VEGAN ARGUMENTS: Arbitrary and Arrogant
Vegan arguments are largely predicated on either rights or suffering. There are also environmental and health arguments for not eating animal products but they can be dismissed for both their misrepresentation of human biology and evolution as well as their general misapprehension of what actually damages the environment and causes food shortages.
Briefly, eating meat in general is not bad for you. Eating too much of it can be. That is not an argument against meat as sustenance, only an argument against overeating a type of food. Next, monocultures are no less friendly to wildlife than pastures of cows and further, there is no lack of food on the planet, only food distribution issues caused largely by political instability in those places where food is difficult to come by.
All this being said I would like to move on to the primary arguments against eating animals which are so obviously arbitrary I’m surprised anyone takes them seriously. I am also going to point out the obvious hypocrisy of vegans with regard to the treatment of plants. No, I’m not being facetious and I will describe in detail why the lives of plants need be considered IF you are going to take the approach vegans take.
The first argument we often hear in favor of veganism is about the horrendous treatment of animals mass produced on farming complexes and the obvious suffering that takes place. Indeed, the treatment is horrendous and if we are to take suffering seriously then we need to have a discussion about changing these practices.
But this isn’t much of an argument. It just points out the obvious which is that morally concerned beings should be concerned with suffering. Yes…we should. But there are plenty of ways to compassionately raise and harvest animals for food. Giving animals more freedom of space and natural diets and environments in which to grow would go a long way in solving that problem. Killing them in a way that leaves them blithely unaware of their purpose in life would also help. The act of dying itself does not constitute suffering. Suffering is based upon both awareness and pain. If awareness and pain are no longer issues then there is no suffering. So this really isn’t an argument against eating animals either, it is just an argument against needless animal suffering which can be resolved without removing them from the menu.
The next argument, however, argues that animals have a right to live without being eaten. Where this right comes from I don’t really know. Vegans have never provided the provenance of this right and I imagine they never will because such a thing does not exist. It probably comes more from their anthropomorphizing of the animals and thus the transference of human rights to them. In other words, guilt. Human beings, however, have human rights for reasons very specific to being human. It is our experience as human beings, not as members of Chordata, that we strive for such standards as freedom of speech and equality. We can make use of and appreciate these rights.
Cows, for example, shouldn’t have property rights because being a cow means you can’t appreciate them. In the same way, we care less about the suffering of ants as compared to pigs because we know scientifically that the way pigs experience pain is very different from how ants do.
In short, there are experiences and levels of self-awareness inherent to certain species which correspond to their capacities to experience the world. That needs to be the context for how they are regarded within a ‘rights’ framework. To use an anthropocentric method of determining animal rights is as arrogant as it is misguided. It is ignorant to assume the capacities for pain and awareness to be the same across the kingdom of Animalia, and even more misguided and arrogant to assume that nervous systems are the only legitimate way to experience the world. These qualities do not implicitly give value to life and thus the right to live. They only give value to the right not to suffer.
There is an amusing double standard that vegans don’t seem to recognize about themselves. They apply the ‘nervous system priority’ to all animals but they don’t apply the responsibility of respecting it to any species save Homo sapiens. This is obviously because no species save ours can appreciate it. This alone proves that species’ rights and capabilities are dependent on their biology.
The nervous system argument is convenient because it gives Vegans something to eat. If not animals then what? Plants are their last option and so morally and ethically they must excuse the wholesale harvesting of Plantae. Again, I’m not trying to be facetious, stay with me a little longer.
Vegans use nervous systems as their basis for a right to life but how does having a nervous system give added value to life? We might as well say that only animals with eyes or ears can appreciate life to its fullest and thus, only if you have these organs can we take your right to life seriously. Sound arbitrary? That’s because it is.
Why don’t we ask another question like, what purpose does a species serve? Not all species are equal. Not all species contribute the same to an environment. Some species are so important to an environment’s balance they are called ‘keystone’ species. A 1000 year old sequoia provides housing, flood control, oxygen, carbon dioxide reduction, protection, and food to numerous species. How exactly do chickens of the sort we raise compete with that? It has a spine so it’s prioritized? We already established that pain and suffering can be entirely avoided, after that, then what prioritizes life? I’d imagine function and contribution are legitimate metrics.
Even awareness shouldn’t win a species too many points. It can’t be the only consideration. Aferall, isn’t it arrogant to presume that our way of experiencing the world is the only meaningful way? In what way do nervous systems, in all their varying degrees of function, complexity, and quality, grant one priority to life?
If a woman is in a coma her life is not diminished because she can no longer think and feel, it is diminished only by negligible chances to awaken again and contribute to life in the form of a loved one.
Just to beat this horse a little further, cutting a limb off a dog versus a tree is clearly different because of the dog’s capacity to suffer acutely and long term. However, killing either the dog or the tree needs to be taken within the context of that being’s overall worth. The death of that tree could have far more pernicious consequences, and is that not a valid consideration? The ability to suffer alone, or even comprehend death as a concept, does not automatically make one’s life more important. Diatoms, a kind of algae, produce anywhere from 20% to 40% of the world’s oxygen. Can you imagine what would happen if we did something to threaten their existence? I’d say their lives have much more importance than that of chickens, even if it is only in consideration of our own.
Many vegans are also pro-choice, which is strange since fetuses have nervous systems, better developed ones than many animals they would choose not to eat. A species’ or individual’s contribution and purpose is clearly paramount to their life value.
Rights need to be taken within the context of a species’ capacity to appreciate them.
A right not to suffer is not the same as a right not to die.
Nervous systems are multifarious in their range of complexity and function, it is dismissive to assume they all function as a human’s does.
The value of life cannot be determined by the possession of a nervous system, this is an arbitrary and anthropocentric distinction.
Contribution and purpose are objectively impactful ways of determining a life’s value.
Pain does not validate the act of being, nor does it prioritize it.
Awareness of self, like nervous systems, has a wide range in the Animal Kingdom and like pain, does not validate or prioritize being.