Peace Starts… in the Kitchen

Posted on June 17, 2008

I’m looking over at the BBC blog for their program Newsnight. One comment, nestled among many, has revealed to me the ultimate problem with our civilization. The blog’s topic and first paragraph was:

“The best solution would be for us all to become vegetarians”.

So suggested the head of the UN climate agency, Yvo de Boer, who is attending UN-led climate talks in Germany this week. He was responding to criticism that measures to tackle climate change are partly to blame for the rise in food and energy costs. Carbon-cutting biofuels, for example, use food crops to make alternatives to gasoline.

The comments in general are representative of the emotions people feel when their ‘way of life’ is challenged. But one particularly summed up a deep contradiction in the way we think about life.

“Why do so many people say meat eating is wrong, barabaric? Are cats barbaric? It is completely natural. It is only when thay [sic] attribute some silly supernatural spirituality to animals that they think meat eating is morally wrong. Animals do not have spirits (any more than we do). One of the really perverse things about human intelligence is it allows us to have silly thoughts . Other animals do not have them, they just get on with it.” (Rob Slack)

The easiest way to continue treating animals like we do is to continue believing that animals have no soul or spirit. If animals have no souls is it logical to say humans do? Rob apparently doesn’t think so – and his words struck me as having deep implications for life on Earth. This line of thought leads away from peace at breakneck speeds.

We can observe that animals are animate beings just like humans. The only difference is a matter of degree – humans are far more complex creatures.

If we want to say that animals are soulless and thus there are no spiritual consequences for mistreating them (ie: if they are exempt from the compassion urged in all religions and faiths), then the same follows for people. Complex as we are, if animals have no soul then it is deeply illogical to say that humans are different. And deep down we know this is illogical, except that we are so protected from the reality of how our food is produced, that the contradiction doesn’t often come to the fore.

If we see inside slaughterhouses out empathy rises. “Hey- what are you doing? That animal is still alive!” … or “isn’t there a faster way to do that?”, we might say, if we feel like opening our mouths at all. Except for those already desensitised to the environment, only the most mentally hardened, convinced and unfeeling people could remain unmoved. These are an extreme minority who may be ideologically and emotionally addached to the idea of consuming .

(We often claim isolated verses in various scriptures to ‘back us up’, but if taken as whole we would seriously need to reconsider the meaning of our religious literature).

Rob sums it up. According to this logic (which is spot on if considered within the materialist paradigm) there is nothing wrong with stringing someone up by one leg and flaying him/her alive just as we do to billions of cows each year. The only difference between harm to humans and animals is subjective: we tend to have more empathy for whoever reminds us more of ourselves or our near and dear ones.

In the absence of some metaphysical uniting principle, logic and reason cannot prevent global disaster and war. In telling ourselves that animals have no souls we reject the idea of any spirituality at all, because we know it is illogical that people have it but animals don’t. There are even gray areas between the person-hood of humans and animals which Steven Wise explores in his book Rattling the Cage.

We need to respect animals and we need to recognise that they are imbued with the same force of life that humans are. Whatever that force is, it is obviously no less special in animals. We need to extend our empathy to all beings of consciousness. Otherwise will will continue turning a blind eye to human suffering as well.

I believe we can and will create a better world here on Earth.