A question raised recently among ethicists is based on whether animals’ lives should have the same weight as humans’. 53 billion land animals are slaughtered each year to produce food for humans. Fish farms around the world contribute to the rapid affect of global warming. Some individuals find the idea of animals caged until their untimely, painful death incredibly cruel. Some find vegetarianism a radical enough statement, while others challenge themselves to eat no meat or animal product of any kind. Does this kind of action truly mean that an individual is extending a pacifistic hand to those who have no voices of their own? Can it be argued that if a vegan refuses to eat animal products that she should also cease to eat plants? After all, countless crops are cut down every year for consumption. What makes them so different?
From a utilitarian perspective, all creatures, all life forms have the same rights. This tends to include animals, but not plants; it has become an arbitrary distinction worked into the definition. Therefore, this essay will address only this subjective definition. Although humans evolved from some form of monkey, orangutan, or ape, humans possess the teeth to tear flesh. Although this is the case and becoming a vegetarian goes against the biological disposition given to us over generations, some still consider it a moral choice. Why?
The main problem for most vegetarians and vegans is the mistreatment enacted upon animals in the slaughterhouses. Some never see the light of day. Chickens’ beaks are cut off while they sit in crates, only existing to lay eggs for mass production. Calves’ legs are tied together to prevent their muscles from growing in hopes that they remain tender when they are inevitably slaughtered and made into veal. A utilitarian would look at this situation and say, no one’s happiness can be increased by this situation. All of those animals are suffering, and are certainly not happy. The last thing any of them will see is the inside of a crate or a knife coming down on their necks.
If one considered the situation culturally and from a relativistic perspective, one point in particular stands out. In the American culture, most find the slaughtering of a dog or cat disgusting and taboo; however, in other cultures, such a practice goes unnoticed. In other cultures, dogs, cats, horses, rabbits, ferrets, and many other animals that an American would keep as a pet, are brought to the chopping block. Other cultures find the meat we slaughter disgusting because of the practices we employ to procure it. In this sense, the slaughtering of some animals, culturally, can often be perceived as immoral, but that does not take the radicalism necessary quite far enough.
A deontologist may look at the situation in the sense that it is wrong to kill as a rule and a duty. Although generally this only applies to humans, as Kant clearly makes known in his works, modern Kantians often debate whether that duty should encompass animals as well. If it does, then it would prevent any deontologist from eating meat without failing in their duty to uphold their moral standards.
I consider myself an altruist and a follower of Kant. In this sense, I have radicalized Kant’s theory into a hybrid in which our duties to others encompass other animals as well. Who can say that animals do not have a conscious thought process. They feel fear, happiness, love, affection. The only reasons humans are different is because of human activities. However, from a structuralist point of view, “all human activity is constructed, not natural or essential.” From this perspective, all humans are actually animals with unnecessary actions that make us different from all other animals; however, if all the unnecessary activity were removed (i.e. wearing clothing, speaking or writing a language), then we have nothing to differentiate us from other species. In this sense, it is wrong to kill other animals because we do not have the right to kill them. We all exist on the same level. Humans only arbitrarily created activities that could distinguish us from others. Ceasing to eat animals because of the terrible lives they live before they are taken to the slaughterhouse is at least a step, but not nearly as deep and to the point as it could be. If we humans look at animals as if they have the same dignity and value as any other individual we would meet on the street, we have a moral obligation not to harm them.
I feel that it is 100% immoral and unjust to kill another living, breathing thing, whether land or sea creature. If one believes in souls, in energy, in life, pushing animals and animal products out of our diets and our consumption in the capitalist world seems like the logical, moral choice. I will always stand up for the rights of those around me, especially those with no voices of their own.