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 Veganism as a Minimum Standard of Decency

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Posts : 190
Join date : 2009-05-07
Age : 36
Location : Scotland

PostSubject: Veganism as a Minimum Standard of Decency   Tue 23 Jun 2009, 12:37 pm

Veganism as a Minimum Standard of Decency
By Dan Cudahy

In discussions with non-vegans – particularly non-vegans on the Internet who are familiar with the assertions of both the vegan animal rights movement and the assertions of the countermovement – the issue of “drawing the line” is often raised as a sort of objection to veganism. While it’s true that vegans avoid a lot of harm, so the argument goes, vegans also indirectly cause a lot of harm: animals are killed by crop harvesters and motor vehicles; natural and artificial pesticides are used in crop production; and often one cannot tell exactly what harm might have been done either to animals directly or to the environment in any given purchase, even at the local natural foods store or farmers’ market. Since vegans haven’t achieved perfection of purity in the art of non-harming and non-violence, it is really only a matter of line-drawing, and until one achieves the perfection of purity that not even a Jainist can claim, one has no business criticizing any other lines that might be drawn. To criticize other lines is to fail to recognize one’s own shortcomings from Platonic perfection, and therefore to fall into – dare we say it – ‘hypocrisy’.

Drawing lines can be difficult in any area of morality, and the more precise the line drawn, often the more difficulties that arise. However, the difficulty of drawing precise lines should not deter us from exploring less precise lines of minimum standards or moral baselines that are (or should be) reasonable for the vast majority of people in society, even if it would require a complete abolition of animal agriculture.

We establish and philosophically defend moral baselines regularly in society in the form of laws regarding such issues as murder, involuntary manslaughter, assault, declarations of war, and speed limits, even though these issues can be just as difficult to draw lines in as animal issues. None of us are “pure” when it comes to protecting humans from cruelty and death either; yet we do draw lines: we aren’t cannibals; and most of us don’t knowingly or happily support human enslavement and slaughter. [1]

We ought also to establish and philosophically defend such baselines regarding animals. Instead, we have a morally relative (and wrong) laissez-faire policy of refusing to even discuss line-drawing regarding animals, despite their overwhelming similarities to us in terms of the morally relevant characteristics: sentience and perceptual intelligence and awareness.

Given the morally relevant similarities and irrelevant differences between humans and other animals, and given that we are likely to find a moral practice similar to Jainism far too ascetic or practically impossible in our modern society, veganism is the baseline we ought to promote and live by. Veganism is not the end point or the most we can do; rather, it is the least we can do.

Veganism is essentially refraining from contributing to the exploitation and intentional killing or slaughter of nonhuman beings. Preventing accidental and incidental human fatalities in traffic accidents and police action – even foreseen human deaths – is not required by laws prohibiting slavery and murder. In the same way, preventing accidental and incidental deaths in traffic accidents or harvesting crops – even foreseen deaths – is not required by veganism. In other words, abolitionist animal rights, as currently conceived, and the corresponding moral baseline of veganism are precisely the same in “line-drawing” as laws prohibiting chattel slavery and murder. Laws prohibiting slavery and murder say nothing about preventing motor vehicle injuries and fatalities, or how much cost we should incur in saving an injured child’s life, or “friendly fire” (unintended killing) in a justified war of self-defense. We should certainly take appropriate measures to reduce such deaths as much as possible, but again, veganism is merely a first and minimum standard, not the final or the best standard.

Choosing to consume animal products is a choice to partake in the exploitation and intentional slaughter of sentient beings. Given our wide variety of food choices today, we can easily refuse to partake in such exploitation and slaughter. In many cases, such as this one, drawing lines can be very appropriate and strongly defended, especially when one acknowledges that the line drawn is only a minimum standard of decency, not a maximum standard of purity.

Notes :
[1] If you live and pay taxes in an industrialized nation with a strong military, such as the United States, you inadvertently and indirectly, and hopefully unwillingly and regrettably, support the slaughter of innocent humans in the form of warfare in other countries (waged primarily for economic reasons; the economic reasons controversially thought to be also ‘national security’ reasons) and arms supply to violent militias, just like vegans inadvertently, unwillingly, and regrettably support the slaughter of innocent nonhumans by living and paying taxes in our animal-exploiting society.

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PostSubject: Re: Veganism as a Minimum Standard of Decency   Sun 28 Jun 2009, 6:14 pm

I think of it as morality is never a black and white issue. It's always a question of degree. It's always about how much are you willing to sacrifice yourself for the greater good? No one expects anyone to sacrifice their lives.

I suppose anyone attempting to be a 'perfectly moral' person in this world would just quickly end up dead or in jail... maybe homeless. Such a person would protest and speak out constantly the endless actions which are causing harm in this society and would quickly make very dangerous enemies.

It saddens me how little mankind has any coherent understanding of morality; that when the question of veganism comes up they immediately just say the stupidest things. This indicates that they're "morality" in general is just copying what they see the majority doing with no coherent understanding of why they're doing what they're doing (other than making sure the majority doesn't end up disliking them too much.)

To me morality is a question of altruism. How altruistic should we be? To what extent exactly should we place the welfare of others above our own? It is such a fundamental question and how we answer it determines how we live our lives.

Yet in answering it, almost everyone is essentially clueless.

I think the primary determinate in how 'selfish/altruistic' people are, is whether they're trying to find ways to be happy in the short term or the long term. As they care more about the long term, the moral laws they construct result in actions that are seemingly more altruistic.

People interested in having fun Right Now, are the least moral people.

A big problem with this basis for morality is that so many people who call themselves atheists seem to be as altruistic or more altruistic than people who claim they're going to exist in some form forever. The religionists would seem to have far more reason to be thinking about the long term. But in reality this doesn't seem to be the case at all.

I think it's because atheists aren't being consistent. Highly altruistic atheists are actually living as if the long term they are looking at goes way beyond death. But they're not open to hearing this. And thus this construction of morality (only partially, quickly explained here) is dismissed and we're right back to having no clue why we are altruistic, why some are more altruistic.

...I suppose I think I've actually solved it. And I'm unaware of anyone else who has. Which isn't to say I can still do more than assert that people should be more altruistic. To do more than assert I have to have some special information about exactly how far into the future people should be thinking.

I'd have to assert they should be thinking way beyond their physical death. Which just brings up an impossible mountain to overcome. I've never had any success in explaining to any atheist (except myself) why they already are living as if they have faith they'll continue to exist forever and thus might as well recognize this fact and be more consistent about it.

Beyond such as that, caring about animals can be dismissed as a mistake: a bit of empathizing with suffering gone wrong and/or a badly constructed moral system (mistakenly being "altruistic" when there's clearly no long term self interest which will ever be served).
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