A reader raised several issues that I have considered, which has led to this post.
You noted three main issues in a response to one of my first posts on animals. You stated that I was chiefly concerned with pain and suffering, but suggested that there were other issues and queried, “Do animals have rights?” You continued to link rights with the power to reason. You also posited that the forces of evolution outweigh our ability to be moral.
After reading “Animal Liberation” by Peter Singer, I do have a response, which I will give here but not to the exclusion of the complete and convincing discussion of such questions in that book. If I could ask that anyone, at any time and place, to read only one book, that would be it.
Humans favor their species because doing so serves their interests, but to do so is as immoral as favoring one’s race over another or one’s sex over another. The notion of morality used in that statement comes from the notions of Jeremy Bentham and other Utilitarians, that the good of any one individual is of no more importance than the good of any other. Or as Bentham put it: “Each to count for one and none for more than one.” Now why should animals be included in “the one”? We are all animals and though we have the power to enslave them that does not mean it is the moral thing to do because they suffer and inflicting suffering on another creature runs against the most basic notion that keeps civilization together: we should consider another’s interests just as we would want our interests considered. Our self- serving ideas of the special status of our species is in large part a product of the Judeo-Christian tradition. Whether to justify slavery or the subjugation of women, that good ol’ religion always has a part to play. Any question that we are somehow not animals was settled in the 19th Century by Darwin and others. Hence we have “speciesism:” the favoring of our species over all the others.
As for evolution corrupting our reason and compelling us to eat meat (if I read the thought correctly), alleviating the suffering of farm animals and even refusing to eat them does not put us at any evolutionary disadvantage. We are not in any event pitted against chickens, cows, and pigs in an evolutionary struggle to survive. I would say we improve, i.e. evolve, as reasoning and moral creatures by abstaining from meat eating; such abstinence also improves our health and would work wonders for the environment (read about the resources used and greenhouse gasses generated in raising animals for meat).
Some people innately have an affection for animals and find the thought of their suffering hard to bear and the idea of chewing their dead flesh repulsive; I am in that camp. However, beyond that, I had always wondered how we thought what we did to them was defensible. I thought for a time we had greater rights because we are smarter—irrelevant. Various animals differ; we all have different abilities and traits (even among our own species that is true) but we all have the capacity to suffer and we humans have the gift of preventing it—if we just will.