Monthly Archives: July 2012

“Pets”: The Inherent Problems of Domestication

As a practical matter, there is simply no way to have an institution of “pet” ownership that is consistent with a sound theory of animal rights. “Pets” are property and, as such, their valuation will ultimately be a matter of what their “owners” decide.

But you might ask: “What if it were possible? If, as a hypothetical matter, we changed the legal status of dogs and cats so that they were no longer property and they had a legal status closer to that of human children, would our continued production of dogs and cats (or other nonhumans) and our keeping of ‘pets’ be morally justified?”

My answer to this purely hypothetical question is “no.” We cannot justify the perpetuation of domestication for the purpose of keeping “pets.”

Domesticated animals are dependent on us for everything that is important in their lives: when and whether they eat or drink, when and where they sleep or relieve themselves, whether they get any affection or exercise, etc. Although one could say the same thing about human children, the overwhelming number of human children mature to become autonomous, independent beings.

Domestic animals are neither a real nor full part of our world or of the nonhuman world. They exist forever in a netherworld of vulnerability, dependent on us for everything and at risk of harm from an environment that they do not really understand. We have bred them to be compliant and servile, or to have characteristics that are actually harmful to them but are pleasing to us. We may make them happy in one sense, but the relationship can never be “natural” or “normal.” They do not belong stuck in our world irrespective of how well we treat them.

We cannot justify such an institution, even if it looked very different from the situation that now exists. My partner and I live with five rescued dogs, including dogs who had health problems when we adopted them. We love them very much and try very hard to provide them the best of care and treatment. (And before anyone asks, all seven of us are vegans!) You would probably not find two people on the planet who enjoy living with dogs more than we do.

And we both encourage anyone who can to adopt or foster as many animals (of whatever species) they can responsibly have.

But if there were two dogs left in the universe and it were up to us as to whether they were allowed to breed so that we could continue to live with dogs, and even if we could guarantee that all dogs would have homes as loving as the one that we provide, we would not hesitate for a second to bring the whole institution of “pet” ownership to an end.

We regard the dogs who live with us as refugees of sorts, and although we enjoy caring for them, it is clear that humans have no business continuing to bring these creatures into a world in which they simply do not fit.

I understand that many people will be bewildered by my argument about the inherent problems with domestication. But that is because we live in a world in which we kill and eat 56 billion animals a year (not counting fish) and where our best justification for that practice is that we enjoy the taste of animal flesh and animal products. Most of you who are reading this right now are probably not vegans. As long as you think it is acceptable to kill and eat animals, the more abstract argument about domesticating animals to use as “pets” is not likely to resonate. I understand that.

So take a few minutes to read some of the many other essays on this site that discuss veganism, such as The Problem With Single-Issue Campaigns and Why Veganism Must Be the Baseline.

And then reconsider the issue of “pets.” I also discuss the issue of “pets” in two podcasts: Commentary #2: “Pets” and Commentary #4: Follow-Up to “Pets” Commentary: Non-Vegan Cats.

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If you are not vegan, please go vegan. Veganism is about nonviolence. First and foremost, it’s about nonviolence to other sentient beings. But it’s also about nonviolence to the earth and nonviolence to yourself.

If you are able to adopt or foster any nonhuman animals, please do. Domestication is morally wrong but they are here now and they need our care. Their lives are as important to them as our lives are to us.

The World is Vegan! If you want it.

Gary L. Francione
Professor, Rutgers University

©2012 Gary L. Francione

Do Abolitionists Have a Position on Human Rights? You Bet We Do!

Someone said to me today (in an email): “I’m totally for animal rights but I don’t think that means I have to be for women’s rights or gay rights or whatever.”

Wrong.

Think about the logic. Speciesism is wrong because it’s like racism, sexism, heterosexism, etc., which also involve focusing on an irrelevant criterion (race or sex or sexual orientation or whatever) to justify not according equal consideration.

We can’t say that speciesism is wrong because it’s like these other wrong things but we don’t have a position about these other wrong things.

Of course we do.

And that position is that all discrimination is wrong. Period. It doesn’t matter whether it’s discrimination based on race, sex, sexual orientation, class, age, etc. It’s wrong.

If you say that speciesism is wrong but you don’t have a position about other wrongful types of discrimination, all you do is reinforce the notion that “animal people” do not care about humans.

And the abolitionist movement is not about misanthropy.

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If you are not vegan, please go vegan. Veganism is about nonviolence. First and foremost, it’s about nonviolence to other sentient beings. But it’s also about nonviolence to the earth and nonviolence to yourself.

The World is Vegan! If you want it.

Gary L. Francione
Professor, Rutgers University

©2012 Gary L. Francione

Veganism and Nonviolence

If the principle of nonviolence means anything, it means that you cannot justify any killing or suffering for transparently frivolous reasons such as pleasure, amusement, or convenience. And doing something “with compassion” that is not morally justifiable does not change the fact that it’s morally unjustifiable.

When you decide what you want to eat, wear, or use, you are not acting under any sort of compulsion. You are simply indulging your palate pleasure, sense of fashion, etc., or allowing what is convenient to trump the interests of another sentient being.

So if you embrace nonviolence and you are not vegan, you need to think about what is unquestionably a serious inconsistency.

*****

If you are not vegan, please go vegan. Veganism is about nonviolence. First and foremost, it’s about nonviolence to other sentient beings. But it’s also about nonviolence to the earth and nonviolence to yourself.

The World is Vegan! If you want it.

Gary L. Francione
Professor, Rutgers University

©2012 Gary L. Francione

Road Kill, Abandoned Eggs, and Dumpster Diving

I am frequently asked whether it is “vegan” to eat “road kill,” the abandoned eggs of hens who are kept as companions, or animal products that you find in a dumpster.

The short answer: no.

The explanation: Although these activities do not contribute directly to demand for animal products, they are deeply problematic as a symbolic matter. They reinforce the idea that animal products are things to consume; they reinforce the idea that animals are things, are human resources; they reinforce the social practice of consuming animals; they reinforce demand even if they don’t contribute directly to it.

But what if no one sees you do these things? In that case, you are not engaging in any activity that symbolizes anything to anyone because no one observes it or knows about it. You are not reinforcing demand.

But you observe; you know about it. You are participating in the act of consuming animals; a ritual that has no meaning apart from the speciesist celebration that animals are things to exploit.

Being vegan means that you reject the notion that animals are things for us to consume. They are not commodities; they are not resources.

They are not food any more than a human arm that you find in the dumpster.

We would never think of eating a human. Humans are moral persons. We don’t eat persons. But nonhumans are persons as well. They have moral value. Their bodies and the products made from them are not things we should consider as food, even if we find them dead along the road way or in a dumpster, or even if they are abandoned by their makers, such as unfertilized eggs that hens don’t eat.

*****

If you are not vegan, please go vegan. Veganism is about nonviolence. First and foremost, it’s about nonviolence to other sentient beings. But it’s also about nonviolence to the earth and nonviolence to yourself.

The World is Vegan! If you want it.

Gary L. Francione
Professor, Rutgers University

©2012 Gary L. Francione

Commentary #23: Lennox and Moral Reasoning in Animal Rights

It’s been a while since I did a Commentary and I have been meaning to start up again but, alas, it’s been a busy time.

I was planning to do a podcast on the topic of my essay, Moral Concern, Moral Impulse, and Logical Argument in Animal Rights Advocacy, which I published in May and that got a terrific response.

And then I saw the story yesterday that, on Wednesday, June 11, 2012, the Belfast (Northern Ireland) City Council, killed Lennox, a dog that was alleged to be a pit bull, a breed which is illegal in Northern Ireland. There had been a worldwide campaign to save Lennox and after he was killed, there were protests in Spain, the U.S., Serbia, and other places.

I posted an essay, The Legacy of Lennox as soon as I heard the news and I decided that it was a good time to do the Commentary because the reaction to Lennox’s situation required that we think generalizing our moral concern to other animals. In my view, if you are upset about the killing of Lennox, but you are not vegan, you are not thinking clearly. Lennox’s case raises some of the same issues as did the matter of Michael Vick.

In the first part of the Commentary, I discuss Lennox. I go on to talk about moral reasoning animal rights advocacy. I also discuss the concept of sentience in the second part.

I hope that you enjoy Commentary #24 and that you find that it helps your thinking about animal ethics.

And many thanks to Paola Aldana de Meoño for designing the new Commentary avatar.

*****

If you are not vegan, please go vegan. Veganism is about nonviolence. First and foremost, it’s about nonviolence to other sentient beings. But it’s also about nonviolence to the earth and nonviolence to yourself.

The World is Vegan! If you want it.

Gary L. Francione
Professor, Rutgers University

©2012 Gary L. Francione

Play

Sentience

A sentient being is a being who is subjectively aware; a being who has interests; that is, a being who prefers, desires, or wants. Those interests do not have to be anything like human interests. If a being has some kind of mind that can experience frustration or satisfaction of whatever interests that being has, then the being is sentient.

We engage in speciesist thinking when we claim that a being must have a humanlike mind to count morally. That is, it is speciesist to claim that a being must have a reflective sense of self awareness, or conceptual thought, or the general ability to experience life in the way that humans do in order to have the moral right not to be used as a resource. As long as there is someone there who is subjectively aware and who, in that being’s own way, cares about what happens to him or to her, that is all that is necessary to have the moral right not to be used as a resource.

Is there uncertainty as to where the line is between sentient and nonsentient? Of course there is. It is, however, clear beyond any doubt that all of the animals that we routinely exploit–the fish, cows, pigs, sheep, goats, chickens and other birds, lobsters, etc. are sentient. So we know everything we need to know to make the moral decision to stop eating, wearing, or using those animals.

Can we say with as much certainty as is possible in any empirical matter that plants are not sentient? Yes, of course we can. Plants are alive; plants react to stimuli. But plants do not respond through any conscious process. That is, there is no reason whatsoever to believe that plants have any sort of mind that cares about what happens to the plant.

People often say that I regard insects as not sentient. That is not accurate. I do not know whether insects are sentient. I err on the side of sentience and I do not intentionally kill them. Indeed, I exercise caution when I walk so as not to kill or injure them. I do not know whether clams or other mollusks are sentient although I err in favor of sentience and do not eat them or buy products made from them.

But I repeat: not knowing where to draw the line does not mean that we don’t know enough right now to be absolutely clear that we have a moral obligation not to eat, wear, or use animals, and that veganism must be the moral baseline of a movement that seeks justice for nonhuman animals.

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If you are not vegan, please go vegan. Veganism is all about nonviolence. First and foremost, it’s about nonviolence to other sentient beings. But it’s also about nonviolence to the earth and nonviolence to yourself.

The World is Vegan! If you want it.

Gary L. Francione
Professor, Rutgers University

©2012 Gary L. Francione

Postscript added July 13, 2012

A number of people have written to me in the past day asking me whether I consider eating clams to be vegan. These inquiries were prompted by the video linked to above.

No, I do not regard consuming these nonhumans to be consistent with being a vegan.

In the case of plants, we can be as certain about nonsentience as as we can be about anything. The case for nonsentience in the case of clams, oysters, etc., is not certain and, therefore, it seems to me to make good moral sense to have a presumption in favor of sentience and against exploitation. And there are other mollusks (cephalopods, such as the squid, octopus, etc.) who are more neurologically developed and where it is clear that there is sentience. So I regard it as good moral sense to presume in favor of the sentience of clams, oysters, and scallops and all mollusks (including snails) and to not eat them or otherwise exploit them as human resources.

The Legacy of Lennox

Yesterday, July 11, 2012, Lennox, allegedly a pit bull, was killed by the Belfast, Northern Ireland, City Council. Pit bulls are illegal in Northern Ireland. There had been an international campaign to save Lennox and now there is international outrage over his death.

And there ought to be.

It is nothing but ignorance to regard pit bulls as a vicious type of dog. Anyone who knows anything about pit bulls knows that they are gentle, loving dogs whose historical role has been to act as nonhuman babysitters for human children. Are some pit bulls vicious? Yes, the ones who are made to be vicious by humans. And from what I have read, the claim by Belfast authorities that Lennox was vicious, or that it was “necessary” in any sense to kill him, was not supported by the evidence.

But the story of Lennox has a deeper meaning. There was international outrage over this matter because there was no justification for killing Lennox. The Belfast City Council acted wrongly.

But what about the approximately 150 million nonhuman animals-not counting fish-who will be killed today for food?

Every one of those animals is as innocent and vulnerable as was Lennox. And there is no justification for the suffering and death we impose. We kill and eat animals because they taste good; we act out of habit to satisfy our palate pleasures. Nothing more.

Many of those protesting Lennox’s death and objecting to the actions of the Belfast City Council are doing exactly what the City Council did in Lennox’s case: they are deciding who lives and who dies.

The worldwide outrage over this injustice shows that many of us do have moral concern about nonhumans.

If we could ignite the moral spark and generalize that moral concern so that all of those upset over the death of Lennox could become similarly outraged over the deaths of the billions of animals killed annually for food, we’d have an animal rights movement.

The pathetic “happy meat” “compassionate consumption” movement that presently exists has nothing to do with animal rights; it has to do with making humans feel better about consuming nonhumans.

Lennox was killed unjustly. That was wrong. Those who object to what happened to Lennox should recognize that continuing to consume animals makes us no different from the Belfast City Council.

If you are not vegan, please go vegan. And educate others, in a creative and nonviolent ways, about how veganism is the only rational response to the recognition that animals matter morally.

And if you have the ability to adopt a homeless animal of any species, please do so. If you adopt, consider a pit bull or pit bull mix. They are wonderful dogs!

Let our raised consciousness about justice for all nonhumans be the legacy of Lennox.

Gary L. Francione
Professor, Rutgers University

©2012 Gary L. Francione

Postscript added July 16, 2012

Some animal advocates are calling for a tourism boycott of Northern Ireland and the Olympics in response to the tragic killing of Lennox. This shows how confused many animal advocates are. First, why Northern Ireland? New York City kills more pit bulls in a day than Northern Ireland and the entire United Kingdom has probably killed in years. Second, millions of animals are being killed every minute of every day everywhere around the world and the response: a boycott focused on one dog and no mention of the millions of others or how it all fits. No mention of veganism.

http://bit.ly/Lj57pQ