Paul's animal ethics flawed

Stephen Paul’s Sept. 3 letter voiced some objections to Stefan Dolgert’s vegetarian agenda. As a vegan who has devoted quite a bit of time debating and contemplating this issue, I’d like to answer his three arguments.

Paul’s first argument is that giving moral consideration to barnyard animals would spill over into the realm of insects and eventually plants, bacteria and fungi. Dolgert calls, however, only for humane treatment of “sentient” animals, defined as those that feel pain and are capable of fear. Mushrooms, E. coli and the majestic kumquat simply do not biologically possess the capacity to experience suffering, due to their lack of a central nervous system.

If your banana screams when you bite into it, then you probably have larger issues to deal with, anyway.

As far as the insects are concerned, it is true that Dolgert’s ethics make it immoral to kill an insect, as long as that insect possesses the capacity to suffer. And although some insect splattering is unavoidable, as the cliché goes, “don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.” Just because some animal suffering is out of our hands doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive to stop the brutal practices of factory farming that are entirely under human control. A humanitarian aid worker in Haiti doesn’t give up her noble work just because people also happen to be starving in Somalia. Anyway, the suffering a single broiler chicken experiences in her life as part of the Kentucky-Fried-Industrial-Complex is probably equivalent to a thousand of the momentary flashes of pain felt by flies careening into the windshield of my pimped out El Camino.

Paul’s second argument is that animals are cruel to each other, even more so than humans. While this is true, it should have no bearing on how humans treat animals. Just because the animals themselves lack the mental ability to make informed moral decisions doesn’t mean they somehow “deserve it” when we slaughter them for our own purposes. Babies and severely retarded humans have no concept of moral right or wrong either and yet we treat them as recipients of moral courtesy even if they cannot reciprocate. Why should cows and pigs be any different?

Paul’s final “argument” is that it seems wrong that many pets live better lives than humans. While true, what would he have us do about it? Start kicking and starving our dogs just to put them in their place? Re-route our Purina Cat Chow to babies in Laos? The flaw in Paul’s logic is that there is absolutely no fundamental tradeoff between being good to animals and being good to humans.

Passing on the McRib at lunchtime will not make anybody less respectful of the human race or less attentive to the humanitarian cause.


Nicholas Arrivo

Trinity ’08


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