Wednesday, July 2, 2014

We Seem to Want to View Animal Exploitation as a Narrow Problem Practiced by Horrible Others

Shouldn’t the 57 billion land animals and roughly one-trillion fish and other sea animals killed annually for food elicit at least as much outrage in the social media circles as what Kendall Jones does? People who purport to care about animals recently responded with petitions and hateful, sexist, and threatening comments to photos she posted on her Facebook page of her smiling while posing with animals she shot dead.

The author of the Daily News article on the matter referred to the lions, elephants, buffalos, leopards, and rhinos she hunts, as "exotic" animals, while a Facebook user commenting on a photo of Kendall posing with a dead lion, asked: “How can you kill such a 'majestic' animal?” But the terms “exotic” and “majestic” are subjective, arbitrary, and speciesist. All animals have inherent value—which is independent from their species membership—and all animal use is wrong. Jones gets pleasure from shooting animals, while most of us get pleasure from eating them, wearing them, or looking at them in zoos or aquariums. She makes excuses for her exploitation of animals, as do most of the rest of us. There is no difference in any morally relevant way in how she uses animals versus how other people who are not vegan do so.

Some may fault her for targeting animals who are members of an endangered species, but an animal’s species membership has nothing to do with that individual’s moral value, any more than one’s race or ethnicity does in the human context. The desires to avoid pain and suffering, to explore one’s environment, and to continue to remain alive, are not characteristics of species (which is merely a classification system for living organisms), but of the individuals within a species.

So before we single out and admonish with sexist or racist overtones, Kendall Jones, Melissa Bachman, or Michael Vic, let’s take a look at and fix what’s on our own plates, filling our own drinking glasses, hanging in our own closets. We will never recognize and respect the moral status of nonhumans if we continue to point fingers and view their exploitation as something other than a pervasive social norm.