ANIMAL RIGHTS WATCH
News, Information, and Knowledge Resources

THE ONE AND THE MANY: The moral conflict between Environmentalism and Animal Welfare

No one, human or animal, wants to suffer and die. An Inuit hunter once put the dilemma starkly: 'The greatest peril in life lies in the fact that human food consists entirely of souls'.

DAVID EGAN: “I love animals, that’s why I like to kill ’em,” growls a faux-Australian Graham Chapman in Monty Python’s mosquito hunter sketch. This attitude seems a world away from that of the tender-hearted vegan who abstains from honey out of respect for the property rights of honeybees. But the outlook that leads one person to speak out against the mistreatment of animals has surprising similarities to the outlook that leads another to hunt them in the wild…

To begin with, the hunter and vegan… often share a deep respect for animal life… This respect is usually couched within a broader affinity for nature and discomfort with the cold efficiencies of industrial food production. And yet when it comes to putting these principles into practice, hunters and vegans evidently reach diametrically opposed conclusions about the proper treatment of animals.

What explains these differences? Although both view animal life with concern, they look upon it from different perspectives: the vegan with an individualist ethic and the hunter with an ecological ethic. I don’t think these perspectives can be reconciled… In particular, they argue that many of the considerations we owe to other people are also due to at least some non-human animals.

Jeremy Bentham, the founding figure of utilitarianism, threw down a challenge in the late 18th century to the prevailing view that animals lack moral standing: “The question is not, ‘Can they reason?’ nor, ‘Can they talk?’ but, ‘Can they suffer?’” The differences between humans and other animals are important and profound, Bentham acknowledged, but those differences aren’t morally significant.

As a more recent utilitarian, Peter Singer, puts it, moral consideration is owed to any being that has interests, which means any being for whom things can be said to go better or worse. If you can suffer, you have an interest in not suffering. And on Singer’s view, to frustrate that interest is wrong…

Singer’s reasoning and other allied forms of argument have provided the philosophical ballast for a raft of reforms in the treatment of animals in the past half century. Advocates of animal welfare and animal rights have demanded an end to factory farming and some forms of animal experimentation in laboratories. They’ve called out the cruel hypocrisies of the zoo and pet industries. And they’ve challenged various forms of hunting, which seem to some to be wantonly destructive of animal lives…

The idea that animals shouldn’t be made to suffer sounds reasonable enough in the context of factory farming. Yet when you widen your perspective, this stance comes into conflict with the inescapable fact that animals do suffer. If your concern is for suffering, the natural world is a place of unspeakable horrors… If you’re serious about minimising suffering, you have to contemplate a massive intervention across parts of the planet that haven’t already been claimed by human settlement and agriculture…

Advocates of hunting attest that taking an active part in the cycle of nature can be a profound experience. Many environmentalists, Aldo Leopold notable among them, have claimed that hunting is an important component of wilderness management. Still, it’s clearly against a deer’s interests to get a bullet through its heart. No amount of talk about ecological health or euphemisms about the “harvesting” of wild animals can evade the central point of the utilitarian argument: no one, human or animal, wants to suffer and die. The hunter in the woods may open herself up to the majesty of nature but she must also, at the very same time, close herself off from the deer in her cross hairs. An Inuit hunter once put the dilemma starkly: “The greatest peril in life lies in the fact that human food consists entirely of souls”…

So what to do?… The idea that moral reflection should result in judgement or action is a powerful one. But sometimes what moral maturity calls for isn’t a neat answer but the patience and courage to stay with a problem. That all living beings must suffer and die is inevitable. It’s also terrible. The difficulty lies in holding both of these truths in view at once. The difficulty lies in holding both of these truths in view at once. The Greeks found a way to do this and called it tragedy. The Buddha enshrined it as the first of his Four Noble Truths. SOURCE…

RELATED VIDEO:

You might also like

Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published.

ENTER CAPTCHA CODE BELOW: