Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Why I am a Vegetarian

An ethical action is, I think, one which is made with the intention that the consequence of the action will result in the least harm possible, or even, in a reduction in suffering.  Bearing this in mind, my reason for being vegetarian is ethical.  Refusing to eat animals is a simple action that leads to a reduction in suffering.  When faced with the existence of suffering in the world, to refuse to take the existence of suffering in non-human animals into account, simply because they are of another species, is the moral equivalent of not taking into account the suffering of other humans simply because they have a different skin color or are a different sex.  It isn’t skin color or gender or species that is important; it is the perpetuation or reduction of suffering that counts.  As the Princeton philosopher Peter Singer (described by the Swiss newspaper the Tages-Anzeiger as "the world’s most dangerous philosopher") puts it in his seminal work, Animal Liberation (first printed in 1975, available in many editions): “If a being suffers there can be no moral justification for not taking that suffering into consideration”.

According to the British Society of Vegetarians, a vegetarian is one who does not eat “fish, meat or fowl”.  I am not a vegan, that is, I do eat products taken from living animals, such as dairy products.  That said, I have great admiration for those who follow a vegan way of life for ethical reasons.  The human is the only animal that drinks milk in adulthood, and the milk is not even our own, but taken from other, captive animals, mothers in fact, who have had their children taken from them at birth!  So, mothers, how about some solidarity with your sisters here?

Imagine a time in the future when we are colonized by other, more powerful creatures who discover that they enjoy our milk.  All our women are rounded up, are impregnated, their children are taken from them immediately after birth, and the women become captive milk machines for their consumption; most of our men are slaughtered shortly after birth for their flesh is deemed a delicacy, the rest of the men are held in solitary confinement and are regularly drained of their sperm through artificial means.  Of course we try to demonstrate the injustice of the situation, but these superior aliens don’t even recognise our primitive sounds as constituting a language.  We would, in fact, based on our own present behavior, have no right to object, for we too believe and live under the assumption that might is right and the suffering of others is irrelevant. Now, imagine if we all woke up tomorrow to discover that all the cows in the world had been suddenly blessed with the gift of the English language. What do you think they would say to us? Would they congratulate us for the humanity expressed in the latest EU laws regarding the transport of livestock?  Or would their first words be something like “ Please have mercy”?  And if they did ask for mercy, would we be obliged to release them of their incredible suffering because now they can speak our language?  Is this what it would take for us to open our eyes to what we are doing?  In which case, we are quite safe – they will not be blessed with the power to speak, and so we can continue to pretend that we are really admirable creatures and there is nothing untoward in the way the world of human and other animals is organised.


  1. Hi Paul,
    I followed your link from HayMarket8 blog.
    I too am vegetarian and often relfect on my reasons for being vegetarian and why I have yet not taken the step towards becoming a vegan.

    This is a very thought provoking entry.

  2. This quotation confused me, Paul: “If a being suffers there can be no moral justification for taking that suffering into consideration”.
    I think it has to be: “If a being suffers there can be no moral justification for refusing to take that suffering into consideration”.
    As for your ethical decision not to eat other living beings, you know I applaud you for that and will continue to do so.
    Donna de Vries

  3. Thank you Donna for that correction. You are right of course. I'll make the correction now.

  4. I often have thoughts like yours but instead of being colonised for our milk, humans are charged with genocide and crimes against living beings for the farming and execution of animals. And the news plays snippets of people claiming they didn't know it was wrong and it is all so laughable. Bravo for being vegetarian!

  5. I love your image - especially of the people saying "I didn't know".