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.