The baboon lay dying but apparently his loss was the human’s gain. He “wanted to get a sense of what it might be like to kill someone”. Journalist Adrian Gill may have gained this experience, he may even be able to quantify what it means to him, but what of the cost to the baboon? Consciously or not, Gill made the decision that his interests in gaining such an experience should not be impeded by the baboon’s interest in staying alive. His perverse interest was minor, the now deceased baboon’s could not have been higher and they were clearly incompatible. Because Gill had a gun, and the will to use it, his interests prevailed.
While Gill’s display of his inner motives may be rare, the death of an intelligent, social animal for human pleasure is not. Each of us makes daily decisions that have consequences for other living, breathing and sentient creatures.
There can be no doubt that animals feel pain and that the existence we have created for billions of them in factory farms fills their lives with it.
Many animals are kept in conditions where their confinement is maddeningly tight. In Australia it is common for mother pigs to be held in barren metal cells barely larger than themselves and too narrow for them to turn around. Cage eggs are cheaper than free range eggs because the hens that laid them are kept in cages where they do not have enough room to stretch their wings. Can you imagine spending one day in such conditions? The life they know, the life humans have imposed on them, is akin to torture.
An ethical mind takes seriously the question of the assertion of their will over the lives of others, including the trampling of the most central and fundamental interests of others for their own personal tastes in food, clothing and cosmetics.
If the lifestyle of one individual causes a tsunami of unnecessary pain and suffering for other living beings, the conscience should be pricked, a reappraisal should be made. We are born into the world with gifts, with the ability to empathise with others and with the ability, some would say responsibility, to make moral decisions and act ethically.
Ethics is often an esoteric subject quite removed from our daily lives, but not in this case. The value we place on their fundamental interests, including their very lives, versus our fleeting, transitory and comparatively trivial interests in matters such as entertainment and taste is demonstrated in the choices we make every day. How we treat those less powerful, in this case animals, is how we most clearly put our ethics into action.
There is a full spectrum of human attitudes towards animals, from respectful to sadistic. What underpins and informs these attitudes is the ability of humans to empathise with animals and take their interests into account. These are then counter-balanced with our interests when they conflict.
Whether we take the decision to be vegan or vegetarian, eat only non-factory farmed meat, use animals indiscriminately for our own purposes or go out of our way to be deliberately cruel to them, we place a value on their lives and make a decision on the basis of our desires and beliefs. Gill decided that his interest in gaining a sense of murder was more important than the entire remaining experience of life for an individual baboon.
There are many positive reasons to be vegetarian or vegan including environmental and health but most significantly it reduces the amount of unnecessary suffering in the world. The adoption of a vegan diet recognises that life is beautiful, it is worth cherishing and that one’s own life does not need to be built upon a pyramid of hidden, but unrelenting, misery.
If there is pain and we can reduce or eradicate it, we should. If we can live full and happy lives without causing pain - how is it not wrong to inflict pain on others, to cause them unnecessary suffering?
The interests of animals are all too often discounted and discarded. They are treated as property before the law and in practice. Yet, they are sentient individuals who have their own interests which can be impacted upon positively or negatively by us. And so much of the relationship between humans and animals is negative, taking the form of institutionalised exploitation and cruelty.
Of course there are demonstrable differences between our species and every other species, but is this our justification; difference? Shouldn’t our good fortune make us kinder, not crueller? While humans are able to reason and act ethically, we alone have subjugated all others whose very lives can be used as our resources.
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