10 January 2011

Anthropomorphic Ninny-muggins

Sorry about the title and h/t to Elf for it...but this is the start of a thought and in no way even a very considered one.

This is about killing and eating animals. Vegans and Animal Abolitionists contend that this is a moral absolute--no moral being would kill or eat an animal. I have to assume that these folks WOULD do so if they had no choice but die of this prohibition. The contention is, for most, that this is NOT a consideration in practice: that a Vegan can be a vegan without fear of death from not eating meat (ie starving).

However, when talking about moral absolutes doesn't one have to be absolute? And doesn't one exception breed others?

Now, I'm of a mind to agree with most abolitionist positions...our animal industry is an horrific evil and to participate in it is to consign oneself (and animals) to a certain circle of hell. So, I guess we might say I'm conflicted.

Talking with Sarah today at lunch we were trying to understand the thinking on these things. I had been trying to understand the position that "anthropomorphic" or "anthropocentric" thought is the "issue"--or is the reason we have these erroneous thoughts about animals--that it's okay to eat them/use them. That we have dominion over the beasts and this allows us to use them AND also allows us to manage HOW we use them...in other words, to create a philosophy of use and set limits that call "use" abuse. And in this way we "regulate" the "market" of beast consumption and use. Now anyone can see that this is indeed the road to hell as humans are nothing but excessive in every way--gluttonous when opportunity allows. We then try to create legal templates that allow the use of animals as commodities and protect them as property while not protecting them as sentient beings.

So, along comes the idea of welfare...which abolitionists decry as anthropomorphic in its reasoning and immoral in its idea of use. BUT, I think I would have to argue that ALL of human thinking is "welfarist" at base and that even abolition is a welfare position.

This is primarily a human domination issue--master of nature and all we survey due to our technologies. And of course, if you know me or this space of writing at all, you know that I will posit that this is just another brick in our tower of babel or wall of Uruk.

This is all of our philosophy--Being and orders of Being.

Perhaps a more hands-on approach. As an animal (not one who thinks morally but only in a survivalist kind of fashion) I want to eat to keep the engine running. I will kill to protect my young and my territory (my resources). I will eat what I am "made" to eat--what will keep me alive. As a human I can do the same thing.

The only question is "should" I? I don't have an absolutist position on this. I think the wise human understands the "chain of being" and understands that the "passions" are corrupting and often abstention from the excesses of living leads to real wisdom. But how is being like an animal wrong? Because animals eat animals. Prey and predator predate us. Why do we assume that humans should be different?

To assume this we have to think we are different and likely with that comes a "superior" attitude to animals who don't discern a moral choice in the consumption of food (energy). To think that humans should think differently IS anthropocentric isn't it? And really, to choose not to eat an animals is simply a choice that is anthropocentric at its core (as CHOICE itself might be) and implies what I would call the nature of the welfare position.

It is our excess that horrifies most, I think. The effects of humanity are grossly destructive and our "industries" in all forms are a blight. The animal industry is one of the worst blights as to me it seems at its core "uncivilized". But I'm not sure that eating animals is immoral the way that I think the "WAY" we do this now IS immoral.

I welcome your clarifications, concerns or possibly ire.


  1. Yes, if we had no other food sources and were hunting food with our bare hands, than eating animals to survive is not a moral/ethical issue, it is a means of survival.

    But this isn't the life I live, and my decision to be vegan is a reaction against the thoughtless, disgusting meat and animal product industries (dairy included). The number of animals we senselessly kill is disgusting. And, of course, I am not in danger of dying from lack of food, nor at risk for malnutrition. Totally different discussion, but I also believe plant foods to be much more healing for the body.

    I also think it's difficult to conceive of killing food as a person living a life very detached from animalistic instinct. I have no concept of how I would feel if I were stranded and starving, but sitting here at my computer I can't imagine killing another being even with a weapon that puts me at a distance from my prey. So, in this very modern context, veganism is a moral choice as both a stand against the meat industry and the recognition that I can not fathom killing animals for food without a need for survival.

  2. So, yes, animal "farming" is abhorrent and many of us would be vegan simply as a way to say NO to that. But that is not an abolitionist reason, it's a welfare response to my thinking.

    The "Way" to healthy being is likely distinct and particular for all of us. The "Way" of modern industry is distinctly NOT healthy or "individual" or really a "Way" of healthy being.

    I think the question of the Vegan stance is very similar to many other anti-industrial stances...the odd part of it is that you might call it a back to nature position that would have to admit that a back to nature position MIGHT yield the necessity of eating another creature.

    Thoreau claims a diet of mostly vegetation and offers the oxen as the display of a creature of power and strength that doesn't need to eat flesh to give it energy. He does then say he eats salt pork.