Radical Absolutism: Linking Meat, Abortion and Murder

It is in our nature to anthropomorphize. Most of the time, this tendency is fairly harmless, but when it leads us to prioritize the welfare of pets over other humans, or fetuses over women’s health, or animal lives over vital medical research, it can be unhelpful and even dangerous. The proposition that conscious humans aren’t special—as opposed to, say, human embryos or simpler life forms—is superficially attractive and non-judgmental, but leads to horrible decision-making in the inevitable scenarios in which we must choose which life forms live and which die. Such positions tend to be born out of non-scientific assumptions about the nature of plants, animals, developing babies and life forms in general. They readily evolve into absolutist positions, driven by powerful ideological convictions or religion, and from there burst into the public realm. It’s extremely important that modern culture debates and explores the ethics of life, and builds up a strong legal foundation and protections—it wasn’t so long ago that humans perpetrated monstrous acts against their fellow humans because people closed their eyes to such matters. People do sense that there are some ethical holes in modern life that need filling, but radical absolutism not only fails to provide the structures we need, it also throws up new and very worrying dangers.

Last year, an increasing number of UK farmers reported harassment and even threats of violence by radical vegan activists with an operating philosophy that meat is murder—these are people who literally consider livestock farmers to be mass murderers and dairy farmers to be rapists. The rhetoric of these activists co-opts extreme language and slogans, referring to an animal holocaust, gas chambers, extermination and so on, and their goal is to achieve through intimidation what they cannot achieve through the ballot box. The BBC devoted several programs in January 2018 to the phenomenon in the UK—covering, in particular, the case of Alison Waugh, a trainee farmer in Northumberland, who went public after she received death threats from radicals, and activists began turning up at the farm at night. She noted that it was “quite ironic from people that want peace for animals but then they tell you, ‘I hope you and your family go and die in a hole for what you do.’ ” One protest group called the “Save Movement”—active both in the UK and globally—holds vigils outside abattoirs, and sometimes storms the properties to shout slogans or spray graffiti. In one case, they abused staff because they were “helping to kill babies” (i.e. young animals).

The appearance of this kind of radical animal rights activism has taken many people by surprise, but it was a foreseeable development. The radicals who proclaim that meat is murder are plugging into the same monochromatic emotional ideology as radical anti-abortionists. They deploy the same logical arguments, driven by the same moral certitude, fervor and belief that they are protecting life, as those other radical “pro-life” campaigners. And what could possibly be wrong with protecting life?

In an interesting coincidence, there has also been an upswing in anti-abortion protest in the UK in recent years. A rise in protests of a kind not normally seen in the UK—demonstrations and vigils outside abortion clinics—has led to the first instance of a local council imposing a 100-meter protest “exclusion zone” around a clinic in Ealing, West London. Soon afterwards, another eight councils announced that they were considering exclusion zones, and dozens of MPs wrote to the Home Secretary to ask for legislation that would impose an exclusion zone around every clinic in the country. The MPs argued that women going for abortions now have to walk past intimidating protests—which involve tactics like being handed teddy bears and being called “mum”—which are occurring in front of at least forty-two clinics across the country. The anti-abortion protestors often use the same extreme language, referring to an ongoing “holocaust,” mass exterminations, and so on.

Both radical groups elevate the status and moral value of certain living things, in an effort to demonstrate that they are equivalent to a full human. Radical vegan and animal welfare activists claim that animals are “sentient,” feel pain, and that killing them is therefore murder. These claims are analogous to those made on behalf of human fetuses by radical anti-abortionists. Both claims, however, are flawed because those characteristics alone don’t make animals or fetuses physically or morally equivalent to humans. We should of course encourage and support scientifically grounded protections for both animals and fetuses, to prevent the infliction of unnecessary suffering. But that does not mean that either animals or fetuses are equivalent to living and self-aware human beings, nor does it require us to consider them as such. Doing so can lead us into false and dangerous dilemmas—such as risking the lives of women when a pregnancy runs into trouble, or being unable to develop life-saving new surgical techniques for people, such as organ transplants, which must first be perfected on animals for obvious reasons.

The odd thing about these two “pro-life” movements is that activists against one are very likely to be among the activists in favor of the other; the abortion is murder movement is dominated by the conservative Right, while the meat is murder movement is dominated by the progressive Left. This in itself accentuates the possibility of political polarization, at a time when absolutism is returning to political debate across developed democracies. With each side claiming the moral high ground of saving lives and preventing suffering against its traditional political opponent, there is a risk of an escalation of inflammatory rhetoric and activism, which does not bode well for society or for a sober consideration of the issues at hand.

The Nature of Life Forms

Vegetarianism and veganism originated long before we understood the underlying differences between animals and plants at the cellular level. The historic origins of these philosophies in South Asia drew upon the religious understanding of karma, and the belief that all animals contain “souls” no different from our own. The Jains go even further: their doctrine of ahimsa teaches that even harming plants has karmic consequences. Interestingly, the Jains operate a sliding scale of five degrees of life between plants and humans—a fairly sensible way of acknowledging that all life forms exist on a spectrum of complexity and sophistication. There’s obviously a profound difference between a tiger and a turnip, but for lower animal life forms, philosophical arguments about sentience aren’t applicable and the perceived differences between plants and animals narrow.

Because humans are animals, and we have reaction and perception speeds comparable to those of other animals, plants seem immobile and unreactive by comparison. This observation has given rise to an assumption that there is an essential difference between plants and animals. But plants do in fact move and react, and they can be exceedingly complex. For example, the cabbage is a more evolved and complex life form than the oyster, which also has no brain; or the sponge, which doesn’t even have nerves. Concepts like pain and suffering are no more applicable to oysters than they are to cabbages, but both react to stimuli and exhibit evasive behaviors when threatened with harm. We only have to look at time-lapse photography of plants to see further evidence of this in action—consider the similarity of a Venus flytrap and a clam as they snap shut, or of plant tendrils reaching out, like fingers grasping for something to catch hold of. Plants can also signal warnings of potential harm by releasing compounds into the air, communicating via the fungal mats that grow between roots in the soil, and even reacting defensively to the vibrations of animals eating their leaves. So arguing that destroying oysters is murder but destroying cabbages is not, solely on the basis of evolutionary descent, is biologically illiterate.

In practice, most people easily deduce that a life form’s complexity—rather than the kingdom of life it exists in—ought to determine how it is treated. If a hypothetical intelligent plant species were ever discovered, it is unlikely that hungry vegetarians would be queuing up to eat it. As fully self-aware beings capable of producing complex language, creativity, art and technology, there is a qualitative difference between humans and lower animals, just as there is a qualitative difference between an embryo and a third trimester fetus, due to the huge changes in awareness that occur during the last phase of pregnancy. But at no point during the journey from embryo to fetus does awareness switch on like a light; nor is there a switching on of awareness as we step up in complexity through living species. Rather, both scenarios exhibit a continuous brightening—like a light-dimmer being slowly turned up. Therefore, the meat is murder and abortion is murder philosophies are both driven by a kind of essentialism: the belief that the life form in question has some special innate property beyond the biochemical that distinguishes it from other life forms and justifies the demand that it be protected as if it were indistinguishable from human.

In the case of animals, this essence is usually called “sentience” by campaigners, but it isn’t sentience in any scientific, measurable sense. Rather, it is a generalized property bestowed by an animal’s nervous physiology—as opposed to the signaling physiology found in plants—a property that campaigners believe conveys the ability to suffer. In human embryos and fetuses, the essence is encapsulated in the anti-abortion slogan life begins at conception. This slogan benefits from a veneer of scientific plausibility, since conception is a biological term synonymous with fertilization. But an egg cell (of any species) is just as alive before fertilization as it is after; the egg must be continuously alive throughout the fertilization process, otherwise nothing living would result. Animals like honeybee drones and ant drones, and plants in the moss phylum, are all haploid, which is to say that they are born from unfertilized eggs. If they were sentient, these species would no doubt be surprised to learn that anti-abortion campaigners do not consider them to be alive. Among religious anti-abortionists, it is the human soul that is injected at conception. This is presumably why such people also oppose human cloning—which doesn’t involve conception—as it would create people with no souls, even though there is no scientific evidence for the existence of such a property.

Every living thing so far discovered on this planet is part of a continuously living sequence of cellular life that reaches back at least 3.5 billion years. Insofar as the phrase life begins has any coherent meaning for an individual life form, a surprising but more biologically defensible point of genesis would be the moment the egg cell is created in its mother’s ovary, which occurs when she is only a twenty-week old fetus in her mother’s womb. My life began before my mother was born is probably too conceptually strange for most people to embrace, but it happens to be true.

There is no vital ingredient or essence in any kind of life—life of all kinds is just an exceedingly complex chemical reaction. A biologically sound defense of a species’ rights therefore has to be derived from the level of cognitive ability and self-awareness of the species involved. People who refuse to admit any distinction between, say, oysters and dolphins, are no different from those who refuse to admit any distinction between a human embryo and a thirty-six-week fetus—they are promoting a form of pseudo-religious fundamentalism without any scientific basis. Society accepts that there is a line to be drawn somewhere between oysters and dolphins, and between embryos and thirty-six-week fetuses, and we use scientific evidence to determine where to draw that line and what protections to grant as a result. Vegan campaigners would be on somewhat firmer ground if they were to argue that the line separating animals that should not be farmed (currently primates, whales, dolphins, cats, etc.) from those mammals, fish and birds that can, should be lowered to encompass the latter group. However, this reasoning fails for the same reason that radical anti-abortion campaigners refuse to agree on a line separating acceptable from unacceptable abortion—theirs are beliefs based on principle, not positions derived from evidence.

A reasonable criticism of drawing such ethical boundary lines between embryo and fetus, or between oyster and dolphin, is that such lines are inevitably a bit arbitrary, and lead to boundary cases that seem unfair. Is it better, perhaps, to simply avoid that conundrum by not drawing lines at all, and protecting everything? But just because reasonable people can disagree about where to draw a distinction, that doesn’t invalidate the necessity of the distinction itself. Elsewhere in society, we find plenty of arbitrary boundaries that it would be absurd and even dangerous to do away with entirely—the age of consent and speed limits are the most obvious examples. If we cannot successfully draw ethical boundaries in these cases, then the future holds ever more dilemmas for us. In the future, when we start to create machine consciousness, our first attempts will be minimally conscious at best—insect minds, probably. We will inevitably create a spectrum of growing AI complexity, as the light-dimmer is turned up, and we will eventually bridge the yawning chasm between fully self-aware AI and mere calculators. There will then be no reason not to apply the same absolutist reasoning to AI: not only should all AI be afforded human rights and protections—regardless of whether it is truly self-conscious—but there should also be no lower limit to this application. In such a scenario, throwing away a calculator would also count as murder.

The Culture Battles Ahead

Whether we like it or not, farm animal rights is about to become one of the great social and ethical debates of our time. We are in the formative stages of this debate, and how it is conducted now will influence how it develops over the coming decades. There are many good reasons for someone to decide to refrain from eating meat—sustainability, environmental footprint, animal treatment and welfare concerns, for example—and people doing so for those reasons should be applauded. But the proposition that we should renounce meat because killing animals is murder is not a good reason; it doesn’t stand up to serious scrutiny, and it is a potentially dangerous principle to entertain.

However, we should welcome the increased focus on animal welfare brought about by the growing popularity of vegetarianism and veganism. As a society, we eat too much meat, and we demand it at too cheap a price. When I worked on a farm in my student days, conditions were worse than I would have liked—industrial farming has often reduced quality of life for animals, not improved it. We should want to see conditions for farm animals continually improve, until they have a quality of life comparable to what they would experience in the wild. We should, of course, bear in mind that life in the wild is far from idyllic. Nature is pitiless and nearly all wild animals will either be torn apart by a predator or succumb to a painful disease or to starvation. The challenge ethical humans face is to do better than that. Life on a farm will rarely be the same as life in the wild, in the same way that human life in a city is hardly like living on the savanna, as we evolved to do, but that doesn’t mean all those lives can’t be of good quality.

Additionally, the debates about both abortion and animal husbandry will eventually be forever altered by the advent of new technologies. Artificial wombs that make any embryo viable have the potential to break the convenient and sensible compromise operating in most developed countries that allows women to terminate fetuses up to the point of viability. Determining the status of a premature baby saved at, say, nineteen weeks, while the doctor next door is lawfully destroying a baby at an identical stage of development, raises complexities that will not be easy to resolve. Humans must always have the right to remove something growing within them, but it may be that, where possible, aborted fetuses will be allowed to complete their development in artificial wombs before being offered for adoption, so that abortion can be avoided, without forcing a woman to carry to term a child that she doesn’t want.

Meanwhile, the consumption of large farm animals will likely decline, as stronger animal welfare legislation drives up the cost of farmed meat, while the cost of laboratory-grown cultured meat drops until it becomes the less expensive option. The advent of cheap cultured meat will remove two of the strongest arguments for eating farmed animal meat: that it’s both nutritious and delicious. Once cultured meat is indistinguishable from farmed meat, an insistence on getting meat from a previously living animal will seem like so many other religious customs that we have happily relegated to the past and now consider peculiar or even perverse. Animal welfare activists should therefore devote their time and energy to boosting the cultured meat industry instead of intimidating law-abiding farmers.

To avoid yet another divisive culture war, the responsibility on society is twofold: to ensure that the direction of animal welfare on farms is constantly, firmly upwards, thus eliminating the worst practices in factory farming; and also that the rhetoric and campaigning of activists doesn’t indulge the kind of polarizing and unscientific dogma that has poisoned the abortion debate. Unfortunately, absolutism is fashionable once again across the Western world—many people now laud strong emotional beliefs and a refusal to compromise.

Moral and ethical dilemmas like these lend themselves to extremist positions. If someone believes a particular viewpoint is intrinsically good, then it is likely they will believe that holding it even more intensely is even better—this is the inevitable attraction of the extreme. Believing that you’re protecting life and preventing suffering is an extremely powerful motivator. Anyone who seriously considers something currently legal to be the literal—not figurative—equivalent of murder should be considered potentially dangerous. Most people (and the law) accept that it is morally defensible to use extreme or even lethal force to prevent a murder from being committed. If extremists can find a justification for violence within the philosophy of a movement, then that justification will eventually be used.

Nothing in this article should be taken to imply that vegetarians and vegans are extremists or hold extremist positions per se, or that they are likely to be violent. On the contrary: pacifism and non-violence are more common among vegans. Most vegans do not believe that meat is murder, nor do they argue that eating meat should be banned. By the same token, there are a huge number of people who would never have an abortion themselves, but who respect the right of other women to have one (under a range of circumstances). Even most of those who think that abortion shouldn’t be legally available do not stoop to harassing women at clinics, or threatening the medical professionals who actually perform the procedure. People who oppose abortion are not a violent demographic, any more than those who refuse to eat meat. Nevertheless, nearly all movements have their fringe extremists and fundamentalists, and intimidation and violence from animal welfare and anti-abortion activists seem to be on the rise. The important lesson is that if your fundamentalists become a problem then it’s probably time to re-consider your fundamentals.



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  1. I was interested to see how you drew a line between whom we can confine, torment and kill, and whom we should not: “a life form’s complexity—rather than the kingdom of life it exists in—ought to determine how it is treated”. I would be interested to hear how that works with what the ethicists sometimes call the “Argument from Marginal Cases” (AMC) which is stated by Peter Singer, for example, as:

    “Assume that, as sometimes happens, an infant has been born with massive and irreparable brain damage. The damage is so severe that the infant can never be any more than a “human vegetable,” unable to talk, recognise other people, act independently of others, or develop a sense of self-awareness.”

    A human infant born with no brain is still a human, but why should we not eat him, in preference to a pig, for example, who probably has the intelligence of a four-year-old child?

  2. The debate among animal-ethics philosophers and among animal-liberation activists and vegans is lengthy and complex, and includes hundreds upon hundreds of academic books and peer-reviewed articles, plus endless ongoing debates on-line. Your argument would have done well to acknowledge this complexity and diversity.

    By the way, the definition of “murder” in the Oxford English Dictionary includes “To kill or slaughter (an animal or animals)”, with the first citation being from Shakespeare in the year 1600.

    See here for an in-depth review of a book about the relation, or lack thereof, between the issues of abortion and animal rights:

    The question of how animal liberation can be squared with a concern for flourishing wild ecosystems is an interesting one, and has been debated at length by many philosophers. Whereas some argue that there is a fundamental incompatibility, others conclude quite the opposite. Even utilitarians, such as Peter Singer, can argue for a “hands off” approach to wild nature on the grounds that human interference is likely to lead to more harm than good. Deontological rights-advocates, like Tom Regan, argue that our duty is to let wild animals live their own lives free of human interference and that we ought to stay out of their lives except to preserve or restore their habitats. I think it can be quite plausibly argued (see, for example, Martha Nussbaum’s work) that a flourishing life is not so much about minimal suffering as it is about exercising one’s full range of natural powers in the conditions for which one has been fitted by evolution.

    See also Zoopolis: A Political Theory of Animal Rights, by Sue Donaldson and Will Kymlicka, for a sophisticated delineation of our respective obligations to domesticated animals, “liminal” creatures (non-domesticated animals living among us), and truly wild animals living in their own sovereign communities.

  3. I am vegan and I agree with many points this article makes. Being extremist is not a good way to promote your cause. Using terms like “holocaust, murder, rape” will not make people empathise with the issues you wish to discuss. I have recently looked into Kingian non-violence and find it fascinating how effective social change can take place. Factory farming and overfishing are certainly some of the most pressing matters of our present day nevertheless, not to mention antibiotic resistance.

    Being vegan does not necessarily mean that you value the life of an animal equal to that of a human, it just means that you value an animal’s life higher than your own taste buds. And let’s face it, today we have vegan icecream, vegan burgers and vegan pizza anyway.

    Being vegan is also a much better choice for our environmental footprint, and in the case of a whole foods plantbased diet can help us slash our risk of chronic disease like heart disease (our number one killer) as well.
    There are a lot of celebrities and athletes who have adopted a plant-based diet for health reasons these days, e.g. Lewis Hamilton, Kendrick Farris, David Haye, Patrik Baboumian, Scott Jurek, Will I Am, etc.

    I adopted a plant-based mostly wholefoods diet for health reasons myself and was able to heal my on-going joint pain within months. Of course this is anecdotal, but I think we can agree that if athletes can improve their performance on this diet, it can be at least healthful for the general populace. I highly recommend checking out the upcoming documentary on plant-based athletes “The Game Changers” by (the) James Cameron. It really must be seen. (http://gamechangersmovie.com/)

    1. Organic vegetables and fruits aside a vegan diet is based on Franken-soy and a really high fat gardein plant based but high salt meatless program.

      Health and well-being is mainly based on genetics. It’s okay and preferable to have a conscience or concern about what is chosen to consume, give nourishment based on concern of how a living thing lived and was killed to give nourishment.

      Let’s give more concern about how an animal lives and dies for consumption than focusing on a narrow eating program like veganism.

      Animal treatment has been based many decades on a Hebrew tradition of kosher standards. A pig is slaughtered by hanging them upside down and slitting their throat, lambs receive electrocution by touching them with a wand-like device to their forehead.

      Cattle receive the worst kind of death which may not ensure a quick demise. Does anyone ever think about this when they shop at a grocery store?

      Linda McCartney showed these kinds of videos which graphically filmed how chickens are de-beaked and live squashed in tiny cages on big screens at her husband, Paul’s concerts. She also showed video of a baby elephant dying slowly by electrocution at a New York exposition promoting the new electric power offered by modern technology. A most sickening video which touches base on the many things done to animals in the scientific quest for answers our mankind desperately needs for answers.

      Life isn’t easy for people—wildlife for animals is even more indifferent and cruel. But we can try to alleviate unnecessary pain for people and animals by a learning a humanistic approach in how we treat each other in our differences and how animals are treated for consumption.

      Eat vegan to your heart’s content but you’re not really helping the suffering of animals. And vegans aren’t particularly kind to other human beings who cannot maintain health on such a restricted diet of no dairy, no eggs, no hot spices, no eggplant, no tomatoes, no ingredients which are animal based, etc. Does anyone really like eating nutritional yeast or high fat, high salt gardein products?

      Lists of so-called famous people who eat vegan is not impressive in the least—to use fame as a reason to vegan, it’s the worst most lame reason to eat vegan. Who cares what fallible rich and famous people eat? Most of them have personal chefs, maids, butlers, valets, stylists who make their lives comfortable everyday.

      More focus and energy aught to be on those farms that provide the food we consume. How are the animals treated? How safe are fruit and vegetables? Why does it cost more for an organic product than one in which pesticides were used—shouldn’t it be the other way around?

      A person’s vegan diet is absurd if they aren’t proactively doing something to find ways to actively stop inhumane torture of animals for consumption.

      So-called staunch vegans who are rich and famous have the means to visit farm factories and offer better, more humane ways of slaughtering animals for human consumption.

    2. Argue all you want for the basis of a non-animal diet but no matter what is promoted as a vegan diet it is unhealthfully restrictive and no food group it offers answers the need it ultimately lacks in amino acids which are important for a body’s balanced health and longevity.

      A vegan diet lacks important amino acids no amount of beans, tofu, nuts, seeds can produce. To try and eat the amount of nuts and seeds a body requires will cause exorbitant weight gain. Vitamins and nutritional yeast cannot take the place of the nutrients provided by dairy, eggs or meat.

      There are farms and ranches which tout their humanitarian way of treating chickens, ostriches, bison. Do your due diligence in researching, reading labels, etc., in all things bought for consumption.

      The vegan diet is too restrictive and cannot maintain homeostasis the body requires again, to repeat, because the VEGAN DIET LACKS IMPORTANT AMINO ACIDS. A vegan diet works fine if done intermittently—like a fast—and can be done much longer than a liquid fast.

      Their are many good reasons and benefits to choose intermittent fasting but any kind of diet restrictions adhered to for a great length of time will eventually affect health in an adverse way.

  4. This opinion piece is so woefully misinformed it is as if the author started with the conclusion and attempted to justify it with his analysis. First obvious error is the assumption that vegans became vegan to protect animals. I became vegan to protect humans. Animal agriculture is the single most destructive industry on our planet, contributing more greenhouse gases to our atmosphere than any other sector, according to a recent U.N. report. Not only that, it is the leading driver of deforestation, ocean dead zones and desertification.

    Furthermore it is a colossal waste of resources when you consider as much as a quarter of all humans lack sufficient quantities of food and as much as ten percent are at risk of starvation. You can grow up to SEVEN TIMES more food if you eat the plants you grow, rather than feeding them to a cow, sheep or pig and eating that animal after months of feeding it.

    Next, you frame the biological case that “plants have feelings too” as if no one has ever made this assertion before, when in truth, vegans hear it all the time. Want to hear the punch line? By consuming meat you are responsible for the suffering of FAR more plants than any vegan because… guess what your cows, chickens and pigs spent their entire lives eating!

    I would love to hear back from the author because, honestly, I welcome anyone that can form a cogent argument against veganism. I always say, whenever people ask, that I went vegan because I ran out of arguments against it. I have been vegan for four years now host a podcast that invites prominent figures to discuss the movement, so I’m always waiting to hear the argument that’ll justify returning to a less conscious way of consuming. This article definitely does not provide that, however and the attempt at a comparison between the pro-life movement and the animal rights movement is absurd. One encourages a philosophy that reduces harm done by the individual on humans, animals and our planet… the other has it’s foundations in the bible, eschews scientific debate and is basically an attempt by men to wrestle control of female reproductive organs away from them.

    1. R Jarvis your viewpoint went all over the place but there is some merit in a few of your viewpoints.

      I was a vegan for fifteen years until certain health issues caused a visit to a doctor and subsequent blood tests showed a depletion of essential vitamin nutrients an adherence to vegan diet did not furnish.

      Much is said about how rare a protein deficiency is and vegan authors share the medical terminology for it to further emphasize how unheard of the condition is yet a vegan diet in time, by its strictness and narrow variety of nutrients, will cause health issues to develop.

      In my case it was the loss of my thick, healthy head of long tresses. Extreme lethargy—fatigue so great it impacted ability to maintain a steady energy during and after a work day.

      I now shop at markets which sell meat and eggs provided by farms which can be checked out on the internet as providing a caring way for animals before they are slaughtered for our consumption. Vegans post some of those sites because certain areas of the country have militant vegans who spy on farms/ranches and report them.

      You’re still in the fanatical stage of the vegan mindset. Not all people will develop issues but women, more so than men, develop problems by adherence to strict diets like veganism which eventually impact their bones, blood cells.

      I do not eat large portions of meat—rarely eat red meat—but from reintroduction of eggs, fish, chicken, low fat yogurt, my hair resumed its healthy growth as well as energy returned in which I can work and resume exercise again.

      A vegan diet is healthy if done like a fast but can be done longer than a day of fasting. Intermittent vegan diets would be of healthy benefit like one month after two months off; or, alternate one week on then one week off.

      If you really are following a strict vegan diet, you know it’s a promoter of high carbs. Vegan cakes, cookies, breads, etc., are still sugar bombs. In time, weight gain becomes an issue, too.

      Someday research will show, if it hasn’t been substantiated already, that veganism is not a healthy lifestyle in the long run of maintaining good health. By eating an unrestricted variety of nutrients provided by a wide array of food sources, within moderation, provides consistent healthy benefits and causes less impact on environment or to animals depending where you shop for food and how much is consumed.

      1. I’m afraid that simply isn’t true. A vegan diet does not NECESSARILY lead to health problems;

        – Woody Harrelson
        – Joaquin Phoenix
        – Alicia Silverstone
        – Ellen De Generes
        – Moby
        – RzA
        – Steve-O
        – Bill Clinton

        All have been vegan for more than 10 years and some have been for more than 30 years.

        I won’t dispute that you encountered dietary issues, but I’d imagine that’s because you chose to eat poorly or failed to do an adequate amount of research in order to consume a balanced diet.

        In fact, the longest lived populations in human history ate mostly or only vegan, as evidenced by the book The Blue Zones. I’d recommended you read Proteinaholic, by Dr Garth Davis. It is a fascinating examination of the vegan diet from an empirical perspective.

        1. Thank you, Jones, I have read the books mentioned. Vegan isn’t for everyone and there’s many folks like me who used to be fanatical about it until health issues occurred. Because it’s such a restricted diet it’s bound to cause or exacerbate health issues especially, for instance, anemic conditions.

          A well-known Vegan advocate blogger had to go off Vegan lifestyle and was severely trolled for doing so, despite evidence she shared about her health issues and need to expand nutrition sources veganism lacks. She was also accused of “eating poorly”.

          I disagree the longest lived populations ate a vegan diet. More likely people live longer because they eat a balanced diet in moderation with more activity; love and are loved. XO

  5. Dr. Wright, I appreciate your added insights and response with commentators.

    Vegans may not understand “We live in a world where we must eat other organisms.” Plants are also a form of life not to be mistaken as a subspecies devoid of “intelligence” because they lack a brain and nervous system.

    I am sharing an article from The New Yorker which seems worthy of Areo and your input as well as current science research about the “intelligence” of plant signaling via chemical communication which causes plants to emit volatile chemicals in order to defend itself—which may be of interest to vegans:


    The article about plants contends “…much research on intelligence has been inspired by the new science of networks, distributed computing, and swarm behavior, which has demonstrated some of the ways in which remarkably brainy behavior can emerge in the absence of actual brains.”

    “The sessile lifestyle,” as plant biologists term it, calls for an extensive and nuanced understanding of one’s immediate environment, since the plant has to find everything it needs, and has to defend itself, while remaining fixed in one place.”

    “Darwin asked us to think of the plant as an upside-down animal, with its main sensory organs and “brain” in the bottom, underground, and its sexual organs on top.”

    “Monica Galiano, an animal ecologist at the University of Western Australia suggests that ‘brains and neurons are a sophisticated solution but not necessary requirement for learning. There is some unifying mechanism across living systems that can process information and learn.”

    “A plant has 3,000 chemicals in its vocabulary the average student only has 700”—Mancuso

    “Descartes, who believed that only humans possessed self-consciousness, was unable to credit the idea that other animals could suffer from pain. So he dismissed their screams and howls as mere reflexes, as meaningless physiological noise. Could it be now we are making the same mistake with plants?”

    “No brain, no pain. Plants may not possess intelligence but plants are capable of intelligent behavior, a property of life.”

  6. Hi there,
    I am the much-decried radical you have described with such eloquence — I am relatively pro-life and an ardent vegan. I’d like to clarify some misconceptions you’ve put forth here.

    1. Evidence.
    “Vegan campaigners would be on somewhat firmer ground if they were to argue that the line separating animals that should not be farmed (currently primates, whales, dolphins, cats, etc.) from those mammals, fish and birds that can, should be lowered to encompass the latter group. However, this reasoning fails for the same reason that radical anti-abortion campaigners refuse to agree on a line separating acceptable from unacceptable abortion—theirs are beliefs based on principle, not positions derived from evidence.”
    This is just an outright lie, albeit a quite humourous one, as it tacitly employs one of veganism’s strongest arguments: Why kill pigs and not cats? The general omnivorous position is to, well, ignore this contradiction, or occasionally produce a platitude about companionship. As you put it, their beliefs are based on princple, not evidence. When one considers the evidence, they’ll either suppress it effectively (as is usually the case), become vegan (as I did), or develop a sudden distate for the lives of the profoundly mentally disabled, many of whom are cognitively equivalent to livestock animals, who are far more clever than we like to give them credit for. The first and most likely case, suppression, has been studied, and those studies produced the results one might expect: A 2010 study randomly assigned college students to eat beef jerky or cashews, then judge the moral importance and cognitive abilities of a variety of animals. Compared with students who were given cashews, those who ate beef jerky expressed less moral concern for animals, and assigned cows a diminished ability to have mental states that entail the capacity to experience suffering [from wikipedia, google any part of the excerpt for the source]. Non-vegans reading this will likely undergo the same suppression; despite the empirical evidence very clearly indicating that animals are capable of suffering, emotion, etc, some rationalisation will be produced as to why that doesn’t really matter.

    2. Equation.
    This one is really far too common. If you had researched any further than your own intuition, you might have discovered that very few vegans believe that animals are morally equivalent to full-grown human beings. I’ve certainly never met one, even among radicals. Believing that animal lives are worthy of moral consideration is not equivalent to believing them *equivalent* to human lives, as you ironically propose. It is possible to both elevate an animal’s moral status, and not elevate it so highly as to meet humanity’s. Really that simple.

    3. Methods.
    The relevant question is thus: what is the ethically correct response to important moral truths being ignored by those around you? This is not only a hypothetical, but also a relatively common historical dilemna. The easiest example, as is usually the case, lies in Nazi Germany: how does one respond to unspeakable wrongdoing when it is the accepted truth of your society? The answer, to me, seems fairly intuitive. One responds as effectively as possible, with whatever means necessary. It strikes me as indefensible to claim anything else, really. If one were living in Nazi Germany and did not do everything in their power to, as you put it, “achieve through intimidation what they cannot achieve through the ballot box.”
    Now, one could consider militancy in response to wrongdoing as praiseworthy or praise-neutral, but it is certainly not incorrect in itself. What is correct or incorrect is the underlying belief, in this case, veganism / belief that the killing of Jews is wrong.

    4. Cabbages and Oysters, or “Plants have feelings too”
    Plants, incidentally, do not have feelings. By any mainstream scientific account, their biology allows them to go happily along, never feeling a thing, pain or otherwise. This is not to be equated with attempting to avoid being killed, which all living things seem predisposed to. You seem to imply that these two things are equivalent, which is of course incorrect. Now, whether oysters have feelings (i.e. whether they can suffer) is an open question. I’ve always found them offputting, so it isn’t a particularly relevant moral question for me. Most vegans would err on the side of caution and abstain.

    1. Hi Jeremiah, thanks for posing some good questions. I’ll respond in order:

      1. I’ve never met vegan who uses organism complexity measures to argue it’s okay to eat, say, crustaceans, if they have little or no brain. Indeed, people who do say that are typically fiercely excluded from calling themselves vegans (I’m aware such people exist). On the pigs vs cats question, that’s already partly answered in another comment: we anthropomorphise our pets much more than other animals, and yes I agree there are some inconsistencies in the animals we are happy to farm and those we are not – sadly society does not consistently use the brain complexity arguments I argue for. Also, it’s illogical to farm carnivores such as cats, because they require meat we could have just eaten ourselves; and as solitary, territorial animals with high intelligence and supreme escapology skills, they would be impossible to farm humanely. Pigs do indeed have quite high intelligence, and I deplore the growth of indoor factory farming of them. It should be banned. Finally, when you say “empirical evidence very clearly indicating that animals are capable of suffering, emotion, etc” – as I point out repeatedly in the article, this is un-scientific unless you qualify it with the complexity of the brain of the animal in question. It is impossible for an animal without a brain to “feel” anything. Where do you propose that this “feeling” takes place in an organism without a brain? Are you proposing that they have a metaphysical ‘soul’ they feel with?

      2. I did not invent the slogan “meat is murder” – radical vegans did. Murder is a concept that applies uniquely to actions between humans. Radical vegans deliberately and consciously adopted the philosophy, slogans and tactics of radical anti-abortionists – who *do* consider foetuses and embryos to be equal to full humans. If radical vegans such as yourself object to the logical consequences of those actions, then you must try to get the movement to disengage from the philosophy, rhetoric and tactics that it has adopted; but you cannot have it both ways – you cannot take and use the anger and fervour of claiming animals are equal to humans and then say “nothing to do with us” when people take what you say seriously. I think that disowning “meat is murder” would be a positive development and would win you much more support (and lose you radical support, of course).

      3. This is a very troubling paragraph from you. Here you do two things that I consider explicitly dangerous: you argue in favour of unspecified “militant” activity – acting “with whatever means necessary” (presumably: violence?) and you equate farming animals with the Nazi holocaust of the Jews. When you argue like this, impressionable extremists in your movement will consider themselves both justified, and heroic, if they act out the logical implications. This is exactly what I warn against in the article.

      4. Whether oyster have “feelings” is *not* an open question. They do not have a brain that the feelings could manifest in – there is no possibility of them having “feelings” unless you redefine what feelings are understood to be, and if you do that then there is no reason why one couldn’t argue that plants also have these newly re-defined “feelings”. Here you are engaging in the un-scientific essentialism I point out in the article: arguing that there is something unique and special about the signalling in animal physiologies (even at the very simplest end of the kingdom) that by definition gives even simple animal organisms such as oysters extra abilities over more complex plant organisms like cabbages.

      Finally, I’m genuinely interested: how do you reconcile your obviously contradictory ethical stances on meat and abortion? How do you rationalise it being wrong to kill an oyster or insect, but okay to kill a much more complex unborn child?

      1. Dr. Wright, you describe the comparison made by the above commenter between the slaughter of animals and the Nazi holocaust as “troubling”. From an academic standpoint, the only troubling thing here is that you clearly don’t know the origin of the word holocaust.

        Allow me to help you out; holocaust is an Greek word derived from holokauston and means ritualized animal slaughter.

        If you sincerely intend on getting into these kinds of conversations, I’d echo the above poster; you need to look beyond your obvious bias here as a meat-eater and do a bit more objective research. I hope you follow that route, because right now you are seeming less open to ideas than the so called radicals you denounce.

  7. Very insightful! You weave a compelling argument through the entire tree of life.
    But the inclusion of “without forcing a woman to carry to term a child that she doesn’t want,” implies that you believe that it is valid to elevate an individuals whims, which are notoriously fickle often even when it comes to a decision on whether to abort her own fetus, to the same ethical level of consideration accorded to protections for life itself, human or otherwise.
    Why should a woman’s desire for sex be completely separated from her responsibility for the consequence? Why should a man’s desire for sex be utterly inseparable from the consequences should she desire to carry the child? He will surely be held financially responsible for 20 or more years for a child perhaps he does not want, and he has no say in the matter. If her “wants” are ethically important, why are his trampled? If we are to consider an individuals “wants” then the ethical dilemmas become hopelessly complex. As Right To Life proponents point out, a woman has a plethora of options to avoid pregnancy, so at what point should she ethically be required to accept responsibility? She doesn’t live in a social vacuum. Since self-awareness, pain and suffering is the measure of your ethical argument, shouldn’t we consider the pain and suffering that a decision to abort may cause on the father, and the extended family?

    1. Hi, Steve Brule. Most pregnancies are not planned. Most pregnancies occur because of blatant disregard due to the passion of the moment or because of lack of birth control due to financial reasons or lack of education. Also, most men make flimsy excuses to not wear a prophylactic device…which is a selfish way to place the onus of birth control on the woman.

      Have you worked as a volunteer in schools filled with bus loads of children who were born with challenges such as fetal alcoholic syndrome, severe autism, mongoloidism, debilitating mental and physical conditions? If so, then you have a clearer understanding, a deeper compassion.

      People make mistakes so why do so many think it’s okay to suffer fetal cells to fully form when they know they cannot stop drugs, heavy alcohol addictions or take the responsibility of action to take a morning after pill after unprotected sex? It’s for many reasons —because of fear, utter stupidity, lack of education, common sense, cultural influences, religious bias…many seemingly valid excuses.

      I urge prolife advocates to volunteer for an entire year at schools specifically for special needs children. You’ll understand more fully and be of far better service than bloviating about the right of an unborn fetus. It will allow an expanded focus past the fetal stage to enlighten as to the kind of quality of life a child faces, in which you can be a part of and perhaps make a difference.

      Years ago, I volunteered to work in the local school district at a specialized school filled with special needs children. Many were eventually abandoned by their parent(s) because of the overwhelming job of care needed even though the mother initially felt it perhaps more noble to carry a fetus despite their knowledge of medical tests which answered their baby would have challenges.

      The first day of walking into a multipurpose room filled with children with tiny heads writhing and licking the floor, biting themselves , seeming in perpetual anguish was sad and horrifying. Thise children were the result of fetal alcohol syndrome. My duties were to feed them by making sure food was presented in small bite-sized amounts lest they choke, change their diapers, make sure they were safe, clean.

      Back then I thought I could get through, help them thrive by love and sincere caring only to find out these growing children will never get better, never learn to talk, but forever exist the rest of their lives in a tormented fashion.

      Because I was not bitten like other coworkers, the supervisor promoted me to work one-on-one with an autistic child. He was a teenager who liked to spend every waking minute running from one place to another—like a perpetual game of tag. Wild looking and beautiful, he had a severe kind of autism whereby he could not speak but communicated by grunts and sighs. He was known to bite and become violent. When I met him, he ran up and hugged me, then held me at arms length and sighed. The teacher said it meant an acceptance no other worker or volunteer had experienced…but I could smell him, knew he was going to be a challenge to bathe, perhaps take care of in many other ways; that he may eventually harm me in the duties and care during time spent with him.

      Not all employees were kind to special needs children but noted volunteers were more patient, of conscience. Though many volunteers walked out the first day.

      I felt inadequate not knowing how to “teach” a special needs child/teenager/young adult but feel he liked and trusted in me to tend and care for him. He was temperamental but did not bite or harm during the time spent getting to know and care for him. But don’t think this experience I’ve shared made me a prolifer, an antiabortionist.

      Eventually, things occurred in which I was not able to volunteer, had to resign. The experience still haunts me because I wonder about him. And worried. Who cared for him after I left? What has happened to him? I told him I was getting married and was moving to another city but he showed no comprehension or any other kind of way to communicate awareness of what I shared. In a way, it was a relief.

      Steve, I apologize for this long comment. It seems no one seems to look further into the situation of pregnancy for whatever reason it may happen…too much emphasis on the fetus while it’s in stages of development…but NOTHING whatsoever on the children who face either extreme disabilities or are unwanted and oft times experience abandonment, abuse or death.

      It seems far more kind to abort an unwanted pregnancy during the first trimester when cells are still forming but do not yet resemble a “life” or are able to achieve viability outside the womb. Blame the damn delay on cultural religious guilt more so than body ignorance.

      Autism is not detected like other conditions yet has a great impact on the caregivers—mainly, the moms. But the mothers and fathers who take drugs, drink, smoke, lead unhealthy lifestyles, or are not wanting a child for whatever reason should get the medical window of opportunity to abort while a fetus is in the growing stages of first trimester.

      It’s only common sense a woman who finds out the pregnancy may cause her to die should receive an abortion devoid of any cultural, religious beliefs. Ask yourself: Who will love and care for your child unconditionally more than you?

      Okay, I’ve ranted a bit. Sorry. But it really sucks prolife/anti-abortionists don’t step up in multitudes to care for the many special needs or unwanted children in the world. Their focus would be better spent on the after effects of pregnancy, in helping out in the care of children growing up without parents or who suffer the consequences of parents refusing to abort despite knowledge of medical tests or unhealthy lifestyles.

  8. I am astonished that I am the first to quote G.K. Chesterton, The Napoleon of Notting Hill:

    Then Tolstoy and the Humanitarians said that the world was growing more merciful, and therefore no one would ever desire to kill. And Mr. Mick not only became a vegetarian, but at length declared vegetarianism doomed (“shedding,” as he called it finely, “the green blood of the silent animals”), and predicted that men in a better age would live on nothing but salt. And then came the pamphlet from Oregon (where the thing was tried), the pamphlet called “Why should Salt suffer?” and there was more trouble.

    “Why should salt suffer?” I want that engraved on my headstone.

  9. I appreciate that you acknowledge that not all vegans and vegetarians are violent extremists. Those who threaten farmers do the animal welfare movement a real disservice. Nearly every successful social movement in history has shown that nonviolence and political mobilization are the best strategies.

    Also, I agree that animal welfare activists should not commit the error of equating human and animal sentience or suffering. Nevertheless, vegan and vegetarian arguments are still persuasive after one has accepted that commonly farmed animals are sentient, even if less so than humans. One does not have to equate the killing of a cow with the killing of a human in order to call it immoral. Once one accepts that animals do suffer and would prefer living to dying, I think it is hard to justify the killing of animals for food when there are alternative, nonviolent sources of nutrition. I have written about the moral case for vegetarianism at Areo, visible here: https://areomagazine.com/2017/06/15/the-case-for-ending-animal-slaughter-slouching-toward-palitana/

    I am always skeptical when I read or hear someone assume the position of the rational center, battling extremists on both or all sides. I would argue that the real violent and extreme behavior is what is practiced on factory farms: the caging and killing of billions of animals each year, by choice, not out of necessity. If a man buys a puppy, cages it in his house, and one day stuns, slaughters, and eats it, I think most people would regard that behavior as abhorrent. Yet when this is done on a massive scale (often in a way that makes the animals’ lives cramped, uncomfortable, and painful in order to accelerate production), we see nothing wrong it. Recognizing this hypocrisy and criticizing and abstaining from such needlessly cruel practices ought not make one an “extremist.”

    1. I would like to amend my comment above a bit. On a closer reading, it looks as though you do not regard vegetarianism or veganism itself as extreme or radical, only behavior that attempts to force these views on others, such as through intimidation or violence, or, as you write, through banning the consumption of meat. It’s the latter point, regarding political and legal coercion, that I want to challenge.

      One of the theses of my Areo essay is that we should be consistent in our attitudes towards animals: we should regard pigs and cows and chickens in “the care” of human owners the same way that we regard dogs and cats and other pets in human care. The treatment that we regularly inflict on livestock would land someone in jail if inflicted on a pet. This is culturally and morally arbitrary.

      A serious question: What do you think about the laws that ban the killing of dogs for food? (They exist in some countries and some U.S. states. In fact, a ban on slaughtering a dog or cat has been included in a draft of the 2018 U.S. farm bill.) Do you regard those who want to ban the slaughter of cats and dogs to be extremists?

      1. Hi Andrew. Regarding the distinction between pets and farmed animals: that distinction exists only in our minds, and it does so because – as I suggest – we anthropomorphise our pets very heavily. There is no logical justification for setting different cruelty standards for pets and farm animals. As I said in the essay, the protections afforded to living organisms should be based on the complexity and degree of self-awareness of the entity. Whether its role is companionship or food is irrelevant to this. Obviously, this could not be achieved overnight from where we are now, but that is where the law should inexorably head: farm legal standards should rise until they meet pet legal standards.

        I have no issue with people eating dogs or cats because they are pets (I have been to countries where they are eaten), but we should make a judgement about the intelligence of animals like dogs and cats and whether they are *too* intelligent to be able to farmed without causing them serious mental anguish in captivity. I think they are. Also, as a general rule it is illogical to farm carnivores because they require meat to eat, and we could have just eaten *that* meat instead and saved the hassle.

        As for whether it is *ever* justified to farm and eat animals, I’m afraid you cannot simply ignore the reality of animal existence in the wild. It would be nonsensical to object to farming of animals if their lives were on average better than the lives they lead in the wild. The logical argument that we must prevent animals from living those *better* lives on farms, to prevent any suffering, would by extension mean that we must also prevent animals from living in the wild as well, to prevent any suffering there.

        And finally, as I point out in my article, if we really think that killing all creatures of any degree of complexity is wrong in principle because of potential suffering, then we must also ban abortion in all circumstances, because unborn children are beings that can suffer. Understand the seriousness of where these absolutist arguments take us.

          1. Thank you for the reply. I agree with you up to a point. You say that the difference between farm animals and livestock is only conceptual and thus morally and logically arbitrary; this is true. You then say that the standards for cruelty toward farmed animals and pets should be the same. I wonder if we can specify what exactly that would or should entail. From my understanding (and I am not a lawyer), states have different definitions of what constitutes animal cruelty. In a state like Virginia, it is illegal to kill a cat or dog unnecessarily (meaning, one cannot kill a dog or cat to eat it), while in most states it is legal (though not in commercial slaughterhouses). Since the laws are not uniform, one would have to explain what protections are due to animals of similar complexity or sentience.

            As for the comparison to the cruel life that many animals would and do experience in the wild, I don’t believe that this fact gives humans permission to be cruel, which, in my conception, means prematurely taking an animal’s life, even if done painlessly. Simply put, one should not be able to shoot, instantly kill, and eat a dog by merely asserting, “He had a better life than what he would have experienced in the wild.” That presents a false dilemma. It’s really a trilemma: either the dog could have lived in the wild, it could have been treated as a pet up until its painless yet premature death, or it could continue to live the good life it has lived thus far up until its natural or “good death” (i.e. euthanasia). Is the last option not the morally optimal one? This isn’t to say that we have a moral obligation, as a species, to rescue as many animals as possible from the wild. Instead, I think we have an obligation not to inflict undue suffering on animals that have been born in or otherwise subject to human captivity.

            1. On your first point, I don’t want to get drawn into what laws should apply to pets here, because that’s a a separate long debate. I’ll simply note that I also believe humans have the right to voluntary euthanasia (with appropriate safeguards) and that I have no problem in principle with humans volunteering their dead body to be eaten as part of that; therefore it isn’t a surprise that I don’t have a problem with pets being eaten if humanely reared and killed.

              On the point of animals in the wild vs farms, I’m afraid you are inconsistent. Consider the thought experiments:

              Someone proposes creating a new wild-animal reserve with X animals living a certain quality of life Y. Everyone knows that creating new wild animal reserves is morally good, right? Someone else proposes creating a new farm with X animals living a better quality of life than Y. You are saying it is okay to create the animal-reserve scenario, but immoral to create the scenario (a farm) where the same number of animals actually live a better quality of life. This cannot make sense.

              Consider further: all wild ecosystems require an apex predator, otherwise they will eventually collapse due to starvation caused by population explosion. (Witness the failed Dutch “re-wilding” experiment at Oostvaardersplassen). Typically this apex predator is wolves, or big cats. Why is it immoral for the apex predator to be man? Why is it okay for the apex predator to rip a living animal apart after a long chase, but not to shoot it painlessly dead? (Don’t be fooled by sanitised wildlife programs – wild animals often eat large pray alive; they are only concerned with immobilising the prey because they do not comprehend death or pain infliction. E.g: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rAOOVhGsWSk ). So in these scenarios you are arguing for *more* suffering.

              Given your opposition to even eating animal meat taken humanely from the wild, I can only conclude that it’s not the killing and suffering that bothers you (because you would oppose us taking the place of existing apex predators and thus *reducing* the amount of animal pain and suffering) but the very principle of humans eating animal meat. I must ask: are you also against humans eating roadkill (an issue that had divided vegans)?

          2. For some reason, I cannot reply immediately below your latest comment, so I will do it here.

            I don’t see voluntary human euthanasia being analogous to killing an animal, simply because in the former the decedent’s death is voluntary, whereas in the latter the decedent’s death is not. Surely, this is an important distinction.

            The thought experiment also presents a false choice. There is nothing logically or practically impossible about there being an animal reserve with X animals living a quality of life Z, superior to quality of life Y.

            As for this:

            “Consider further: all wild ecosystems require an apex predator, otherwise they will eventually collapse due to starvation caused by population explosion. (Witness the failed Dutch “re-wilding” experiment at Oostvaardersplassen). Typically this apex predator is wolves, or big cats. Why is it immoral for the apex predator to be man? Why is it okay for the apex predator to rip a living animal apart after a long chase, but not to shoot it painlessly dead?”

            I find this excerpt a bit perplexing. I accept that, throughout most of human evolution, humans likely needed to kill and eat animals in order to survive. But it wasn’t always necessary: it was possible thousands of years ago for people to sustain themselves without killing animals, and it is rather easy to do so today in many parts of the world. Having escaped a state of nature and built civilization, we should not look to the behavior of wild animals for moral guidance.

            Of course, there is the question of what happens to livestock once we transcend eating meat. Since lab-grown meat is very much on the horizon, this concern isn’t just theoretical. I don’t think there is an easy answer, but I very much doubt the answer will be to continue to breed, raise, and slaughter billions of animals needlessly each year. I’m reminded of antebellum slaveholders who argued that emancipation shouldn’t be allowed because it would wreak havoc on southern society, as well as the concerns of abolitionists who feared that African Americans would disappear on the continent because of the difficulties that freed slaves experienced. (Of course, I am not equating factory farming and slavery but merely pointing out similarities.) No doubt, ending an unjust institution can have short-term and even long-term negative consequences, but there must morally better and worse ways to wind down factory farming, and it would be our task as a society to find those morally superior ways.

            Finally, my concern really is animal suffering, not the consumption of animal meat per se. I do not believe it is immoral to eat roadkill, nor do I think it would be immoral to eat lab-grown meat.

            1. I think you have side-stepped the animal reserve/farm dilemma there, rather than facing it. Saying, effectively, “A farm of better quality of life than Y (that of a reserve) is a false choice because I would create a reserve with even higher quality of life, Z” this is just a form of infinite regression – unsurprisingly I simply say “Okay I will create a farm of even EVEN higher quality of life, ZZ” and we are no further forward. Either creating a reserve of arbitrary good quality of life is morally acceptable or it is not. (Everyone accepts that it is.) Then, for anyone motivated by animal quality of life, it *must* be morally acceptable to create other scenarios with higher quality of life. A refusal indicates that it is not quality of life driving the equation.

              On the ultimate fate of livestock, I agree there is an issue. I also agree lab-grown meat will eventually replace much of it, when it is cheaper. When that happens, farmed livestock will cease to exist. Their cost of maintenance is substantial, and with no product, no one will pay for it (other than in museums). The land will mostly be used for arable farming for the world’s increasing population, or built on, or set back to wild nature reserves (with a certain quality of life, ha ha). Domesticated animals are generally unsuitable for wild reserves as they are bred for captivity, so most farmed breeds will simply go extinct. Perhaps some will be saved by their usefulness in humane dairy produce, at least until synthetic milk is invented.

              It seems we will have to agree to disagree on the main issues here; but it has been a pleasant exchange Andrew 🙂

  10. This author gives a really sane, highly educated response to current events regarding subjects which strangely share common ground.

    If we look back in history, the worst things done by people against people has no basis in science. On the other hand, science has depended on the use of animals in lab experiments to help cure disease, prove pharmacological or cosmetic safety and efficiency without causing harm or death to humans.

    The author’s mention of Jainism is a wise contrast. Why can’t we utilize this type of approach in regard to life in all matters?—or at the very least, respectfully do scientific research on animals or allow an animal to live in natural fullness and then find the quickest, least painful way to be put to death for consumption.

    What the author doesn’t say: Science shows there is a window to perform an abortion and that is within the first trimester. Most abortions are done in the second month when the egg is fertilized but is no bigger than the period at the end of this sentence. It’s highly impossible for the cells which are in the process of forming a fetus in the first semester to be viable, to keep generating outside the body. There’s absolutely no proof a soul exists or especially when it starts to exist in fetal development.

    I respect this author’s article so very much because he educates in a kind manner which may—if read by fringe groups—perhaps deter them from adding another layer of misery to the living.

    1. Thank you for your thoughtful response, A Humanist.

      The issue of time limits to abortion is complex. Obviously earlier abortions are much better for all concerned, particularly the woman. The vast majority of women have an abortion as soon as possible, but a significant proportion of women only discover they are pregnant at about 10 weeks. This is because the implantation of the embryo often causes sight uterine bleeding, which the women mistake for a light period and thus do not suspect anything odd. This is the 4 week mark.

      Morning sickness may (or may not) arrive at ~6 weeks, but may be light and mistaken for general poor health. The next period is due at 8 weeks. At 9 weeks, suspicion over this late period is aroused, but a week late is not unusual for periods. At 10 weeks, a woman is suspicious enough to take a pregnancy test. An abortion limit at the first trimester (12 weeks) would already now be very difficult for women in this scenario – which would be a lot of them. (See figure 2 in this paper on French data: https://www.cairn-int.info/article-E_POPU_1403_0365–a-steady-number-of-induced-abortions.htm )

      Once you factor in panic, illness, family drama, denial, etc, any abortion limit below 16 weeks is always going to hit a number of women who may end up desperate and get an illegal abortion if denied. Beyond that date, abortions are very rare and are usually because of medical anomalies discovered in later tests, particularly those at 20 weeks (which may be the earliest possible diagnosis). Legal abortion limits must take account of these common scenarios.

  11. This is a tough one for me. My daughter just went Vegan. She’s only 13 but she has some serious moral and ethical arguments for why she’s doing it. Not unlike Sam Harris (who’s tried to be Vegan but stopped due to health reasons). I do fear that my kid will get a bit militant about it. She’s not yet. She just frowns when I buy milk or butter.

    But I think the bigger point of this article is about extremism. And how almost any topic other than actual human combat needs to be discussed, not forced.

    – Barney

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