Last week was the world week for the abolition of meat. I have to say, it passed me by. I had no idea there was such a week until I caught this article by Michael Mansfield in the Independent. The article probably seems strongly worded to some, but there is a lot in it with which I agree. Maybe, most importantly, Mansfield asserts that in response to the crises of the times, ‘our values and priorities must be reappraised’, something that was reflected in my last post.
So, what do values have to do with eating meat? Mansfield gives a legal version of Singer’s famous argument of Speciesism, where our changeable behaviour towards different species is likened to racism or sexism. Mansfield states: ‘[p]leading that we are entitled to snuff out a life in order to accommodate a fleeting taste is an argument that wouldn’t stand a chance in court were the victim human’ and goes on to say that ‘[c]ows, chickens, pigs and other animals raised for food are victims of our indifference. Because they are not as familiar to us as the dogs and cats with whom we share our homes, their capacity to suffer is largely but irrationally ignored’. In my opinion, this is a reasonable and sad reflection of our current reality. Although I know a lot of people who eat meat responsibly*, fighting with their personal demons about the pain and fear an animal must suffer at the slaughter-house, the majority still seem to be absolutely indifferent to the plight of these creatures.
I am sure that part of this reflects how easy it is to get hold of cheap meat, but it also seems to reflect a failing moral character. In the ethical idea of the widening circle, moral evolution is seen to involve increasing the range of beings to which we interact with ethical respect. Where, previously, family, kin and country might have encompassed our narrow circle of moral duties, we have grown to see ourselves as morally responsible for our fellow man – no matter where he may be. The globalisation of the world made it impossible for us to ignore the plight of man on the other side of the Earth – and we learned to care for each other, completely. Many animal rights theorists and environmental philosophers see the natural world as the next step. Indeed, vegetarianism, veganism, animal liberation and the green movements show that this next step is being taken – but slowly. Unfortunately, while technology may have helped us to see the suffering of man in another country, it has also allowed us to alienate ourselves from other things. The majority of people eating meat are removed from the production process: they don’t have to breed it, care for it, or kill it. They don’t see the conveyor belts that Mansfield is talking about; they don’t see the suffering in tiny cages. I hope I would be right to say that, if they did, they would think twice.
Maybe this ‘next step’ of values is one of the most important things we could wish for in a time so fraught with environmental problems. Unfortunately, we seem to have been out of step with ourselves – making massive progress in science and technology but without the moral advancement that should have gone with it. This might, at first glance, seem like a fairly naive view of the world. Instead, many probably think that the only reason we got this far is because we haven’t all evolved to be empathetic to animals and plants – and that our uncurbed development has been a natural expression of our human drive to survive. Yet, we also naturally developed a conscience, one that has allowed us to formulate rules so that we can get along with one another, love and live together. So why shouldn’t that conscience extend to the finite planet that sustains us? And the animals upon it, without which we would not exist?
*Rarely, and buying from responsible sources.