My reading goal for 2014 is to read 50 books. It’s July and I’ve only read slightly over a dozen, so there’s not a great likelihood of achieving my goal. Despite that, I’m finding this mission very rewarding: I’m spending less time on the Internet and reading tons of fascinating stuff.
One of the books I’m currently reading (I tend to start a bunch of books at once) is Marc Bekoff’s “Animals Matter: A Biologist Explains Why We Should Treat Animals with Compassion and Respect.” I became familiar with his work through his Scientific American column, Animal Emotions. He’s amazing, so check out his column if you haven’t already.
My Summer Book Series project is going to be blogging, chapter by chapter, “Animals Matter.” In this project, I’ll hopefully be – at the very least — summarizing ideas, providing meaningful quotes, and offering my opinion on the issues and ideas explored. It may be somewhat informal, but I’ll be as informative as possible! This week, I’ll be tackling the first chapter.
Animals Matter: The ABC’S of Animal Well-Being and Protection
Bekoff begins by declaring the motto of the book, which is “Always Be Caring and Sharing.” In other words: be compassionate. For me, veganism is about having compassion for all nonhuman animals and the planet we share. But for many people, it’s difficult to accept veganism because that requires them to move past the speciesist world they were raised in. Generally, people are not interested in pondering the questions about human-animal interaction and how animals are exploited for human benefit. Fortunately, as Marc points out:
“[T]here are many of who are convinced that the lives of animals are important – that they matter very much – and we try very hard to make animals’ lives the best they can be. We believe that humans should never interfere negatively in the lives of animals, especially on purpose. Humans are not the ‘master’ species but one among many species on earth.”
He also goes on to say that while we have made strides in animal protection, “we should not be complacent, for there are still are far too many animals suffering at the hands of humans, and much work still needs to be done.” I agree with this statement. Consider animal experimentation: most people would voice displeasure if I talked to them about chimpanzees being experimented on, but would they also be concerned about mice experiments? What about people who are passionate and emotional about stopping (and punishing) companion animal abuse, but have yet to make the connection to the animal abuse that occurs at factory farms? To be comfortable with exploiting animals for human benefit (experimentation, food) is speciesism.
Speciesism is centrally related to the main issue of the book, which is “the choices people make when we interact with other animals.” The most fascinating point relating to this is how closely related global and local issues are to each other. For example, animal exploitation results in habitat loss; e.g., meat production guarantees loss of wildlife, resources, and land. A simple act of purchasing a “cheap” burger from McDonald’s actually has a profound global impact. Furthermore, the animals who were killed for those products suffered immensely. Some frightening statistics from Animals Matter:
- 26.8 billion animals killed for food in 1998;
- 73.4 million animals were killed per day; and
- 12% of chickens and 14% of pigs died of stress, injury or disease because of conditions at the factory farm
Bekoff writes “The end result is clear: animals lose when human interest come into conflict with animal interest.” For many people, the justification to exploit animals goes something like, this is the way we have always done it. Is that really any justification, though? Bekoff discusses this when he writes:
Just because we exercise power doesn’t mean we have to do it; we have a choice. And just because certain activities seem to have worked in the past does not mean that they truly have worked.
The decision to eat animals is a great example of an activity that more and more people – myself included – argue is unethical. It is not necessary for our health to consume animals; moreover, lots of evidence exists that suggests eating animals is actually harmful to our health. Just because we have the power to imprison, torture, and kill animals for food, why should that power be exercised, when we know that animals suffer, grieve, and feel pain? The fact that we have done it in the past is no good reason to continue – there are lots of things we used to do that today virtually everyone would agree is morally repugnant, like human slavery.
Bekoff points out that most humans are unfortunately detached from the natural world and argues that this detachment allows people to be comfortable with animal exploitation. I agree with him; I believe that exposure to wildlife and learning to appreciate the environment will help people make more compassionate choices. If I could have my way, I’d bring everyone I know to a farm sanctuary and urge them to interact with cows, chickens, and pigs. Many people claim to adopt a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle after visiting a farm sanctuary, and I can see why. When I visited Woodstock Farm Sanctuary last year, I was so happy to hang out with the animals and give Dylan (who was supposed to be veal) a hug. But I cried for the animals currently enslaved and suffering for “food.”
Marc wraps up the chapter with the subsection, Animals have feelings. He describes beautiful stories of animals caring, showing support, sympathy, and empathy for each other. These stories are meant to prove his point that “animals show compassion and empathy toward one another and that they truly care about how their friends are feeling.” One such story described two bear cubs, one of whom was wounded. The female bear cub went fishing for her injured brother, bringing him back food so he would survive. It’s important to share stories like this because we have to remember that animals are very similar to us. They are our kin, and we need to do the best we can to protect and speak for them.
Recently, on the Facebook page for Mercy For Animals, people took to voicing their opinion that their palate preference for bacon is greater than the cost of life to the pig. I strongly disagree with those people. I’ve eaten bacon before and even enjoyed tasting it. But after learning about animal sentience and even pig intelligence, I’ve come to realize that the human benefits of eating bacon is not worth the suffering and killing of pigs. To that point, the chapter concludes with the powerful statement, “[Animals] lives must be taken seriously, and it is not enough to argue that the ends justify the means – that human benefits justify our uses and treatment of animals.”