Ethical overview

There is no fundamental difference between man and animals in their ability to feel pleasure and pain and happiness and misery. ~ Charles Darwin – English naturalist and geologist, biggest contributor to the evolutionary theory

Photo courtesy Animals Australia
Photo courtesy Animals Australia

Ethics is a challenging, far reaching subject but most will agree on some key universal truths.  For example we agree it is wrong to harm someone else for no reason or even if it is for some personal gain.  Saying that, many large corporations which now dominate our society operate contrary to this.  For example harm to people, animals and the environment is very often justified in pursuit of shareholder wealth.  In relation to this issue, on a personal level we each have to decide whether we “go with the flow” or take a stand.

So we ask ourselves is it OK to cause harm if the goal is to achieve personal gain, or even just personal pleasure?  Most of us will answer that while not black and white, it is generally not a position we could justify or feel happy adopting.  So we start a journey to and start trying to find out facts about the harm and relative harm of  the various choices we make.

Two historical examples that show what can happen to us when human society makes bad choices are as follows:

  • For centuries, up until relatively recently, slavery was generally accepted and defended by mainstream society.  Economics was the driver of this and slaves were portrayed as inferior beings to help with the justification.
  • Public torture and killing of criminals was once widely practiced and even considered a public spectacle.

Thankfully these practices are no longer formerly adopted and are widely seen as just shameful parts of human history.

In this section we present the key facts about the varios forms of animal exploitation. The hope is this will help with informed ethical decisions.

Eating Animals

Over thousands of years our survival as a species depended on our ability to adapt and eat food that was available.  There is little doubt that eating meat would have been part of this, particularly in times of plant food shortage such as drought.  For most of history ethics did not exist since our primary motivation was survival.   Most of us thankfully now find ourselves in a completely different world, where our basic needs are met and institutionalised violence has is widely rejected.  With better access to facts we now have the opportunity to ensure we personally and as a society evolve towards a more ethical way of life.

Some of the key facts to inform our food choices, which are elaborated and fully referenced in other sections are:

  • Eating animal products is for all intents and purposes unnecessary, and in fact may be the cause of many common diseases 1.2. This is fully supported by scientific research, and accordingly adopted by leading dietary associations. Read the position of the American Dietetic association here.
  • The most highly respected scientific research bodies have found that growing animals for meat and other products is inherently wasteful and disproportionately harmful to the environment. Refer to EVER’s “Earth” Sections for details and references.
  • Around a billion people live without enough food while much of the worlds arable land is used to grow crops  which are inefficiently fed to animals raised for meat (many of these crops are directly edible for humans).
  • Animals experience pain and a range of emotions including joy fear and grief4.
  • Even fish have been shown they are  sentient and feel pain like we do3.
  • The vast majority of farmed animals are now raised in factory farms where they live in crowded,  unnatural conditions.
  •  With the help of hidden cameras there is a lot of evidence that suggests that animals in modern farms and slaughterhouses are being routinely subjected to cruel mistreatment and hardship. View footage from Australian Pig farms here.
  • All farmed animals, even the small minority not raised in these factories are killed in slaughterhouses at a fraction of their natural lifespan.

The Trolley Problem- with a twist

As a final introduction, the following is an interesting short 2 minute exercise on the ethical dilemmas we now face with our food choices.  It is based on the Trolley Problem which is a famous thought provoking experiment. However, in this case, there is a twist. The question is will you pull the lever?



Feeling compassion and kindness is in our nature.  It has been essential for our evolution.  However, our society encourages competitiveness and selfishness which in turn makes us less compassionate and more distrustful of others.  This makes us discontented and so we seek medication in various forms such as personal wealth, possessions, drugs and alcohol. Many feel some compassion but limit this to direct family, or a select group of friends. True contentment will come when we discover our natural state which is compassion for all humans, animals and the earth we live in together. The science behind this covered in the book Altruism by Mathieu Ricard.

There is no doubt that this loss of compassion and more self centred approach is a huge contributor to all the major issues, including them mother of them all, the death of the oceans, and ultimately making the earth uninhabitable for humans and the majority of existing animal species.

This sections addresses ethics of animal exploitation and shows how this knowledge along with appropriate natural choices, will be a stepping stone to happiness and a revolution that would well save us all.

 

 

Our future selves will consider meat eating barbaric.  ~ Peter Singer – Australian moral philosopher and Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University


Additional Links & Resources

vegan resources

Meet your meat

Beyond Carnism

A well fed world

Cowspiracy facts page

Bioscience – Evidence of Animal emotions


References

[1] Craig WJ, Position of the American Dietetic Association: vegetarian diets. Journal of the American Dietetic Association 2009; 109(7):1266-1282

[2] Dieticians Association of Australia. 2013. Vegan Diets. [ONLINE] Available at: http://daa.asn.au/for-the-public/smart-eating-for-you/nutrition-a-z/vegan-diets/.

[3] Black, H, 2009. Underwater Suffering: Do Fish Feel Pain?. Scientific American, [Online] Available at: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/underwater-suffering-do-fish-feel-pain/

[4] Berkoff, M, 2016. Animal Emotions: Exploring Passionate Natures. Oxford Journals Science & Mathematics BioScience, [Online]. 50 , 861-870. Available at: http://bioscience.oxfordjournals.org/content/50/10/861.full