Saturday, April 10, 2010
more than one kind of difference
"What place should non-human animals have in an acceptable moral system? ... [P]ublic outrage is strong when knowledge of 'puppy mills' is made available; the thought here is that dogs deserve much more consideration than the operators of such places give them. However, when it is pointed out that the conditions in a factory farm are as bad as, if not much worse than, the conditions in a puppy mill, the usual response is that those affected are 'just animals' after all, and do not merit our concern."
--From the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Boy. For a fairly snooty academic web site, it's hard to believe you can run across something as airheaded as this.
The status of puppy mills versus factory farming has nothing compelling to with the conditions as conditions, but has much more to do with the fact that dogs and people have signed a mutual aid contract that is durable, complex, and weirdly symbiotic. So yes, a puppy mill, by definition, is far more alarming to people than a factory farm. Farm animals enjoy a very different kind of arrangement--they are normally raised, and protected from predators and illness, just long enough to be milked, have their eggs stolen, and then be killed and eaten.
There's something implicitly wrong with the a phrase like "non-human animals," as if the only thing that's knowable or important about the many species sharing our planet is that they aren't like us, thus rendering all animals basically the same. It's an appealing construct because it lets us be lazy--now other creatures can be talked about generically, as if a raccoon and a blue jay were interchangeable.
But it doesn't take much real-world, hands-on experience to know how bogus this position is. Because not only are different species animals different from us, they are also wildly different from each other, and, what's more, the difference between a raccoon and a blue jay is a different kind of difference than the difference between that same blue jay and and a Great Dane.
The more I read what the ethics community writes about our right relations with other creatures, the more I think that having an advanced degree in philosophy is a serious impediment to coherent thought. I'm not anti-academia, not at all--I'm ABD in literature and treasure the many important things I now know about how language works. What I don't treasure, and feel a need to fight, is the complete absence of clarity in the animal-rights train of ideas.