This is going to be an entirely different essay than the one which was originally posted here. I don’t care to explain why.
There are numerous approaches in deciding how to relate to other animal species. Some of which I find more problematic than others. Since I am secular, I will not be addressing any of those approaches that come out of the world’s religions. What I will be addressing are issues which arise with moral considerations, humanism, attempts to get beyond the anthropocentric, and discourse derived from concepts of rights. I will also be touching on the tone and attitude which some animal liberation and animal rights activists take with their propaganda, its impact on me, and the potential for alternative approaches. I will begin with a summary of my personal relationships with other animal species.
Other Animal Species
I grew up in a suburban area, a few miles away from the farms. It was common that my peers would live with farm animals, the air often smelled like manure, and it was strange if you didn’t go hunting with your father and his friends, kids killed cats as pests. However, I only sometimes visited the farms and I didn’t kill any cats. My relationship with animals was that if it wasn’t in a grocery store or a pet store, it was probably something to be avoided. I was familiar with Kosher diet and it didn’t make any sense to me. I was raised to believe that veil was wrong, but that’s about it. The ins-and-outs of industrial meat production were outside of my awareness.
Some time in jr. high school, I became vegetarian. It wasn’t because I had seen PETA pamphlets, although I had seen them. It was because I really hated human beings, categorically. I didn’t think there was any good reason why any human being ought to presume that they are important enough to kill another animal, let alone eat it. But beneath that, it really just disgusted me to imagine. Hunting and industrial slaughter seemed like something which required a kind of mechanical, disconnected attitude towards the the planet and its inhabitants. I still think this.
My relationship to other animal species is mechanical and disconnected. Aside from pets and pests, I relate indirectly to livestock through mediation of an enormous industry which uses techniques I barely understand and which I am shielded from by my life in a city. Unlike with pets, I can only relate to livestock categorically. I can form no bonds with particular cows, chickens, pigs, and fish. I can only consider them all generally, as the multiplied reiteration of livestock I have met and the treatment I am aware that they receive. What I am actually presented with in my everyday life are various cuts of raw meat, products which may or may not be based on animal substances, menus with pictures of prepared dishes, items that were tested first on other animal species, and propaganda put out by corporations and/or activist groups.
Livestock and lab animals are represented to me, but they aren’t actually a part of my experience. This is true for everything I eat, wear, medicinally treat myself with, and use. The world that I live in is a giant, illustrious production that has been designed by human beings, for human beings …to shelter each of the individuals who can afford it, away from the wilderness, from agriculture, from mass-production, from landfills, and from slums. Commodities magically come into and disappear from this place, regulated by the alphabet soup of bureaucratic institutions for health, safety, transparency in consumer choice, and such. When I’m in the grocery store, the presentation of products equates them to each other as items for sale, marketing differentiates them from each other based on packaging and labelling, their composition is presented as lists of scientific terminology in small paragraph form (for food, at least), and they are all just as easy to acquire if I can afford them.
Although there are some cracks through which unwanted elements seep through and into my everyday life: pollution lowers the air quality, global warming fucks with the weather, a disease will gain entry through products, the tap water tastes terrible, animals being transported can sometimes be seen on the roads, a forest fire will make the headlines, etc. Regardless, the way in which consumption takes place – although changing – doesn’t speak to the origins of the materials very loudly. Before the problem of what to consume is the problem of how to go about consuming. Perhaps even the question of how to go about producing! What would most effectively change my relationship to other animal species is those more basic questions which would dramatically alter the way I confront that which I consume. Without those changes, all of my consumption choice is derived from abstract considerations, from the world of representation.
Defining Life and Interests
As far as I know (and I have looked into this plenty), there really isn’t any single definition of life which can smoothly separate the inanimate, mineral world from the animate, cellular world of plants and other animals and further, from the animate, digital world which continues to produce more complicated artificial intelligences. Drawing lines is a matter of convenience and not a matter of exactness. It would seem fundamental to be able to work from an exact definition of life in order to decide what to consume, but it isn’t. It doesn’t really matter if something is living.
The value of an entity isn’t restricted to an examination of an entity in isolation. Evaluation depends upon the way in which a particular entity or category of entities relates to others, especially in relationship to human beings generally and the individual specifically. It is my individual existence and how I am effected by something which gives me cause to evaluate it. Otherwise, what I am examining is a mere curiosity. It is my health, liberty, conscience, and tastes by which I measure the value of a this or that ecological system and its parts, this or that species and how to relate to it, each individual I come into contact with in my everyday life. My solidarities are not rooted in altruism. Life as a quality in itself is irrelevant to me. I do not aim to defend all manifestations of life, some of which I aim to annihilate.
The Earth’s interests are beyond me in perception and in my power. I can not take an ecocentric position on the value of other species because I can not sort through the ambiguity of defining the importance of an ecosystem without including my relationship to it. There are ecologies which are difficult to imagine having much of a relationship to me at all: subterranian species, deep ocean species, volcanic microorganisms, possibly existent extraterrestrial life. For as global and interconnected as the functioning of many ecosystems may be, it is not the fact that it is an ecosystem which interests me.
The interests of other animal species are as well beyond my capacity to distinguish. I can not answer for any particular cow whether it is more important to them for their species to be more numerous in the fettered conditions of factory farming, or be less restricted to graze whatever they could find outside of civilization (if there is even an outside anymore). I can make the assumption that pain, suffering, and fetters are undesirable but I would be making a decision according to how the consequences will effect me much more than how they will effect another animal species. How much will my life change?
I am not even necessarily inclined to consider the interests of my own species in general, as if such interests were the same generally, for every individual…
There are only so many universal human interests. Every human being needs a planet that can support their existence and to meet various survival needs. After that, most things are up in the air: lifestyle, life span, life quality, aesthetic considerations, social structure, associations between other humans, relationships with flora and fauna, spiritual practices, etc. Human beings tend to have some universal behaviors, which could extend to similar interests …but those behavior tendencies aren’t an absolute determination. The more similar something is to another human being, the more an individual will identify with it. But the extent and limits of that identification can vary drastically, and that is to say nothing about whether something will be considered a threat, a benefactor, competition, or whatever. Often enough it is what is most similar to an individual which is the greatest of antagonisms: criminals, political enemies, siblings, neighbors, coworkers, lovers.
For as much as an individual needs nutrition to survive, they may still hunger strike. No matter the extent to which survival is an imperative, suicides happen. For as valuable as the whole of life on Middle Earth may be, pollution is crippling it. The human species does not need to eat meat, yet most of it does. Animal testing can be avoided, but it isn’t. Other human beings may be even more of an obstacle to pursuing my interests than they are a basis for those interests. Their positions, laws, lifestyles, and the rest aren’t any more or less human and I am not any more or less humanitarian depending on how I choose to live. Yet I refuse to reason as a humanist. I am utterly alone and without the comfort of coherent categories in these decisions.
Representation and Consent
I started writing about this recently because I was frustrated by the argument that since non-human animals do not consent to how they are treated, it is wrong to presume a right to their bodies. There are two major problems with this line of thinking: it is based on flimsy distinctions in representation and consent is almost irrelevant. Above I articulated some of the problems with representation, but they extend further. Not only is defining life and assessing the interests of other animal species impossible for me, it is difficult to even distinguish between animal and non-animal. Fortunately the menu really isn’t that extensive and I am not really deciding to broadly consider all non-human animals and all non-animal species. There are only so many species I would consider eating to begin with, animal or not. Unfortunately, I still can only assume what the interests of individual members of a given species may be, based on collectively representing their conditions and considering my own relationship to them.
I don’t have the luxury of knowing whether this cow or that pig wants to die, would have rather not been bread into its circumstances, etc. What I know is the general tendency of non-human animals to resist captivity, torture, slaughter, neglect, and other such horrors. I can assume that at the very least, most if not all animals subject to factory farms and experimentations are not enjoying it. On my end, I know that it is unnecessary for me to consume the products produced from these circumstances. It is difficult to say whether or not free-range, cruelty free, hunted, or whatever other form of acquiring meat is more in the interests of other animal species, but given the options it isn’t difficult to say what side I’d rather err on. It is in my interests to have the option of making a personal decision in relation to an individual entity. A situation where I can figure out if it makes sense to me for this individual entity to satisfy some desire of mine through its death, or if I’d rather not stomach doing such a thing.
What doesn’t ever enter the picture is consent. While consent can be implied by the resistance of an animal to its killer, it can not truly be granted or denied. In what fantasy does any species of anything anymore have the option of its fate being determined by consent? Animals of all sorts do not and can not consent to the impact civilization has had on them, whether it keeps the animals alive or kills them. Animal rescue doesn’t derive its justifications from consent any more than animal slaughter does. Civilization touches everything without consent, from the fossil fuel reserves in the ground to the highest reaches of bird flight …to my domestication and to yours. The entire content of what is being thrown into question has been imposed, by force, through power human beings have developed and authority which has been legitimized in a variety of ways …divine or secularly rationalized.
On the other hand, there is what I do and do not consent to which I have complete access to knowing. I get to decide the extent to which I consent to civilization and its particular conditions, practices, and considerations. I get to decide whether or not the flavor of meat is more important to me than the life of those creatures which I vote to end with my purchases. I can get behind a gun and consent to the shots I fire into an elk or some other wild mammal. There are times when I may feel like I have been tricked and if I had known better, would not consent to the consumption of one product or another. But the fact of the matter is that where consent is concerned, it is my own consent which is to be questioned and not that of the entities which I am making decisions for one way or another …whose life quality and quantity is calibrated by the mechanisms of markets and conditions produced by human civilization.
No Contract, No Deal, No Peace
Non-human animal consent is indeterminate, but what is entirely impossible is any sort of contract between human and animal species. No matter the extent to which I leave other animals alone or the society of human beings I live with decide to leave other animals alone, it is a completely one-sided decision. I am not afforded the powers of communing with the general essence or spirit of a species that negotiate on behalf of its kind and stick to an agreement. I don’t need to know if a species is likely to be antagonistic towards me or not to know that every interaction with another creature will depend on the situation at hand …not contract or any sort of established way of relating.
For many species, I can occupy the position of predator as much as the position of prey. For even more species I can be a threat worth eliminating in one way or another. The wilderness is not a safe space. I don’t need to worry so much about this in my everyday life since I live in the fortress of a college town. If I’m going to play this game of considering things in the abstract though, it is worth noting these things. If I were to be so arrogant as to consider any decision I come to as a favor to another species, I would still have to admit that to it is reasonable to assume that I won’t be done any favors by that species in return. There can be exceptions. Interspecies bonds happen on a daily basis with pets and in some exceptional cases with wildlife. But again, that is on the interpersonal level. It is not something which can be achieved through relationships mediated by civilization’s devices.
Rights and Liberations
To end the portion of this where I am considering arguments I don’t really agree with, I make a distinction between arguments for animal rights and arguments for animal liberation. The discourse of rights is something that I already stay away from when it comes to humans and I don’t plan to make any special case for another species. Rights are something I am told that I have, something codified into law. They are something outside of me that are supposedly protected by the State. They explain what I would be correct in doing, what I should not be prevented from doing, what I can expect protection of as a citizen or the subject of a civilization. The struggle to establish rights for non-human animals is a struggle for political reforms, just the same as other struggles to change the established principals applied to other subjects. This can be thought of as a possible direction for animal liberation struggles, but it doesn’t equate to animal liberation.
Animal liberation is more in line with my thinking. It isn’t necessary to talk about anything another species experiences subjectively to talk about the completely observable phenomenon of bodies being liberated from restrictive environments and fates. Whether they’re liberated to do is another question. But it isn’t difficult to find entirely personal, individual reasons for wanting to abolish factory farming and institutions and institutional practices that are offensive. It requires neither the consent of another species, nor the consent of another human being to attack the infrastructure of the meat industry (among others). It might even require a lack of such consents.
While I don’t consider myself an animal liberationist, I don’t have any desire to get in the way. That is where I’m at for now on the issue.
Sometimes simple conclusions wind up working out quite well. I am much more comfortable working from the basis of my own tastes and desired consequences than I am with trying to sort through the mess of complicated social systems, ideologies, and considerations beyond those of my everyday life. Weighting the pros and cons of one consumer choice against another can be entirely sufficient for coming to a conclusion about how to relate to non-human animal products. There’s a few major areas to consider: health, economy, taste, and personal effort.
I am not going to pretend that I’m even close to being an expert on nutrition, or that I’m even a very healthy person otherwise. What I do know is that my stomach no longer takes very well to meat and my body complains if I eat it. Something I can say is that as a general project of trying to maintain a healthier diet, it is much easier for me to do so when I take meat out of the equation. Not because I think meat is necessarily unhealthy, but because I’ll wind up not eating a lot of stuff that is healthy if I rely on old, lazy habits of eating mostly from cans and fast food places. I’m also a big fan of leftovers and well… animal products aren’t really the best left overs for avoiding some physical nastiness.
Economy has a whole series of considerations wrapped up in it that I don’t feel like articulating right now, but I sure as fuck don’t want to work with, on, or even really around animals. Taste and personal effort is a little bit more where my thoughts conclude. I don’t like eating meat enough to buy it and fuck around trying to prepare it. I’m too broke to eat out almost ever, so when someone else takes me out or on the rare occasion that I treat myself, I don’t feel much inclination towards ordering a meaty meal. Basically when I weight the pros and cons of consuming animal products, I don’t find many pros. I’m sure I overlook a lot of ingredients and I know that I have no clue what stuff has been tested on animals, but I’ll be touching on some of that in the next section.
One thing that I want to bring up here is that animal products are the default for me and a hell of a lot of other people. This ties into the reason why some animal rights activists and their propaganda frustrates me. Really, why I started writing about this to begin with. It just comes off as so pretentious and ineffectual to me when activists begin making these moralistic analogies between what happens to animals in the meat industry and how people relate to each other in their everyday life. Using notions of consent to bridge the gap there. I won’t reduce that to name-calling, but y’know …is it getting the results you want?
I can understand being passionate about something and I can even understand emotional appeals, but if the goal isn’t to take a piss on someone and instead, it is to figure out where they’re at and work with them towards a shared goal …that shit makes no sense to me. There’s also nothing wrong with pissing people off, if that is what someone is trying to do (which it doesn’t seem to when I see this happening). But as one example, why start calling comrades murderers or sexual abusers because a meeting is happening at a place which serves meat? Especially when you’re not going to follow it up with offering alternative spots or preventing the meeting from happening. Shit like that is just an invitation to make equally stretched out analogies which conflict with those ones, to be written off, or to just be mocked.
In the beginning of this essay, I hinted at the broader question of how to go about relating to anything one consumes. This is where everything falls into place for me and becomes concrete. I don’t necessarily like more work, but I also don’t trust corporations to handle my food or the quality of other products. For reasons even beyond this, a Do-It-Yourself ethic is what I like to peer out at the world through. There’s some good critiques of DIY culture which would make this essay longer than I want it to be, but to take for granted the reasons why DIY shit is in my interests, they are the grounds upon which I conceptually build towards my dietary choices.
The closer I become to producing my own stuff, the further I travel from consuming animal products. Some of this is aesthetic: I think that dealing with animals is gross. Aside from that though, in light of self-reliance and participating with others to produce things we’ll enjoy, the default of consuming animal products flips to a default of not consuming animal products. The pros become much more important, as reasons to use an animal product for one project or another: food or otherwise. I can’t think of many situations where anything but price would make me say, “oh hell yeah, if we just throw some fleshy bits in there this would be great!” There’s some situations, but not many.
Taking this approach also emphasizes what sort of choices I’m really more inclined to make about production and consumption. In the environment of a grocery store, everything becomes a bit vague. In the environments where I am designing something (a meal or something else), I get to sort through all of this in a very personal way. I can’t so much translate these personal preferences for I want to consume into what I think someone else should do. That also doesn’t mean that I must refrain from critiquing the choices others make. The logic just requires me to keep it in the realm of my own choices and how others choices effect me, rather than attempting to find something higher, more moral, more elevated and universal, and more absolute that would make my decisions inherently better. I also get to decide whether or not I like someone for whatever reasons and even though these wouldn’t be those reasons, they’re an option.
If you haven’t ever read other things I’ve written, this is basically the approach I take to a lot of issues. I like to come at things from my readily available experiences every day and if it builds towards something more abstract and profound I let it; but, that happens much less often than I am satisfied with keeping things close to home. Sometimes I am considering something that involves such complicated interconnections that higher levels of abstraction become useful (and this is one of those things) …but if I can make a sufficient case for my choices without taking things into otherworlds, I’m likely not going to bother articulating the complexities.
ok – ttfn