The New Yorker, Highbrow Ignorance

The New Yorker never ceases to amaze me in its split personality. On the one hand, the view of the magazine’s contributors (and the tenor of the thing as a whole) is hard core liberal of the most literate kind, suggesting that its staff and contributing writers are highly educated, reasonable, insightful, and compassionate. There is another side to this group of oracles of the erudite message, however, which is as backwater and uninformed as the hairiest yahoo. I first encountered the underbelly of the glorious beast in a restaurant review of Benoit Restaurant, in which the food critic delightfully described how the chef (aka Dr. Evil in my view) served up whole piglets to celebrate spring. To complement that are articles about barbecue that seem more suited to Redneck’s Home Journal than a magazine claiming itself as a spokesman of sorts for one of the most enlightened cities in the world.

Now we have one of the team, Nathan Heller, who apparently was absent from the discussion of morality during Philosophy 101 back at Old Ivy. Heller takes on the topic, couched as something more and making of it something less, of animal rights as a moral issue. His jaunty little piece, “If Animals Have Rights, Should Robots?” is an exercise in superficial, tired, pseudo questions on morality as it concerns non-humans. For one, he calls humans “omnivores,” an old wives tale of a justification for meat eating, so easily countered by the fact that many species do not eat meat, and we have more in common with those species that do not eat meat than the predators that do. And even if we had the teeth and digestive system of a meat eater (which we don’t) the confinement and killing of farm animals has no similarity to predation at all. He also goes over the old ground of differentiating between humans and non-humans on the basis of cognitive ability, when it is an easily discernible reality that there are many humans who are not “cognitive peers” (e.g. infants and the brain-damaged) who are not excluded from moral treatment. He pontificates: “Until we can pinpoint animals’ claims on us, we won’t be clear about what we owe robots—or what they owe us.”  We, or some of us, have “pinpointed” how we should treat nonhuman animals: we should follow the Golden Rule and abandon the maxim of “might makes right.” However, that does not address robots and what we owe them in the least because robots unlike humans and other species are not animals.

Throwing around hackneyed arguments in support of culturally endorsed cruelty only adds to the message that we don’t need to really think too long or too hard about what we do to animals. Tee hee, an animal, shoot, it’s kinda like a robot. Come on Nathan Heller, why not read more than a few lines for the purpose of your article of the authors whom you cite: Peter Singer, Johnathan Balcombe, Sherry Colb, Michael Dorf and Christine Korsgaard. If you do and you still come out with statements like you made in the article, then your education and intelligence failed to equip you to perform the most important kind of critical thinking—to question the forces of culture and self-interest.




Science According to Frans de Waal

Frans de Waal for some reason was featured in a sort of interview piece by Kate Murphy in The New York Times Sunday Review, July 31, 2016. By way of background, Kate Murphy was the author of an editorial in The New York Times a few months ago entitled “Eat What You Kill,” notable for its lack of research and inaccuracies. De Waal is a “scientist” who wrote Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are, finding yet another way to exploit animals.  He writes about them for his own professional and financial aggrandizement — the purposes of his research begin and end there.  He exalts that animals are intelligent, have amazingly rich emotional lives, use tools, and have empathy; they are more like humans than we ever thought. Yes! And . . . and . . . . (drumroll). . .the conclusion is …let’s confine them and eat them!

When I asked de Waal how his results square with treating animals like insensate commodities he replied that in nature there is predation; as a scientist he has seen a lot of predation. Does he really think that the confinement, abuse, and slaughter of animals by the meat industry has any similarity at all to a carnivore in nature hunting down and killing the most vulnerable in a herd in order to survive? If he says he does, we are left to wonder if he is mendacious or foolish. If by citing predation he wants to assert that humans are carnivores like the lion, he is wrong and could just as easily find support for our non-carnivorous behavior among a plethora of species—many of whom we resemble much more than the carnivores.  Even if humans had two- inch long incisors and carnivore intestines, it is a fact that humans do not need meat; it is a fact that forcibly impregnating an animal, cramming it into a cage, modifying its genetic size and mass to its detriment to make it bigger and fatter, snatching away its young, and driving it into the terror of the slaughter house has absolutely nothing in common with predation in nature.  That meat producing process is not natural, it is not necessary for survival, and it is a manmade, money making machine from start to finish.

Now de Waal, in this odd piece by Kate Murphy, is taking the opportunity to undermine the reality that animals suffer by hinting that trees do too.  He says somehow there is “a sentience around us” and is impressed by some book in German that he says takes the position that tress are sentient. For a scientist he should be embarrassed to utter such ludicrous things. Did he ever learn there are three categories: animal, vegetable, and mineral?  Will he next find that rocks and boulders have an eerie sentience about them too? Plants do not have brains; plants do not feel pain. He smirks in an aside that “vegans don’t want to hear” his plant-sentience statement. Indeed he is correct there–who wants to hear a scientist stooping to say something so baseless with a hidden agenda. True, vegans do not like to hear someone who purports to have scientific training sound either ignorant, gullible, or intellectually dishonest.

For some reason, de Waal is so threatened by the prospect of facing the truth about what we do to animals in raising them for food that he is willing to associate himself with groundless notions with an ulterior motive of undermining the legitimate and scientifically based moral concerns of vegans, further questioning whether he is in any way a scientist and not just a culturally-bound, hypocritical opportunist.


The Ugly Side of a Purportedly Intellectual Magazine

Anyone read The New Yorker?  In the most recent issue there was a human interest article on the latest gastronomic delights at a New YorkCity restaurant.  Here is my response, which of course will not be published. I wish some vegetarian of notoriety would respond — a celebrity, the director of the Humane Society– as those are the people whose reaction might stand a chance at appearing in print.

Dear Editor,

Your little slice of life piece (no pun intended) on the pig dishes served up at Benoit by (evil) master (mind) chef Philippe Bertineau reveal on the side, like a nice au gratin potato, his intellectual honesty. Many cooks take pains, whether consciously or not, to present meat in disguise- — medallions, chunks, swimming in broth with vegetables, shredded beyond recognition. Bertineau forthrightly gives his lucky diners the whole pig — and a baby no less!  That way there is no shying away from what is about to be masticated and digested. Nonetheless, the experience is not quite as whole as it could be. He can do more. The live piglet should be trotted out for exhibition before being killed for an even more remarkable dining experience.  Yes, it will scream when the mortal moment comes, but at first it might be quite a pleasant spectacle because it is a domesticated baby accustomed to being with its human friends. If raised a bit beyond youngest childhood with the attention we give to dogs, it will even be able to perform tricks, like horses or dogs. The sow should be on hand too to make it a family affair.  Every mother would be proud of the sacrifice she is making.  Her baby will go to feed the starving, underweight dining public of New York City so they can survive the cruel spring.