Letter to a Friend

Seneca wrote letters as a way to convey Stoic ideas.  Here is a letter to a friend of mine.  I did not send it to her, although maybe I should.

Dear Sherry,

When we last spoke and I asked if you had started raising chickens yet you told me about a friend who has them whose advice to you was to remember that “they are just chickens.”  I recall having asked if one of your chickens were to die, would you mourn it or eat it and thought it might depend on whether you had given her a name. I think that when someone says that an animal is just a chicken of just a pig or just a cow they are putting the animal in a category that is not human and therefore inferior and, further, not worthy of compassion. I have found in reading on the topic of ethics that such a mindset can be termed “speciesism.”  Just as there with racism and sexism, one group (Homo Sapiens) accords greater rights and preferential treatment to themselves to the disadvantage of others.   Speciesism is justified on the grounds that other species are not as intelligent as humans. However, the question for an ethical person is not whether animals are as intelligent, but whether they can suffer.

How have I made it this far in life without ever having had a name for the self-serving preferential treatment of one’s own species? I am becoming more and more aware of how much I am a product of culture, habit, expediency, and thoughtlessness.  We think that we go to college to learn to think critically and that we are informed and intelligent, making decisions about our lives. Most of the time I believe we are not thinking at all, but with heads down carry out the orders of others, even the cruelest and most mercenary in our society.  If we are the intelligent species, the ones capable of ethical actions, we might act on our abilities more and question if we want to participate in the process of untold suffering wrought by factory farms. On the more immediate level, if you get your chickens it might be a start to seeing farm animals as animals, which we all are, and not as insensate products.