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.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

You Need Not Turn Over Any Rocks

Animal exploitation is so pervasive in our culture that you need not turn over any rocks to see it; in fact you can't seem to get away from it. During my run early this morning I ran past a large group of goats grazing in a grassy field surrounded by a barbed wire fence. Accompanying them was a dog. Both the dog and the goats are victims of domestication. They are someone's property, their lives are controlled, and they are forever dependent on humans. The dog is exploited for her ability to watch over the goats and chase or scare away predators. The goats are exploited for whatever horrible purposes they are used for. Everyone inside that fence is valued more for what they can do for us than for who they are as individuals.

Later this morning while stretching at the gym, I overheard a man on the mat next to me saying into his cell phone: "She wants to go to SeaWorld. I think we can find a coupon." We detain animals in zoos, aquatic parks, and aquariums where we strip them of their personhood, manage their lives in unnatural settings, put them on display, and profit off them, merely because we find them entertaining.

A coffee shop was my next stop. While paying for my coffee and bagel, I couldn't help notice the tubs of cream cheese neatly stacked in the refrigerated display case next to me. The dairy industry involves such terrible violence that those containers might as well have been smeared with blood.

I see animal exploitation everywhere I turn, and honestly, it sickens me. But I always remind myself that the discomfort I feel is trivial compared to what the nonhuman animals we exploit have to go through.

If you haven’t already done so, please recognize that animals have an interest in their lives just as humans do. Please reject violence and go vegan.