Saturday, June 29, 2013

Horse Slaughter is Horrible, but so is all Animal Exploitation

There has been a burst of activity in social media and the blogosphere among animal advocates and those who just have a special affinity for horses in the hours since it was announced that the USDA had approved the opening of the first horse slaughtering facility in the United States since the 2011 expiration of a five-year-old ban. Commercial horse slaughter has not occurred in the U.S. since 2006, though horses have been exported to slaughtering plants in neighboring Mexico and Canada during the intervening years, and surely will continue to be due to demand.

Many of the posts and tweets have implied either subtly or not that horse slaughter is especially horrible. I could not agree more that horse slaughter is horrible, but equally horrible is the slaughter of billions of cows, pigs, chickens, fish, and other animals that occurs at our hands every year for trivial reasons.

We are conditioned to insert animals into a moral hierarchy, with horses, dogs, and cats closer to the top, rodents and fish near the bottom, and other land animals somewhere in between. But moral hierarchy is wrong precisely because it is a moral hierarchy—a mechanism that arbitrarily assigns higher value to the interests of some over those of others. It is a cultural construct in which animals move up or down the hierarchal ladder based on the cultural norms of a given society at a given moment in its history. Just as ranking the importance of humans by using race or gender is understood by most of us to be wrong, it is similarly wrong to do so using species.

Our world largely runs on supply and demand and we wouldn’t be discussing domestic horse slaughter if not for our continued demand for horses. Minus that demand, we would not be breeding more of them in the first place.

We look harshly upon foreigners who enjoy horsemeat, furthering our underlying xenophobia and false feelings of moral superiority, while failing to recognize the harm we are doing here at home when we patronize horse-drawn carriages, equestrian shows, or horse races. These are all forms of exploitation that treat horses as just another one of our resources. None of them are benign. All of them are abhorrent and contribute to the overall demand.

All animals have self-interests. They all value their lives just like we do and have value that is independent of how we may think about them individually or as members of a particular species. Abolitionist veganism rejects moral hierarchy and species favoritism, and treats similar situations in similar ways.

Please go vegan. It is the moral and political commitment to nonviolence that protects the environment, promotes human health, respects the interests of other sentient species, and as I truly believe will someday be evident, puts us on the right side of history.