Every day, we buy things and go on about our daily lives without thinking too much about the consequences of our actions. We don’t usually put too much weight on our day to day lives, but, unknown and unseen to us, ethical decisions actually play a big part of our daily consumer lives. Do we choose to save money by buying goods from China, or do we spend more money and support a local industry? Do we drink a regular cup of coffee, or do we ask for the fair trade beans? Do we buy a real fur hat, or go for the faux-fur?
Different cultures have different ideas of what is right and wrong
Many of our decisions cover the treatment of other living creatures. Do we eat a steak for lunch? Do we use those prescription pills, knowing that studies were performed on animals? Every culture has a different level of respect for different animals, with a different sense of what is “taboo” and what is not “taboo”.
Now, this may come as a little shocking, but dogs and cats (among other strange things, in Western eyes) are still considered food in many parts of Asia. It has started to become something of a taboo, but only for Westerners and the younger generation; many of the older folks don’t see things the same way.
What is even more shocking is that there are reports that in some places in China, cats and dogs are taken off the streets and killed for their fur. Some of this fur may even have made its way overseas, and could be sitting in your home right now. Now, what is yet even more shocking is the apparently barbaric and cruel manner in which this is done. Not only is it enough for them to take what is probably a stray but could be someone’s pet off of the road and stuff them in a cage along with dozens of other animals, but they then bash the poor thing senseless, hang it, skin it alive, and then toss the still-living and breathing carcass onto a heap, where the animal is left to wail in pain as it slowly dies.
Now, I don’t know if these reports are true or not, but given the depths to which the human soul can sink, I can not discount the possibility completely. It’s very obvious that animals can be exploited for fur, and it’s also possible for the creature to still be alive and aware even after being bashed over the head. I read this story in a fundraising pamphlet by your favorite animal rights activists, so again, I am not sure how much of the story is sensation and how much is truth. However, I have to accept that there is probably some level of truth in there, and that alone leaves me feeling horrified.
So not only do they eat animals that we consider as pets, but some of them even see our furry friends as nothing more than mere agglomerations of physical matter, to be stripped and discarded of like ore from a mine!
Exploiting our cohabitants
However, aren’t we being a little hypocritical in a sense? You see, we heavily exploit animals when it comes to food. We have built an entire industry around the wholesale slaughter of cows, pigs, chickens, and seafood for the consumption of meat. We consider these animals as nothing more than the property of the human race, to be eaten or disposed of at our pleasure.
Why is it that these animals seem to have less rights? Is it because they’re simply not as cute, like our friends to the right? Or perhaps it’s because we think that some animals are too dumb to be treated as nothing more than walking food. There seems to be a double standard: One standard for the animals we think are cute and intelligent and that we anthropomize to a certain extent, and another standard for the rest of the animals that we don’t care about. This is also culturally relativistic: Some cultures eat cows, while others see the cow as sacred. The standards vary from place to place.
One justification for the consumption of animals as meat is that we are built as omnivores. We are built to eat both animal matter and plant matter. We evolved in an environment where big game animals were plentiful, and we learned how to hunt them with spears. As we became smarter and better at gathering high quality food, the increased nutrition allowed our brains to grow larger still. This feedback loop is how we became an intelligent, yet aggressive species. Instead of hunting with claws, we used spears.
By eating meat, we are simply continuing our place in the ecosystem. Life and death form a circle; the lion and gazelle co-evolved and fill a niche in the African savannah. The lion has evolved to chase the gazelle, and the gazelle has evolved to run away from the lion. In our case, we’ve evolved to create ranches where we can raise animals until it is time to eat them. This is our expression of our place in the ecosystem.
However, is it really fair to continue to justify the consumption of meat, simply because it’s something we used to do? We used to kill the men and drag off the women from neighbouring tribes, too, but we don’t do that sort of thing anymore. We’re a modern, civilized species. Why do we continue to slaughter animals when it’s no longer a case of life or death? How can anyone justify the consumption of meat when there is such a wide array of vegetables, beans, nuts, and supplements? Isn’t the vegetarian way of life a little more civilized, even if we are not herbivores?
Ah, but not so fast! While it is true that vegetarians do not directly contribute to the slaughter of animals for meat consumption, they still contribute to the destruction of entire ecosystems. Just look at how much space a farm takes, and look at how much land is consumed for raising crops. Much of that land used to be forested, and all of that land used to contain an ecosystem that supported a diverse variety of wildlife, big and small! By consuming grains and other vegetarian staples, you have directly participated in the destruction of vast swaths of land for agriculture.
That cereal breakfast you enjoy? Well, the grains in that cereal probably came from a farm where Bambi used to live, until some farmers cut down his forest and destroyed his home and his life. Who is the vegetarian to say that this is somehow morally superior to the consumption of livestock that would probably not even survive at all in the wild in their current domesticated form?
In the end, it is up for us to decide
Humans are the most intelligent and powerful species on this planet, and we have dominion over the earth. We obviously get to make the rules. We also like to pretend that we’re more than simply intelligent barbarians, and that we can treat our companions of the earth with compassion and respect. So, where should we draw the line when it comes to the treatment of animals? Do we stop performing animal studies, at the risk of humans dying? Do we stop consuming all animal-based products, at the risk of malnutrition and malaise? Do we stop wearing fur hats, at the risk of… vanity?
It might be a more important question than you think: what if one day, now or in the future, there is something out there that is more intelligent and powerful than us, and what if they are watching us and observing how we behave?
So, it’s a dilemma. Where do you draw the line?
Disclaimer: I am an omnivore and I believe that it is our right to use animals for the benefit of humans. I am ambivalent when it comes to the consumption of cats and dogs in foreign cultures, but I find the skinning alive of these same animals for fur to be quite cruel. I believe that given our unique position of power, we can exercise our power in a manner that demonstrates compassion. There is no point in subjecting a living, feeling creature to an agonizing death nor needlessly prolonging its suffering.
P.S. Please don’t search for “cats in cages” or “dogs in cages” in Google Images. Even with safe-search moderate, I saw some things there that I really wish I hadn’t.