We’re so vain – thoughts on intelligence

Another comment that often appears amongst the arsenal of tired old excuses that humans cling to in their attempts to justify the use of members of other species, centres around presumptions of superior intelligence when compared with every other species on the planet. When asked to provide examples, reference is sometimes made to landmarks of human endeavour such as writing symphonies, great works of literature, major inventions through the ages, and travelling to the moon, amongst others.

Well yes. These are indeed breathtaking achievements, but let’s just stop for a moment and get a grip on reality. Given that we, as a species, currently number some 7.5 billion individuals, there are relatively few humans whose names ring out across the centuries as beacons of intellectual prowess. Da Vinci, Archimedes, Newton, Tesla, Hawking and several others are names that stand out. For the rest of us – the vast majority, that is – no one is ever going to wax lyrical about our towering accomplishments.

What actually is intelligence?

Most of us are simply ordinary people, even though we are surrounded by technological marvels. Our expertise extends to knowing where the ‘on’ and ‘off’ switches are. If one of us were to be left somewhere with no tools or weapons, no instructions, no raw materials and no access to Google, I suspect that no one would ever be able to invent and create a computer for themselves, or write a symphony, or travel to the moon, and rocket scientists would not need to open their ranks to any newcomers. In fact many if not most of us would be seriously challenged to create some form of shelter or find something to eat without a handy supermarket.

To quote Isaac Newton in a letter in 1676:

“If I have seen a little further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.”

Although this is similar to a phrase used by the 12th century John of Salisbury, it may even pre-date him as he was known to have adapted and refined the work of others.  Which really serves to illustrate the point that as humans, we are standing on the shoulders of giants, and the majority of us would never have attained the comforts and wonders that surround us, had it not been for the accumulated efforts of others. Thus, for us to claim some level of superior intelligence based on the achievements of the intellectual giants of our species could not even be called tenuous. It’s actually laughable.

So what about ordinary people like me?

So what about just general, common-or-garden intelligence then? When we look deeper into definitions of human intelligence, Wiki provides many angles and measures and it seems like the jury is still out on that one. There are theories about so many aspects; linguistic, logical, spatial, bodily, interpersonal, intrapersonal.  There is no single definition that encompasses everything and I’ve been on the planet long enough to know that few of us would shine in even one of these areas, far less all of them.

Yet it is abundantly clear that despite the limitations that the majority of us have, whatever method by which we decide to define intelligence, however nebulous, however narrow, is the yardstick by which we as a species, generally presume to measure every other. It speaks to our elitist and speciesist mindset that we find and in fact expect to find articles about intelligence  in the human animal separate from articles about intelligence in other animal species.

Looking for the sake of comparison at pages about intelligence in other animal species, I was not particularly surprised to find that the subject seemed to be broken up into a series of anecdotes, many of which are about individuals whose actions were in some way thought notable, combined with sparse paragraphs that say so little about a whole species as to be almost insulting, as well as one or two more lengthy pieces discussing wider issues such as theory of mind in animals. Our recognition of their skills is grudging even at best, frequently couched in surprised or patronising terms, determined that whatever we discover is not indicative of anything that would elevate their status to being worthy of their birthright to live their lives free from the violence and brutality of our merciless exploitation.

Life in a mirror

Shackles in a slaughterhouse for hens

And in just the same way as our definition of ourselves as ‘animal lovers’ astonishingly disregards the copious bloodbath for which we are each personally responsible when we refuse to be vegan, our eager definition of ourselves as ‘intelligent’ includes pinnacles of human achievement that we personally can scarcely even understand, far less ascribe to. Despite this, we claim this ‘human intelligence’ as if it were our own, and we use it as a cudgel with which we bludgeon our way through the lives, the bodies and the habitats of our fellow earthlings; arrogantly assuming that although we have never taken the time to think about how this supposed intelligence manifests itself in the creature we see in the mirror, we are safe to assume that every other species is inferior.

Mother hen teaching her infants about life

And what exactly is that creature in the mirror doing with all their intelligence? Well I know what the one in my mirror does. She cares for those for whom she feels responsible, looks after the place she thinks of as home, struggles to find a way to acquire the resources she needs to keep herself and those who depend on her fed, clothed, warm, safe and sheltered from the weather. Occasionally she’ll write, she’ll talk with friends, gather information about what others are doing with their time. It’s what I do. And let’s be honest, isn’t that what most of us do?

Recently I have shared a video or two that have been greeted with much delight – I’ll link them at the end. One depicts a tiny bird carefully and with consummate skill, sewing leaves together to create a shelter where she can build her nest. Another video gave an insight into the complex and fascinating life of members of the crow species.

And do you know what they were doing?  They were looking after those for whom they were responsible, looking after the places they regarded as home, struggling to acquire the resources they needed to keep themselves and their dependants fed, safe and sheltered from the weather, gathering information about what others were doing with their time.

Common ground, shared priorities

In short, we have more that connects us with every other species than we care to admit. Each of us is simply living from day to day, caring for family, staying fed and sheltered. That is the level on which most of us function. And when we drop the assumption that we’re so superior to other species, other questions present themselves. Who the hell are we to measure all others by the standards we set – not for ourselves because we know we’re not in the same ballpark – but rather for a few individuals of our species? Who are we to decide that other species are not important enough to live unless they do so exclusively for our interests? And even – how do we actually know that we are the only species in which individuals come along every so often whose brilliance outshines us all?

We are a rather tragic species suffering from a delusion that we are apart from all others, brutalising and destroying our way through our days, rather than acknowledging our role as a part of the interwoven, interdependent network of life and living that is planet Earth. These delusions of ours are dragging the planet we share to the brink of an abyss of our making, a beckoning cataclysm caused by our arrogant assumption that our shared world and everyone who has fur or feathers, scales or wings, have no purpose other than to serve our petty whims and convenience. The end is perilously close, and time is running out for us to stop the behaviour that is causing the problem.

If we don’t wake up, and wake up very soon, it will be too late for every one of us, and being responsible for planetary disaster on an apocalyptic scale is hardly something that any intelligent species would do.

Be vegan.

 

Information and links:

Tailor bird
Crows
Birds and the Earth's magnetic field
Climate change links for information
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Posted in Addressing resistance to change, FAQ, Speciesism | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The way it’s always been and if we stop they’ll become extinct

Image by Jo-Anne McArthur / Animal Equality

  • Humans have been using other animals since the beginning of time.’
  • ‘It’s always been this way.’
  • ‘If we stop farming them they’ll become extinct.’

The idea that ‘nothing can change from the way it’s always been done’, is commonly used as an attempt to justify the horrors that our species currently inflicts upon more than 74,000,000,000 (seventy-four billion) members of land based species and uncounted trillions of aquatic individuals each year.

Let’s check the facts, however.  Having been around in approximately their current form for 200,0000 (two hundred thousand) years , humans first domesticated the species that we use for ‘agriculture’ only about 12,000 (twelve thousand) years ago, having begun the process of adapting others to serve our interests some 3,000 (three thousand) years earlier by domesticating wolves.

During these 12,000 years, almost every breed of animal that we use for any and every purpose worldwide, has been ‘adapted’ by selective breeding and/or genetic modification to optimise commercial production of whichever aspect of their lives and bodies we seek to use and financially profit from.

Where our meddling leads

Humans have created and are continuing to develop, breeds of the species that we use without any regard or concern for the well being of the individuals who are affected by our tampering.  Nowhere is this illustrated more poignantly that in the hens whom we currently use for their eggs, a subject that I have previously examined in depth.

Suffice to say that selective breeding combined with genetic modification has escalated egg laying by each individual bird to 250 – 300+ a year from an original annual total of 12 – 15 by her wild ancestors. By doing this we have created a situation where the body into which each innocent little creature is hatched, has become a prison and a time bomb, so prone to diseases of her wildly overworked reproductive processes that a painful and early death is almost guaranteed. Not that we actually care. Egg laying hens used commercially are slaughtered before they are 18 months old; let’s face it, we don’t need them to live long; it’s easy come, easy go for their human exploiters.

And meanwhile we see online the tired old debates and arguments about the environment in which they are used, with words like ‘factory’, ‘battery’, ‘free-range’, cage free’, ‘enriched cages’ and ‘backyard’ being bandied about.  Yes, sure, some environments in which hens are used for their eggs are ‘better’ than other environments. Sadly, however, the vast majority of even those who profess to care about other animals seem unaware of the fact that our true crime against this species has nothing to do with the environment in which we use them. Our crime is bred into their very bones, into their flesh, into reproductive systems genetically programmed to hyperactivity until their bodies self-destruct.

Those who rescue hens from the burden that egg laying imposes on their tiny bodies, who provide sanctuary from a world that sees them only in terms of what can be taken from them, struggle to source hormonal implants and veterinary staff to conduct the necessary surgery, doing all they can to delay the inevitable but even so, an elderly and healthy egg-laying hen is an oxymoron.

As for other species, breeds have been manipulated in ways that would inevitably shorten their lives were it not for the fact that the sole reason for their existence is to maximise what we can take from them in their youth before subsequently slaughtering them.  Our meddling has left many, if not most, with no environmental niche for them to occupy outside of the hells, torture chambers and prisons of our agricultural nightmare.

As for all our victims whatever their species, we confine them in unnatural environments, feed them substances that they would never consume without our intervention, accelerate and boost their growth / lactation / egg production far beyond what their bodies are designed to bear, and are even working to develop further grotesque mutations by genetic modification for a variety of ‘reasons’ that all boil down to maximising profit. Like ourselves, our defenceless victims are a long way from the natural animals they once were.

Extinction – is it always bad?

A common assertion is that many breeds will become extinct in a vegan world and this is said as if that were a bad thing.  Make no mistake, the almost inevitable extinction of the pitiable, Frankensteinian creations of our unspeakably self-obsessed species is a totally different issue from the extinction of those wild creatures who were quietly minding their own business in the aeons before we came along, and whose habitat we have destroyed by our industrialisation and urbanisation, not to mention the usurping of their land on the industrial scale that has been necessary for us to cultivate our ‘farmed’ victims in unimaginably vast and increasing numbers. 

So when we talk of extinction for the grotesquely mutated victims of our deluded species, how can this possibly be a bad thing? In a way, such extinction, allowing these defenceless innocents to escape the obscene torment of bodies we have created to serve our interests at the expense of their own, would be the only really humane thing we have ever done for them.

Be vegan.

 

Posted in Addressing resistance to change, FAQ | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Translations of common expressions: ‘Grass-fed lamb, half price!’

This was a promotion by a supermarket, heard recently in a TV ad break. With a great deal encapsulated in very few words, it’s a cynical bit of mind-bending although there was a time I wouldn’t have realised; that’s the art of the media advertisers whose brainwashing expertise is relied upon to normalise practices that, by rights, should make us retch. Let’s take a closer look.

‘Grass-fed’

Well what else would we expect? Any phrase that seeks to make a virtue out of what we all – and particularly those who actively promote harming other animals – would regard as ‘normal’ and ‘natural’, tends to make me curious. We see it used about so many different species; ‘grass fed beef’, ‘corn fed chicken’, ‘pasture raised’ this, and ‘free range’ that. The cynic in me decided to look further, quite frankly not because I have the slightest interest in how this affects the ‘nutritional quality’ of the resultant corpses (although there’s a lot of self-serving stuff online about this very thing), but rather because I was curious to know more about the truth behind the propaganda, driven by an industry that is working extra hard to prevent consumers realising exactly what it is that they do to fulfil their demands.

Apparently there is (surprise, surprise) very little regulation regarding the term ‘grass-fed’ and the vast majority of our UK ruminant victims whose natural diet would be grass, are ‘finished’ on a diet of grain. ‘Finishing’ is yet another euphemism used by the industry. It sounds so cosy, a mere technicality, doesn’t it? ‘Finishing’ relates to the 80 to 90 days immediately prior to the slaughterhouse ordeal that we inflict on every victim, and it’s done for the purpose of fattening our victims in order to get a ‘good conformation of carcass and a favourable price’.

Finished. Like adding the final touches to a new garment, plumping cushions in a newly decorated room, except that we’re not talking about garments or decorating rooms. We’re talking about the premeditated killing of defenceless young individuals, mere infants in most cases, and the focus is on maximising the profit that can be made from the selling of their corpses and body parts.

‘lamb’

So let’s get back to this lamb. A spring lamb (also called early or summer lamb) is 3 to 5 months old when he or she is slaughtered.

I did consider that possibly the ‘grass-fed’ description is a subtle suggestion that this infant has been weaned, i.e. no longer nursing from his or her mother. However ‘weaning’ for our victims is not the same as it is for humans, who tend to use the word to indicate the time our infants stop being completely reliant on breast milk and switch to solid food. Of course by continuing to consume substances that masquerade under the blanket description ‘dairy’, many of us continue to participate in cross-species breastfeeding. But that’s a separate issue.

Those who have provided sanctuary to ewes who have given birth, know that although grass will form an increasing component of the infant’s diet, a lamb will continue to nurse with decreasing frequency for a period of up to about six months. Lactation will diminish during this time but the mother and child remain bonded. We see this same activity in human mammals with both mother and infant finding comfort in the contact breastfeeding provides. In the industry however, ‘weaning’ is a verb, a verb that does not describe a natural process involving a mother and her baby as with humans, but rather an enforced activity with the aim of maximising profit, initiated by the farmer about 8 – 14 weeks after birth.

Navigating through all the ‘if’s’, ‘but’s’ and ‘maybe’s’ that comprise the regulations and guidelines, it’s difficult to determine what the term ‘grass-fed’ actually means, used in relation to this lamb who was chained upside down by one leg in a slaughterhouse to have the arteries in his throat hacked open when he was 12 – 20 weeks old.

Does it actually mean anything at all? But it sounds good, doesn’t it? There was a time the descriptor would have made me think of rolling green pastures with happy creatures enjoying life, gambolling in the spring sunshine. And I think that’s exactly what it’s meant to do.

‘half price!’

Well isn’t everyone looking for a bargain?

This issue is one that I have discussed before in a piece entitled ‘The price of a life’. Every item, commodity, resource or service that we buy, is making a profit for someone. In the case of the defenceless and terrified individuals who are our victims, there are very many pairs of hands involved in the breeding, incarcerating, mutilating, transporting, processing and selling of lives and bodies, who each take a cut from the amount of cash that is raised from the sale of their breast milk, eggs and ultimately, their corpses. At the very bottom of the list, we’ll find the cost of the food and the shelter that was provided for our victim.  All of these costs have to be covered in the most economically advantageous way – and profit added on top. This is just basic economics, not rocket science and as I say so often, all we need to do is follow the money.

So, ‘half-price’, how do they manage that? To be honest, I don’t know. However I do know one thing. What springs to mind, centres on a frequent justification used in support of harming other animals; namely that we all believe they should be ‘humanely treated‘. How often do we see claims that whatever is done by others, the practices that we support personally are somehow an exception?

The fact that we’d eagerly snap up body parts at bargain basement prices rather shoots that claim in the foot. Given how many humans have taken a financial cut from the proceeds, how could we possibly claim that any defenceless individual had a great life if the price of their corpse is so pitiful? Well we could claim that, but only if we don’t think it through. For our victims every penny-pinching moment of their entire existence is financially optimised. We are deluding ourselves to consider otherwise

And the final point that needs to be made is this. That piece of dismembered infant may be obscenely touted to the rapacious consumers of our species for ‘half price’, but it was very far from that. For a terrified lamb, taken from their mother and subjected to the clanging stench of a slaughterhouse at only a few weeks old, ‘half price’ is meaningless. Our ‘bargain’ cost that baby all he had, all he will ever have, and we didn’t even need to do it.

Be vegan.

 

 

Posted in 'Happy' exploitation, Awakening to veganism, consumer demand, Harm reduction, welfare | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

How do you know someone is vegan?

‘Don’t worry, they’ll soon tell you.’ It’s probably true.

‘I’m vegan.’ They’re words many of us say several times a day. Yet contrary to those who mock and ridicule, the words have nothing to do with what I’d choose on a menu; I say the words because it’s the neatest way to describe the standard of behaviour that I expect of myself.

For me, the words encompass everything that I am, everything that motivates me, explain the reason that I strive endlessly to find a way to shine a light on the breathtaking lies we are each brought up to believe and to sustain by mutual repetition; the lie that we need to use other animals to thrive; the lie that we all love these same animals that we needlessly subject to the most sickening violence every single day.

While everyone is agreeing about how much they despise the needless horrors that humans inflict on every other species, ‘I’m vegan’, is the ONLY way there is to express the fact that to us, not only do we agree that it’s utterly wrong to harm other individuals for no reason, but we reflect that agreement in every action that we take, every day of our lives. For us, it’s real. We live the words.

Those who can’t say ‘I’m vegan’ may mock and they may ridicule, but each of us must one day face ourselves in the mirror and hear the voice of our conscience in the silence of our thoughts.

Our words say so much about each of us. What do your words say about you?

Find out about veganism here: https://www.goveganscotland.com/ https://goveganworld.com/living-vegan/
https://goveganworld.com/download-free-vegan-guide/

Posted in Awakening to veganism | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Living in a land of make-believe

Today I find myself reminiscing, mentally retracing paths of the clouded past, trying to find the point at which I lost the warm feeling of kinship with all other species of animal that so many of us experience in childhood.  We are unaware that from our earliest years, our thoughts about other animals are distorted and manipulated by others. Our carers or parents who generally begin this indoctrination, no doubt have good intentions, repeating the lessons and the misinformation that they were taught in their own childhood days and as a parent, I’m ashamed to say that I can attest to the truth of this.

When we are children, we are encouraged to believe that we ‘love animals’ of every species, and most of us do care about them with an innocent admiration that is reflected in our favourite cuddly toys, in the children’s stories that we love to hear, the TV and films that we watch, and even in the cute images on our clothes and other possessions. This is true even to the extent that violence or antagonism towards other animals in any young person is regarded as suggesting that they may have psychological issues requiring further investigation.

Yet while we grow, usually without our knowledge and always without our full understanding, we are literally spoon-fed the dead flesh, the breast-milk and the eggs of these same beloved creatures whom we think of as our friends. We are given their skins to wear as clothing, are cleaned with substances containing body parts and fluids and were tested on agonised, terrified bodies; are taken to be ‘entertained’ in places where the once proud and beautiful are incarcerated, subjugated and humiliated. As children, we accept all this in trust, each of us looking to adults to guide us into appropriate behaviour.

As we mature, most of us retain our admiration for dogs and cats, sometimes one or two other species. However, the species that we have learned to use and consume, fade into a no-man’s land where consideration of them as the individuals they are, seldom if ever crosses our minds.

Image by Jo-Anne McArthur, We Animals

By the time we are adults we have become completely indoctrinated into the culturally accepted system of systematic violence, oppression and brutality that collectively represents nonveganism, and we no longer even consider questioning the source of the bodily remains that we buy, or the mechanisms by which those substances arrive in the shops to meet our demands as consumers. We learn to repeat words like ‘humane’ and ‘welfare’ but for most of us, they are only buzzwords and we have no knowledge at all of the reality behind them; have only the false images portrayed in the media by those who make money from harm and death, quietly profiting from our ignorance.

But I love animals

The tragedy of all this, is that almost every single one of us still claims to care about animals. Many of us sincerely believe, not only that we care, but also that our behaviour reflects that concern. We cling to this idea, oblivious (and very often determined to stay that way) to the reality of what we are demanding as consumers of torment and death. We carry on living in the child’s fantasy of our infant years where our victims are ‘happy’ and ‘willing’ or else that they are inanimate objects without minds or thoughts. What we almost never do, is acknowledge what science has proved;

  • that our victims are sentient individuals who are just like ourselves in every way that matters, individuals whose lives matter to them and who most desperately do not want to die; and
  • that our species has no nutritional or other need for the bloodbath that is occurring in our name.

Sometimes when challenged about our use of our victims, even as adults we take refuge in an imaginary and juvenile narrative in which humans are cast as kindly guardians, benevolently bestowing protection and sustenance in return for the ‘benefits’ that we consider to be our due; inventing fantasies involving imaginary victim consent in a land of make-believe where other animals ‘give’ their lives, their breast milk, their eggs and their services to humans in return for our ‘care’. Thus soothed, any prickle of conscience subsides, our thoughts drift elsewhere, and we generally fail to confront our self-serving fantasies.

These mythical tales are fuelled by the publicity machine that presents our defenceless victims as resources for human use and consumption. Those who ‘breed’, mutilate and incarcerate other individuals on our behalf are portrayed as devotedly carrying out a labour of love for their charges, rather than the hard-headed business people they are, maximising profits while minimising outlay; deliberately obscuring the details that the consumer would find upsetting or ‘distasteful’, rebuffing and ridiculing any criticism as being unrealistic and anthropomorphic.

Finding our way back to the way we began

For many of us, the first step towards realising the truth begins with the beloved companion dogs or cats that we think of as our friends, with their huge personalities and their innocent gaze that reflects their happiness, their devotion to their friends, and occasionally their fear or pain. It’s so easy to fall in love with a companion who doesn’t share our species but does share our home and our life.

One day – if we are lucky – our dearly loved companion may help us reconnect with a truth that we recognised as infants. One day we may look and really see the pitiful dismembered remains on our plate, the infant calf who was slaughtered so that we could drink his mother’s milk, that little fragile hen whose every bleak day was spent in hell for the eggs we consume. If our minds are open, we may catch a glimpse of the fact that each was an individual with same potential to think and feel, remember and respond to their life and their experiences as any other sentient individual; these faculties are what define the sentience that we share.  When we open our minds to seeking the truth, we inevitably realise with a pang that nothing in their existence as a commercial resource gave rise to anything other than misery, fear and pain; they who are our innocent victims, bred specifically to ensure the maximum profit is derived from their life and their body for the least expense possible. Those who tell us otherwise, do so only though lack of knowledge or else a vested interest that following the money will reveal.

If we had only looked into the innocent eyes of those whose pitiful existence and whose inevitable slaughter we insisted upon at the supermarket check-outs; if we had seen that pleading, frightened gaze in the clanging horror of our slaughterhouse, we would swiftly have lost our appetite for the ‘products’ of suffering and death that once seemed so harmless and appealing. If we had heard their screams and whimpers of agony, smelled the blood that their panicking hearts were pumping onto killing floors, our time in the land of make-believe would surely have come to an end.

On that day that we are finally honest with ourselves and face the inevitable consequences of the nightmare that takes place in our name, being vegan is the only thing that makes sense.

Why not leave the land of make-believe today? Be vegan.

Posted in Awakening to veganism, Companion animals | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Memories of leather and fur

A single stark memory has plagued me all my life. I must have been quite young (possibly in the 1960s) because what I saw then would never be seen nowadays. I had spotted a truck in traffic. It drew my attention because protruding above its high sides was something odd that I just couldn’t recognise. I stared, puzzled, in the way you do when something just doesn’t make sense, and as the truck moved off, the penny finally dropped. I was looking at what seemed to be an enormous roll comprised of hides. The familiar black and white patterns of cow skins were all piled together and rolled up, smeared with seeping fluids, caked with filth and darkening blood. The grisly imprint of the sight has stayed in my mind’s eye all my life, now reinterpreted with sorrow,  deep regret and merciless vegan clarity.

Time moved on in a dream – 1970s, 1980s, 1990s…

It was many years later, but still long ago that I learned about the fur trade, reading and watching videos that turned my stomach. The message of these was that using fur was disgusting; that it was so much worse than other kinds of ‘animal cruelty’; that it was a frivolous self-indulgence without any justification whatsoever. From that day on, I vowed that never again would I wear anything made of fur and disposed of every item that I owned that featured any fur at all. At every opportunity I protested about fur, donating to those ‘organisations’ that had first opened my eyes, who claimed to need my cash to bring an end to the trade of those members of other species whose interests they claimed to represent. I signed petitions and wrote emails. I was an ardent opponent of ‘cruelty to animals’. Or so I thought.

In those days I was ‘vegetarian’ (when it was convenient) and I had a thing about leather. I loved the smell of it, had leather boots, belts and gloves, leather gear for my motor bike, and a couple of leather handbags that I prized.  What I was thinking? Seriously. What was I thinking?  I seem to remember that I vaguely thought leather was a by-product of those ‘food’ industries that I had been taught were essential for human health but really, I can’t understand why I didn’t know more than I did.

Time moved on – awakening 2012

It was about 6 years ago that my true education began. I learned that human animals have no need to use members of other animal species for any purpose. That shook me. It was then that I really learned about leather. I learned about feathers. I learned about wool, about honey, and about the many euphemisms for dead flesh. I learned about ‘dairy’, about egg use, about testing and vivisection, circuses, zoos and the whole gut-churning horror show. There was no denying the truth when it came along. I had discovered veganism.

Wet salted cow skins

Slowly, incredulously, with bile rising in my throat, I realised that I had been lied to, manipulated and misled into thinking that some kinds of ‘cruelty’ were worse than others.

And I found myself asking, was ‘fur’ any worse than tearing the feathers and down from the screaming and bloodied bodies of living birds; worse than wrenching ‘angora’ from rabbits sobbing in agony? Was ‘fur’ any worse than leather; any worse than tearing the skin off a cow as her consciousness wanes with the lifeblood pulsing from her gashed throat and the places where her feet used to be? Was it any worse than the skin of my favourite gloves, that soft, smooth slink skin of the unborn calf whose first and final gasps rasped from new lungs, as he slithered wet with her entrails from the womb of a disembowelled mother dying by pieces, while hanging from chains in our slaughterhouse; her only life draining away before she could birth her precious infant to the hell that was all she had known, a hell that her innocence could never understand.

My new awareness demanded to know more about this ‘fur’ that I’d been so vociferous about, why it was any different from these new nightmares that still haunt the nights when sleep eludes me? Was there a difference? Was there?  And my shattering heart told me, no, it was no different. There was no ‘better’ kind of atrocity, no ‘worse’ kind. It was ALL unnecessary.

That was the day that I finally understood the meaning of betrayal, of self-disgust and impotent rage against all the things that had been hidden from me, the lies I’d been told and had foolishly believed. I had been trying to do the right thing while all the time being complicit as a consumer in an orgy of violence and oppression, I’d betrayed every value that I thought had defined me. I could never wish on another such an awakening from a lifetime of lies.

And I became vegan, because it was simply the least I could do.

Respect means being honest

It is so unfair of any of us to consider that our peers can’t handle the truth. We don’t need imaginary checklists, labelled ‘Cruel’ and ‘Kind’. All any of us needs to know is that as human animals we have no need to use the lives and bodies of members of other animal species for any purpose. Just that one thing.

Then, knowing that one thing, if we are really sincere about not wanting to cause needless harm to those who are innocent and defenceless, we’ll be desperate to stop doing it. It won’t feel like doing without things, it won’t feel like restriction or deprivation. For most vegans I know, it’s been difficult to stop quickly enough. So let’s not just stop having victims of one species or several, when becoming vegan means we stop having victims of any species at all. Each new vegan is someone who will live the rest of their life doing their absolute best not to have victims.

We owe our victims nothing less than the truth. And we owe our peers exactly the same. Be vegan.

 

For more information about the inconsistencies behind the singling out of fur, please see this excellent article by Sherry F Colb, a Justia columnist, Professor of Law and Charles Evans Hughes Scholar at Cornell Law School.

https://verdict.justia.com/2018/04/06/san-francisco-fur-ban

Posted in Harm reduction | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Plants feel, fish feel, cows feel – but we have to eat

‘Plants feel, fish feel, cows feel – but we have to eat.’  This was a comment made on a recent post promoting veganism. It’s almost possible to hear the dismissive shrug at the end.

It’s another of these sentences that I must have seen hundreds of times in various guises. Yet in a very few words it says so much about the writer, so much about our culture and so much about our personal attitude to ethics and responsibility, while illustrating the effects of the lies and myths that we are raised to embrace as fact. As a sentence, it’s something of an accidental masterpiece and as a vegan writer, I’d love to encapsulate so much in so few words, but writing in defence of our victims places one constantly at a disadvantage; the disadvantage of challenging the unfounded beliefs and self-serving fantasies that we grow up thinking of as ‘information’. Before the truth can be recognised, the shell of complacency that formed around us in our childhood must be shattered or at the very least, severely weakened.

For each of us, that protective shell was created by a desensitisation process that we were unaware was even taking place, as our infant selves were gradually corrupted to become complicit in the most unjust and brutal system of oppression that the world has ever seen. The horror of what was done to us was compounded by our being simultaneously taught to believe a complete fairy tale about the barbarism being ‘necessary’, a fantasy that we ‘love’ our victims, a blinkered delusion that we are fiercely opposed to their being harmed, and that our own behaviour, regardless of what it is, does not qualify as participation in the atrocity.

Do plants feel?

So let’s look at the idea that ‘plants have feelings’. It’s one of the most common – if not the most common – ‘argument’ in favour of the tormenting and slaughter of 74 billion sentient land-based individuals every year (which takes no account of the trillions of marine creatures and a number of other very numerous and significant groups), and it’s trotted out countless times a day on social media. I have always resisted writing about plants for several reasons.

The first reason is that I’m completely sure that the majority of those who repeat this with monotonous regularity have never read further than a few sensationalist click-bait headlines. I would truly challenge whether the majority of ‘plant activists’ have ever read the science. That science is truly fascinating and although I understand it is now largely discredited, I recall a much younger self being absolutely enthralled by the book ‘The Secret Life of Plants’.  Discredited or not, it began in me a sense of wonder and a deep appreciation of hidden marvels hitherto unknown in the lives of the myriad organisms known as plants. At various times I have kept Venus Fly Trap plants, watching in gruesome fascination as a victim triggered the embrace of the clasping trap where their life would end bathed in the digestive enzymes of the enclosing surface; I have been awed by a Mimosa Pudica , by the sensitive response to the lightest touch, observing the swift and protective folding and drooping of the leaves. There is no doubt that there is much we do not know about plants, and so much more that we can learn. It is, however, inescapable that however plants may react to stimuli, and whatever level of perception this evidences, they all differ significantly from our animal victims in that they lack a nervous system and a brain.

Some of the current science of plant perception is usefully summed up in this article by the BBC entitled ‘Plants can see, hear and smell – and respond’ which links to several individual studies.

“Do I think plants are smart? I think plants are complex.” However complexity, says Daniel Chamovitz of Tel Aviv University, should not be confused with intelligence.

“We plant scientists are happy to talk about similarities and differences between the plant and animal lifestyles when presenting results of plant research to the general public. You want to avoid [such metaphors], unless you are interested in a (usually futile) debate about a carrot’s ability to feel pain when you bite into it.”  Reliance on animal-based metaphors to describe plants comes with issues, says Fatima Cvrčková, a researcher at Charles University in Prague. Plants are supremely adapted for doing exactly what they need to do. They may lack a nervous system, a brain and other features we associate with complexity, but they excel in other areas.

Is this the same as ‘fish feel’ and ‘cows feel’?

The ‘plants feel’ (or ‘plants have feelings’) strategy is used by some as an attempt to draw an exact parallel between a plant’s ‘experience’ and that of our annual 74 billion victims, so that by doing so, they may dismiss the need to consider the impact of their actions and take measures to remedy them. However plants and animals are not equivalent, as science currently stands. The individuals whom we bring into the world by means of deliberate, invasive ‘breeding’ programmes for the sole purpose of slaughtering them in their youth are essentially like us in every way that matters. Like ourselves, their lives are important to them, they seek to avoid pain and remain alive. They experience life and living through their senses, through their connections to their environment and to other beings. They have needs and preferences, are capable of a wide range of emotional response, of forming deep bonds with other beings. A sentient individual is defined as having the faculty of sensation and the power to to perceive, reason and think. They have minds. They definitely do have feelings.

We all know this at a deep level and it seems bizarre in the extreme that this simple truth needs to be restated so frequently. We all know it is true of the dogs, the cats, the other species of companions with whom we share our lives and our homes. We recognise and relate to their behaviour, their reactions, their vocalisations and their body language. Even without a trace of anthropomorphism, we can interpret their body language and accept that we might have similar reactions were we in their situation.

Despite this, we have learned to block out the blindingly obvious and scientifically proven fact that these same reactions and qualities extend also to the 74 billion, and in fact to the trillions of marine individuals whose lives we take each year without conscience or concern.

Let’s imagine for a moment that harming plants and harming animals is exactly the same…

For the sake of avoiding argument however, even were science to continue to develop in the area of plant perception and even if it were to discover that peeling a carrot is the equivalent of using a hide puller to agonisingly flay a terrified individual as they hang upside down by one chained leg, struggling desperately, their breath bubbling through the warm, bright blood that their panicking heart is pumping frantically through their gashed carotid arteries and jugular veins; even if science were to discover that mowing the grass is equivalent to genocide and that weeding the patio is an act of brutality, the ‘plants’ justification would still not hold up.

The very use of this ‘plants feel’ ‘argument’ indicates that it is absolutely certain that the writer is probably unaware of, but has definitely never stopped to consider, the feeding requirements of the 74 billion innocent land-based creatures who are being force bred, raised, ‘fattened’, used and trucked to slaughterhouses annually so that we may consume their flesh, eggs and breast milk.  There are 74 billion of them and approximately 7.4 billion of us. They are plant eaters.

Even using the most economical feeding methods, the massive volume of plant material that each of the 74 billion individuals needs to consume during their existence from conception to slaughter, in addition to the feeding requirements of those who are incarcerated year on year for us to parasitise their breast milk or their eggs and for our laboratory experimentation, is beyond the ability of most of us to even imagine. The scale of this plant consumption to feed our victims is breathtaking, and growing these plants comes inevitably with an environmental impact of devastating proportions.

Still examining the logistics of feeding our victims, the other thing tied into the vast tonnage of plant material consumed by the 74 billion, is something called a ‘feed conversion ratio‘. Putting this simply, what any feed conversion ratio illustrates is that for any given quantity of foodstuff consumed by an animal (of any species), a vastly reduced quantity of whatever substance we are interested in – be that breast milk, eggs or flesh – will be produced. The science behind this is obviously highly relevant for those seeking to maximise the profit they make from consumers for exploiting the lives and bodies of the defenceless on their behalf; contrary to all the rhetoric we read and hear from those who farm lives, it is not a labour of love as they would have us believe. It’s a business and any business is founded on the principle of maximising profit by minimising costs. As always, follow the money.

Feed conversion at its heart is a very basic principle of which we all have direct experience; all we need to consider is the several bags of shopping that many of us will carry into our kitchens week in, week out, Most of us try to keep our weight stable but even doing that requires the consumption of a substantial weight of food. It follows logically that to increase our weight, we would need to consume considerably more weight in food (several times more) than the weight we would gain. Conversion ratios are simply the scientific expression of exactly how much food an individual would need to consume to increase their weight by a given amount/ produce a given quantity of breast milk / produce an egg 300 days a year. Basically, animals of any species, including human animals, are very inefficient converters of food into flesh / eggs / breast milk.

‘We have to eat’

‘We have to eat’. Now all this stuff about plants and ratios would be simply an exercise of academic interest if the consumption of animal-derived substances were actually essential for human well being. But this is where it all starts to unravel and become unstuck. Not only is it unnecessary for us to use the lives and bodies of our sentient fellow earthlings for consumption, there’s an increasing weight of evidence pointing to the harmful effects of these and their undisputed role in causing the major killer conditions of our time: heart disease, diabetes, cancer and many others. Every major health organisation on the planet now recognises that we can thrive without consuming animal substances. And yet the myths persist, and those with vested interests (follow that money again) continue to perpetuate these and stoke the smouldering embers of misinformation and confusion.

The point is, however, that feeding vast quantities of plants to our 74 billion victims to get back a small proportion of that nutrition converted into  body parts, eggs and hormonal secretions, is a hugely inefficient process, enacted without necessity and quite transparently out of pure self indulgence. While they are awaiting their untimely and horrific deaths, our victims consume far more nutrients than they are capable of generating by way of substances for us to consume.

7.4 billion humans then go on to consume these body parts, eggs and breast milk that we take from our victims, and our own bodies, in the same highly inefficient feed conversion process, further reduce the nutritional payload of what began as a massive quantity of plants.

Put simply, by running these original plants through firstly the digestive systems of our victims, then running their bodies and secretions through our own digestive systems, we effect two sets of inefficient feed conversions and in the process, need to grow sufficient plant material to feed over 80 billion animals including ourselves.

In addition to this, it’s not even as if animal substances are a substitution for plants in a human diet. Dead flesh, eggs and the cross-species breastfeeding behaviour that we have been brainwashed into calling ‘dairy‘ and regarding as normal, do not provide for the nutritional needs of our degenerate species. We all additionally require to consume as large a volume of plant materials as we can, as it’s from this that we draw the vast majority of minerals and nutrients as well as the fibre that is essential for healthy digestion.

Since science has proved that we can survive and thrive on plants, by consuming these directly, only one process of feed conversion needs take place instead of two. By consuming plants directly, we need feed only 7.4 billion instead of 80 billion.  If plants were indeed to be shown to suffer in any way from being eaten, it’s simply logical that those who are concerned for this ‘suffering’ would wish to minimise it by using as few of them as possible.

So let’s go back to where this began. ‘Plants feel, fish feel, cows feel – but we have to eat’

  • ‘Plants feel’; well do they? Research indicates that plants may have some level of perception that science has yet to fully reveal.  To say this represents ‘feeling’ is inaccurate. Scientists tell us that animal based metaphors may be used as an aid to describing plant responses to stimuli to the general public, but as plants lack the same nervous system, brain and receptors as an animal, these metaphors may be unhelpful and open to misinterpretation.
  • ‘Fish feel, cows feel’; yes, we know that sentient individuals definitely feel and not only that, but those animals who are not human are scientifically proven to experience these feelings to a similar or even greater extent than human animals.
  • ‘We have to eat’; yes, indeed we do. We can eat plants directly without the need to involve any other being to inefficiently convert these plants into parts and substances which we then need to supplement with plants. By cutting out the ‘middle victim’, we minimise plant consumption.

So what else is this comment saying?

I could write another essay on that topic alone (possibly will at some point), but suffice it to say that we all have had or used this dismissive mechanism to some extent. For instance consider the prisons that we euphemistically call ‘zoos’ and ‘wildlife parks’, ‘sea life centres’ etc. When challenged on these, we tend to trot out a sentence that includes words about ‘endangered species’ and ‘breeding programmes’ and ‘education’. I know we do this because I was not always vegan and I used to say things like that; they soothed my conscience about paying money to witness the degradation, subjugation and humiliation of wild and beautiful individuals, imprisoned in unnatural environments for us to gawp at. I repeated the buzz words as often as I deemed appropriate.

For each of the uses of individuals who do not share our species, it seems to me that in our early years we all learn certain stock phrases. We use these, often to ourselves, to defend our participation in practices that make us uncomfortable. We like it when we consider that these phrases sound ethical, moral and thoughtful to our ears. But – again speaking from experience and from many years of people-watching – we frequently learn the words by rote, repeating them without ever really thinking about them. That we continue to use them largely unchallenged tells us that in our culture, the majority participate in the same defence mechanism and thus reinforce our flawed ‘justifications’.

And what about our personal attitude? When we use these phrases as an attempt to shut down a conversation on a topic that is making us uncomfortable, we are telling the listener that we are not listening, not prepared to consider the validity of the facts that are being presented and that we are dismissing any notion of personal responsibility for the consequences of our actions.

It’s absolutely true that no one can force us to be responsible. However it’s somewhat tragic that every single one of us would refuse to embrace this as a description of ourselves, preferring to think of ourselves as decent and honourable; people who take a stand against injustice and defend the helpless and innocent. It makes us feel good when we consider that these values apply to us. However, when we’re not vegan, they don’t. It’s really that simple; being vegan is simply becoming the people we actually think we are already.

Be vegan.

Posted in Addressing resistance to change, Health and plant based eating, Sentience | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Thoughts for another Mother’s Day

Every festival and specially designated ‘day’ presents a shameless commercial opportunity to flood the market with consumer goods and Mother’s Day is no different. The shops are filling up with items targeted at those who gladly embrace this annual occasion to tangibly demonstrate the love and respect that they hold for the mothers in their lives. For some, that Mother is the one whose body created, nurtured and laboured to give birth to them; for others, that Mother is the mother of their children; for others that Mother is the special person who mothered them when they needed mothering despite there being no connection of blood between them. As a mother myself, I can say that motherhood is a role that does not depend on, or even require, acknowledgement or gratitude for its continuing, but deep down we all recognise and appreciate that for many of us, our mother is our staunchest ally, our most fierce supporter, and a steadfast shoulder to cry on whenever the world lets us down.

So for this special day, we eagerly buy what the shops are selling, the beautifully worded cards, the gifts, the warmth and sentiment behind the concept of mothering; the appreciation of which is so deeply ingrained in each of us that although we may seldom express it, our respect and awe of those who have fulfilled this role for each of us is so profound and so heartfelt.

Respect and awe

We celebrate mothers, their mothering and their state of motherhood. Our culture is steeped in esteem for this most noble role.

Or is it?

Let’s just stop there and take a step back from the tide of sentiment that risks sweeping us away with nostalgia and emotion. Let’s really think about mothering and motherhood; not as I have experienced it, not as you have experienced it; just Mothering and Motherhood. Here are definitions from the dictionary to start us off.

mothering: noun

the nurturing of a child by its mother.
the protective behaviour of a mother towards her child.
nurturing or protective behaviour reminiscent of that 
performed by a literal mother.

motherhood: noun

the state of being a mother; maternity;
the qualities or spirit of a mother;
mothers collectively.

That’s what the dictionary says and in our considering of the human mothers in our lives, we’d find little there to criticise. However every single one of us knows that becoming a mother, mothering and the state of motherhood are not a uniquely human experience.

Not uniquely human

Consider the devotion lavished by mothers of every mammalian species upon their newborn infants, borne of the sweat, blood and labour of their bodies, as they are welcomed into the world with tender, exhausted wonderment. Anyone who has watched a birth, may perhaps have experienced a sense of privilege and grace to have been witness to this most timeless ritual; this profound and private experience shared by two individuals whose devotion to each other began long before their bodies struggled and toiled in the wrenching pains of birth, long before their eyes met, drinking in the sight of each other, savouring the scent of each other while their long and intimate bond defines itself anew in raw and painful separateness.

Similar bonds exist between a mother and her infants of other sentient species and these are readily apparent to any observer although the biology of their individual experience may differ from our own. For example, in situations where her eggs are not being taken away for human commercial gain, and where her natural instincts have not been selectively bred out, a hen who has laid eggs sits on her nest all day and night for three weeks, leaving it only once a day to quickly find food and drink water. During this period, and if the eggs have been fertilised, the hen and her chicks communicate with each other with a range of calls. Embryos emit a distress call when cold, for example, and the hen responds to such calls by moving the egg in the nest. Developing chicks also emit pleasure calls when their mother responds.

At hatching, chicks instinctively follow the first moving object they see that in nature will quite naturally be their mother, a process known as imprinting. Their mother directs them to appropriate food items by calling and pecking at the ground, nurturing and caring for them by passing on to her young what she has learned about life and living. Mother hens are renowned for being protective of their young and, if camouflage and other defences fail to avoid detection by a predator or threat, a hen will become raucous and draw attention to herself, willing to sacrifice herself in an attempt to divert danger from her chicks. There’s a very good reason that the term ‘mother hen’ has become synonymous with fierce and devoted care.

Those of us who are mothers, who have felt the agony and the exhaustion, the wonder and the heavy ache of milk that cries out to be suckled, instinctively relate to other mothers as they experience something that was so deep and meaningful for ourselves.

Extending our acknowledgement of motherhood

While we can relate so strongly to motherhood no matter what the species of the mother and her infant, how is it then, that we can use our power as consumers to demand that this sacred bond be severed for our most trivial whims, as long as the mothers and infants are not human?

At this point, how many will feel the need to stop reading, to close their eyes and cover their ears, defensively seeking to preserve the wilful blindness that allows us to spend our consumer cash to continue paying for the wanton destruction of families? How many will suddenly find themselves reflexively shifting from sublime sisterhood with all who have shared the life affirming storm of becoming mothers, back to the myths of our childhood where we cling to the notion that we are somehow different from all other species, somehow so special in a way not manifested or experienced by members of any other species, so important that we may wreak the horrors of the slaughterhouse upon them all without conscience?

While it is relatively easy for us all to see why there is something fundamentally horrifying about using and consuming the bloodied slabs of flesh and muscle that we term ‘meat’ so as to distance ourselves from acknowledging our dead victims, let’s make no mistake, all our use of members of other species is unnecessary and all of it depends utterly on violation of the reproductive functions of mothers of other species. All of it depends on the control, the manipulation and ultimately the destruction of the bonds of shared by mothers and their infants, bonds that are no less powerful because our victims do not share our species.

For example,‘dairy‘ is a business of commercialised reproduction; of forced pregnancy; of separating mothers and their babies, to facilitate the using of their hormonal secretions or breast-milk (commercially known as ‘milk’) as a commercial resource. This resource is sold for profit either as a liquid or as yogurt, ice cream, cheese, butter and so on.

Every egg use in which humans participate, ensures that because eggs are viewed as an appropriate ‘food’ for our species, there will continue to be a demand for these defenceless little individuals to be born into the treacherous bodies that humans have created for them. It will continue to be profitable to further modify these harmless and innocent creatures by artificial means in order to maximise profits at the complete expense of their health. For every egg that is used wherever and whenever by our species, we are ensuring the continuation of a vile and hidden profit-driven world that ensures that for every single egg laying hen, her own body is her prison.

When we use the skins, the secretions, the body fibres, or other body parts of members of other species to consume, to wear, or for the multitude of hideous purposes that our species has devised, we are in fact pouring contempt on them as individuals and upon the mothering and motherhood that they have had inflicted upon them by the ‘breeding programmes’ of our species, but which their treacherous bodies embrace in the way that nature has programmed them to do to safeguard and nurture their offspring. The torment of having that torn from them time and again is unimaginable.

There is no need for us to do this, none at all. We can thrive, and our children can thrive, without inflicting harm on others. All we need to do is to step away from the myths that we have been taught all our lives, to look with fresh eyes and common sense.

On honouring mothers and the giving of gifts

So this Mother’s Day, when we are wandering in the stores, fondly remembering just how important motherhood is to each of us, let’s pause a moment. Let’s think of the reality behind those gifts of love made from the heartbreak of billions of mothers whose anguish we have learned to ignore. Let’s look with honest eyes upon those gifts of chocolate made from breast-milk, gifts made from the flayed skins of defenceless creatures whose only wish was to live the life they valued so much; gifts crafted and woven from the body fibres of those who were powerless to defend themselves against our shameless use, and ask ourselves if this is truly how we want to honour motherhood.

And then, as so many of us have done already, let’s say, ‘Enough’. Today is a good day to do that. Let Mother’s Day be for all mothers. Be vegan.

http://www.humanesociety.org/assets/pdfs/farm/about_chickens.pdf

Posted in consumer demand, dairy, eggs, Festivals | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Defend the innocent, join the dots

Recently I saw a number of articles, images and videos that I found deeply moving.

• A dairy cow with severe head trauma had been thrown into a dumpster to die. She was standing, face bloodied, hunched in agony, looking at the camera.
• A cow of a breed commonly used for their dead flesh had escaped to live with a herd of wild bison. She had died of stress on being recaptured to be taken to a slaughterhouse to be killed.
• A pig adopted as a pet from an organisation that had rescued and nursed her back to health, was killed and eaten by her adopters, rather than being returned to the rescue organisation for rehoming.
• 48 roosters were handed over to an SPCA, defenceless individuals for whom places had been found with rescuers. Instead of releasing these 48 roosters to the homes that were ready and waiting for them, the SPCA had every one of them killed.

Now each of these stories provoked fury in the media and online. If asked to explain why these actions provoke such outrage, such anger and howls for vengeance, the majority of those people would say that they were distressed and furious because the acts were so completely pointless; they were so absolutely unnecessary; they were such blatant ‘cruelty’ to innocent and vulnerable individuals who were powerless to defend themselves. And they’d be absolutely correct, I can’t find much to dispute about that sentiment.

But the thing that is most significant in all of this outpouring of shock and grief and vitriol is that the vast majority of those expressing it were not vegan. So how is this relevant?

We’re talking about cows, a pig and some roosters. Let’s stop and consider from whom they needed to be rescued? From ‘bad’ people? From ‘cruel’ people?

No. Nothing nearly so fanciful. They needed to be rescued from ordinary people. They needed to be rescued from ordinary people whose consumer demands are paying to harm and kill so that they can buy dead flesh, eggs and the hormonal infant nutrient known as ‘milk’ from the stores. ‘Demand for harm and death’ is simply another way to express the consumer demands of those who are not vegan.

So in fact, these defenceless individuals who won hearts and minds wherever their tragic tales were told, were in that position of needing to be rescued from the very people who were angry about what had happened to them.

And the other key thing?  ALL of our use of the lives, bodies and reproductive systems of others, like the acts in the tales at the top of the page, is completely pointless, absolutely unnecessary; the deepest injustice imaginable, committed against innocent and vulnerable individuals who are powerless to defend themselves.

When we are not vegan, WE are the ones whose demands as consumers are directly responsible for each of these tragic tales. We’re not inherently ‘bad’ people. We’re not inherently ‘cruel’ people. But what we do need to do, is make the connection between those desperate creatures whose stories we hear, whose plight moves us to stand strong in their defence; and those whose systematic, normalised, horrific but equally unnecessary torment is conducted behind closed doors to meet our demands at the checkouts for their body parts, milk and eggs.

If we are not vegan, it’s not ‘other people’ who are responsible for the horror. WE are the ones who are responsible. And the huge irony in all of this is that when we are confronted with the reality of what we are doing, we struggle to comprehend the truth because in our own minds, our fictional narrative has convinced us that we are the kind of people who would never cause deliberate harm.

Think about it. Join the dots. Becoming vegan means that no one ever needs to be rescued from us again. Be vegan.

Posted in consumer demand, Imagery | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Cruelty to animals

Jo-Anne McArthur Djurattsalliansen

Image by Jo-Anne McArthur, Djurattsalliansen

Originally posted on 22 November 2015, reviewed and links updated 07 February 2018

Cruelty to animals. If ever there was a phrase that seems so clear but says so little, then this is it. We all say we hate it, we all agree with those who say they oppose it, and we all condemn those who perpetrate it. But – and this may come as a surprise – almost every one of us is thinking of something completely different when we use it. We almost never acknowledge this, finding it much more comfortable to assume a shared frame of reference with others who use it.

So why is this? It’s because ‘cruelty to animals’ is a completely subjective phrase. Now just to be sure I’m completely clear about the meaning of the word ‘subjective’ see below * for the definition from an online dictionary. The definition of the word boils down to this: ‘subjective describes something that means different things to different people.

So why might that be a problem?

Why indeed. Lots of other things are subjective and in general, little harm is done. For instance, when each of us thinks of ‘young’ and ‘old’ people, we tend to use ourselves as a benchmark. For example, I am way past the age that I thought of as ‘old’ when I was in my 20s.  To family members, I refer to myself as ‘elderly’ in a tongue-in-cheek kind of a way but to be absolutely honest, I’m not sure what it will take for me to truly see myself as old. I don’t suppose there’s any harm in this and if it serves to make my sons shake their heads fondly at my delusions, I don’t mind.

So some subjective references are not inherently harmful, however I firmly believe that the seemingly innocuous little term, ‘cruelty to animals’ is one of the most dangerous and harmful there is, not in terms of grammar or language, but in terms of the ones who always suffer while we’re mincing our words. Our victims.

Part of the harm lies in the fact that we all think we know what it means, and in our certainty that we know, we rarely question its meaning when others use it. We tend to assume we’re on the same page, on the same side, sharing the same values, and we find comfort and are reassured about our own behaviour in the shared sentiment that we’re assuming.

What we almost never do, is ask others what exactly they mean by ‘cruelty to animals’. Before I became vegan, if someone were to have asked me exactly what I meant by it, I’d have struggled with that question. I’d have done a bit of hand waving to indicate how nebulous the concept is, and I’m sure there would have been a few ‘you know what I mean’s and ‘sort of’s in my explanation. Because really I didn’t have a fixed idea. I could have quoted a few extreme instances of brutality but that was it.

Why don’t we check our frame of reference?

So why don’t we check? There are a number of reasons for this that I have learned during several years of doing advocacy and blogging. Of course as I have lived more than six decades on this planet, it would be fair to say that life has taught me a thing or two and sometimes what is not said is just as telling as what is said. So I have come to the conclusion that for most of us, we subconsciously use two main strategies:

  1. We stick to the beliefs we’ve always had
  2. We use our own behaviour as the benchmark

Sticking to the beliefs we’ve always had

What do I mean by this? ‘Sticking to the beliefs we’ve always had’ means that we each have our own, personal beliefs about what we need to do and what we are entitled to do. For most of us – even those who are ‘young’ by my reckoning – the roots of these ‘beliefs’ are lost in the mists of time. We were taught them at about the same time as we were taught not to poke our fingers into electrical sockets or put beads up our nose. We become adult just ‘knowing’ these things but can’t recall where the ‘knowledge’ came from. No one ever sits down to consider or challenge why we should not put our fingers in sockets etc. because we regard these truths as self-evident.

And so it is with our beliefs about those of other species, our importance and worth when compared to them, and the uses we believe we need to make, are entitled to make, as a consequence of our assumed importance and perceived superiority. We rarely challenge these beliefs and in fact deride the suggestion that we should, in much the same way that we would rightly react to a suggestion that we have a serious debate about the existence of the tooth fairy.

We use our own behaviour as the benchmark

‘We use our own behaviour as the benchmark’, means that in general, we consider ‘cruelty’ to be something that others do. We invariably start from the assumption that we ourselves are doing nothing wrong, as evidenced and emphasised by our ready declarations condemning ‘cruelty to animals’, and we look outward at other people, other nations, other cultures, always others. We look outward, we find fault and we point fingers of blame and condemnation.

Thus armed with our ‘knowledge’ and clearly believing ourselves to be above reproach, we confidently condemn ‘cruelty to animals’. Almost all of us do this before we have even heard of veganism, and when we do hear about it, it’s seldom a welcome topic.

So why is veganism an unwelcome topic for us?

It’s unwelcome because it forces us to examine our actions in a new light, an honest, truthful one. Veganism forces us to reconsider what we were taught from childhood, that animal use is necessary for our well-being. We discover that in fact, the opposite is true.

Veganism forces us to reconsider why we should think ourselves somehow more important, more worthy than other species.  In our eyes as human animals, other animals have previously occupied a no-man’s-land in terms of definition. We were always aware that they are not things or objects, however we resisted the natural conclusion to which this awareness should lead. Our use of them up to the point where we understand veganism, has refused to acknowledge their sentience, our glaringly obvious similarities, and has determinedly ignored the fact that they are the same as us in every way that matters.

Veganism forces us to realise the fact that our every ‘choice’ is a decision to violate the rights of defenceless and innocent individuals who are exactly like us in every way but species. Their lives matter to them. They share bonds of love and friendship with their family and friends. Each one is a unique individual who experiences life as we do, through their senses, their interactions with others, through their memories, through their environment. 

We think we’re on the same page but we’re not

So coming back to the phrase that started this essay, ‘cruelty to animals’, what does this shifting frame of reference mean in real terms? When we are not vegan and living in our western society, and we declare this to others as – let’s face it – nearly everyone does, we are thinking about actions that hurt dogs, cats, horses, rabbits, hamsters or members of the other species that we think of as ‘pets’.

We are thinking about actions or circumstances that fall outside our own, personal, accepted range of ‘necessary’ actions (our benchmark), although we will sometimes concede that even these should be done ‘humanely‘ (which is another subjective and loaded word). Examples of this are when we call for ‘compassion’ (a subjective concept), ‘kinder choices’ (a subjective concept), and for more laws to ‘regulate’ the ‘welfare‘ of our unnecessary victims while we are carrying out the inevitable denial of their fundamental rights that forms the bedrock of all the uses that are made of them to satisfy our consumer demands.

This is a path that invariably leads to xenophobia and ‘otherisation’, because other cultures have a different set of species to which they give ‘special’ consideration and a different range of actions that are perceived as ‘necessary’. It’s a path littered with grey areas, with personal definitions of ‘essential’ and ‘necessities’, little individual justifications that we each invent. Most significantly, it’s a path where we always ensure that the parameters excuse our OWN behaviour, regardless of what we do .

So is there an **objective definition of ‘cruelty to animals’?

There is a definition; all we need to do is define our frame of reference. ‘Cruelty’ is the inflicting of harm or distress on another and let’s presume for the sake of avoiding argument that we accept the (debatable) qualification that all humans tend to adopt; that in certain circumstances ‘harm’ may be justified as being unavoidable or even necessary, and further define cruelty to mean ‘unnecessary or avoidable harm’. Is it possible to define ‘cruelty to animals’ objectively (i.e not influenced by personal feelings or opinions in considering and representing facts)?

Humans do not need to use or consume or otherwise use members of other species for any purpose. We have a myriad alternatives and as a highly inventive species we have no trouble at all in finding them. (Even if we did not have these alternatives, it would still be immoral for us to confine, use and kill countless billions of sentient individuals every year simply because we can – but this is a moot point). Using other individuals is inherently harmful to them. It is harmful because it prioritises our unnecessary habits, our convenience and our selfish indulgence over every single right they have. They are our victims.

The recognition of the fact that we have no need to make others into our victims, and the decision to live true to this recognition, is the definition of what happens when we become vegan. So in fact, the objective definition of ‘cruelty to animals’ may be summed up in a single word; nonveganism.

Telling it like it is

So let’s stop talking about ‘cruelty to animals’, because as a phrase it is meaningless. I have seen so many arguments arise between self-proclaimed ‘animal lovers’ (a subjective concept) many of whom are still using other individuals as I once did, excusing my own actions and seeing fault only in others. These arguments frequently accuse vegans of being divisive, claiming that since we all condemn ‘cruelty to animals’, we must all be on the same side.

Make no mistake, we’re NOT on all the same side at all and in our complacency about our shared (mis)understanding, lies a bloodbath, a continuing nightmare for 74 billion land animals and trillions of aquatic individuals each year; each one of them an innocent, vulnerable creature who needs us all to be absolutely clear on their behalf.

There is a crystal clear line that separates being vegan from not being vegan. That’s the one we need to recognise and cross. Let’s keep working towards that day.

Be vegan.

 

 

*subjective:
1- existing in the mind; belonging to the thinking subject rather than to the object of thought.
2- pertaining to or characteristic of an individual; personal; individual: a subjective evaluation.
3- placing excessive emphasis on one’s own moods, attitudes, opinions, etc.; unduly egocentric.

 

**objective: not influenced by personal feelings or opinions in considering and representing facts.

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