Saturday, April 17, 2010

a slave in the fields of the lord

"This is interesting that you say farmed animals 'enjoy' a relationship with man... As if they are willing subjects to the enslavement and eventual permanent end/use of their bodies. And while the goal might be to 'protect them from predators' we forget that man is the most 'successful' predator of them all."

--comment posted here, April 11

Domesticated animals are not slaves--slavery is a purely human construct. They are animals of various species who have chosen the path of technophilia--otherwise, they would be impossible to domesticate.

Not all technophiles are domesticated--rats, mice, certain wasps, raccoons, bats, white-tailed deer, and that endless parade of carpenter ants in my back shed all feel the pull of the man-made environment, but they aren't domesticated. Instead, we classify them as pests. Are they to be classified as slaves as well? Seems like some very loaded and disapproving language to use for creatures who have a liking for human waste, human food, and human infrastructure.

As predators go, man is barely adequate--we don't stack up well against lions or sharks, that's for sure. But predation is morally neutral, and in many species an absolute requirement: Most predators have digestive systems that requite they eat meat and nothing else. What's difficult, and not neutral, is the real root of our species' success. We are omnivores, with scavenging and predation in the mix, and this has helped nurture our apparently endless flexibility. It is this flexibility that has gotten us into no end trouble--it's our chief adaptation and our default behavior, and lies at the heart of a lot of very hard problems.

"For me, the crux of it is that killing/eating animals is not necessary for human health. Indeed the more we learn the more it's understood we can thrive on a plant based diet. So the question becomes... If we don't 'need' to place 10 billion animals inside of warehouses and slaughterhouses... Why do it at all?"

--same comment, same date

Does it really matter whether people can get adequate nutrition without eating meat? I don't eat meat, and I don't think it matters. It's not a moral position for me, although others sometimes use vegetarianism as a propellent for their self-regard. And it's not a question of doing or not doing something--it's a question of understanding that having right relations with other creatures requires thought, humility, and an understanding of evolutionary constraints and evolutionary behavior.

What does matter is that almost everyone I have engaged with in the animal-rights movement seems to be amazingly short on hands-on, in-depth knowledge of how different species behave, react, and are profoundly different from each other. This includes an ignorance of how the human species really operates, since we, too, are animals.

To speak broadly of "animals" as a class that includes any being that isn't us is morally unacceptable. We're in this together--bears, dogs, bees, elephants, menhaden, rats, grasshoppers, penguins, and humans--and we need to be able to tell each other apart.


  1. Thanks for actually using a bit of reason (actually a lot of reason) when it comes to this controversial issue.

    I promise to side with the cattle whenever they launch an abolitionist movement. How's that?

    You know that I am a Christian, and as such I believe that it is our job as human beings to manage the natural world for our benefit and for the benefit of the other creatures.

    Sometimes we have lacked sufficient knowledge or wisdom to do that well. Sometimes we have knowingly done it badly. Some of us even overtly and intentionally abuse other animals, which is a sin. Nevertheless, we must oversee the world, because our capacities compel us to organize and manage our enviornment--if for no other reason, for our survival.

  2. I would be careful about using language like "animals... who have chosen the path of technophilia" because that ascribes undue agency to the animals in question. I think a reasonable case can be made that dogs and humans domesticated each other: dogs are generally smaller, weaker, and less adaptable than their wild ancestors are; humans have weaker senses than their pre-domesticated-animals relatives.

    For all other animals, however, I think they were more-likely chosen by humans rather than doing the choosing themselves. And even if you could make a reasonable argument that some domesticated animals made the jump willingly, it's a logical leap to say that they were also signing up to be part of an industrialized food system. Even the cleverest of domesticated animals (humans included, I suspect) would be unable to grasp something as abstract as this.

  3. I see your point--maybe "gone down the path of technophila" is more accurate, since observable agency can vary so much from one creature to another. But the underlying point holds--domestication, a rare occurrence when you consider how many species there are, has a prerequisite called technophilia.