Hail To The Nihilist

Category: Ethics

On Sustainability

The word ‘sustainability’ certainly makes me feel optimistic, provided it has been used with the right end in mind. In many contexts it is nothing more than a buzz word. A word used with the intention of eliciting a response from a certain group of people–getting the be-seen-to-be-doing-something types to buy your stuff. Sustainability requires sacrifice. We have hit a point where our behaviours have become unsustainable. But these companies that misuse the word postulate the illusion that sustainability can be achieved without sacrifice. I’m weary of this use of the word.

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A reply to Jessica Fleming (Aussie Dairy) et al

I think I went over the maximum character limit, so I am not sure this comment will be published on the Weekly Times Now article it is in relations to, “Spark in Online Animal Activist Threats“. However, I’d like those involved in the article to read my comment nonetheless. To summarise the article, Jessica Fleming a dairy farmer/blogger has received an increasing number of threatening and abusive emails from “animal activists”. She makes a few comments about the collective that I think are generalist and unfair.

Dear Shannon Twomey, Jessica Fleming, and Curt of Mackay –

Want to know what’s also very frustrating? Being told that we “really do not understand agricultural industries” and have “no practical experience of any description”. Who are these people you are describing? Your ideal of an animal activist or a truth? It fits your rhetoric to think of them all as left-leaning arts graduates that live in share-houses in Fitzroy or Coburg or Newtown or Bondi. However, this is far from a truth. Those that choose to spend time fighting for better treatment of and/or rights for animals come from all walks of life and I’ll have you know plenty of them are ex-industry.

It’s tempting for me to add that you “really do not understand animal activists” and have “no practical experience of any description” in rallying against legislated injustice. However, I don’t really think that of you. I don’t know you. Animal ag’s response to the live export ban (I don’t know which side of the fence you guys sit on as it has diverse support) is testament to a willingness to rally in such a way. And I do applaud you all for using the internet as a means to have your voice heard and to contribute to the dialogue. I agree that contributions should be without abuse. But I also think they should be without fallacy, without logical errors, and based on evidence. And shouldn’t resort to statements like “You surely can’t know as well as us, we’re on the coalface”.

Monoculture is bad. It makes bad vegetarians.

Lierre Keith writes in her deeply captivating, “The Vegetarian Myth”, that monoculture is the greatest sin of our time not livestock production. From this she deduces that vegetarians are then exceedingly sinful for they consume a lot of things that have been produced through a monoculture system. In particular they love grain, corn and foods derived from soy. More vegetarians  made, more pressure on crops. She wraps it up neatly: vegetarians are not as moral as they make out to be and if they were serious about animal welfare and the environment they would eat sustainably farmed meat.

This is an opinion shared by many in the #AgChatOz fraternity. In fact just yesterday, Fiona Lake brought this argument to a vegan she was in discussion with. Tweets Lake, “Vast numbers of (native) animals are affected by all other types of agriculture-eg crop growing; by necessity, monocultures”. Lake doesn’t argue that monoculture is worse than meat production but she states it as a concern. Lake has shared many views in the past along these lines, that you’re better off eating a bit from every agricultural domain, rather than stuffing your face with heavily-marketed faux-meats and cheeses.

This is my question to the animal agriculturalists out there that agree with this position. If vegetarians are committing a moral crime eating too much grain, corn and soy, surely that implicates the farmers that grow it and the industry groups that spruik it? Where is the criticism of your fellow farmer if, indeed, is is a genuine concern and not just a strawman?

Vegans don’t magically want to end all death

A recent post here, Why I am Vegan, and one at Goodrock Park, has elicited quite a bit of debate. Life in general has been brought into the dialogue. Particularly the life of plants–which vegans must inevitable kill and eat. I found this pithy Q&A over at Skeptical Vegan. It relates to the strawman found in former-vegan, Lierre Keith’s, book, “The Vegetarian Myth”:

The Claim: “I built my whole identity on the idea that my life did not require death…Did the lives of nematodes and fungi matter? Why not? Because they were too small for me to see?” (P. 18)

In Reality: This straw man argument permeates throughout the book. These views are not held by most vegans nor any animal advocacy groups. The goal of veganism is to eliminate direct, unnecessary suffering at the hands of humans—not to magically end all death. Why shouldn’t the cow with its undeniable ability to feel pain, experience emotions and form relationships take precedence over plants and organisms with limited or non-existent nervous systems such as the nematodes Keith frets about in this book?

 

The Reason I am Vegan

This piece has been a long time coming. My position as a vegan is often misunderstood. When I argue for abolition the retorts I receive are welfarist in nature. My peers can’t quite grasp the fact that I want to see the end of all animal use rather than give them bigger cages. Subsequently, I get called an extremist.

My position as an abolitionist is roughly guided by the animal rights philosophy of legal scholar, Gary Franicone. At first I went vegetarian after reading Peter Singer’s brilliant though subdued “Animal Liberation”. I could have stopped there and remained a user of dairy cows and lay hens but it didn’t seem right. I read further. I stumbled upon Francione through his great “Animal Rights: The Abolitionist Approach” website and community. The more I read the more I was convinced that veganism was the baseline. As much as vegetarianism had more mainstream appeal it didn’t see to go far enough.

Since the beginning, some 4-odd years ago, my position has been refined. However, it still has its feet in the works of Singer and Francione. I suggest if you want for this piece to be elaborated on, check out “Animal Liberation” (especially the chapter, “All Animals Are Equal”) and “Animal Rights: The Abolitionist Approach“. Here I shall give only of an overview of my position. For posts hereafter will all contain elements of my philosophy in a more practical context. Already I have written about outreach and the environmental and health aspects of animal usage, all touched by my position as an abolitionist. There is a common thread: veganism is the baseline if you genuinely believe that animals deserve moral consideration.

One thing I would like to get straight first. I write from the position of a non-subservient person in an affluent country. I don’t believe for a moment that my plights are the same as somebody in Mali or who has found themselves lost in the jungle with only a waterhole full of arapaima for sustenance. I live in a society of choice. As does the audience for whom this post is intended.

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The animal welfarism movement–“new welfarism” it is often called by abolitionists–wants a world in which the least amount of harm is imposed on non-human animals. This world is starting to come into effect. Wander through your supermarket and you will see “humane” this, “free range” that, “sow-stall free” pork and “sustainable” seafood. The welfarism movement–often called the “animal rights” movement–has its central focus on the regulation of animal exploitation. Animal exploitation is okay, provided it is regulated to cause the least amount of suffering.

Consider two worlds. In one world children are molested and beaten. In the other they are only molested. Which of the two worlds is better? The world in which the least amount of suffering is imposed is always better. This is a moral intuition most of us will possess. It is true, too, of welfarism. A world in which the suffering of animals is reduced is the aim. However, this thesis asks nothing of the use of animals. Animals are allowed to be used, provided they suffer less.

According to Wikipedia, “The abolitionists’ objective is to secure a moral and legal paradigm shift, whereby animals are no longer regarded as things to be owned and used“. The basis for this is the fact that animals like cows, pigs and sheep are all sentient. They have the capacity for subjective experience. The axiom which Francione’s version of abolitionism seeks to postulate is that “all sentient beings should have at least one right—the right not to be treated as property”.

Why should this be true? Why should animals have this right? Sentience.

It is without question that some animals–including the ones that end up on our plate–are sentient. This sentience ought to stand for something. In the welfarists view, sentience equates to the way in which we ought to treat an animal. Because an animal is sentient means that it should experience the least amount of suffering that is practicable. It’s okay to kill the animal provided it lives a good, stress-free life. This view is flawed. The way in which animals are treated, regardless of our best intentions, would be considered torture if a human were involved. Animals are bred for the table. Sure, they may get to stand in a lush field all day and gnaw on grass. But well before the end of their natural life they are crammed into the back of a truck, marched down a concrete corridor to waiting captive bolt pistol. They will the be chained up and pulled to pieces. Before being wrapped in plastic and sold to you on the premise of being “humanely raised”. So why a cow but not a human?

The answer is speciesism. Wikipedia defines speciesism as the “assignment of different values, rights, or special consideration to individuals solely on the basis of their species membership“. Should a man treat a woman differently to the way that he wishes to be treated on the basis that she is a woman? The same for skin colour, age or sexuality. Few open-minded people would tolerate such behaviour. Yet speciesism is culturally and institutionally condoned. It is okay to treat an animal in a way in which for a human it would be considered torture because they are an animal–they belong to a different species. Like most conscientious people don’t accept racism, abolitionists don’t accept speciesism.

So we agree animals are sentient, right? We agree that if humans were treated the same way as even “humanely raised” animals, it would be considered torture, right? We agree that speciesism defines this attitude pretty well, right? Then what are we left with? We are left in the same position as we were when confronted with sexism or racism in the past, and homophobia more recently. Would have incremental change been an acceptable tactic during the civil rights movement? Or a more daring example: would it be acceptable to regulate murder so that murders kill only less rather than not at all? We seem to consider these matters differently. I get told regularly that “You can’t compare the two” or “It’s not the same”. The worst thing I can do, it seems, is use slavery as an example. This is the thing, though, I am not trying to compare the two. I am merely showing the similarities in how things ought to change and provide a critique of welfarism.

From all this, for me at least, it follows that veganism is the moral baseline. No ands, ifs or buts. I will not entertain any other position in order to be polite. Welfarism doesn’t work. Abolitionism, as it was for slavery, is the only way. Unless, you can convince me otherwise. 😛

Being at the top of the food chain and nuclear war

“Humans are at the top of the food chain” is a common justification for using animals that I hear. Just as lions and tigers eat the slow and dumb below them, so too do humans. To this I pose a challenge: Next time you see a cow in a paddock, wrestle it to the ground and chomp away at its side. “Oh, but we have tools and fire” you lend, “and we are technologically and evolutionarily advanced”. Sure, I’ll give you that. So let’s go out and wage nuclear war against one another. We created atomic bomb, didn’t we? And on that logic, if we are capable of it, we ought to…

Francione saying it as it is

If you are not vegan, then you are participating directly in animal exploitation.

It really is that simple.

If animals matter morally, then there is one and only one rational response: go vegan.

To Understand Animal Welfare Issues One Mustn’t be an Urbanite

I just read this comment on an article at The Land about live exports: “Perhaps Sylvia is a city dweller who never mixes withanyone (sic) who understands what is involved in agriculture or knows anything about live export”.

I’m sick to death of hearing this kind of folly from rural / agricultural Australia. I am quite sure there is no mutual exclusivity between urban Australia and animal welfare. The facts of the matter are quite plain–the animal welfare standards which we expect are not being satisfied in some instances abroad. This is not a matter that requires one to be of the land to acknowledge and appreciate. In fact, if one is invested in the land, their response is likely to be one that has their own interests in mind have elements of self-interest. I expect that.. (Well, it certainly seems to be the case, for “livelihood” seems to be one of the most bandied about terms in the debate.) I acknowledge that this is a big, mean issue where there is a lot–economically, socially and emotionally–at stake. However, rural Australia those guilty, most of which are of “rural Australia”, please don’t insult we who live in the city.

(Update: Please read the words of this, and any other, post I write carefully. Please tease out the premises, they will lead you to my conclusions. Read again, carefully. If you find any obvious mistakes, please, by all means, bring them to my attention via the comments. I will either explain them–if they are in fact not mistakes–or will happily correct myself. By stating “I’m sick to death of hearing this kind of folly from rural / agricultural Australia” I mean just that. I am sick of hearing something that a group of people are saying. I am not claiming everybody in that group says or thinks that. I am claiming that some have. I am claiming that as fact. I can, as there is evidence. And I am sick of hearing it. Again, fact. This is evidenced by the fact that I know pretty well and am the only person capable of offering a fairly accurate verbal report on I‘s behalf.)

Blogging and Censorship

I do not condone violence. I do not condone abusive language, either*. When it comes to free speech I tend to sit on the words can carry severe consequences side of the fence. However, I do not just condone but advocate for rigorous debate.

I love to be challenged. I love to challenge too. When I read something I disagree with, a news article, blog post or perhaps tweet, I don’t have any qualms challenging it. And I mean it: the thing being said. It an important part of debating to separate the argument from the arguer.  To attack the arguer, especially on irrelevant grounds, is not only uncool but fallacious and is likely to discredit you. So, my debating tip of the day: tear apart the argument as much as you like, just don’t resort to personal attacks.

And that brings me to a blog I read and a common phenomenon that is sweeping parts of the ‘sphere at the moment. The blog is A Conscious Life. I started following it because the authors had some interesting insights to share on veganism, veggie gardening and green living. All stuff I am interested in. There have been a few points where I have disagreed with something or a factual error has been made. I have challenged. I have had my comments deleted and was on one occasion blocked.

Recently one of the authors, SJ, wrote about ditching labels and going against her veganism. I actually agree with a few of the points she makes. I have eaten dairy knowingly when a meal has been screwed up. I did so on the grounds of not wanting to waste it–what would that achieve? However, I am yet to give into bodily urges and throw it all away; justifying the decision on some arbitrary basis. Having said that, it’s SJ’s choice ultimately.

I visit the blog today to see whether the debate is still alive. I am met with this:

UPDATE 12TH MARCH 2013 – Regretfully we have decided to turn off comments on this post due to the large number of abusive and threatening messages received from Vegan extremists in response to SJ eating one piece of wild atlantic salmon. Please remember if you wish to participate in future discussions that you…

What? Again? This is similar to what happened at Alex Jamieson’s blog. She didn’t lock out comments but she wrote a response to a handful of commenters along these lines. Using the big “E” word.

Sure, some people are sensitive and cannot bear it. However, I notice something with this phenomenon. These people tend only to be sensitive when it suits them–when they haven’t anything to say back; when they are not confident in their position. I don’t agree that we should jump on these people and make them submit. No way. And I can understand how they feel, when having vitriol thrown at them. However, I contend the majority of comments that are being treated this way are far from inappropriate. What I have read over at Alex’s blog, in particular, is mostly respectful. Respectful though strongly reasoned. It can be difficult to have your views challenged. But think back to how you formed these views. Or how a particular view might have become the norm from a minority view somewhere in history. Think back. Realise how important robust debate is. Realise that most people, arguing well–using sound logic, evidence and not resorting to fallacies,–don’t think anything ill of you for holding a particular view; they just have good reason to not accept what you’re saying. Let them challenge you. Perhaps it will reveal flaws in their argument. Perhaps you will learn something.

*Ok, I’ll come straight. I experience road rage when I am on my bike from time to time but that’s different. Having a car door swung in your face is a bit different than being presented with a different viewpoint.

A response to Ann Britton

This is a response to a point that beef farmer, Ann Britton made on Twitter regarding who should draft any guidelines and rules for the animal agriculture industry.

She wrote: “unless u have worked in our In u wld have no idea what regulations we have imposed on us with no consultation”. This was in response to my view that guidelines and rules should be written by many relevant stakeholders, not just those with a financial interest–as that can result in all sorts of counter-productive outcomes. My response was somewhat smart aleck: “Well, that isn’t entirely true. For if you or somebody else that did know were to tell me then I would know”. This response was to Ann’s logical error more than anything. I interpret her above argument to read: “Those in the industry know more about certain things than those not in the industry”. In which case, it would logically follow, that if that knowledge were imparted on somebody outside the industry then they too would know.

Ann’s response seemed embittered. “honest 2goodness Y is that my responsibility?” Obviously she didn’t see my motive. Though, she raises a further issue. She claims ownership of knowledge yet isn’t willing to share it. She claims it isn’t her responsibility to inform those outside of the industry about the special knowledge those on the inside have. As another commenter pointed out, there is a disconnection between regional and urban. I carried on: “I’m following your lead. You implied that that can only be known by some. I don’t agree with that”. And then the conversation fell apart. I was twisting her words and telling her she implied things that she didn’t. I did no such thing.

My logic above holds, I am afraid Ann. And the claim that you made is rather typical. But, I think in this instance, there was a mere breakdown in communication. All I was saying was that if you defend the argument that “Those in the industry know more about certain things than those not in the industry” then by imparting knowledge on those outside of the industry, which you must if they are to know–whether that be through discussion or scientific publications,–they will know too. Really, this is a storm in a teacup and a big misunderstanding. I’m sure you agree that we ought to bring regional and urban together?

Having said all that, and I am sure Ann doesn’t defend this position, many in the industry do believe that because they are part of something they know best and surely those that haven’t hands on experience wouldn’t have anything relavent to bring to the table. Take an ethicist. This is somebody who most likely sits in an office in an urban area somewhere. They are unlikely to be on the ground–other than the odd field trip–being exposed to the brutal workings of an industry. But that’s not to say that they have no knowledge of that industry, or their knowledge is not relevant, or not as relevant as somebody that does work on the ground. They have knowledge in a different area–though relevant. They are likely to think differently than the farmer and that’s not a bad thing. We can operate in abstract. In fact, it’s more impartial to do so. By being emotionally and financially invested in a situation, these factors are going to weigh in tremendously and have the potential to taint any critical, self-evaluation. And that’s why I think it is fundamentally important for any animal welfare guidelines or rules to be written by people from a practical and abstract perspective.

The irony of this debate: it started with me responding to a post, retweeted by Ann, on bad practices within the animal agriculture industry.

Edit: Struck out the word “brutal” as it suffered in context.