On August 2, I posted a blog essay entitled, A Note About Michael Vick. Vick’s behavior was obviously reprehensible. I wrote the blog because I was tired of hearing Vick criticized by self-righteous people who eat meat, attend rodeos, hunt, or participate in the many forms of animal exploitation that, unlike dog fighting, are accepted as legitimate activities by most people but that cause as much suffering to the animals involved.
Frankly, I did not think that there would be much of a response. After all, I have been making the same point for some years now in my writing—we suffer from a sort of “moral schizophrenia” where animals are concerned. On one hand, we treat some nonhumans, such as dogs and cats, as members of our families and become incensed in reaction to stories about the torture of such animals. On the other hand, we ignore entirely—indeed, we participate in—other animal uses that result in the torture of other animals whom we do not regard as “special.” This was a central point in my book, Introduction to Animal Rights: Your Child or the Dog?
Well, I was wrong about the reaction to my blog essay.
I received dozens of emails. As most of the readers were writing after reading the essay on my Web site or some other pro-abolitionist sites on which it had been reposted, the comments were favorable for the most part, but there were still some “animal people” who took issue with my analysis of the situation.
And then, on August 22, the Philadelphia Daily News ran the essay and was flooded with comments. On August 23, I was a guest on the Michael Smerconish Morning Show, which is very popular in the Philadelphia area and is streamed live over the Internet.
Since last week, I have received about 200 emails and voice messages at my Rutgers University office.
These comments came more from the general public than from “animal people,” and although many were supportive and interested in a perspective that they had not considered before, many were critical—almost hostile.
The comments fall into four different categories:
1. Religion: I would say that approximately 60% of the comments I received claimed that I had missed the point that god had intended us to eat animals whereas god did not think much of dog fighting. Although most of my European readers cannot understand this fully, in the United States, moral issues, to the extent that they are discussed at all, are discussed in the context of the Bible. For many Americans, the Bible provides the answer—and the only answer—to any question.
I have two replies.
First, if you take a look at Genesis, the first book of the Bible, it says in chapter 1, verses 29-30:
And God said, ‘See, I have given you every herb that yields seed which is on the face of all the earth, and every tree whose fruit yields seed; to you it shall be for food. Also, to every beast of the earth, to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, in which there is life, I have given every green herb for food.’
How much more clear can this be? In the original creation story, all living beings are vegan.
Killing and meat eating occur only later, after humankind has breached the covenant and humankind is driven from Eden.
Second, it is very difficult to use the Bible, and particularly the Old Testament, as a source of moral authority because you can find support therein for just about anything and selectivity, which is necessarily arbitrary, is required.
For example, the Bible is often used as support for capital punishment. And although the Bible certainly does prescribe the death penalty for murder, it also prescribes it for a wide variety of other actions, including cursing your parents, engaging in blasphemy, homosexuality, adultery, witchcraft, and a wide variety of other actions. How can we say, selectively, that one crime deserves death according to the Bible, but disregard the other crimes for which the Bible prescribes death?
Moreover, the Bible also condones a number of institutions and actions that most of us clearly reject as immoral. For example, the Old Testament clearly condones human slavery and allows for different rules to apply to slaves. For example, if a master beats his slave so severely that the slave dies, he will be punished—but not with death. If the slave remains alive for a day or two before dying, then the master will not be punished because the slave “is his property.” (Exodus 21:20-21) We all reject human slavery but, it would seem, that if we were faithful to the Bible, we would not.
2. Diet: A number of callers and writers seem to think that we need to eat animals for food. I find this rather astonishing. It is 2007 and it is difficult to believe that anyone doubts that we cannot live—in a very healthy way—on a plant based diet. Indeed, it seems that every day, mainstream healthcare professionals are telling us that animal flesh and animal products, such as dairy and eggs, are causing various human diseases. And animal agriculture is a complete disaster for the environment.
3. Evolution: Some people think that because we have evolved to be omnivores, we should be omnivores. We certainly are capable of eating meat and animal products, although our dental structure is unlike that of most carnivores in that we cannot rip uncooked flesh from bone. Moreover, unlike most carnivores, we have a long intestine. In any event, given the increasing number of diseases that appear to be linked to eating meat and animal products, it is quite clear that we ought not to continue their consumption, however we evolved. And facts of evolution do not settle matters of morality. One could argue that we have evolved to be a violent species. Does that make violence morally right? Mike Tyson can bite off someone’s ear; does that mean that he should?
4. Legality: A surprisingly large number of people wrote or called and said that what Vick did was illegal but that eating meat is legal.
Human slavery was once legal; that did not make it morally right.
My point is that we are morally schizophrenic because we make dog fighting illegal, but treat eating animals, hunting them, or using them in rodeos as legal and “normal.” The fact that we act in such a confused way is not a justification for acting in a confused way.
We can condemn Vick all we want, but what he did was no different from what most of us participate in directly or indirectly every day of our lives.
I stand by what I said: We are all Michael Vick. We must recognize that our criticism of him is a criticism of ourselves and of the suffering and death of animals that we all cause and for which we are all morally responsible.
Gary L. Francione
©2007 Gary L. Francione