some rights, but there is a lot of difference in opinion regarding the details.

In trying to improve the way animals are treated, some philosophers have introduced concepts like “speciesism” or even just certain conceptions of “personhood” (a term with many different possible definitions) that can be helpful but don’t always work as intended.

For example, Peter Singer says that to have rights, a being must be a “person”, which he defines as somebody able to hold “preferences”. This is different from using the ability to suffer as the criterion, because he excludes certain beings who are able to suffer (including newborn human infants) from personhood. I would argue that it is possible for a being to hold “preferences” even when that being cannot articulate them. In fact, I would define suffering as inherently an experience one “prefers not to have” and so the ability to suffer should still be the criterion considered. Stated preferences are also unreliable: People might be dishonest about what they want or genuinely confused about what they should want; however, our goal should still be to maximize their actual well-being (which might require trying to persuade them to change their preferences, which would make little sense if preference utilitarianism were the standard). (Another problem is that preferences are always “revealed”, i.e. established after the fact. In that sense, nobody actually “holds” preferences at all.)

Singer’s main objective is to argue against “speciesism”, which he considers a prejudice morally equivalent to racism or sexism: It is morally indefensible to treat beings differently based on species membership alone (alone is the keyword here). It is also logically indefensible to treat “similar” cases differently. The main problem with this argument is that it is generally impossible to show that cases involving human beings and animals are in fact “similar” (or more precisely, to show that species membership is the only relevant difference). It also tries to replace the attempt to incrementally improve the lives of animals as much as possible with an attempt to grant them inalienable rights. I’ll show why I think that is problematic.

[ Edited: 22 December 2015 02:25 by DanielGrings]
 
DanielGrings
 
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12 May 2015 12:24
 

Vinding gives an example of what is meant by speciesism in his The Simple Case for Going Vegan: If we are concerned with the suffering that conscious beings experience, the way their body looks should be of no concern to us. Therefore, we should not treat bovine females in any way that we would hesitate to treat human females who have the same capacity to suffer (i.e. who are mentally challenged to a degree to have “the mind of a cow”). In fact, since we believe that mental illness or disability requires us to care more for human beings who are so disadvantaged, we are obliged to extend the same courtesy to animals (I come back to the question of how the treatment of mentally challenged human beings fits into this argument, further below).

This is a laudable sentiment, but there are several problems with the argument. Comparing speciesism to racism is problematic because while melanin count is an extremely poor indicator of capacity for quality of experience, species membership is generally a very good indicator: While there are some human beings whose subjective experience might be roughly equivalent to that of a cow (although that claim seems impossible to falsify), they are rare exceptions that are not easily identified and measured. A cow, by contrast, is guaranteed to have the mind of a cow ... at the most (you might find a mentally challenged cow; you won’t find a cow that has a mind equivalent to that of a human). Again, we are not considering “intelligence” (a cow’s likelihood to win a Nobel prize, say) but rather quality of experience as defined as the ability to suffer (and also as the potential for well-being). Human beings, with few exceptions, are able to experience both positive and negative states that go far beyond what other animals are able to experience and on that basis should be given greater ethical consideration. People who argue against speciesism are obliged by their own argument to agree with this. The main argument for at least a mild form of speciesism is based on the difficulty of defining, identifying and comparing the exceptions (the so-called “marginal cases”).

The first challenge is that of definition: Who qualifies (or: which human being doesn’t qualify for human rights)? Now that Singer has formulated a definition of “personhood” that requires that all human beings are treated as the ethical equivalent of inanimate objects at the stage of their life when they are most in need of protection if they are ever to grow into “persons” at all (he might have given reasons why we shouldn’t eat babies, but it can’t be because he believes babies have a right not to be eaten), how much do you trust him to come up with the perfect criteria for when it is safe to perform “animal testing” on non-consenting human beings?

Even if morally perfect criteria could be found (a certain state of deep coma from which the patient has no hope of emerging, perhaps), we still have the problem of diagnostic error (the coma might not be as bad as we think) or of the possibility of developing a cure (in fact, every new cure would force us to change which cases we consider certain to be hopeless and thereby call all our previous certainties into question). Finally, we must consider the “slippery slope” involved in no longer awarding human rights to all human beings.

In fact, it is in the interest of the living if we respect even the dead. We agree that a corpse is an inanimate object, and yet there is a great psychological and moral hazard involved in considering a corpse to be nothing more than an inanimate object immediately at the moment of death (even beyond the danger of diagnostic errors just mentioned). Very crudely put, if we make it a habit to make lampshades out of corpses, there is the real danger of looking at living human beings as “lampshades who haven’t died yet” (I should point out that I don’t think this is true for organ donation, especially since organ donors have consented prior to death and their bodies are not primarily seen as inanimate objects even after death; in any case, even to whatever small extent that it may apply, the direct benefit of saving human lives is much important than the potential benefits of testing on non-consenting human beings).

More generally, human beings are not perfectly rational utility calculators but emotional beings who need time to go through periods of grief and psychological adjustment in their attempt to deal with illness and death. Nor should we see the emotional aspects of human psychology primarily as a weakness; instead, we should look at emotions like grief as the necessary other side of the coin of emotions like love.

Of course, animal rights philosophers generally don’t argue that we should respect human beings less and rather argue that we should respect other animals more. While I agree that we should treat animals as well as we can (and that we are ethically obliged to treat them significantly better than we currently treat them), I also believe that we are ethically obliged to have a greater concern for human beings than for other animals and that animal rights philosophers actually agree with me, either by the logic of their own arguments or at least by their behavior.

Because animal rights advocates will not award full human rights to all animals in all cases (generally, it is considered permissible for humans to defend themselves against animals in ways in which animals may not defend themselves against humans), they end up having to explain why they grant those rights to human beings in the first place. Here’s another example. When discussing the subject of keeping animals as pets, Vinding argues that we should consider neutering cats and dogs that nobody will take care of (by the way, animal rights philosophers seem divided and often unclear on whether keeping animals as “companions” violates their rights). I agree that this may be the most compassionate course of action overall. However, it is also an act of aggression that violates human rights when directed against human beings (I am assuming he is not in favor of forceful sterilization of human beings). Is it not speciesist of him to recommend an act of aggression against cats and dogs that he would condemn against humans? No, he will reply, because it is not their species membership that he is concerned with but rather their ability (or lack thereof) to procreate in a way that doesn’t increase the suffering of everybody involved. However, since we won’t find cats and dogs with whom we can have a rational discussion about contraception but will encounter human beings with whom we cannot have such a discussion, once again, instead of treating animals more like human beings, invoking “speciesism” will only lead us to having to justify why we should not treat certain human beings like animals.

Here is my main argument for a mild form of speciesism: It is in everybody’s best interest to always first assume that human beings can be reasoned with and to assume that other animals cannot be reasoned with; the existence of individual exceptions (exceptions to the second category assume a broader definition of “reason with”) does not diminish the importance and utility of this general rule.

Another problem with arguing against speciesism is that veganism rests on a clear dividing line between plant life and animal life that critics of speciesism themselves argue doesn’t exist. If it is morally indefensible to eat animals but morally unproblematic to eat plants, this confers a responsibility to decide who deserves to live and who deserves to die on taxonomists that taxonomists will be the first to claim they cannot live up to. As Richard Dawkins has pointed out, we are in a sense fortunate that the problem of drawing a dividing line between homo sapiens and very closely related great apes no longer exists, since the intermediates are extinct. If intermediates did still exist, however, we still would not grant full “human rights” to all other animals; “human rights” (or a similar term) would remain a blanket term applicable only to those species whose healthy members regularly meet certain standards of moral agency (I’ll comment more on the notion of “membership in the moral community”, further below).

The best way to get around the problem of taxonomy (specifically the problem of distinguishing animals from plants) is by focusing on the nervous and sensory system, i.e. we can define animals as organisms with an ability to suffer that is greater than a certain threshold. However, that threshold will still be arbitrary (of course, there is also the problem of measurement). We should generally strive to cause as little suffering as possible, which must also mean eating the least conscious living beings available. However, the fact that we are in almost all cases eating living beings that are at least somewhat conscious, in ways we don’t fully understand (I have suggested [in Part 16] that consciousness in the sense of self-awareness arises out of more primitive biofeedback already present to various degrees in both animals and plants), makes it more difficult to condemn people for eating living beings belonging to one arbitrary category rather than another. I also argue that we should refrain form eating “human vegetables” (people who in some way have lost their ability to sense, and therefore to suffer, almost entirely) even when no animal or plant that is even less conscious is available, for reasons explained above, and am happy to consider myself a “speciesist” as a result if necessary.

Since insects are animals, and since vegans generally make few efforts to avoid killing insects (by accident), one could easily argue that only Jains qualify as “true vegans”. On the other hand, one can also always point at specific forms of behavior of individual Jains and accuse them of not pursuing the optimal strategy for minimizing the likelihood of suffering or death of other animals (e.g. “You should get in your car and drive to work and help find a cure for cancer instead of slowly sweeping the sidewalk.”) The example of Jainism shows that veganism (or non-violence towards animals, generally) is best seen as an ideal one should strive towards within the context of living a full life as a human animal. Of course, whenever people demand that everybody conform to their standard (which Jains generally don’t, by the way), it is worth checking whether they themselves are willing and able to do so.

For most animal rights advocates, the real litmus test of whether they live up to the standards they advocate is animal testing. Vegans who promote a vegan lifestyle (i.e. shun all animal products) argue that it should be considered a general moral principle that it is unacceptable to exploit animals for any purpose. They also argue that one should not continue to use animal products that one already owns (you wouldn’t keep a lampshade made of human skin in your house, either). But the real question is not, “Do vegans wear leather belts?”, but rather, “Do vegans take medicine?” (or even simply, “Do vegans rely on nutrition studies based on animal testing?”)

[ Edited: 22 December 2015 02:34 by DanielGrings]
 
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12 May 2015 12:24
 

It is easy for animal rights advocates who are not scientists (in fact, the easier the less they know about science) to say that animal tests are mostly misleading and entirely unnecessary. The scientific community has chosen to follow “the three R’s” (Replacement, Reduction, Refinement) in order to try to minimize the suffering inflicted on animals during testing. It is one thing to argue that individual scientists don’t follow these principles sufficiently; it is quite another to argue that the principles themselves are inadequate and that all animal tests should be stopped immediately — in other words, to argue that animals should have the same inalienable right not to be experimented upon without their consent (regardless of how many lives are at stakes) that human beings have (regardless of how many lives are at stakes).

Human civilization stands on a mountain of animal corpses (it also stands on a mountain of human corpses). We agree that this is an unfortunate legacy that we should move as far away from as quickly as possible. In trying to find the best strategy to achieve this, it is instructive to look at the not entirely unrelated issue of pollution.

Let’s remember that with our pollution we are not harming “the planet”; we are harming life on this planet: Every time you start your car, you harm animals and human beings (and plants). Some people see human beings primarily as polluters and argue that the human species has the moral obligation to voluntarily become extinct. The conscious beings capable of the greatest well-being choosing to become extinct, however, is incompatible with the project of maximizing the well-being of conscious beings. Others have concluded that one should simply never start a car, i.e. we should return to a more “natural” state without technology. One of the problems with this is that even in their supposedly most “natural” state, human beings have managed to do tremendous harm to the environment and to other species (in ways that we can now hope to avoid with the help of modern technology). I agree with Kel Kelly [The Case for Legalizing Capitalism, Chapter 9] that our strategy should be to pollute more in order to more quickly develop the technology that will allow us not only to stop polluting altogether but to even repair the damage that we and previous generations have caused.

Analogously, I agree with David Pearce that our goal must not be some “natural” state of an animal kingdom undisturbed by human hands, because life for all animals (including human beings) is “naturally” one of tremendous suffering. On the contrary, we should strive to abolish suffering even in animals in the wild.

Again, this is an idea only human beings can have, because only human beings have ideas. It is not something that other animals have asked us to do, nor is it something that they can “consent” to in any informed and meaningful way. However, we have every reason to believe that to the extent that our effort is genuinely successful, they “prefer” that we make that effort.

Making that effort requires that we arrogate to ourselves a sense of “stewardship” that is incompatible with simply extending human rights to other animals. In fact, while I agree that thinking of animals as “property” is a grave mistake, in many cases we need to establish which human being is responsible for monitoring and correcting the potentially harmful behavior of which animal. This is very different from simply declaring all animals (all animals! — including oysters and fruit flies) “full members of the moral community”. All animals (except homo sapiens) are in fact incapable of making moral decisions or participating in moral discussion and unfit to stand trial. While this is also true for severely mentally challenged human beings, it is more honest to speak of such human beings (and of all other animals) as passive members of the moral community, since being a “full” member requires the capacity to be an active member. Whether or not we make fleas stand trial for biting dogs, to say that every member (passive or active) of the moral community has a “right” not to be bitten by any other member of the moral community becomes a phrase empty of meaning long before we have begun to include insects. If we do want to enforce such a right (and to some extent we should consider ourselves morally obligated to), we cannot rely on any species other than homo sapiens to be legislator, judge, jury and police — a role for which I think “stewards of other animals” is an appropriate term.

By contrast (and sometimes by contradiction), many animal rights philosophers seem to believe that an animal can do no wrong (the way it “naturally” behaves is inherently good) and that a human being interfering with the animal kingdom can do no right (since what human beings do, especially if it involves tools, is always inherently “unnatural”). However, even if we accept this notion of “natural” as coherent, it has nothing to do with a view of ethics that is concerned with minimizing suffering and maximizing well-being and must therefore be rejected completely.

The question regarding the treatment of mentally challenged human beings reveals another inconsistency in the argument against speciesism. Should we treat every animal in a way that is proportionate to its capacity to suffer? If so, then we are morally obliged to treat bovine females significantly worse than human females. Or should we show more care and concern for the less psychologically able? In that case, does that imply that we should treat animals in a way that is inversely proportionate to their ability to suffer? If we should care more for the happiness of the mentally challenged, rather than being primarily concerned with the experience of cows should we not care even more for the happiness of the flies swirling around them? In other words, another problem with the argument against speciesism is that it switches back and forth between considering various levels of capacity for experience irrespective of species and demanding general rights irrespective of species (and sometimes but not always irrespective of level of capacity for experience). I argue that this paradox is best resolved through a mild form of speciesism.

It seems clear that a cow is not capable of experiencing the same level of anguish when her calf is taken from her that a healthy human female experiences when her child is taken from her. Also, while severely mentally challenged human beings can experience physical and psychological pain and even suffering, they cannot experience the full complex spectrum of frustration and existential angst that we normally refer to by “human suffering”. However, the fact that we try harder to treat mentally challenged human beings humanely than we try to treat healthy cows humanely need not be only or primarily due to speciesism (more precisely: there are good reasons for this apart from the mere fact that mentally challenged human beings belong to the same species as we do).

We need to appreciate the important difference between caring for people who are “ill” (who are in some sense “disabled” when compared to the norm of what a healthy member of their species can do) and caring for members of a different species who are at the norm (or even peak) of health for their species but whose capabilities are naturally below those of human beings. There are many strong incentives for human beings to want to care for human beings who can get better, while there are fewer and less strong incentives to care for healthy other animals who cannot get better (apart from being trained to be more “useful”, which is different) and certainly can never be as valuable to human society as human beings can be. The fact that many forms of mental disability are currently incurable has little impact on the emotional, moral and social intuitions involved. Nor does the fact, that many people who are physically or mentally “challenged” reject being called “disabled” (or “challenged” or “delayed”) as ableism, impact those intuitions. The facts remain that they lack capabilities that could be useful to society if they had them, that some of these capabilities could be given to them through medical treatment (or enhancement), that this is sufficiently similar to “curing a disease” to appeal to an altruistic instinct that has evolved in humans over millions of years (and that it differs in important ways from attempting to enhance somebody’s capabilities whose capabilities are already at the norm or peak of what human beings can do). Nobody should think they have a right to force or pressure anybody into acquiring capabilities that they don’t currently have; at the same time, there is nothing ableist about valuing competence and productivity in other human beings.

When it comes to human beings trying to “improve” other animals, this is generally done primarily with the interest of the human being in mind. This should not be considered immoral as long as the interests of the animal are given sufficient consideration (for example, I am not convinced that dogs would or should prefer to be and live as wolves). In summary, we should first and foremost care for human beings as members of our own species because caring for the members of one’s own species first and foremost is in every way the sensible thing to do (and this is in addition to the much more important fact that human beings have the greater capacity for both suffering and well-being), and we should care for other animals in a way that benefits (or at least doesn’t harm) human beings in a way that reduces the suffering and increases the well-being of those other animals as well. Comparing healthy animals to challenged human beings (and trying to compare our respective treatment of them) ignores or confuses all of these points. 

We need to sometimes treat animals in ways that we wouldn’t treat human beings. Some human beings consent to dangerous experiments; animals cannot consent to experiments at all. Animals are sometimes “altruistic” by instinct, but usually not in the ways that we require of them. In the sense that a honey bee is “willing to die” to protect its hive from a single aggressor, it should certainly be willing to die in order to help cure cancer in all honey bees. The problem is not only that we can’t communicate with honey bees; it is that our human conceptions of “consent” and “self-sacrifice” map onto other animals only very imperfectly. If it is speciesist to not ignore those distinctions, then we are ethically obliged to be speciesist. But then, the argument against speciesism is supposed to be that we should pay more attention to distinctions like these. I think I have made it clear why I believe that the concept of “speciesism” is not coherent and consistent enough to help us have a better conversation about animal rights.

[ Edited: 22 December 2015 02:38 by DanielGrings]
 
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12 May 2015 12:24
 

I am currently a vegetarian; I am not a vegan. I agree with Vinding (that is, he has convinced me) that paying other people to kill other sentient beings in order to drink their milk merely for one’s pleasure is not morally superior to paying other people to kill other sentient beings in order to eat their flesh merely for one’s pleasure. Simply put, I believe that I am morally obliged to not consume animal products the way I am morally obliged to not be a slave owner or a serial killer — emphatically not because these are morally equivalent but because they are equally indefensible and equally easy to avoid. Since I am not a vegan, I must strive to become a vegan as soon as possible.

There are a few complications here, however. First, we have to be clear about what we mean by “vegan” and specifically by “consuming animal products”. Secondly, when saying “as soon as possible”, we are really talking about individual costs and trade-offs. For me, it was very easy to stop eating meat (I did so in India where food is vegetarian by default, primarily for health reasons and after always having eaten little meat anyway). Today I have started experimenting with replacing dairy products with (B12-fortified) soy and other cereal products. If this works (i.e. if I can eat my food with appetite and get the nutrients I need), then that will have been an easy way to make my diet less morally problematic and probably more healthy as well. I should also give up eating honey (I am less concerned about the well-being of bees than the well-being of cows, but that doesn’t mean I should pay people to inflict suffering on bees if I can avoid it, which I obviously can. There is also a psychological element here: Note how making bees work for you and then killing them off with cyanide differs, if not morally at least psychologically, from defending your crops against “pests” using pesticides). I could then try to make sure that all food items that I eat are free from animal products (especially traces of egg), but that would require a certain commitment of time, energy and money — at least at first. Once I have changed my (shopping) habits, I would only need to check any unknown items for animal product content. The next step would be to buy soap, shampoo etc. guaranteed to both be free from animal content and to not have been tested on animals. However, I could not take the final step of boycotting literally everything that contains animal products (like some forms of glue or plastic), nor could I (or would I) boycott all products that have been tested on animals (especially medicine). I am also unlikely to homebrew any of the products, that I use, myself.

I have written out this to-do list to reiterate that there appears to be a spectrum for just how “vegan” any given lifestyle is and that different vegan lifestyles require different commitments of time, energy and money. In general, it seems to me that being “thoroughly” vegan cannot be cheap both in terms of money and in terms of time and effort. Therefore, I think it is generally unfair to claim, as David Pearce has, that “going vegan” represents only a “mild personal inconvenience” for everybody equally, especially since one can always find a standard of “being vegan” that any given vegan will fail to live up to.

As a general rule, we should encourage everybody to eat in a way that does the least harm in the best way they can. Not everybody should be expected to organize their life around a certain diet plan, however, nor should we only appeal to people’s self-control. In fact, it is in everybody’s interest if we make doing less harm easier, cheaper and more accessible. For example, while I agree that it is not true that people are generally only morally required to stop eating real meat once affordable artificial meat becomes available (in fact, Vinding makes the good point that having found a way to create synthetic B12 should be considered that moral turning point), it would certainly help (especially those people who already lack the self-control to regulate their diet). On the other hand, I of course also agree that the main requirement for harmful animal production practices to stop is for people to stop demanding the products in question first.

Whether or not my current experiment with “going (more) vegan” will be successful, I believe that given our inherently ethically problematic relationship with other living beings and given our current capabilities and level of understanding of nutrition (and frankly lack thereof), we should not think that there is one obviously right way to eat. We certainly should not use shame to try to convince people to conform to it. Ultimately, we must take the maxim “do as little harm as possible” extremely seriously, while honoring our obligation to ourselves to live a happy and fulfilling life.

[UPDATE: Two and a half months later, I can say that it has indeed been easy for me to dramatically decrease my dairy intake (almost to zero). However, while I have not encountered any food items for which no vegan alternative could be created in principle, there are some forms of food that I currently find hard to give up, that contain small amounts of dairy or egg and for which vegan alternatives may be available but not in any of the stores in which I have checked; it also still happens on occasion that I realize (too late) that a given product contains dairy or egg. Therefore, I am technically still a “vegetarian trying to become more vegan”. While I could be accused of simply not trying hard enough, I feel that my general intuitions, as outlined above, are correct, and that we should see “going vegan” at least as much as a collective effort as an individual one.]


I’ll close by quoting scripture. You won’t hear me quoting the Bible (“God has given man dominion over beasts” sounds to me as useful as, “God has given man dominion over woman”), but I find it worthwhile to look at the Upanishadic view of food. This seems like a good overview.

Here are the points that stand out for me: First, the same word (annam) is used to refer both to food and to matter (and this is explored in a variety of symbolic contexts). For example, when the Chhandogya Upanishad says that somebody who doesn’t eat becomes (metaphorically) “blind”, this isn’t just directed against fasting but rather against losing one’s connection to matter and the earth more generally. Most importantly, all matter is considered “food” for experience — but not primarily egoistic experience. Rather, all “eating” (and in the widest sense, all experience) is done as a sacrifice to, and for the enjoyment of, the true Self in all. When one identifies with matter, all life appears to be a cycle of mutual devouring; however, the enlightened response is not to shrink from this truth but to revel in it in a way that leads to an identification with the transcendent Spirit: “I am the food! I am the eater of food! I, who am food, eat the eater of food! I am the whole universe!”

Here is Sri Aurobindo’s translation of this passage (“Taitt. Up. III. 10” stands for the tenth verse of the Bhrigu Valli of the Taittiriya Upanishad, found in Kena and Other Upanishads, p.230)

“The Spirit who is here in man & the Spirit who is there in the Sun, lo, it is One Spirit and there is no other. He who hath this knowledge, when he goeth from this world having passed to the Self which is of food; having passed to the Self which is of Mind; having passed to the Self which is of Knowledge; having passed to the Self which is of Bliss, lo, he rangeth about the worlds & eateth what he will and taketh what shape he will and ever he singeth the mighty Sama. “Ho! ho! ho! I am food! I am food! I am food! I am the eater of food! I am the eater! I am the eater! I am he who maketh Scripture! I am he who maketh! I am he who maketh! I am the firstborn of the Law; before the gods were, I am, yea at the very heart of immortality. He who giveth me, verily he preserveth me; for I being food, eat him that eateth. I have conquered the whole world and possessed it, my light is as the sun in its glory.” Thus he singeth, who hath the knowledge. This verily is Upanishad, the secret of the Veda.”

 


On Sexual Appetites


I have watched this talk by Christopher Ryan (and this video, which summarizes his view succinctly).

I agree with Ryan’s basic points:

1. We should try to understand our sexuality (including its evolutionary history) scientifically and base our behavior on how (we have good reason to believe) things are and not on how we might want them to be.

2. We should not use shame to punish or disincentivize desire.

3. Human sexuality isn’t just about reproduction. In fact, from a purely reproductive point of view, human sexuality makes little sense.

I also agree that we should create a culture that embraces sex (including non-monogamous sex) and frowns on violence (and stop training people to be more violent by repressing their sexuality). In this context, it is interesting to compare human beings to chimps and bonobos, since these three are genetically almost identical, bonobos in a sense represent “the path of sex” while chimps represent “the path of violence”, and therefore it makes sense to ask, “What’s our path?” However, the very fact that we can choose our path (not to mention that we are the only species that sequences genomes) should tell us that we must not overestimate the importance of whatever similarities we might find.

Unfortunately, Ryan seems to cherry-pick facts that he thinks support his ideas, and he’s often even confused about what they suggest or support. This is a common problem in evolutionary psychology.

For example, why does he bring up the belief (developed independently in various cultures, apparently) that “a baby is literally made of accumulated semen”? How does this improve our understanding of how human sexuality works? If some people practice non-monogamy based on superstition, this is can only ever be an argument against it (it’s an example of poor adaptation or at least adaptation to a non-existent situation).

First of all, had we been biologically evolved to be with only one partner, women would have biological chastity belts that could only be opened by a single “key”, and men would have penises that could fit into only one vagina. The likely reason that this wasn’t selected for, is that it would have made it too unlikely for compatible mates to meet. Instead, everybody is “designed” to have the potential to have sex with anybody, so that they can seize the best mating opportunities that come their way.

However, that doesn’t mean that we are “omnivores”; it merely means that mate selection doesn’t happen at the genital level. An omnivore is “an animal that can derive its energy and nutrients from a variety of sources”; an omnivore is not an animal that can fit anything into its mouth. It certainly isn’t an animal that puts everything into its mouth that happens to fit into it. So, while we have the biological potential to have sex with anybody, it does not follow that it is (or ever has been) “adaptive” to do so indiscriminately. If early homo sapiens really were “promiscuous”, that may in fact have been a poor mating strategy we have evolved out of. (As another example of cherry-picking, Ryan tries to take the “indiscriminateness, confusion, lack of order” out of promiscuus, even though it is part of the meaning of the original Latin word.)

[ Edited: 22 December 2015 02:50 by DanielGrings]
 
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12 May 2015 12:24
 

Ryan suggests that sex has been much more about social bonding than about reproduction and that it is related to how property is shared in a group. He basically says that paternity is only important when a man wants to make sure he passes his property onto his descendants, and because property didn’t accumulate in pre-agrarian societies, it was better to share what little people had — and there was no reason not to share sexual partners. And so, for the seven million years that we, chimps, bonobos and our common ancestors have reproduced, males didn’t care about paternity. Only about ten thousand years ago, when humans settled down, men suddenly decided that they wanted to make sure it is their children (and not another man’s) who gets their newly acquired stuff, and therefore they artificially imposed monogamy on everybody.

This isn’t just simplistic but wrong. Ryan himself gives examples of (non-agrarian) chimps waging war over property (such as a crate of bananas). Chimps alone also use a variety of mating strategies: one female might mate with several males, one male might prevent other males from accessing several females, or a male and a female might form a “monogamous” bond. There is no a priori answer to which one of these is “better”; in some cases having any offspring at all is most important, in other cases having only the biologically fittest offspring is most important, while monogamy provides advantages like more stable parenting and security for the parents (the female is less likely to get raped and the male less likely to have to fight with other males). Evolution is about the a posteriori survival of the fittest (strategy). However, knowing which children are one’s own is never a disadvantage in any of those strategies (and actually a requirement for some, such as infanticide). Therefore to claim that there is reason to think an indifference to paternity is somehow biologically ingrained in humans is nonsense. Reproduction is all about making sure one’s own children survive. In some cases this may be best accomplished by helping others raise theirs ... but killing the offspring of other parents is also common (especially among chimps). Also, the more evolved the children become, the more they are set apart from others and the greater the investment and individualized attention needed. It is true that there have been (and still are some) human communities where nobody knows who the father is and children are raised collectively (not to be confused with societies where children are raised collectively but the father knows how many children are his and who they are). However, the mere existence of such societies is no proof that this is generally “better”, leave alone that it is the “natural” form of human organization or that it should be adopted in industrialized societies. Rather, there is every reason to think that as human beings evolved and became more diverse in their behavior and psychology, it became increasingly important for men to focus their attention on their own biological children.

You notice that I have only mentioned paternity and not maternity. That is because females enjoy a double advantage: They are in the best position to know who the father of their child is, and they always know which children are their own. Their concern is whether their children get all the resources they need (including attention and social standing). Men, on the other hand, are most concerned about whether the children they spend their resources on are actually theirs. It’s not difficult to see how this could have let to men not just being “more jealous” (no amount of male infidelity will deprive a woman of the ability to identify her children) but even grouping women together with their other property. However, it is not true that property somehow distorts biology here; rather, what constitutes “resources available and needed to raise offspring” has grown in complexity, and social behavior has adapted to those changes. Recently, with technological innovations like contraception and paternity tests, circumstances have changed even more; but again, it is not true that we have failed to revert to some “natural” way for humans to have sex (as though the absence of contraception was somehow unnatural); instead, we are stuck in a previous form of adaptation (women as property) and are still struggling to take sexual behavior to a new level.

If biology tells us anything, it is that human beings (even more so than other great apes) have evolved to be highly adaptive and to be able to not only change their behavior radically (even if usually only gradually) to adapt to their environment but even to adapt their environment to their behavior. It is true that we have biologically evolved to experience sexual desire and to respond (physiologically and perhaps by extension psychologically) to notice the sexual attractiveness of potential mates ... and that being in a monogamous relationship doesn’t switch this off. This is on the level of (involuntary) reaction, and we should respect it as a (biological) fact. However, our sexual behavior isn’t just an involuntary reaction; instead, it is a complex form of behavior that may even involve reason and other higher thought processes that set us apart from other apes. This distinction between desire and behavior is important to explore.

As the host at the end of the talk suggests, one could make similar points as Ryan does, about violence: Even if certain forms of violent behavior were adaptive for early homo sapiens, violence is not simply a part of how our bodies function. Even if it were, we should still seek to minimize violence, rather than simply saying that it is “natural” to be violent. In fact, you get into logical problems when you try to argue that it is “unhealthy” to suppress one’s violent urges; it is rather violence that is detrimental to health (our own and that of others). Similarly, one can’t argue that it is unhealthy to try to minimize unhealthy sexual behavior. The important question is simply: “What is healthy?” The answer isn’t “what the ancestors of bonobos did seven million years ago”, but rather “whatever maximizes our own well-being in the present”.

In response to the host’s point, Ryan says that you may choose to eat only fast food, but “your body will rebel”. He was trying to say that you shouldn’t go against what is “natural” for your body, but ends up discrediting his own position again. Why do people eat fast food? Because of an appetite (in part) for sugar — an appetite that is in fact biologically ingrained in us (i.e. sugar always tastes pleasant) and for good reason: Until relatively recently, all sugar (found in the wild) was good for you, and the best strategy to maximize your health was to always eat all the sugar you encountered. If you follow this “natural” instinct today indiscriminately, you end up severely damaging your body. Even if we do have a biologically ingrained appetite to have sex at every opportunity (we might not), it does not follow that giving into it is healthy or that there is no such thing as indiscriminate sexual behavior.

He then quotes Schopenhauer’s “man can do what he wants but he cannot want what he wants”. Schopenhauer was making a deeper point about free will (similar to Sam’s); he didn’t mean that we can’t or shouldn’t question our desires. It is true that on the deepest level “the will” is not something you choose but rather an expression of who you are, but there are many desires that are more superficial and that can in fact be in conflict with “what one truly wants”. Desires are in fact never perfectly tailored to only make us do precisely what is most healthy for us (they aren’t psychological chastity belts with only one key); instead they are broad urges that make us move in a certain general direction even in very different circumstances. Also, we experience many different, often conflicting, desires, and healthy behavior emerges out of an internal conversation about trade-offs among them. Sexual appetites specifically are really a combination of biological reaction and acquired psychological response. It is true that we should not shame anybody for their sexual desire, but we shouldn’t pretend either that they don’t have (or couldn’t have) any control over their behavior or even over their desire. I know from experience that my appetite for food has improved over the years (in the sense that I have less appetite for unhealthy food and more appetite for healthy food), and I have achieved this primarily by focusing on eating healthy food and not eating unhealthy food. I also believe that this is true in a similar way for my sexual appetites. Saying that it is “natural” for people to be attracted to people having sex with whom would be psychologically unhealthy, sounds to me a lot like saying that it is “natural” to have an appetite for fast food. Yes, sugar may taste good when you eat it, but this fact alone need not influence your behavior or even your thoughts ... and you can train yourself to fantasize less about eating sweets (without having to resort to shame or guilt).

I admit that the analogy between sex and nutrition isn’t perfect and that there are differences to be considered. Still, I think that since Ryan used the term “omnivore”, he should have explored this analogy further. Reproduction is really about somebody else (the child), whereas nutrition is about oneself and one’s own survival. Social bonding can help in either or both. There is a third aspect of sexuality, however, and that is the effects that sex has on oneself.

That’s where we can draw the parallels to nutrition: Sex is (at least in principle) an activity that helps maintain and improve one’s physical and psychological health. This need not be only because our bodies have evolved to reward reproduction, but also to reward psychological effects like bonding. Our primary concern should not be, “Was this kind of sexual behavior useful for reproduction and/or bonding for our ancestors in the past?”, but rather, “Is this kind of sexual behavior healthy physically and psychologically for us individually in the present?” Instead of being concerned with the bonding experiences of our pre-agrarian ancestors, we should look at sex in the context of trying to improve our own much more complex experiences in a modern society (including the more complex bonds we may form). Instead of asking whether we are “meant to be” monogamous or not, we should strive to have relationships that are healthy for us based on who we are as individuals. Specifically, we should ask ourselves, “Given the situation I am in and the opportunities I have, what kind of relationship (if any) will most improve my well-being?” (Obviously, to the extent that our behavior affects others, we need to consider its effects on their well-being as well.) It is this (present) relationship between sexual behavior and individual and collective well-being that we should study scientifically — and studying our evolutionary history can only provide us with a few hints (that we must make sure don’t mislead us). Our goal is not to become more like the ancestors of bonobos seven million years ago; our goal should be to evolve new and better forms of behavior (sexual, social and other) that even homo sapiens a few decades ago couldn’t have dreamed of.

[ Edited: 22 December 2015 02:59 by DanielGrings]
 
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12 May 2015 18:17
 

According to my research on our anthropological origins, one of the major humanizing factors in our evolution was meat sharing. I’m anticipating having a delicious hamburger (or perhaps bison burger) for dinner tonight.

 
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12 May 2015 18:48
 
burt - 12 May 2015 04:17 PM

According to my research on our anthropological origins, one of the major humanizing factors in our evolution was meat sharing. I’m anticipating having a delicious hamburger (or perhaps bison burger) for dinner tonight.

How do you think about the ethical status of animals and its basis? What may humans do to other animals and why; what may they not do and why not?

 
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12 May 2015 19:35
 
DanielGrings - 12 May 2015 04:48 PM
burt - 12 May 2015 04:17 PM

According to my research on our anthropological origins, one of the major humanizing factors in our evolution was meat sharing. I’m anticipating having a delicious hamburger (or perhaps bison burger) for dinner tonight.

How do you think about the ethical status of animals and its basis? What may humans do to other animals and why; what may they not do and why not?

I once attended a talk at a conference in Sweden given by a zoologist who had been hired by the Swedish government to determine whether or not a lobster (with a nervous system consisting of only 8 neurons) felt pain when it was dropped into boiling water. He couldn’t come to a conclusion because he couldn’t answer the question of whether or not there needed to be an experiencer present to feel anyting at all. I like lobster.

 
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12 May 2015 20:26
 
burt - 12 May 2015 05:35 PM

I once attended a talk at a conference in Sweden given by a zoologist who had been hired by the Swedish government to determine whether or not a lobster (with a nervous system consisting of only 8 neurons) felt pain when it was dropped into boiling water. He couldn’t come to a conclusion because he couldn’t answer the question of whether or not there needed to be an experiencer present to feel anyting at all. I like lobster.

I googled “lobster pain” and came across this article, which discusses research that shows that crustaceans behave in ways that go beyond simple responses to negative stimuli (e.g. they will “tend their wounds”).

The article also mentions that the “animal” in “animal rights” actually refers to “vertebrates”. I don’t see why “having or lacking a backbone” should be a morally relevant property.

Let’s not confuse “experiencer” with “sense of self”. Animals don’t need a “sense of self” (in the usual sense) in order to experience pain: If pain occurs in an animal’s nervous system, then that animal will be “in pain”, whether or not it will, say, recognize itself in a mirror.

Lobsters have more than 8 neurons.

 
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12 May 2015 21:35
 
DanielGrings - 12 May 2015 06:26 PM
burt - 12 May 2015 05:35 PM

I once attended a talk at a conference in Sweden given by a zoologist who had been hired by the Swedish government to determine whether or not a lobster (with a nervous system consisting of only 8 neurons) felt pain when it was dropped into boiling water. He couldn’t come to a conclusion because he couldn’t answer the question of whether or not there needed to be an experiencer present to feel anyting at all. I like lobster.

I googled “lobster pain” and came across this article, which discusses research that shows that crustaceans behave in ways that go beyond simple responses to negative stimuli (e.g. they will “tend their wounds”).

The article also mentions that the “animal” in “animal rights” actually refers to “vertebrates”. I don’t see why “having or lacking a backbone” should be a morally relevant property.

Let’s not confuse “experiencer” with “sense of self”. Animals don’t need a “sense of self” (in the usual sense) in order to experience pain: If pain occurs in an animal’s nervous system, then that animal will be “in pain”, whether or not it will, say, recognize itself in a mirror.

Lobsters have more than 8 neurons.

I once assisted a friend of mine in beheading a chicken. He asked me to wield the ax while he held the chicken with its head on the block. Sure, I said. So he held the chicken, I swung the ax, there was a “chunk!” and my friend found himself holding a headless chicken body that was thrashing about with blood spurting from the neck. Later we had it for dinner, but he became a vegetarian following this episode.

 
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13 May 2015 02:19
 

I’m wondering what benefit this ‘humanization’ of animals could have for humans: Humanism is the ideology which includes all humans into a moral ‘in’-group. Putting (many or all) animals into that category, too, is kinda weird from an evolutionary PoV.
This hyper-empathy for non-human life might be a useful way to reduce livestock production and instead focus on other (environmentally cheaper) ways to produce protein.

But why would we want to do that, when eating meat & fish is so much more delicious and nutritious?

When you come to more primitive animals, we would have to ask ourselves: why these and not plants? Plants can sense stress, they can even sense the stress of other plants.

 
 
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13 May 2015 11:27
 

These are good questions, and I address them to some extent in my post.

Twissell - 13 May 2015 12:19 AM

I’m wondering what benefit this ‘humanization’ of animals could have for humans

One clear direct benefit would be an increase in compassion and compassionate behavior. It is no surprise that animal factories keep their production processes hidden from public view as much as they can: Most people would be appalled by the way animals are treated there. The only reason most of those people still have an appetite for meat is that they manage to ignore where it comes from. This isn’t just intellectually dishonest but ultimately callous. This is therefore not only a question of ethical but also of intellectual and emotional progress.

Twissell - 13 May 2015 12:19 AM

Humanism is the ideology which includes all humans into a moral ‘in’-group. Putting (many or all) animals into that category, too, is kinda weird from an evolutionary PoV.

We have already put some animals into that group, namely “companion animals”, precisely because we have been treating them as “companions”. As far as including more animals is concerned, there may be no direct evolutionary benefit in the survival of the fittest sense, but there is more to human psychology than survival of the fittest. Very importantly, it is in our own best interest if we improve our altruism and compassion. There are also other factors that are relevant for our own evolution and survival, for example the impact that our animal factory farming has on the environment.

Twissell - 13 May 2015 12:19 AM

This hyper-empathy for non-human life might be a useful way to reduce livestock production and instead focus on other (environmentally cheaper) ways to produce protein.

Yes, there are many benefits to a (more) vegan diet, beyond the reduction in animal suffering.

Twissell - 13 May 2015 12:19 AM

But why would we want to do that, when eating meat & fish is so much more delicious and nutritious?

We can dispute the “nutritious”: A vegan diet can be at least as healthy and nutritious as any other diet.

As far as “delicious” is concerned, we have to first decide whether (some) animals should have the right not to have needless suffering inflicted on them. First of all, if there is a scenario where an animal suffers needlessly and another where it doesn’t, we should agree that, all other things being equal, we should always choose the second scenario over the first. In the case of meat being “delicious”, things aren’t equal. This means that we are weighing the pleasure of human beings against the suffering of other animals. Therefore we need to decide under which circumstances human beings may inflict suffering on animals and to what extent (optional) pleasure should be considered a sufficient reason. Here we shouldn’t ignore that people can change their habits and even what they find delicious. Overall, I believe that we should commit to avoiding and reducing suffering in all sentient beings as much as possible. We also have to consider those other factors (like the impact on the environment or food prices) and weigh them against “meat being delicious”.

Twissell - 13 May 2015 12:19 AM

When you come to more primitive animals, we would have to ask ourselves: why these and not plants? Plants can sense stress, they can even sense the stress of other plants.

This is why I disagree with the idea that all animals should receive “human rights”, as it were. Instead, we should try to minimize the suffering that we cause and, as a general principle, eat the least conscious living beings available.

[ Edited: 13 May 2015 11:30 by DanielGrings]
 
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13 May 2015 12:02
 
DanielGrings - 13 May 2015 09:27 AM

We can dispute the “nutritious”: A vegan diet can be at least as healthy and nutritious as any other diet.

not really: weight-for weight, protein contains more nutrients than pure plant products.

I have my doubts about giving non-humans inalienable rights - mainly because I think there is no such thing, not even for humans.

But I’m all for reducing animal cruelty, especially those kinds which can have negative effects on us, too, like accelerated weight-gain through antibiotics.
And I’m appalled by the practice of halal/kosher butchering.

 
 
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13 May 2015 12:09
 
Twissell - 13 May 2015 12:19 AM

But why would we want to do that, when eating meat & fish is so much more delicious and nutritious?


Probably because the same mirroring systems that allow us to function as humans come with a built in ‘do unto others’ component. After all, would you find it ethical and practical for aliens with much higher IQs to keep us on farms and grind us up into snack food?

 
 
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13 May 2015 12:25
 
NicLynn - 13 May 2015 10:09 AM
Twissell - 13 May 2015 12:19 AM

But why would we want to do that, when eating meat & fish is so much more delicious and nutritious?


Probably because the same mirroring systems that allow us to function as humans come with a built in ‘do unto others’ component. After all, would you find it ethical and practical for aliens with much higher IQs to keep us on farms and grind us up into snack food?

ethical? that’s a question of moral relativism.

practical?
I think not - humans grow way too slow to be an efficient food source.

 
 
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13 May 2015 14:55
 
Twissell - 13 May 2015 10:02 AM
DanielGrings - 13 May 2015 09:27 AM

We can dispute the “nutritious”: A vegan diet can be at least as healthy and nutritious as any other diet.

not really: weight-for weight, protein contains more nutrients than pure plant products.

I have my doubts about giving non-humans inalienable rights - mainly because I think there is no such thing, not even for humans.

But I’m all for reducing animal cruelty, especially those kinds which can have negative effects on us, too, like accelerated weight-gain through antibiotics.
And I’m appalled by the practice of halal/kosher butchering.

It’s a slippery slope. I know a guy who not only is a radical vegan (he’d be a breatharian if he could survive on air) but who wants us to divert all military spending to preventing animals from killing and eating other animals. He thinks we ought to keep lions from killing antelope, etc., and even sharks from eating other fish (a job for the navy, I guess).

 
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