Friday, 25 December 2009

Human Rights vs Animal Rights.

Authors note: The start of this may seem to appeal to emotions more than logically based arguments. The reason for this is I started writing this not as an essay on animal rights but based the writing in thoughts provoked by a family showing a lack of tact at the dinner table as they carved/ate and then spoke about cooking techniques regarding the consumption of animals. Later there was talk based around the NHS(national health service) and how uncaring and inhuman many aspects of it were.
If you're unhappy with this (probably 200 words at most) I suggest you skip to the part entitled "human characteristics crossing over". However bare in mind that aspects of the first part are partially related to the last part.

Female circumcision-on par with animal suffering?

I ask you what would you say if your mother? father? brother? sister? became in favour of female circumcision from a young age.

Lets set up the scenario. Your father adopts very specific religious beliefs that include females being circumcised. He goes abroad, and helps in anyway he can with this procedure. He doesn't care if it's through internalised or designated coercion.*
He takes girls between 5-13 and does a full circumcision. Nothing pleasure causing is left. No health benefits can be gained from this. There is risk of infection. There is a lot of pain and trauma involved. However it is 'God's will' according to your fathers new found beliefs.

Would you be okay with this happening? Would you allow for this to take place if you could stop it? Would you perhaps at the very least consider not talking to him again?
Perhaps you'd go far as to slap him when you saw it?
Imagine if it was your mother?
Your son.
Your daughter.
Think about them doing it.

Now apply the same to animals. How is it different to doing the same to them when it's not necessary. They show the same signs of feeling pain that we do. And if you disagree that other animals feel pain then surely you would disagree that other humans feel pain. See the problem of other minds and apply pain (very basically and briefly, we don't have direct experience of other peoples minds/pain so it's hard, perhaps impossible, to prove that there are any other minds than the ones we experience. And we only experience one mind).

An interesting thing to note is that we condemn in our culture female circumcision, but accept animal suffering. Neither appear to be necessary, but they happen anyway.
What perhaps should be noted is that by condemning one it appears impossible to allow the other.

*Internalised coercion is where a society pressurises a subject to conform to their rights being violated. For instance being told your family and friends will not speak to you unless you do X.
Designated coercion is where you try to stop the society from doing X to you but you are physically forced to comply.

Human characteristics crossing over.

Now there are characteristics that set each individual apart. That set each animal apart. Each life form apart. Each everything that isn't identical.
Very obviously if you have two iron molecules, the only difference is that they are different molecules, but made up of the same thing.

So there is something that a human has that no other animal has characteristic wise. Or something a human has that no other animal has characteristic wise. Perhaps it is characteristics. Perhaps it's a very exact set of characteristics.

Main physical differences aside (walking on 2 feet, opposable thumbs, so on so forth) there must be something mentally that sets us apart from every other animal. Otherwise we could not claim some form of intellectual superiority to animals.

If you disagree, if you think it is something else mental, perhaps a form of compassion you don't associate with intellect, then simply apply that idea to the following.

There must be a human out there who does not hold such a characteristic.
Brain dead.
Brain damaged
Clinically retarded.

What happens to these humans?
Are they no more than animals to you?
Yet lets face it if you see them in pain, and you don't know them, just perhaps of their condition, you will want to treat them. You will want them to not suffer (unless you are at least one of the above).

Yet you are happy to cause other animals to suffer?
On what grounds do you do this? The grounds that they are different. Different how? physical differences at best seem utterly arbitrary. What if I had physical differences that put me at a strict dis-advantage, would you treat me differently? What if by some mad experiment gone wrong (or cynically right) I either/or/or both of the following, I didn't have a human body, I didn't have a the same mind as before, so on so forth. Lets say that I have intellect/I grew a tail, claws, basically features on other animals on myself.
What if I could communicate to you from an animals body in a logical, co-coherent way. Lets say that I've even become a member of mensa. Would you be so happy to have me exectuted for the sake of your taste buds?

Something causes me to doubt you would. Perhaps I'm wrong (again).

So to put it another way. If we have a human mind in an animals body, should that being be entitled to any rights?

And when we have a human body with an "animal like" should that being be entitled to any rights?

And when I say entitled to rights I am talking of course about legal rights, rights in a society, not that which is loosely labelled 'moral rights'.

If in both cases rights should be given what is it that is important? Why should a human mind hold more weight when such a basic thing as suffering is involved? If the animals and the humans feel the suffering, but one can feel 'higher' pleasures, why should they be entitled to harm the other?

Higher pleasures and intellect VS rights.

What constitutes as a higher pleasure?

By higher what is meant is 'more intellectual', not more intense, or more in quantity.

And just because something contains more intelligence should that mean it has more rights?
Should the people who are a part of mensa for instance have more rights than lay people? If so then I suppose you are not someone who agree's with equality.

Of course we have no viable way to properly and accurately measure intelligence so talk of higher pleasures ultimately for the time being becomes none-sequential.

To conclude if there is a moral reason why humans shouldn't be harmed that does not apply to animals I have yet to find it. If there is a moral reason why the average human, who can survive fine without the exploitation of animals, should be entitled to abuse/execute them, I have again, yet to find it.

Intelligence should not equate to more rights on any moral grounds.

Social contract theory and liberal thinking

In short I shouldn't harm you so that you won't harm me and vice versa.
Example 1:

2 soldiers are at their outposts.
If soldier a leaves whilst soldier b stays then a will have 85% survival chance rate.
The same is true of the inverse (b for a).
If both stay they each have a 65% survival chance.
If both leave they will have a 15% survival chance.

The two have no means to communicate. The wise thing would appear for them to both stay at their outposts.

Example 2:
2 suspects called into a police station.
Both have the same information that would incriminate the other and themselves, but would receive immunity for giving the information up so long as the other prisoner did not give up the information. If both give information up they both have reduced sentences.
The police have information that will put both of you away for a shor period of time.

first: p1 goes away for 10 years p2 gets off scott free.
Second: p1&p2 go away for 6 years.
Third:P1&2 go away for 3 years.

In the first p2 has snitched.
In the second both have snitched.
In the third neither has snitched.

Firstly to the soldiers who run whilst their comrades stay, and to the prisoner who snitches an accomplice who does not, most of society would most probably get them at one point or another.
Be it grieving families out for revenge or hired goons to get the snitch.
Strengthening the reason in this case to not screw over the other people

Secondly in social contract theory applied to a western society everyone in a society is equal.

However there is no reason why, if the majority called for it, a particular minority was not exploited. Divided, and forced into submission in a way where so long as the majority wanted the minority in such a compromised position there would be no way out.

For instance CCTV, policing, and a lack of communicating with other minorities. Such a position over time would strengthen perhaps. For instance there could be units for breeding. And the children taken away and put into a family unit of the majority. The child seeing less than 10 of the minority in their life time. The other 9 only seeing the other 9, no outside communication with others of that minority.

This is a concept that is surely in direct conflict with liberty.
For the benefit of any unsure readers:
Western democracy (on the whole) everyone has a vote and the majority vote wins (or at least that's how it is supposed to work).
Everyone is equal, and has the same rights. A majority can not vote against a minority in such a way that the minorities rights are breached.

For further reading read J.S. Mill on liberty chapter 1.

It is the state (the only organisation who at this moment in time has the power to) who controls our rights. If I kill I am to be restricted in what I do, causing me an inability to kill again. So on so forth. Obviously different crimes result in different punishments/restrictions in order to stop me from repeating my offence by learning from it.

The problem is if you value such rights, and agree with liberal thought, you surely agree by default with veganism (unless you have a point not previously made and dealt with in this or the past essay).

If you don't believe in liberty being a good thing then how can you make sure you in a minority (and we're all part of a minority in some form or another, be it based on intellect, music taste, eye colour, opinion, 'class' etc.) cannot under social contract theory be the bitch of society? It appears that if you agree with social contract theory you have no legitimate argument against you being exploited.

If I have made spelling or grammar mistakes, if I have mis-represented an argument, if I have left an argument out, if I have committed a fallacy, do not hesitate to comment on an issue and tell me where I have gone wrong.

Monday, 16 November 2009

August 6, 2009 - Thursday
-By Tom:

This is what one person* had to say on Veganism:

Edit: first set of content edits have been added in this colour.
What is a vegan?

A vegan is a human who attempts to minimize the animal exploitation caused by their living. Whether or not humans count as animal in this case is debatable, also what do we mean by exploitation?
I'm using the word exploitation in context and define it as a use of another that can feel's signs of being sentient without their consent. Or also the use of another where by they have no other means for survival and are given a wage (be it in food or money so on so forth) where they can not properly (healthily) sustain themselves or their family. Clearly this is a subjective thing however I'm sure you'll agree the workers conditions are awful when they are seen in places such as sweat shop.

*Person hood:
What do we mean by a person?
For instance, most humans would argue that a person is a human but not an animal, that all non brain dead, alive humans are people. But that animals aren't. The claim is based generally I believe on intelligence, however there are other intelligent animals, dolphins, pigs, what level of intelligence would they need to reach and express to us for us to consider any of these animals, or perhaps their entire species as intelligent?
I use the words "people" and "person" a lot but it seems as a casual way to describe humans, most if not all the time I would argue it would be more appropriate to use the words "human(s)" instead.
Hypothetically, if two sets of aliens came down, one in a very complex space ship, who learn our languages easily, and understood us, and others who came down in a space ship that didn't seem as complex, and that couldn't communicate us, but seemed to act socially with each other, would we call one set "people" and the others "animals"?
Is the term "person" just used as a way to describe the human mind?
So I struggle, along with many other "people", to define person hood.
On Wikipedia you will see other examples.

We tend to break down the mind as something that is supernatural, or unexplainable, in humans (at least to some degree). However in animals, we label them as primitive, as mindless drones. In some cases this may or may not be true, however I ask by what grounds do we say that these animals are not people?

Buddhist tradition:
(Note that the Buddha is said to have said not to just follow what he said, but to see, not just believe, that faith wasn't needed or wanted in Buddhism, and that we should try to analysis what he said, and take any truth we could for that, but if we could not find any, then to disregard the teaching, and as a result, use what we find correct in his teachings in our lives and disregard what we do not understand or find incorrect.)
I've been reading up on this for an exam, and whether it's a religion, way of life, set of metaphorical teachings so on so forth, is all debatable. And what I say is my own interpretation.
The mind can be broken down basically into 5 aggregates:
the fact we have senses
the sensory experiences
whether those experiences are positive or negative
how we act based on those.
(Note in Buddhist tradition there are 6 senses, the 6th being that of the mind, and each sense has a "sensory consciousness" also that some Buddhists don't believe that there is a term for an individual, as that implies permanence within the 5 aggregates, and if we are always changing, how can there be an 'I'?).

It is said also through out Buddhist teaching that nothing is permanent. Everything changes, this is true on a molecular level, where molecules are always vibrating, and on a wider capacity. It is said that everything with these 5 aggregates is constantly changing. Two examples being that you gain new information all the time, like as you're reading now you are changing, and from the start of this sentence up to these words you will have changed, even if only slightly. Another example is that you can never jump into the same river twice, by the time you get out to jump in again, no matter how fast you are, the water will be placed differently, the dirt or stone will be moved/eroded, some water will have left the river and some water will have been added to the river, so on so forth.
Whilst the river may have the same name, it will have changed.
In the same way we are constantly changing as our the situations around us, and everywhere, as nothing is separated from this teaching.
Even a photo remember, will be changing (even if slowly) and will fade over time, and the molecules will continue to move).

There are also 4 noble truths (I'll dip into the first 3) said to be in Buddhist tradition.
The first is the noble truth of dukkha. The second is the arising of dukkha. I'll only spend a brief time in Buddhist thought so I'll lump them in together.
Dukkha is a Sanskrit word (or Pali? One of the two, perhaps both) that translates roughly as, suffering/unsatisfactoriness/something that we want to change.

The teaching states that everything in our current lives is dukkha in some way, whether it is now, or leads to some later on.
For instance you may punch someone and hurt them and yourself, or be punched. You being punched randomly would be an example of unconditioned arising.

A conditioned arising of dukkha would be one coming from change from a constant in your life, such as a relationship. I'm sure all of you reading this will have been hurt by someone you've had a relationship with. Be it a partner, friend or parent. A change will have occurred in the relationship for the dukkha to occur. And you will have been suffering as a result, or desiring it to change to something less unsatisfactory.

So be it a relationship or a punch (or something similar) we are causing or have been caused dukkha.

That is the prognosis (from what I can tell), that suffering is, and where it comes from.
However there is more to be said on conditioned arising, dukkha is always caused, not by the change, but the desire for change. This is what to me marks Buddhism out from other ways of thinking. It doesn't say that you should change what you desire, but that all desire is the cause of dukkha. You won't always get what you desire, and if you do desire something you want something to change.

So if you can stop wanting that change, you stop being in a state of dukkha.

With the symptoms and causes Buddhism may appear as very pessimistic, but studies show Buddhists to be amongst the happiest humans on the planet. This is probably because of the last two noble truths. The cession of dukkha and the 8 fold path. I'll only be going into (for now) the cession of dukkha.

This is said to occur by taking away the desire, and by taking away the desires, you will not intentionally be causing either conditioned or unconditioned dukkha. This is the first 3 noble truths in probably the simplest way expressed. If you have an interest, feel anything should be added, or anything should be changed, drop me a line (although I don't always look at my myspace).

Books I recommend for understand this way of thinking more clearly are as follows:

Teach Yourself buddhism - Clive Erricker
What The Budha Taught - Walpola Sri Rahula
An Introduction to Buddhism -Peter Harvey

My personal favourite is the middle one, the simplest is the first one, and one I'm not so keen on, but my tutor highly recommends, is the Peter Harvey one.

Not all vegans go along with this way of thinking, and I don't fully agree with Buddhist thinking, but I think it offers an interesting view point, and what it says about the mind is hard to refute.

I believe that pain exists. I dare say I know pain exists because I've felt it and at the very least the concept must exist.
When I feel pain I react with certain behavior, my nervous system reacts a certain way and my expression can only really go so far. However I see things that make me feel pain, and I see the receiver of these things react to the pain, I'm shown that there nervous system reacts a certain way etc.
Whilst some pain can be pleasurable, in general it is not. In fact it's rare that it is. I think humans feel pain, however I can not show that to be true, for instance does a brain dead human feel pain? Do you feel pain? Does everyone else just react the same way I do when I feel pain? I doubt it, I think most humans do feel pain. However I also think by their behavior, and what science shows us to be a nervous system, that other animals feel pain. Possibly all animals. On the other hand there isn't much evidence to support the claim that plants feel pain. And I don't believe they do feel pain.

As I don't have the consent to cause pain, I tend to not have the intentions to put other beings in pain, and try to avoid those actions (although that's often not possible without my death, it is possible in other situations).

I've already spoken about person hood, and now pain. These two things throw animals and humans (which are animals remember) into a blur when we look at the divide.

Should we treat other animals as things, as objects, as property. Well to a certain extent it can be argued the slave trade is very much alive with sweat shops, and in another capacity, that animals are treated as property.
Edit: add on

I believe that every sentient life form has property over itself, although not necessarily it’s body (I’m still working that out) human and non human alike.

The issue of property is clearly important, as we treat animals as our property. We used to treat African slaves in the same way. There was a time where a slave ship sunk. The contents of the ship were insured but the insurance company objected to paying for the worth of the slaves. They said that the slaves were not the property of the slave company. The company objected, stating that this was not a matter of a loss of life, but a loss of property, that the slaves were the property of the company and that’s why they were going to be sold. When push came to shove the insurance company won.

Isn’t it the same with animals, that they’re not just our property, or at least shouldn’t be? At least no more than the slaves back in the day should have been?

I ask what distinction should be made between our own species and other species in order for us to have such authority over them?

Back to Buddhism for a second, the Buddha is said to have taught that what we call "my body" isn't yours at all, it is a body your mind happens to inhabit, and you should not cause it harm.

The only arguments I've seen to defend this treatment of non human animals is that they are not intelligent, and that we should only look out for our species. But how intelligent does something have to be for us to treat it with the rights we give humans?
And is there a good way to measure intelligence? I say that intelligence not only has nothing to do with it but is a pretty abstract concept. What I call unintelligent I've seen others call intelligent and I'm sure vice versa the same has been said of what I call intelligent.
For this reason I doubt that we can measure intelligence.

Also I have doubts that intelligence has anything to do with this matter. I mean if I was to take someone who was clinically retarded, and most humans call unintelligent, and start beating that human up because I say that they are not intelligent enough for me to recognize that they deserve rights, wouldn't that be the same argument used to say animals shouldn't have rights? Why is the line drawn at our own species?
And if you try to argue it the other way, that perhaps I'd be right to treat someone clinically retarded as someone to satisfy my desires in anyway I see fit, then where would we draw the line? Only 'people' with an IQ of 100? 120? Would we have a new system where by if you have an IQ of 50 someone with an IQ of 60 owns you? And if you're 100 someone with an IQ of 120 owns you? So on so forth? I hardly see that as a system that would work, I think society would break down and we'd end up at each others throats of the idea would be ignored.

So to go back to my point, why do we draw it at humans? Well most vegans, myself included, try to give more rights to animals.

Part of the intelligence debate is of course, that they can not understand these rights as far as we can tell, and as a result they should not be entitled to these rights, as they would not be able to follow them.

On the other hand, 'people' who are mentally ill don't always understand these rights, are treated with them, and break them. They are not held accountable for their actions.
Furthermore, I've not made an argument for the same rights for each species or even animal. I'm arguing that they should be treated with these rights. For instance it is generally accepted that if you are attacked, you have the right to defend yourself. So if an animal attacks you, you have the right to defend yourself, would surely still stand.

What would change would we wouldn't be taking away the way in which we treat animals. E.G. to take their lives away for our own purposes. To exploit them for meat, milk, eggs, honey, would be taken away, unless a way to communicate their consent was given.

With regards to consent, if a human could not express their consent, or lack of consent, and another was to have sex with them (which would be classed as rape, as the sex is non-consensual) would we say that that is bad? Or wrong? I would. I don't see a reason to treat animals differently. Be out purposes be sex, of exploitation for food, or fur, or other comforts.

Comforts being things we want, not need.
Needs being what is necessary for survival.
That is a Grey area, and I don't know if I would take an animals life for my own survival.

I'm using human rights and animal rights as given things. However you may note laws are different in all cultures, societies so on so forth. These are generally the accepted ones from where I come from. And I'm making an argument for the ones I've mentioned to remain and be implemented in other places, be them other societies or other countries etc.
I recognize that some will not give governments authority, and will treat themselves as the only authority.


There is nothing that you can not get that you need on a vegan diet in general. There are several sources for most things and whilst the average vegan is found to be deficient in about 3-5 things meat eaters are generally deficient in 6+ things (or something similar, meat eaters tend to be deficient in more things at least in the west).

The things which are generally hardest to get would be certain amino acids (however we can get all of the essential ones and vegetables and fruits have a wide variety of different amino acids) which are what make protein up. The other two things are vitamin B12, which we need to take in supplement form. We usually get this from meat, as the bacteria that make it are not found in plant matter, however the supplement contains B12 from the same kind of bacteria, furthermore it takes years and years to develop a deficiency in this vitamin as the body doesn't need a lot of it and recycles the B12 it has at a very high percentage point.
Lastly Vitamin D is sometimes hard for some vegans to get. In Sweden in fact they fortify a lot of the food with vitamin D3 (which is made from animal products) in most foods because there's a shortage of it and sunlight here doesn't help the body to make it. A lot of soy milk's in the UK will also fortify it (although the vegan kind, D2). However most humans can get plenty of vitamin D from being in jeans and a t-shirt in sunny weather for about 15 minutes a day, and probably 30-60 minutes in less sun intensive weather (the body makes it I believe near the surface of the skin, perhaps even in the skin cells, I'm not too sure).

What we want for the survival or a life style and what we need for the survival of the human body are two very different things. For instance I don't need a computer, I want a computer, I need food and I need shelter.
We always hear the argument that "we need meat to survive" but as I pointed out in 'health' we don't.
We always hear the argument that "meat is good for us" which when you think about it is a pretty meaningless statement...
...the meat that's organic and free range? The meat that's in our bodies and makes parts of us up? Well of course our bodies are good for us.
The meat that's in that ready made food someone just ate that's got pesticides and anti-biotics in it that couldn't swing and udder or twitch and ear for lack of space?
Some meat can be good for us, health wise, and I dare say it's necessary for some humans to survive at the moment. However we don't need it to be healthy, not any more, not you and I. There is so much information at our finger tips, so much information about diet and plant matter, I honestly think that anyone without the problems of allergic reactions to most things are being lazy when they say "I tried veganism but I couldn't be healthy on it" unless there was a specific nutrient that they couldn't get on a vegan diet, because there are usually so many different sources of different nutrients that it's unbelievable.

There's often the food chain argument, that it's natural to eat meat. I believe the definition of natural is non-man made (excluding aliens in flying saucers yadda yadda, that's another debate).
Using that as a definition then it's not natural for us to do anything as every action is man made...
...Also why would it matter that it's natural. I can eat meat, as I can also start taking heroin, I can drink coffee, I can start shooting everyone in site. The idea that because we can do something means that we should seems beyond the realms of basic critical thinking to me.
And people say "it's the food chain", in which case the food chain goes:

Everything else < humans


most things not human < some things not human < humans

Where as most food chains are a little bit more complicated than that. The idea that this:
Edit- add on on plants:

I see no clear evidence to suggest that plants feel pain, no behaviour, no central nervous system. Furthermore if we hypothetically did say that plants can feel pain, by eating plants instead of animals less plants would die, due to the conversion of energy from plants into animals into us being inefficient in comparison to us eating the plants straight off.

Whilst I recognise that a plant may react to stimuli, and if cut may react with a release of hormones, I see nothing that suggests to me that that causes the plant suffering.

So I minimize it.

Lastly, I try not to judge people I am responsible for my actions, not for yours, not for a companies. The power lies with the consumer.
I may not be able to change the world, but I am not responsible for the world, I am responsible for me.
I will judge, but I also try to minimize that judgment in most cases. I instead prefer trying to support people in what I see as right, and hope they don't do what I think is wrong. These our of course based on my own morals, and all morals seem to be subjective, not objective.
I hope you found at the very least, this reading entertaining, and perhaps even eye opening. If you thought the arguments I put forward were poor, then I apologize, it's hard to see your own work from an outside view. Criticism is welcome, counter arguments are welcome, however please try to be respectful, and I will try to do the same. If I am disrespectful, then I'll be disappointed in myself.

Or this

Or even just this:

is part of the food chain or nature again seems to be beyond the basis of logical thinking to me.

I'm not saying that nature is something we should follow either, I don't see a reason to do or say that, although surely anyone typing on a computer or watching TV or driving a car agrees with me (unless they just don't follow through with their convictions, but not many people are nature above nurture).

So we've taken out survival of the fittest and instead made it all die, the whole basis of survival based upon if you escape your predator has been thrown out the window.

I'm not saying we should go out and kill things with swords, I'm not saying we should go along with nature, I'm just saying we should admit we're not natural beings, we don't live 'naturally' in our everyday lives (as a society, I'm not talking about those in far away tribes, because that's a different debate, but us who use computers drive cars etc.)

So it is for these reasons I am a vegan. I do still exploit animals, I try to minimise this. I am not perfect. I will sometimes mis-read a product set of ingredients. Some products will have labels stuck on with animal products. Some of these things I just can not avoid. However just because I can't cut it out completely doesn't seem to be a reason to not cut it out as much as I can.
Surely if I can decrease the amount of suffering then that is better than just blindly adding to it more?
I dare use the analogy of two humans both of which are tied to train tracks, I am between the two, and a train will roll through in 15 minutes. They are a mile apart. By the time I get to one to untie them and save their life, the other would be killed unless someone else is about. However I can not see anyone else in either direction. Should I try to save one of their lives and hope somehow the other survives, or just sit by because I can't save both?
If my aim is to decrease suffering and up hold the right to continued living, surely I should try to give that to as many as I can?