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Sherry F. Colb: How We Resist Positive Change

To become an ethical vegan is to manifest the belief that we ought to value sentient animals as individuals, not only as groups, because they too have not only a biology but a biography as well, as Tom Regan used to say.

SHERRY F. COLB: Earlier this month, I signed onto an amicus brief urging the New York Court of Appeals to grant review in the case of NHRP v. Breheny. The brief argues that the primary issue presented in the case, whether a captive elephant named “Happy” can qualify for a writ of habeas corpus, is an important one that calls for the court’s attention… I believe all sentient beings are entitled to freedom from confinement, hunting, slaughter, and all the innumerable ways in which humans inflict suffering and death upon them. Many people share this belief in surveys. But when the topic of veganism comes up, something interesting happens.

Most of us prefer to stay the same, not to change. If someone suggests that we make a particular alteration in how we do things, what we eat, how active we are, how we speak to people, we tend to resist the suggestion… I had thought about becoming vegan for some time. I had always loved animals and hated to see them suffer… And yet… I was reluctant to change… The primary argument was that changing was too difficult. Unlike other people who had become vegan, we really really got a lot of pleasure from eating animal flesh and secretions (though we did not use that language)…

To become an ethical vegan is to manifest the belief that we ought to value sentient animals as individuals, not only as groups, because they too have not only a biology but a biography as well. There is a dark side to the argument that nature has rights or that ceramic bowls have entitlements and that it is a wrong to harm each of these items. The dark side, in fact, is what drew me to it as a pre-vegan. If rivers and trees have rights, then we can place animals right in there with the inanimate objects and give all of them the same rights…

Some invoke the rights that “nature” has in various countries including Ecuador. Giving nature rights sounds good because many of us want to protect bodies of water, trees, and hills from those who would pollute and destroy them. The problem is that if the pond starts housing disease-laden insects, we will drain it. If we require wood, we will chop down a tree. And if we are looking to replace coal as a dirty fuel, we might decide that fracking is for us. In nature, it is not the individual item, whether a river, a tree, or a mountain, but the whole that counts… To become an ethical vegan is to manifest the belief that we ought to value sentient animals as individuals, not only as groups, because they too have not only a biology but a biography as well, as Tom Regan used to say…

I never truly believed that sentient beings were no more significant than “nature” or that treating animals as a whole quantity (like we might treat rainforests) makes sense. We can continue to value the world and all of the wonders in it, including trees and hills and bodies of water. But animal rights mean that we recognize that when anyone suffers, anyone regardless of species, we have an evil that rightly commands our attention and action. Animals are different from inanimate objects in the way that humans are. We must see the individual and respect her boundaries, no matter how much the whole might wish to violate them… I am glad I became vegan fifteen years ago and overcame the tempting rationalizations for doing otherwise… I do not miss animal products. SOURCE…

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