The Futuristic Fate of Birds and the Other Earthlings
Thinking Like a Chicken Podcast
News & Views!
Farmed animals have traditionally been morally abandoned and treated with probably more contempt than any other major category of animals we abuse. An example can be found in demeaning Environmentalist discourse. Despite some improvements in terms of ethics and understanding, chickens and other animals regarded as “food” are living in increasingly malformed bodies and diseased environments. Not only are the numbers of our victims rising; new genetic technologies and computerized devices are making the lives of both farmed animals and free-living birds and other beings even worse. In this podcast episode I discuss what I see as the futuristic fate of birds and the other earthlings, short of a change in our cultural priorities and behavior.
The Futuristic Fate of Birds and the Other Earthlings
Hello, and thank you for joining me today. I’m Karen Davis, the founder and president of United Poultry Concerns, a nonprofit organization that promotes compassion and respect for chickens, turkeys, ducks, and other domesticated birds.
Today I want to talk about what I fear will be the future for birds and other species if we continue on our current course.
Ethical protest against the genetic engineering of birds and other animals has focused primarily on the violation of species integrity, although attention has also been paid to the suffering of individual animals, and a moral repugnance has been shown against defining animals as patentable "manufactures." This definition represents a further debasement of nonhuman animals from their traditional low status as property lacking value and claims in their own right.
Animals used in genetic engineering are further degraded in not even being recognized as whole beings but only as embodiments of certain DNA sequences, genetic resources, model systems, production traits, and body parts.
Reduction of chickens and other animals to model disease and food production traits is not new. Researchers have developed and maintained highly inbred flocks of chickens over many decades. Bizarre pathological conditions that necessarily arise over time in these inbred flocks are then specifically bred for by the researchers, who will then claim to have created a new "model" that resembles some disease pattern or other, such as multiple sclerosis in humans or heart attack syndromes in commercially-bred chickens. In animal agriculture, the fitness of an animal has historically been determined by whether the animal pleased “its” (his or her) owner enough to be allowed to survive to maturity and reproduce.
Genetic engineering carries these attitudes and practices further in line with a past in which nonhuman animals have repeatedly been denied possession of a soul, reason, consciousness or some other vaunted human trait, and used without compassion or apology. Nor, in terms of cruelty and rationalization, does genetic engineering break continuity with a past in which nonhuman animals have had the misfortune to be included in a "sacred" circle and accordingly scapegoated and ritually sacrificed by a particular human group or tribe.
Today, environmentalists confer a relatively high and "respectful" status on free-living animals, who may then be hunted and otherwise "honored" with violence. Most often, it isn’t the individual animal who is “honored,” but rather the Category: not the bear but THE BEAR although, of course, it is the actual flesh and blood animal who is hunted and forced to bear the burden of being brutally “honored” and eaten as a specimen of that animal’s Category.
By contrast, domesticated animals, particularly farmed animals, have been castigated by environmentalists for “allowing” themselves to be domesticated, thereby placing themselves outside the circle of moral consideration. Farmed animals have, in effect, been blamed for allowing themselves to be turned into "genetic freaks" and degenerate parodies of nature. Factory-farmed animals have been further denounced for messing up the natural environment with their mounds of dead bodies and manure, unsightliness, diseases and pollution. Just recently, an animal advocacy website blamed “chickenshit” for spreading avian influenza. How does this language encourage public respect for these most thoroughly abused birds?
The poultry industry pollutes land, air and water with billions of pounds of manure and billions of gallons of waste water each year. This is detestable, but it is not the chickens' fault. It is ours.
Farmed animals have been morally abandoned by our culture, our species, and treated with contempt and neglect, even on occasion by their so-called defenders. They have been dismissed as beyond the pale of equal, or even any, moral concern, although, morally, we owe more, not less, to the beings whose earthrights and birthrights we have so thoroughly stripped away.
The advent of Artificial Intelligence (AI), in which inanimate machines monitor and manipulate sentient “machines,” puts chickens and other farmed animals into ever deeper pits of human depravity and animal agony. As noted in an April 2023 article in Noema Magazine: “The use of AI in factory farms will, in the long run, increase the already huge number of animals who suffer in terrible conditions.”
In his book Algeny: A New Word, A New World (1983), social analyst Jeremy Rifkin wrote that in a genetically-engineered world, "if only one living creature were left unscathed . . . we would reach out to it, embrace it, touch it, marvel at it, with a peak of emotion that all the replicas together could not possibly hope to tap in us. For we experience something special with that creature that can never be experienced with the products of our own technological handiwork."
Although touching in a way, this thought wrongly suggests that the animals helplessly violated by genetic engineers are mere manufactures of ours and that they are despicable aliens. It implies that the suffering of a genetically-engineered hen is somehow less real, intimate, moving, and important, more "inanimate" and beyond our sympathy and moral accountability, than the sufferings we impose on a “pure” hen who is now looked upon as a sullied virgin. It invites us to glide evilly into the mentality of the genetic engineer who told a symposium regarding the birds who hatch in his laboratory with no sign of the desired genetic change: "We simply throw them away."
Overall, I fear that chickens and other domesticated birds do not have a future worth living with the human species and that genetic engineering furthers a drive in our species to eliminate not only diversity and autonomy, but joy and happiness in other creatures, even as we proceed to extinguish, massacre, incarcerate, and invasively manipulate the remaining wild birds and other free-living beings on earth. For a look at some of what environmental ethologists are doing to wild birds, read Field work . . . by avian specialist Gisela Kaplan. It is NOT a pretty picture.
An example of the trend involving wild birds was reported on April 15, 2023 in The Telegraph (UK) in Man's plea as beloved bird is taken from him. A wild crane with a broken leg was nursed back to health by this man in India. He and the crane bonded lovingly with each other. When wildlife authorities learned about it, they confiscated the crane and put him in a zoo where he is now a prisoner who, unless he is set free, will atrophy mentally and physically to death and may be subjected to human sexual assault (electro-masturbation to obtain semen to inseminate captive females). This obscenity is a common practice in zoos.
I think it is essentially true, as someone wrote, that "If there's anything to reincarnation and a recycling of souls, with the decreasing biodiversity on this planet and daily loss of endangered species, the only place one will be able to go if they get recycled into another lifetime is into another human or a farmed animal."
This vision portends the fate of earth’s other inhabitants as long as we continue down the road we have taken. All the omens are ominous.
Wild birds are dropping dead from the sky. Thus a New York Times column in April observes that “H5N1 is devastating the world’s birds.” What this means is that our species is devastating the world’s free-living birds for mouthfuls of captive birds’ misery. Humanity’s dietary behavior is a major contributor to the overall tragedy unfolding on earth. It is the root cause of avian influenza in its current form of H5N1and just about everything that ails this planet. Animal advocacy author and activist, Roberta Kalechofsky, notes in her book Animal Suffering and The Holocaust (2003), that “most human beings everywhere are indifferent to the hideous suffering of the animal world, most of which is not inflicted by nature ‘red in tooth and claw,’ but by humans themselves.”
Even if most people acknowledged the truth of this statement, how many would actually care, and quit the carnage?
I hope you have found today’s podcast provocative and informative and that you will share it with others. Please join me for the next podcast episode of Thinking Like a Chicken: News & Views. And have a wonderful day. Thank you.
KAREN DAVIS, PhD is the President and Founder of United Poultry Concerns, a nonprofit organization that promotes the compassionate and respectful treatment of domestic fowl including a sanctuary for chickens in Virginia. Inducted into the National Animal Rights Hall of Fame for Outstanding Contributions to Animal Liberation, Karen is the author of numerous books, essays, articles and campaigns. Her latest book is For the Birds: From Exploitation to Liberation: Essays on Chickens, Turkeys, and Other Domesticated Fowl published by Lantern Publications & Media.