After C-span finished taping the Review's Thank You President Bush book event, a freshman came up to me and told me that he had my "Vegetarianism is Genocide" article taped to his door. I always hoped that article would create some discussion
because there was another shoe I wanted to drop, but the only person who ever asked me the right question was my brother. Now I feel negligent. If freshmen are managing to read two year old Review articles, it's time for me to step up and finish the job. My original vegetarianism article made a simple point. We all need to be exploited. That's what we get paid for. Stanford students are busy gaining
skills to increase their exploitation value in the marketplace. Animals face the same reality.
They just get paid in a slightly different currency. They get paid in years of life. If not for their food value to humans, food animals would not be raised to young adulthood.
Instead of having the first years of life, they would have no years of life. Anyone who is morally developed enough to value animal life has to value those years of animal life that food animals receive in return for their food value. That means animal lovers should be chewers, not eschewers. They get an extra bonus when they eat meat. On top of the food value, they get to know that they enabled that animal to live. In contrast, if everyone was vegan, there would be no animal husbandry. Our millions-strong herds of farm animals would cease to exist. Vegetarianism is animal genocide
The rational place to focus concern for animal welfare is on the living conditions of farm animals. Be willing
to pay a premium for free range beef and for eggs laid by chickens that are cooped rather than caged. When you buy meat, don't just pay for an animal to live.Pay for it to live well.
By refusing to buy meat, vegetarians leave the market to those who are less concerned about animal welfare, causing
markets for free range beef and un-caged chickens to remain undeveloped. I wasn't expecting these arguments to convince everyone, and I didn't have to go far from home to find the come-back I was looking for. "I'll accept your ‘years of animal life' argument" said my brother, "when you can convince me that it is okay to farm Jews so that you can make lampshades out of them. No one would say that it is okay to raise people to eat them. This, then, is the nub of the issue. What is it that makes people different from animals?Moral powersStart with the different circumstances of people and animals. Food animals have no other way to earn their keep except by growing into food. Human beings, in contrast, have more productive
ways to earn a living. Despite the lack of a market for roast human, our growing human population gets richer all the time.
Thus one reason
we don't use humans for food is the same reason we don't use diamonds for kitty litter. It would be a tremendous waste of valuable
resources. Not so with food animals. They have no other productivity
to offer. It is just a fact that if we don't eat them, they will not exist.But efficient resource allocation cannot
in itself create a right to one's own body. After all, a human body, cut up for its organs, might save several lives. It is a rare person whose productivity
can outweigh the productivity of several other people. That doesn't make it okay to farm people for their organs. The fact of human productivity
is just the starting point.
To find the foundation of rights, we have to go further back, to where human productivity comes from. It comes from moral agency: the open ended capacity of the human being to discover
and pursue value in the world.The reason we can read and write, even though the advantages of reading
and writing played no part in our evolution until a few thousand years ago, is because reading and writing are possibilities that exist in the world and our open ended faculties of intelligence reach out to comprehend the world and its possibilities. This genius is not limited
to the discovery of means. Human genius is plastic, limited only by the possible. It discovers whatever there is to discover, and part of what there is to discover in the world is the value of different ends.
Some evolutionary psychologists think that the calculations of every evolved creature must be shaped to optimize the reproductive success of self and kin, but this misunderstands how evolution works.
does not shape anything. It is a scavenging mechanism. Whatever works is retained, and intelligence works. The question then becomes, what does intelligence find? It finds things to value, everywhere it looks. Thus human nature is shaped, not simply self-interest, but by the moral landscape of the world around.In a world full of things to value and things worth doing, one will value one's own life, and the passing on of that life, so moral intelligence will not neglect the interests of self and kin.
At the same time, it will often cause people to act for purposes beyond self and kin—acts that are altruistic, both in the common language meaning of the term, and the technical sense used by population
biologists. Getting rid of man's moral nature would require getting rid of plastic intelligence. So long as that loss hurts the interests of self and kin more than getting
rid of altruistic
behavior helps the interests of self and kin, moral intelligence
will evolve, and this is clearly what has happened.
In the words of Linnaeus, "Know thyself." Plastic intelligence is the defining human attribute,
and moral intelligence is a fact.The moral landscapeOne salient feature of the world's moral landscape is the special value that moral sentience sees to place on human life. The morally intelligent person recognizes that others share his same moral capacity. Others also discover and pursue value in the world.
This is what makes people special, and it is the foundation of human rights. Valuing moral agency leads directly to valuing liberty, without which moral agency is impotent. If we are not free to discover and pursue value, then our capacity to discover and pursue value is wasted.
Thus all morally rational people favor liberty. A right not to be farmed for food, or for organs, or to be enslaved, are just examples of this principle.Regard for moral agency would allow people to sell their own organs (certainly in the event of their death), to sell child-bearing services, to enter long term contracts (voluntary slavery, within limits), and many other fleshy relations. What it does not allow is for one person to make any of those decisions for another. No one but you knows what you are good for.
Anyone who ignores that fact is failing to account what is especially valuable about human life. Animals can also have some moral intelligence. Roy Horn, of Siegfried and Roy, swears that when he slipped on stage, and his white tiger Manticor grabbed him by the neck, Manticor was being protective, trying to take him to safety as a tigress would carry a cub. But Manticor is a tiger, not a tigress
He is not made to have protective feelings. If he has them, he learned them. Dogs do this on a much larger scale. Still, no animal has the open ended capacity to discover value that humans have. On the one hand, that means animals are innocent. A cougar who attacks a jogger is not bad. It simply has no conception of the value it destroys. Human criminals, in contrast, are properly labeled evil because they are aware of the value they destroy and hold it in contempt. On the other hand, an animal's lack of moral sentience means that it cannot be productive beyond what its instinctive
nature is good for. Lack of moral sentience also means that animals have very little moral agency to interdict.
Implications for different treatment
These are the factors that make it not just acceptable, but right, to raise animals for food, when raising
people for body parts would be wrong. Human life is especially valuable because people have moral intelligence and hence are capable of being a force for good. Further, that value depends on having the liberty to exercise moral agency. Animal life has its own valuable attributes, but they are not as valuable, and their value does not depend on moral autonomy.
The fact that animals do not grow morally means that the value of the years of animal life that are secured by raising animals for food is not destroyed when those lives end unnaturally.
No course of progress in the discovery and pursuit of value is interrupted. There is nothing to choose between one cow living twenty years and five cows living four years apiece. In contrast, every human life cut short is a tragedy of unfulfilled achievements. That is why it is okay to raise animals for food, but not people.
PETA co-founder and President Ingrid Newkirk asserts that: "There is no rational basis for saying that a human being has special rights. A rat is a pig is a dog is a boy." Such thinking manifests a pure obliviousness to the moral landscape
of the world. The moral status of living things does not come from the mere fact of being alive, but from the nature of that life. The value of human life is a function of moral agency, and hence requires moral autonomy. The value of animal life is not a function of moral agency and hence does not require moral autonomy.
Failing to account the different nature of human and animal life leads to mis-accounting of the value of both. First, it fails to give proper priority to human life. Because people have the power to do good, human life is more important.
Thus a full accounting of value favors the use of animals in bio-medical research, so long as animals do not suffer needlessly. Second, pretending
that animal life is like human life leads to contempt for actual animal life. Animal life that lacks moral autonomy
is treated as worthless, when moral autonomy is for the most part meaningless to animals.
By scorning animal life that does not meet human standards of value, vegetarianism is genocide. It denies the eons worth of years of animal of life that can be supported
by raising animals for food in deference to concerns that do not apply to animal life. Veganism shows a desire to act for most value, but combines
it with a complete ignorance of how to act for most value. Vegans and PETA-philes make assertions of value that ignore the landscape of value. Not surprisingly, the result is harmful to both people and animals.
Alec Rawls is a senior staff writer for the Stanford
Review. Contact email@example.com or see Alec's running commentary at http://errortheory.blogspot.com