January has become the new Lent. First we were encouraged to give up alcohol. Then we were encouraged to give up meat and become vegans for a month. Finally there is apparently some virtue in failing to shave your legs. Next year, no doubt, we will all have to change gender for a month just to see how it feels. Hopefully this will not involve any form of surgery.
There is something peculiar in the idea that my doing or failing to do anything for a month will make any difference. Even giving up alcohol or meat forever would probably have only a marginal effect on our longevity. Lots of boozing carnivores live to be very old indeed and can living for an extra five years or so really be the most important goal in life? If you had the choice between an extra five years in a care home not quite knowing where and who you were, or steak and red wine now, would you really go for the care home?
But I don’t think we are being nannied into being a puritan for a month because the state cares that much about our longevity. It’s more about finding a new Church with priests to tell us not to vote for Brexit, not to be concerned as our country changes beyond all recognition and above all not to think for ourselves because Nanny knows best.
How do you feel virtuous in a society that no longer believes in religion? Well how about trying to save the planet by giving up meat, becoming indignant when anyone says anything that they shouldn’t and above all changing the rules such that whatever was considered by almost everyone to be wrong is now virtuous while something that was considered permissible by everyone is now vice.
I doubt very much that giving up meat will save the planet. The problem is that eating mainly vegetables for much of the world is not an ethical decision, but rather a matter of income. As the world becomes richer, more and more people move away from eating cabbage soup and kasha every day. A few wealthy western vegans are not going to change this. As China builds more power stations to supply the energy which its newly wealthy consumers demand, it won’t matter how many windmills we build or how much we recycle. Still less will it matter if you give up meat.
But some people might think that others will follow their Veganuary example and even if they don’t it is worth giving up meat because killing animals is wrong.
The traditional justification for eating animals is that human beings are qualitatively different from the meat that we eat. It is for this reason likewise that there has been a near universal taboo about cannibalism. While killing people is considered to be murder, killing animals is justified because they are lesser beings.
What can this difference consist in? Some arguments have been that human beings are unique and irreplaceable while the loss of one animal can be compensated for another. It is for this reason that animals can be owned, bought and sold.
The vegan argument is that there is no qualitative difference between people and animals, because we are all in fact animals. People may be more intelligent that dogs but it is simply a sliding scale. There is no decisive difference between people and other animals just a difference of degree. For this reason just as it was wrong to own slaves owing to racism, so too it is wrong to own and eat animals owing to speciesism.
The major difficulty with this argument is that if it is wrong for people to kill animals then it must be wrong for animals to kill animals. But if it is wrong for people and animals to kill animals then we all should be punished for doing so. The difficulty here is that if a dog kills a baby we would not think it sensible to send the dog to a court and if convicted of murder send the dog to jail. Why don’t we do this? The reason is that dogs are not moral beings. They don’t understand the difference between right and wrong. They did not, so to speak, eat from the tree of knowledge.
Animals can be trained and some domestic animals can give the appearance of caring for their masters. They can seem guilty if they do wrong. But we do not hold them morally to account for their actions. It would be morally senseless to try a dog for theft if it stole food from a shop even if it looked guilty afterwards.
But here is the distinction between people and animals that the vegans must claim does not exist if they are to forbid us from eating animals. The distinction is that people are moral beings and that animals are not. It is this distinction that traditionally meant that people were considered to have souls, while animals did not.
The futility of veganism is shown from the fact that animals will continue to kill each other whether we refrain from doing so or not. But these vegans care not at all that foxes kill chickens and in no way condemn the fox for doing so. But if foxes can kill chickens, why can’t people? Either animals are justified in killing each other, in which case what is preventing us from joining in, or only people must refrain from killing animals on the grounds that only people are morally capable of choosing not to do so. But our refraining from killing animals for a month shows precisely the superiority over animals, that justifies our killing them the next month. Veganuary is therefore self-indulgent and self-defeating.
If everyone in Britain gave up meat the result would not be that we saved the lives of millions of animals. Rather all of those farm animals living in Britain would instantly be slaughtered and sold to countries which continued to eat them.
We have reached a stage of decadence where the same people who are quite happy for human beings at the very beginning or the very end of their lives to be terminated, are morally outraged that we eat chickens. Something that human beings have done since human beings first began must be condemned. Soon the vegans will write about Uncle Rover’s Cabin and condemn the slaveholders who won’t free their dogs. But that will be next January.
This post was originally published by the author on her personal blog: https://www.effiedeans.com/2019/01/veganuary-is-murder.html