On Being Cruel To Vegetables

It is time that someone protested against the deeply chauvinist equation of “predators” with carnivores. This is chauvinist because we ourselves know ourselves, or ought to know ourselves, as “meat”, potentially existing for the nourishment and delectation of carnivores. Because the all-important we do not wish to be their food, we define the predator animal as one who eats meat, that is, other animals. There is, of course, no other way – roadkill apart – to get meat than to take the flesh of someone who hasn’t finished using it. No compromise is possible, which is the scary thing about carnivorousness.

But the act of taking other life to nourish oneself is not limited to the carnivores. The herbivore does it too. Or do we think that grass and trees are not life, or do we imagine that the plants are quite finished using those parts of themselves that the muncher eats?

Plainly the plants are not life in the same sense as ourselves. The very word “animal” enshrines this difference, in that it means a thing that has a “soul”. Given, however, that nobody can demonstrate any actual meaning for the words “soul” or “spirit” – except perhaps, via the etymology of several languages, breathing ¬– it may be countered that this is simply prejudice and pulmonary chauvinism. We who breathe and move about feel a certain affinity for other creatures that breathe and move about, to the exclusion of those that do neither. Which is why some vegetarians eat fish, because they move about but do not breathe as we do. But wait a moment, I just used the word “creature”, which is yet another piece of animal chauvinism: since nobody uses this word to denote plants, our language commits us to the idea that God created Man, the bunny-rabbit and even the cockroach, but not the tree. Although this is not actually what Genesis says.

After the failure to replicate the Baxter experiments, nobody thinks that plants have sentience. Crudely put, no one thinks that they feel distress when pulled up or cropped, so that there can be zero moral objection to our eating them on grounds of cruelty. And yet many vegetarians do not rely on the pain argument; if the reason not to eat animals is expressed in terms of the sanctity of life as such, why do they not all extend ahimsa to the vegetable kingdom?

Well, for one thing we should all then starve to death, or at least have to subsist on windfalls. I am not proposing to become a Jain or extreme fruitarian, merely noting that this is the only wholly consistent course for someone who objects to our nature as predators. And there is in fact historical precedent for perishing of starvation rather than subsisting on other life. This is one stopping-point for the ethical revolt against nature.

Another response is to treat my initial complaint about animal chauvinism as a reductio ad absurdum, claiming that, if the renunciation of predation ultimately implodes, we should happily forget the whole thing and eat whatever – or even whomever – we want. Take your choice.

Posted on February 15, 2011 at 12:18 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink
In: AGAINST NATURE, Defying The Demiurge

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  1. Written by urban
    on June 18, 2015 at 15:09
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    Excellent point about the word “creature.” The narcissism is evident in that large class of vegetarians who eschew eating anything with a face, anything they imagine might be capable of admiring itself in a mirror. Corollary is the direct relationship between an animal’s rights and its resemblance to one’s childhood dog that was killed by a car. Never did recover from that childhood trauma. Such qualities as cuteness and fluffiness don’t translate well to much of the animal kingdom. Few argue that cockroaches have rights. As usual, even when we pretend to embrace transcendent principles, it remains all about us.

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