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What would a vegetarian world look like? They dock sheep, don't they?

From: "UTOPIA TODAY – REALITY TOMORROW – A vegetarian world"

(136 pages, 35 authors from 11 countries, ISBN 3-909067-05-0, this book is available in English only (translations are planned))

Marc Bekoff

When I was asked to comment on the question in the title I thought it would be easy to do. But it's not. Ethologists like myself often begin their investigations of animal behavior, cognition, and emotions with the question, "What is it like to be a ____?", where the blank refers to a particular animal. So, regarding my own research, I often ask "What is it like to be a dog?" It's almost easier for me to answer this question than to answer the question "What would a vegetarian world look like?" But let me try.

 

"Oh, I love animals, but I eat them . . . "

A vegetarian world would be a more compassionate world, because it's well-known that compassion to animals can spread to compassion to people. When people tell me they love animals but nonetheless eat them (or hunt them), I'm incredulous, and I'm glad they don't love me. How can you love a being and then eat her or him? Even if the animal was free-ranging or had "good welfare," he or she surely suffered at some point of the process of becoming a human meal. And "good welfare" usually is not "good enough."

 

"Oh, I'm an environmentalist but I eat meat"

I'm also incredulous that environmentalists can eat animals, especially those from factory farms and other food industries. Putting aside animal ethics for a moment, which of course is really impossible to do, the ecological destruction caused by the food industry and the incredible waste of resources that go into producing factory-farmed food is staggering. So, even if one doesn't think animals have a right to life or that "good welfare" is "good enough," there are still many compelling environmental reasons not to eat other animals.

 

A vegetarian world will also be absent of people making lame excuses about why they eat meat. I've been told that there are a very few people who might "need" meat, but the vast majority of people do not. So, even if there are a few people who need meat, for most people there are readily available non-meat alternatives that are as good or better for them. I'll allow for discussions of cultural traditions and the consumption of animals (a topic that goes far beyond my own expertise), but really, to the best of my knowledge, no one who I know has to eat meat, yet many of my friends do.

 

Moving toward a vegetarian world'

While I am a very hopeful and optimist man, I'm not optimistic that the world will ever be totally vegetarian. But I am optimistic that more and more people will become vegetarian on ethical grounds alone. Raising consciousness about the horrific and inexcusable enduring pain and suffering that billions of food animals go through each year will make those who "really care" stop eating meat. And I mean not only mammals but also birds, fish, reptiles, and amphibians and even insects.

 

Le me also say that I think it is silly that arguing for a vegetarian world is thought to be radical. Why is the word "radical" used to mean working hard and gently for a more compassionate planet and a better Earth? I just don't get it.

 

Asking difficult questions gently and the value of educating people

When I ask people why they eat meat I don't want to hear that there aren't suitable non-animal alternatives or that they don't want to know about the pain and suffering experienced by the meal they're eating. But I don't "put it in their face" - I ask the question nicely without being pushy and see what they have to say. Putting someone on the defensive insures that you will lose the argument and the possibility to make your point.

 

The eyes tell it all. I also spend a lot of time trying to educate people about the emotional lives of animals, that individuals of many species really do experience a wide variety of emotions including much pain and suffering. I ask them to look into the animal's eyes. Their eyes tell us this - just look into them if you dare. Jane Goodall wrote about the young chimpanzee Flint's sunken eyes as he grieved the loss of his mother, Flo, and Konrad Lorenz also noted how the eyes of a grieving goose sink back into its head. Jody McConnery wrote of traumatized orphan gorillas: "The light in their eyes simply goes out, and they die." And, happy dog's eyes are wide-open and shine with joy. Recently, three men near my hometown of Boulder tried to save a young mountain lion who had been hit by a car. The lions' eyes begged them to do so. And years ago I stopped euthanizing - killing - cats as part of a research project when Speedo, a very intelligent cat, looked at me and asked "Why me?" I'm sure these stories aren't new to most of you.

 

And there are meetings devoted to educating people about animal emotions and animal sentience. On March 17th and 18th, 2005, more than 600 people from about 60 nations came to London for one of the most important meetings I've attended in the past three decades, organized by the Compassion in World Farming Trust (CIWF). Not only were numerous countries and cultures represented but so were many academic disciplines - zoology, anthropology, sociology, economics, food science and agriculture, law, psychology and philosophy - along with people working on practical matters, including those who develop and implement guidelines for the humane treatment of animals and those who work for industries in which countless animals are penned, stunned, harmed, and killed for human consumption. A sole and brave representative from McDonalds delivered a lecture in which he tried to defend the company's practices and progress toward humane treatment of the countless animals they serve up as food, and while I admired his courage his talk was less than convincing, sounding more like recruitment propaganda for future employees. McDonalds and all other food industries have a long way to go and we must keep the pressure on them to change their ways.

 

Animal emotions and why they matter: Animals aren't unfeeling objects

The study of animal emotions raises many difficult questions. My own lecture at the CIWF meeting centered on asking complicated and frustrating questions, the answers to many of which are obvious. Well, the answers are obvious to some, at least. I asked people to throw caution to the wind and to be deeply passionate because doing this will make us dig deeply into our minds and hearts to see who we are and what we think about matters at hand. And sometimes we don't like where we wind up outside of our comfort zones, because doing this makes us ask hard questions and answer them honestly,

 

Some of the areas with which I was concerned and also shared among many of my colleagues included wide-ranging discussion of the following questions (presented here along with some of my own views).

 

*Are we really the only animals who experience a wide variety of feelings? In my view the real question is why emotions have evolved not if they have evolved in some animals. Emotions function as a "social glue" and as "social catalysts. Animal emotions and moods swings grab us. It is highly likely that many animals exclaim "Wow!" or "My goodness, what is happening?" as they go through their days enjoying some activities and also experiencing enduring pain and suffering at the hands of humans. We don't need any more "Oh, aren't they cute?" pictures or "Ain't she sweet!" pictures or videos to convince us that a whimpering or playing dog, or a chimpanzee in a tiny cage or grieving the loss of a friend, or a baby pig having her tail cut off – "docked" as this horrific and inexcusable procedure is called - or having her teeth ground down on a grindstone feel something. Surely animals don't like being shocked, cut up, starved, chained, stunned, crammed into prison-like cages, tied up, isolated, or ripped away from their families and friends. Recent scientific data do indeed show that chronic pain is associated with docking. Is this really surprising? Who are we kidding? I think we're kidding ourselves. Are we afraid of being too sentimental, too soft, or of being right? Cows also can be moody, hold grudges and nurture friendships. Is this really surprising? Animals aren't unfeeling objects. What animals feel is more important than what they know when we consider what sorts of treatment are permissible. When in doubt, err on the side of the animals.

 

Numerous pigs (and other farm animals) are mistreated daily in factory farms. Scientific research shows that pigs suffer from stress, anxiety, and depression. Surely it's not a big jump to claim that they don't like having their tails cut off and their teeth ground down. Their squealing tells us that, doesn't it. Michael Mendl notes that pigs can be stressed by normal farm management procedures. Indeed, this and other findings support the idea that all too often "good welfare" simply is not "good enough.

 

* Is anthropomorphism really all that bad? We have to be anthropomorphic because we need to use language to describe and explain the behavior and feelings of other animals/ But we must be careful when we use human terms to describe and to explain animal emotions and also we must take into account the animal's point of view. I cal this "biocentric anthropomorphism." Sometimes, critics of anthropomorphism, like those who work for zoos or in factory farming, feel free to tell us that an individual is "doing well" but criticize us when we say that they're not doing well. This self-serving hypocrisy makes no sense. And we must not let them get away with it.

 

*What do we feel about animal emotions and animal sentience when we're alone, away from colleagues, and pondering how we make our livings? Are we proud of what we do to and for other animals and do we want others, including our children, to follow our path? Should we continue what we're doing?

 

*What do we tell others, including our children, about how we make our livings? What words do we use and how do we explain the emotions and passions of animals who we use and abuse for our and not their ends. Do we tell our children and friends that we cut the tails off squealing piglets and also grind their teeth as they squirm and try to stop us? Or do we sanitize our actions because we want to distance ourselves from the animal beings to whom we bring immeasurable harm and suffering and horrific deaths.

 

*Who gets paid by whom, and why do so many slaughterhouse workers apparently not like their jobs and seek counseling. Harming animals intentionally surely can't be "fun" or good for one's psychological well-being. Some of those who think that science justifies being purveyors of pain are paid for the research by the very companies that are responsible for bringing unjustifiable pain and suffering to billions of animals each and every year.

 

*I also stressed that very often "good welfare "simply isn't "good enough."  One speaker at the meeting said that we should try hard to provide the best welfare whenever possible. This isn't good enough. We must provide the best welfare all of the time.

 

We can always do better: Changing the paradigm

Animals deserve more and we can always do better. The bottom line is that we must change minds and hearts and time is of the essence. Far too many animals - billions if you dare imagine it - are harmed each and every second of each and every day worldwide. If we can change minds and hearts and especially current practices in which animals are used and abused we are making progress, and there is hope.

 

To cut through the chase, we need a paradigm shift in how we study animal emotions and animal sentience. We need to take the skeptics to task and switch the table and have skeptics "prove" that animals don't have emotions rather than our having to prove that they do. I recall an event at a symposium that was held at the Smithsonian Institution renowned elephant expert Cynthia Moss talked about elephants and showed wonderful videos of these incredibly intelligent and emotional beasts. During the question and answer period a former program leader from the National Science Foundation asked Cynthia "How do you know these animals are feeling the emotions you claim they are?" and Cynthia aptly replied "How do you know they're not?"

 

This was a very important exchange because of course he couldn't answer his own question with certainty and neither could Cynthia. However, scientific data, what I call "science sense," along with common sense and solid evolutionary biology, would favor her view over his.

 

As we change the paradigm and move forward we are in a good position to use the precautionary principle. Basically, this principle maintains that a lack of full scientific certainty should not be used as an excuse to delay taking action on some issue. So, in the arena of animal emotions and animal sentience, I have argued that we do know enough to make informed decisions about animal emotions and animal sentience and why they matter. We shouldn't tolerate a double-standard of proof. Skeptic's stories aren't any better or truer than ours. And even if we might be "wrong" some of the time this does not mean we're wrong all of the time. And so what if we're wrong some of the time or unsure about how to proceed? At least we won't be adding more cruelty to an already cruel world. And, when in doubt we should err on the side of the individual animal.

 

We're all in this together

Each and every individual is part of a communion of subjects as Thomas Berry calls it, a vital member of innumerable webs of Nature. Suffice it to say, we are "all in this journey together" - each of us is an integral part of the ongoing story of life and of the panoply of nature's magnificent and wondrous webs.

 

What befalls animals befalls us. A close relationship with nature is critical to our own well-being and spiritual growth. And, it is the animals to whom we owe our utmost unwavering respect and concern for their well-being, independent of our own.

 

The bottom line is simple:

 

Often "good welfare "simply isn't "good enough." Animals deserve more and we can always do better.

 

All we need is love

In the grand scheme of things, individuals receive what they give. If love is poured out in abundance then it will be returned in abundance. There is no need to fear depleting the potent and self-reinforcing feeling of love that continuously can serve as a powerful stimulant for generating compassion, respect, and more love for all life. Each and every individual plays an essential role and that individual's spirit and love are intertwined with the spirit and love of others. These emergent interrelationships, that transcend individuals embodied selves, foster a sense of oneness. These interrelationships can work in harmony to make this a better and more compassionate world for all beings. We must stroll with our kin and not leave them in our tumultuous wake of rampant, self-serving destruction.

 

It is essential that we do better than our ancestors and we surely have the resources to do so. Perhaps the biggest question of all is whether enough of us will choose to make the heartfelt commitment to making this a better world, a more compassionate world in which love is plentiful and shared, before it is too late. I believe we have already embarked on this pilgrimage. My optimism leads me in no other direction.

 

It's also okay to be sentimental and to go from the heart. We need to empathize with the beings who are harmed for unnecessary food and those who suffer in other human venues. We must blend together science sense with common sense, compassion, and heart in our efforts to provide the best welfare to all animals all of the time. The animals must come first.

 

I'm ashamed at how humans abuse animals. I am sure future generations will look back on us with shock and horror about our treatment of other animal beings and wonder how we missed the obvious about animal emotions and how much harm and suffering we brought to billions up billions of individuals. How could we ever do the things that we did to individuals who clearly were suffering at our hands for our, and not their, benefit? How could we ever allow so many individual beings to suffer horrific pain just so that we could eat them? I just don't know. I just don't know.

 

"In the name of food"

These comments come from my heart, and while they could be cleaned up I wanted to let them flow, just as the emotions flow from the innumerable animal beings who live horrific lives "in the name of food." I apologize to each and every individual and hope that I and my colleagues can make a difference in their lives and all of the animals who find themselves being maimed and killed "in the name of food," and who see and hear and smell their families and friends also suffering "in the name of food." Shame on those who bring so much pain and suffering to countless animals, too many to count. Shame on you.

 

 

Marc Bekoff (http://literati.net/Bekoff) is Professor of Biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and is a Fellow of the Animal Behavior Society and a former Guggenheim Fellow. In 2000 he was awarded the Exemplar Award from the Animal Behavior Society for major long-term contributions to the field of animal behavior. He and Jane Goodall co-founded the organization Ethologists for the Ethical Treatment of Animals in 2000 (www.ethologicalethics.org). Marc has published more than 200 papers and 18 books including Encyclopedia of animal rights and animal welfare, Strolling with our kin, The smile of a dolphin, Minding animals: Awareness, emotions, and heart and The ten trusts: What we must do to care for the animals we love (with Jane Goodall). He has also edited a three volume Encyclopedia of animal behavior and a collection of his essays titled Animal passions and beastly virtues: Reflections on redecorating nature will be published by Temple University Press in 2005.

 

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