Let’s face it. Usually in our everyday lives, our primary concern is for our own well-being. To some extent, self-centeredness and self-absorption are natural human instincts that are essential for survival. But too often, we see that self-absorption tears at the fabric of all aspects of life. Unfortunately, human selfishness is causing a greater magnitude of misery than most people realize. This is the generally ignored, worldwide suffering caused by the meat industry.
Ironically, the drive for self-preservation unites every being with blood flowing through their veins. Desperation for survival makes perfect scientific sense, because it ensures the longevity of creatures as individuals and as a species. On a psychological level, with this drive for security comes an innate desire for happiness that every creature pursues in a different way. The philosophy of “earthlings” suggests that all creatures are essentially the same because of the basic needs and desires that we all possess. These include the urge to mate, the will to live and the desperation to avoid pain.
Following this logic, is it not reasonable to declare that every creature deserves the same right to life?
The world’s general consensus is that genocide is terrible and wrong, but there is still a continuous mass killing that is universally unacknowledged. It is the slaughter of the billions of living creatures worldwide that are essentially born to die. Speciesism, the idea that humans are inherently superior to every other animal, directly opposes the “earthling” philosophy, which evokes the fundamental equality of all living creatures.
An element of speciesism even lurks in the existence of the word “genocide,” which refers to the deliberate and systematic elimination of a racial, political or cultural group, rather than the existence of a word that defines and decries the systematic destruction of all sentient beings. Why do we as a race still condone the sickeningly-methodical destruction of animals that are not fundamentally any different from us? Does a group of living beings not deserve the right to life or happiness because a self-pronouncedly “higher” creature denounced this right?
It is true that almost all animals have a natural instinct to eat other animals. However, humans have exceptional cerebral capabilities that allow us to understand that we can obtain all of the nutrients that we need to survive from non-sentient plants and that endow us with the responsibility to do so. The idea that our natural drive for survival and happiness comes before every other creature’s natural drive for survival and happiness does not reflect our intrinsic intelligence. This absence of logic and critical thought is not only selfish, but unethical because it is injurious.
We, as a society, are plagued by a cultural prejudice that does not recognize the basic rights of all sentient, cognitive creatures. This commonly-accepted belief is the blocking force that will hinder any movement towards a higher level of human understanding. The moral superiority that is necessary for human advancement can be achieved only through the brutal reasoning in this question that I pose to you: are our taste buds important enough for billions of animals to “live” miserable existences in factory farms and then suffer excruciating deaths in slaughterhouses?
Apathy is one of the greatest dangers to society, because it serves as an obstacle to any progression or improvement. Indifference has no place in a world plagued by such tragedy. We must address the harm that our speciesist attitudes have caused. We must admit to the large-scale environmental, moral and health repercussions of our actions. It is imperative that we examine the true, moral integrity of what we eat and challenge the institutions that have perpetuated our unethical culinary practices.
Our gustatory preferences have impacted our world in graver ways than we have realized, and now is the time to change. If we don’t, not only will more and more animals suffer every day, but the environmental effects of factory farming will only worsen. In 2006, the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization reported that animal agriculture is responsible for 18% of all human-produced greenhouse gas emissions. The raising and slaughtering of such a great number of livestock is straining Mother Earth, and without a planet on which to live, everything else about human society is absolutely arbitrary. We must take care of it and all its inhabitants; if not for ourselves, then for our children and grandchildren and all other future generations.
If we as a race are to advance spiritually, morally, and intellectually, we have no choice but to care for the pain of the animals that inhabit the same world that we do. We must face the fact that the ginormous industry of animal food products reflects the arguably greatest enactment of human self-concern. If we are more empathetic to the terrible pain of the living creatures around us, we will transform into more compassionate beings ourselves.
We must release these billions of animals from the chains with which we have bound them. But we must do it together. By respecting all forms of life, we will learn to treasure the world around us. Only then we will be able to change it for the better.
—Sarah Rodeo ’17 is a student at Vassar College.