Humans are enormously sophisticated animals. We have enacted redistributive tax systems, social security and international law. It’s not that I’m uncomfortable with the distinction between human and animal. It’s not that I don’t love humans best.
But our behaviour towards animals is a profoundly bestial throwback, our own darkest animal tendency. It’s no coincidence that when we savage each other in genocide or ethnic cleansing, we call each other animals to legitimise the act. We treat non-human life so appallingly that calling a group of humans ‘untermensch’ or vermin is groundwork for driving them out or killing them. Our treatment of animals is a wide-open loophole in our ethical system. It is inhumane; it retards our pursuit of humanity.
Human treatment of animals bestialises human society. How can we be coherent about human rights while those of us who are already well-fed consume steak, latte, cheddar and fish filet, while we break the backs of mice, kill badgers in the interests of dairy farmers and (if the Conservatives gain power) hound foxes to death? On what do we base our protections? A sheep is more worked-out, capable of forming relationships and capable of suffering than a human infant. Until we have a system of justice which extends to all species, justice for our own species will languish, dependent on mental contortions and the turning of blind eyes – most of all to the hideous suffering congealed in the meat, cheese and egg on our plates.
Either suffering, slaughter, enslavement and physical coercion matter, or they don’t. Justice in our dealings with animals is necessary (though not necessarily sufficient) to justice for humanity.
Until then we’re savages with coiffures, more like the primates-in-drag in the PG Tips adverts than our idea of ourselves.
This post has been brought to you by my weekly recoil from the BBC’s deathly cookery show, Saturday Kitchen. As I watched the phenomenally wasteful art-chef Heston Blumenthal lavish more tender care and emotional investment on the corpse of a chicken than most chickens receive in their lifetimes, I began to feel quite unreal. Matt says we’ll look back on Saturday Kitchen the way we look back on the Black and White Minstrel Show today. Meanwhile it helps to keep in mind Manna’s transition to veganism and Intellectual Blackout’s participation in VeganMofo.
For the picture, hat-tip, Daniels Counter.