Animal Rights

The Hopeless Case for PETA

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In spite of their best efforts, the far reaching goals of PETA will never be attainable. Cruelty to animals can and will be reduced over time, but eating meat, owning companion animals, and using animals in medical tests will never stop. PETA’s intermediate goal of reducing cruelty incrementally is laudable, but their seemingly quixotic quest to put animals on par with humans is impossible.

We have seen several posts by PETA advocating a vegan lifestyle, while in the news PETA advocates are often shown wearing leather. This contradiction is a strong indicator of where people fit in the ecosystem. We are part of nature, we are omnivorous, and we have no special morality that exempts us from treating animals as resources like other animals do to each other every single day. Why is it when a wolf kills a deer it is okay, but when a man eats a free range chicken, it is somehow cruel and immoral?

On the opposite side, we have extremist like the regular OV poster, Joseph Wales. From his perspective, animals are property, period. Michael Vick committed no crime, and our property laws are all that we need for animal rights. There are many people who support Mr. Wales’ position, including those who take the “stewardship clause” from Genesis to mean that we own the world and everything in it. Most people would disagree with Mr. Wales too.

Like most issues, there is a middle ground that most likely has the widest support.

People’s attitudes about what is cruel and what is “natural” are very blurry. No one objects to killing disease germs, mold, mildew, bacteria, single cell organisms, parasitic organisms, etc. No one objects to eating plants either. For most people, insects can be killed without regard, but some religions like Buddhism shy away from killing even a cockroach. For many people, morality only comes into play when there is some type of sentience or awareness of the creature that could be harmed.

When we get to water breathing animals, most people do not object to eating fish, but some do.  However, most people who eat fish don’t think twice about eating squid or octopus, which are probably as intelligent as many companion animals. When we see sharks getting their fins cut off and the living remains are tossed into the sea, most people think this is cruel. However, if the entire shark is harvested and the animal’s death was quick, most people would not object.

Moving up to amphibians, most people don’t think much of frogs, toads, or salamanders. When people kill and eat frogs, most people do not object unless the animal is endangered. Similarly, the only reason most people care about amphibians is that if they die off in an area, it is usually a good measure of pollution or other significant environmental issues. Ethically, most people don’t think twice about the life and death of amphibians and our role in their deaths.

Moving up to reptiles, it seems only the “cute” ones like sea turtles earn much sympathy or respect. Things like the rattlesnake round up and alligator farming show that people in general don’t think much of reptiles.

Birds are generally viewed as either food or pests. Only the unusual birds like beautiful raptors or intelligent parrots seem to cause concerns over cruelty or fair treatment. However, people like farmers won’t think twice about killing a hawk or a falcon that is threatening livestock. Birds like turkeys and chickens are barely as intelligent as most fish, and they engender very little sympathy. People tend to get concerned about poultry only in so far as they shouldn’t be treated with unnecessary cruelty, but otherwise the general response is whether they like white meat or dark meat.

Mammals garner the most sympathy. They seem closer to us. We have companion animals like dogs and cats, primates are eerily similar to people in their looks and behavior, and even food animals like cows and pigs have personality and intelligence. Again, most people are only willing to to curtail unnecessary suffering and nothing else. We frequently and willingly put mammals down when they are sick or even when they are simply just inconvenient.

When compared to nature, man is no crueler. Look at the Orca tossing a penguin or seal in the air like a play thing, or the cat playing with a mouse, or the pack of wolves who dig into an elk while it is still bleating its last breaths. Nature is cruel and seemingly sadistic. This does not mean that man should be cruel and sadistic too, but to imply that we have some special role outside of nature simply doesn’t align with our place in the world.

In general, most people seem to believe that free range farming is best, humane slaughtering is best, and that animals should be spared unnecessary pain whenever possible. However, we are omnivores. We eat animals, we harvest their byproducts, and we use them to protect our own existence through medical research. The only way this behavior would stop would be simple economics or some other biological reality. The ethical argument put forth by PETA for a completely vegan lifestyle simply carries no weight with the majority of people.

The ultimate goals of PETA are “unnatural.” They would require a new ethic that has very little support in reality. The middle ground is a reduction in cruelty but no rights that we assign to other humans.