Are All Animals Equal?
While I found Singer’s article well-written and skillfully argued, it felt contrived, particularly in his use of the term “speciesism.” Although I do not feel that the state of something in nature justifies it ethically, I was bothered by Singer was implying that “speciesism,” discrimination based on species, is a strictly human phenomenon (although he did not explicitly state this). One would have to go out of one’s way to ignore such a statement in a discussion like Singer’s, so at the very least he left out an inconvenient fact. Of course, every animal species practices “speciesism,” putting the survival of its own species above the survival of any other. In fact all lifeforms do this, acting primarily out of self interest, not just animals—plants, fungi, protozoa, and of course bacteria. Acting out of self interest does not require harming other species, and many species engage in mutually beneficial symbiotic relationships, but harming other species is never out of the question in the natural world. Nature is beautiful in its complexity and amazing in its ability to host life at all, but it is also exceedingly cruel. With that said, its ubiquitous presence in nature does not automatically justify “speciesism” (or any other type of violence, discrimination, or self-interest). Still, it is important to acknowledge that Singer’s article was misleading on this point.
The main argument against Singer follows from one he used himself, the difficult process of determining where we draw the line. The title of the article is “All Animals are Equal,” but I doubt he really means that. He lists many cute and furry animals, but he does not state a position on reptiles or amphibians, for example. They don’t seem that much like humans, but they share a large number of similarities to mammals in basic behaviors and structures. Okay, then what about fish? Sure, that’s pushing it, but why not? Then we should probably include insects and other invertebrates, which also animals. At that point there is no reason to stop with the animal kingdom, making everything is fair game. Why not? Each group has large similarities to another group related a step closer to humans. Even drawing the line at vertebrates, for example, is tricky, since the boundary is not always clear. Sea squirts, for example, live their early days as mobile animals with containing the precursor to a spinal cord, but they later settle down into a sedentary lifestyle more closely resembling that of a plant, or at least a sponge. It’s very clear that there are few distinct boundaries in nature (the boundaries between species can be distinct, as with the division between humans and their closest animal relatives, but not always), and Singer himself never states where he believes the boundary should exist.
Another question is that of whether with equal rights come equal responsibilities. It would be extremely difficult and absolutely unfair for humans to enforce our laws (or even very basic human values) on other animal societies, where sexism and violence, for example, are prevalent in everyday life. Of course I do not believe animals have to conform to such ideals to earn our respect, but then again it is difficult to consider them equals under such circumstances. Mammals more closely related to humans, such as chimpanzees, can approximate human behaviors and understanding in many ways, and that is something we should give a great deal of consideration. Is conducting any research on these mammals inhumane? It’s possible, and we should have a more open dialogue in our society about this. When animal rights activists call all animal research torture and Singer calls all animals “equals,” though, having this dialogue becomes much more difficult. This is what I meant in my last post, when I described the animal rights activists I met as having an “extreme ideology.” Refusing to recognize these basic differences between species is highly irrational.
I also had some additional minor criticisms of the article. Singer invokes the unattractive idea of a human society built on a hierarchy based on I.Q.s as similar to “discriminating” between different species. What he does not acknowledge is that while I.Q.s are a very poor measure of human ability, and no completely objective measure of human ability or worth exists, we can determine with 100% certainty whether an animal is a human, and this identification has an objective basis in science. Later in the article Singer even describes eating as a way “to satisfy trivial interests of our own,” but I doubt many people would agree that eating is trivial, since one will soon perish from not engaging in this activity. I do appreciate him mentioning the cruel treatment of animals in slaughterhouses and elsewhere in agriculture, though, which is an issue that deserves much more consideration from society.
In the end, while I found the article thoughtful and an interesting read, it is fundamentally flawed in the ways outlined above. I agree with animal rights activists insofar as the humaneness of animal research needs to be vigilantly maintained, and while I think we have great framework for this in our society, I see no reason why it can’t be improved, and I believe we should have a more open dialogue on this. However, demanding an end to all animal research, along with calling animals our equals, is counterproductive and will probably lead to none of these ends being accomplished.
ALL ANIMALS ARE EQUAL - AND ANIMALS EAT ANIMALS
In the text ‘All Animals Are Equal’ Peter Singer state that human prejudices against non-human animals and the view that they are not equal, creates unnecessary suffering; a claim I do not disagree to but I will oppose his further claim that a human killing a non-human animal is an act of speciesism, not morally justified and therefor wrong. In order to make my point clear I will dispute two notions; humans are indulging in speciesism when eating meat, and that all suffering is bad. Concluding that if all animals are equal, humans have the right to eat meat and that suffering is therefore unavoidable.
It is not possible to disagree to Peter Singer’s statement that giving preference to humans over other animals is an act of speciesism, or that all animals are equal and must therefore have the same moral rights. However, Peter Singer’s solution that humans must stop eating meat because that makes them take part in speciesism is a notion I disagree to. Peter Singer says that, ”For the great majority of human beings, […] the most direct form of contact with members of other species is at mealtimes; we eat them. In doing so we treat them purely as means to an end.” He then goes on saying that this is an unnecessary pleasure since humans can survive on other forms of nutrition. I agree that humans can survive on alternative sources of food, but counterclaim that if humans perceive themselves as equal to other animals, they have the same right to kill other animals and eat meat. If humans truly opposed speciesism they should reinforce the human species as a natural part of the animal kingdom. To take distance from others species, and to consider oneself a higher being that acts from reason and not instinct, is an act of speciesism in itself. Therefore, all killings cannot be bad, and since to kill may be considered to cause suffering, one may also conclude that not all suffering is bad, which will lead me to my second paragraph.
I will not oppose Peter Singer’s statement; “The suffering we inflict on the animals while they are alive is perhaps an even clearer indication of our speciesism than the fact that we are prepared to kill them.” For even if my claim that killing animals for food is not an act of speciesism, unnecessary suffering while keeping them alive until the killing occurs, is. However, to keep cattle in restraint for future process into food is not in itself an immoral act if one were to see animals as equal; this behaviour appears within other species as ants and spiders, and are at times a necessity for survival. There is no escape from causing suffering but it is our duty to minimise it. This is the law in nature, and is executed by all animals except humans, because even though a being has the right to live, it does not mean that another being does not have the right to kill it. If there is a moral purpose, creating suffering is inescapable and therefore just.
Therefore, the conclusion is that if all animals are to be perceived as equal, a human must be able to kill another animal for food or in defense, as other animals do, and therefore has the right to eat meat and cause necessary suffering, or all beings would eventually starve.