Tag Archives: Philosophy

Peter Singer at BU

For those of you who missed Peter Singer’s presentation. Enjoy!

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The Animal Activists’ Handbook

Click through to purchase on AmazonThe Animal Activists’ Handbook (by Matt Ball and Bruce Friedrich) holds many useful pockets of truth and pragma amidst some arguably more obvious pieces of advice. I particularly enjoyed reading it because I personally feel as if when I gain more and more earnest conviction for what I believe in, the more my passion can radiate outwards to inspire others. This delightfully quick but very powerful read strengthened my conviction for helping animals in two crucial ways – it reiterated the extent of the suffering which animals are enduring this very moment, but it focused on how this should not be as overwhelming as we initially perceive it to be, because changing hearts and minds is more doable than we might assume.

Perhaps the part of the Handbook which resonated with me the most was the statement that “our lives should be an advertisement for a purpose driven life.” I very much identify with the notion that we should live as if others would follow our example (check out the blogpost I wrote along the lines of this type of philosophy: here) and the Handbook mentions how when trying to get others to do the same with regard to animal welfare, its as basic as helping people to understand that the compassionate choices we vegans and vegetarians hold dear to us are simple extensions of the values we all already hold. It demystifies, de-radicalizes, and eliminates the foreignness associated with eradicating meat from our diet. Since a cruelty-free lifestyle does not require one to “forsake modern life or overthrow a government,” this method of helping others to see that society is designed to conceal the realities of meat, divorcing it from the actual animal, helps people to disassociate veg eating from connotations of extremism, militance, and unfeasibility.

Bruce FriedrichThere would be felony charges if what happens to farm animals happened to dogs and cats. Facts like this, compounded with the realization that the horrible videos we watch are just “discrete representations of continuous suffering” often take us down a dangerous path; I, for one, have often been too abrasive and confrontational with the people closest to me regarding vegetarianism/veganism. I can rationalize by saying my hostility was simply a means to a more ideal end, and I hold the people closest to me to higher standards (which is true and I don’t regret it), but nonetheless, the Animal Activist Handbook highlights the importance of adopting an attitude of empathy instead of succumbing to a combative mindset. This could not be more crucial in today’s society where stubbornness and enmity are all too pervasive and people revel in keeping up their defenses; kindness, understanding, and love are truly the only ways to win. The Handbook details an analysis of Malcom Gladwell’s “Tipping Point” theory, looking into people who turned mere fads into deeply permeating trends, and, not surprisingly, those who held friendly, optimistic demeanors were consistently responsible for said feat. It is easier said than done, but if your motivation is derived from your awe-inspiring potential to make this world a more loving place, it is your obligation to sublimate your anger and disgust – it is your obligation to remain truly positive and hopeful.

Gunita Singh is a junior in the College of Arts & Sciences studying political science. She can be reached via email at breakfastclubsandwich@gmail.com.

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Sikhism: A Life of Truth and Compassion

On Wednesday the 29th, the Sikh Association at BU put on an event in remembrance of the 1984 genocide against the Sikhs. It was an emotional night for me. Sikhism has played a huge role in my life – both the absence of it and the presence of it in my daily life have equally shaped me. I was particularly reflective that night because of the continued mentioning of the value of the Sikh turban throughout the event. Sikhs (mostly men, but also some women) wear turbans as a physical signature of their identity – it is a way for us not to shirk away from our duties, to be proud of who we are and to show that to the entire world. It is a way for people to recognize us, so if someone is ever in need, they can decipher a Sikh and know they will go out of their way to help.

When I was in high school, my hair was shoulder length and all the colors of the rainbow. Eventually I started growing my hair out, and now it’s back to its full length and I wear my kara – a bracelet on my dominant arm, which reminds me to act with righteousness and to do good deeds. Last night reiterated to me the value in standing for something, but not just doing so privately. I will always maintain it is better to exude with pride what it is you stand for than to keep your convictions living inward, where it cannot radiate outward and inspire others.

Arguably, my more visibly punk exterior from the past was a way of displaying my convictions, and should not be seen as being of lesser value than my current manner of presentation, but I take pride in the way I look these days because I have evolved to see how my faith has shaped my current ideologies and practices in ways I once did not realize.

Immediately following 9/11, my mother and I put pamphlets about Sikhism in our neighbors’ mailboxes, wrote articles for the local newspaper, gave public service announcements and talks at schools and on the radio, and overall worked tirelessly to prevent the hate and discrimination that was being targeted toward my community. Sikhs were being murdered – innocent family men who happened to wear a turban as an article of faith were being beaten, taunted, and even killed. I remember when I was nine and helping my mom distribute literature at the supermarket, my mother asked a woman “Do you know about the Sikhs?” The lady responded by saying, “I’m sorry, I just moved here from Pennsylvania.”

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Ignorance is a disease in which we all have our own ways to quell its spread, and there is still much to be done.

My mom’s work is still ongoing, and it’s proven necessary in light of the Oak Creek shootings in August. A large portion of my fuel to fight my fight, is drawn from the brutality I see against beautiful animals whose chances to live a fulfilling life are cut terribly short; but, the underlying motivation to be aware of the fight to begin with comes largely from my faith.

https://i2.wp.com/i50.tinypic.com/2hp639y.jpgAll Sikh temples, called gurudwaras, offer a free meal which all people of all walks of life are encouraged to enjoy. The meal, called langar (meaning “anchor,” for we all sit on the floor to eat it as equals), is always vegetarian. Two of Sikhism’s biggest truths are to share what you have with others and to live a life of truth (the third is to meditate) – and in my case, I try to share the privilege of a good quality of life to animals who are denied sunlight, safety, food, water, comfort, company of family, and the right to deliberately secure what they want as a product of their impressive volitional capacities.

I think all Sikhs should be vegetarian or vegan for a number of reasons. Sikhism’s gurus– or teachers – are the only religious leaders to fight and die for the protection of otherfaiths; Guru Tegh Bahadur, the ninth guru of the Sikhs, was martyred for Hinduism as well as Sikhism during a time when India’s Mughal rule was attempting to impose Islam on all people. Therefore, inherent in Sikhism is the necessity of dismissing the all too prevalent concept of “otherness.” During a time when women would be burned alive upon the death of their husbands, Sikhs spoke out against the disgusting notion that a woman was nothing without a man in her life, showing the revolutionary focus on 100% equality more than 500 years ago. Guru Nanak, our first guru, was born into a Hindu family but rejected the caste system practiced by the predominant religion of the time. His fundamental appreciation for the equality of all was resounding, eventually leading to the Sikh way of life. Living a life of truth, a staple of Sikhism, involves introspecting upon the role we play in society, our relationship with ourself and our world, and evaluating whether our deeds are as pure and positive as thy can be. Our relationship to animals is a paramount issue worth reflecting upon, as many neglect this aspect of our lives despite the magnitude of its consequences.

Sikhism’s progressive nature, fiercely egalitarian platform, and rejection of hierarchy – when extended to their logical conclusion – ideally would lead to the realization by self-identified Sikhs that non-human animals should not be seen by us as commodities with instrumental value, but as companions, placed here by God, to be respected for having inherent value.

By Gunita Singh

Gunita Singh is a junior in the College of Arts & Sciences studying political science. She can be reached via email at breakfastclubsandwich@gmail.com.

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An Introduction to Speciesism and Why it is Wrong

The vast majority of people within a commercial and consumer food economy don’t think about the source of their food. In industrial society, food is experienced as a product: a few flashy images, a commercial jingle, and the flavor in their mouths. In this system, we see certain kinds of nonhuman animals exclusively as food. In America we kill and eat 10 billion “food” animals a year. The majority of these animals spend their lives in massive industrial operations called factory farms, where they are raised in grisly conditions. Some are purposefully kept hungry, none are given sufficient nutrition, and all babies are separated from their mothers. Through our system of food production and consumption, we are collectively oppressing nonhuman animals. How is it that we see this happening around us and allow it to continue… yet when humans are subjected to similar conditions, we are horrified beyond measure? If we are to follow a consistent system of ethics, there would seem to be no reason to inflict vast suffering simply because those who suffer are not human. This disparity in the valuation of human and nonhuman animal life is known as speciesism. In his book Animal Liberation, Peter Singer makes a strong case against this long-standing and institutionalized oppression ofnonhuman animals by humans. His argument can be summarized as follows: Suffering is bad, and thus inflicting suffering with no outweighing benefit is immoral. Humans inflict suffering on nonhuman animals with no outweighing moral benefit in the vast majority of cases. Therefore, the human treatment of nonhuman animals in the vast majority of cases is immoral.

Some argue that because animals are raised in factory farms, they don’t know any other life and therefore don’t suffer. We know from our own experience that this is not true. Many humans have only known suffering, and we recognize and grieve their suffering. Just because someone doesn’t know anything else doesn’t make his or her experience less real. The only animal for which we have detailed knowledge of suffering–ourselves–makes it clear that suffering is not purely relative. If we look closely at the living conditions and behavior of “food” animals, a strong case can be made for their suffering. For example, hens are shoved into overcrowded cages, usually in complete darkness, with no room to stretch their wings, let alone sit comfortably. After visiting an egg farmTexas naturalist Roy Bedicheck said, “To me they seem unhappy.” One might object that calling them “unhappy” is simply a projection of human emotions. We don’t know what their experiences are like, and so we don’t actually know they are unhappy. However, we can observe their behavior and make inferences. For example, in the cramped cages, it is impossible for hens to build a nest and lay eggs in private. This creates much distress for the hen, who “tries again and again to crawl beneath her fellow-cage mates, to search there in vain for cover.” Hens’ instinct to lay eggs in privacy has been indicated by a study in which the hens worked just as hard to reach a nesting box as they did to reach food. In another study, they were released from their cages into a yard with straw, and they immediately started to build nests– “even after more than a year spent in a bare metal cage” (115). Furthermore, in their natural state, hens don’t turn to cannibalism; in the overcrowded cages, cannibalism is common. By seeing these behavioral differences, we know something is wrong. To say they are in pain is not a projection of human emotion. Rather, we’re looking at behaviors, and their behaviors are clearly suggestive of stress and pain.

In egg farms, around 6 to 7 chickens are crammed together inside a cage.

As a solution to factory farming, Singer advocates vegetarianism, or a meatless diet. At the time he wrote Animal Liberation, vegetarianism was largely unheard of. It is much more widely practiced today, even though the majority of people maintain that eating meat is natural. But how does one define natural? Trying to make sense of what is natural is almost impossible. Some say that if we’ve done something for centuries, then it’s natural. This, however, is a naturalistic fallacy, meaning that they are taking a descriptive claim about how things are and making a normative claim about how things should be. The same argument could be made for any atrocity that we practiced for centuries yet condemn today, such as slavery. Humans have owned slaves for centuries, yet at no point has this been “natural.” Even if we could prove that meat eating is natural, it does not follow that factory farms are natural. My earlier examples of the hens show just how unnatural the conditions for food animals are. They are taken out of their state in nature and shoved into a system that thwarts their natural instincts. Even if meat-eating itself is “natural,” the conditions that produce meat in a factory farm are not.

By now the majority of mainstream society is aware of the atrocities of factory farming. Yet most of us don’t do anything about it. We tend to find a way to justify it, usually with faulty logic, or we ignore it completely. Many of us continue to eat meat “without pausing for an instant to think that they are eating the dead body of a once living creature, or to ask what was done to that creature in order to enable them to buy and eat its body” (105). This is largely due to the fact that in consumer society, when something, or someone, is turned into a commodity, we become separated from its value, whether that is the labor time of the worker or the moral status of the living being. Through the system of exchange, living beings lose their moral status as they are turned into commodities whose value is based solely on the benefits we receive from them. Singer writes, “The unchallenged assumption is that humans may use animals for their own purposes” (145). This is how speciesism becomes institutionalized. We are socialized to view species as consumable, which blinds us to the possibility that they are sentient beings with their own interests. Our food system warps us into speciesists.

Some have justified the subordination of nonhuman animals by arguing that our capacity for reasoning makes us more intelligent than nonhuman animals, and thus nonhuman animals are not deserving of equal moral status. Yet the same kind of justification pops up when structural prejudices give rise to widespread oppression. White colonists believed Native Americans were less intelligent and so exploited and killed them for their land. American capitalism was built on the backs of enslaved Africans who were considered “private property” and also believed to be intellectually inferior. Women, too, have been oppressed by the belief that they are intellectually inferior to men. Today most of us agree that these prejudices are both immoral and groundless. So Singer asks us, “If possessing a higher degree of intelligence does not entitle one human to use another for his or her own ends, how can it entitle humans to exploit nonhumans for the same purposes” (6)? Some might be offended by the comparison of the suffering of animals to that of indigenous people, Blacks, and women (or any oppressed group). However, In The Dreaded Comparison, Spiegel notes that this “is offensive only to the speciesist… To deny our similarity to animals is to continue struggling to prove to our masters… that we are similar to those who have abused us, rather than to our fellow victims, those whom our masters have also victimized” (15). He is not implying that the oppressions of humans and that of nonhuman animals are identical, but rather that they share the same basic relationship– that between oppressor and oppressed. Whether it is sexism, racism, classism, transphobia, or speciesism– all forms of prejudice seem to stem from a worldview that leaves out the interests of some other beings.

In the Elements of Moral Philosophy, James Rachels asserts that the minimum conception of morality is an effort to follow reason while treating each being equally. Thus morality requires impartial consideration of each individual’s interests (6). With this view, our moral sphere must include any individual with interests. Most people, as speciesists, do not believe nonhuman animals have interests. But what does “having interests” entail? At the very least, if an individual has the capacity to suffer, then that individual has an interest in not suffering. Singer writes, “If a being suffers there can be no moral justification for refusing to take that suffering into consideration” (8). If a nonhuman animal can suffer, which we have shown that it can, then its species membership is morally irrelevant. And if we don’t want to base our discriminations on morally irrelevant categories, then we shouldn’t discriminate based on species. Therefore we need to give equal consideration to the similar interests of human and nonhuman animals. It is important to note that equal consideration does not necessarily mean equal treatment. For instance, although all humans should have the right to freedom of religion, this wouldn’t make much sense for groups of other species. However, it is imperative that we stop viewing animals as consumable commodities, and start viewing them as sentient beings with whom we share the planet, and who have their own purpose. We are collectively witnessing a massacre in our own backyards, and we have a moral obligation to put a stop to it.  

By KC Mackey

K.C. Mackey is a senior in the College of Arts & Sciences studying philosophy and religion. She can be reached via email at kcm2188@gmail.com.

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Feeding a Black Nation Presentation by Breeze Harper

Part I

When I discovered that there would be a presentation on intersectionality, I was very, very excited. As a bit of background, I am a woman of colour and a vegan. In all honesty, I have experienced that most events that are geared towards discussing veganism do not interest me, as many of them blatantly disregard the importance of intersectionality and are geared towards a mostly white, neoliberal, upper-middle class audience.

Therefore, Harper’s presentation seemed like a very promising opportunity for a fresh, new perspective on veganism that keeps in mind other equally important oppressive systems such as sexism, classism, and racism.

Harper’s presentation discussed her thesis, which was still a work in progress. I personally thought that her introduction to the presentation could have been better rehearsed, but its content was great nonetheless. Harper’s thesis critiques the work of Queen Afua, writer of the book Sacred Woman, which sees veganism as a way to decolonise one’s self and to “heal the black womb.” Queen Afua speaks of a matriarchal society in Southern Egypt, long before colonization and slavery, where women were seen as sacred, and where the most sacred bond was that of a mother and her child.

This society also had a plant-based diet. In contrast, is the European society of the same era: a violent, patriarchal society. Therefore the question is raised: Why do we look towards European, or otherwise, white, Western cultures, in order to heal the black womb? Why do we look towards the violent, patriarchal culture of the colonisers? Harper explained how during slavery, the black womb was seen as a unit of production, much like a factory that is good for nothing more than breeding slaves. The body of the black woman, therefore, is in need of healing from generations of abuse. For this reason, Queen Afua advocates a return to the vegan diet of matriarchal Southern Egypt.

That said, my main issue with Queen Afua, which was a topic touched on (but not thoroughly enough in my opinion) by Harper is how heteronormative and cis-sexist it is, as well as how it assumes that the black woman is naturally partnered with the black man and returns to the concept of a nuclear family which consists of a black woman, a black man, and their children who are seen as the future of a black nation. As Harper is queer and also in an interracial marriage, I expected her to discuss how problematic this view is, and was disappointed that it wasn’t discussed with more depth.

However, I was very happy that Harper discussed in depth the problem with veganism and classism, which also is not discussed enough by Queen Afua. Being vegan, and being able to live on a healthy vegan diet, is a privilege, as most people do not have access to things such as fresh produce, etc. I was especially happy that Harper advocated food justice movements such as the Food Empowerment Project.

Part II

Another very, very important point that I really was thankful that Harper discussed was the concept of “cruelty-free” food. Many foods and products seen as “cruelty-free” are derived at the expense of workers in less developed countries who work in slave-like conditions, and therefore to truly produce “cruelty-free” products, one must also look at the source. This is a topic that in my opinion is usually ignored by most vegan speakers, and for this reason I was very happy that she discussed it.

All in all, I really enjoyed Breeze Harper’s presentation and think that it was a very educational and eye-opening experience for all those who attended.

Breeze Harper’s recap of the trip and reading list of materials mentioned in the presentation is located here on her Sistah Vegan blog.

– Naomi Sianturi

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Animal Rights Filtered Through Sartre

Is it ethical to inflict deliberate harm on a conscious, feeling creature? Does the benefit produced play a role in justifying the pain inflicted?

The philosophy of Jean Paul Sartre makes navigating through these complex questions more lucid. Sartre’s “singular universal” principle explicates the notion that every exertion of our personal freedom has a universal dimension to it; thus, whenever faced with a choice of whether to respect the autonomy of or to inflict cruelty on a non-human animal, Sartre’s principle, I feel, urges us to consider the ramifications of exerting dominion over another living being.
The “singular universal” principle could not be more pertinent to the issue of animal cruelty. The principle prescribes that in making a choice, we affirm the “rightness” of that choice. That said, it is of utmost importance to consider the magnitude and implications of every choice we make, specifically with regard to the propagation of the dominion over other sentient creatures.

Interestingly, Sartre remarked that people unthinkingly distract themselves with habits and routines, as living consciously and deliberately is often a challenging task. What makes this way of living perhaps more difficult is the fact that as more meat is consumed, people become more distant from farming operations, so, arguably, it requires more effort to remain aware of where our meat comes from. Indeed, once in a while there is a landmark event which forces open the collective eyes of the population. Exploiting animals for entertainment is a centuries-long phenomenon, and yet the issue finally received the attention it deserved upon Michael Vick’s dogfighting charges. The Hallmark Meat Company/Westland scandal led to Proposition 2 on California’s 2008 ballot initiative (which, effective in 2015, will give factory farmed animals the right to stretch their limbs, stand up, and turn around). In light of the myriad distractions and obligations of modern society, the assignment of maintaining full awareness in all our endeavors, although seemingly infeasible, could not be more urgent. Sartre champions the notion of living life as if we are leading by example – or as if other people will be taking recommendations from us, stating, “for every man, everything happens as if all mankind had its eyes fixed on him and were guiding itself by what he does.” The tremendous nature of this responsibility necessitates that citizens take further steps to deliberate upon the ethics of their decisions with regard to animal welfare. If an individual, upon learning that the United States raises and kills ten billion animals a year in massive, industrial factory farms, continues to consume meat, I feel that he or she is neglecting their  responsibility to change the course of society for the better. If that individual continues to consume meat, he or she is affirming the rightness in allowing an animal to writhe and squeal and to experience something aversive to its nature.

Therefore, if the propagation of dominionism – the notion that things only exist for our benefit – has been seen to affect society deleteriously, our obligation is to forge personal endeavors to cease participation in such practices. The idea that animals are commodities with only extrinsic or conditional value has not only caused undue suffering to innumerable creatures, but has percolated into mankind’s abuses against nature as a whole. In according every sentient being the right not to be treated as a resource, we take part in thwarting the injurious process of self-glorification which directly leads to the exploitation of everything non-human. A practical example of implementing such ethics is as follows: an individual has a choice to purchase wheat and soy based meat facsimiles, in vitro tested cosmetics, synthetic fiber for clothing, and so on, with no sacrifice to his or her quality of life. The conscious decision to invest in such products sends a message to the involved industries, competing industries, and future prospective buyers that it is ethically offensive to exploit animals even if there exists an economic benefit to humans; it issues a declaration that it is morally reprehensible for animals with cognitive, attitudinal, sensory, and volitional capacities to be abused simply because they are seen as intellectually less endowed or less autonomous.

Many animals, like humans, feel pain, pleasure, remember the past, anticipate the future, and act intentionally to secure what they want in the present. It is our duty to treat them with respect, as, perhaps, in according dignity and reverence to creatures and landscapes which were here before mankind, respect instead of exploitation will become the norm for inter-species relationships, interpersonal relationships, and and our relationship with the environment.

Gunita Singh is a junior in the College of Arts & Sciences studying political science. She can be reached via email at breakfastclubsandwich@gmail.com.

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Ignorance, Humility, and Making the Right Decision

“I had no idea it was that terrible… I’ve got to do something.”

Prior to joining an animal rights club in high school, I had no idea how animals were treated; however, I exclaimed the above sentiment the instant I learned about the massive industrial operations that raise and kill animals in the most grisly of scenarios.

It can be difficult to admit ignorance. Ignorance is sometimes a choice, and sometimes isn’t. What I believe is worse than ignorance, though, is learning the truth and continuing to act ignorantly. When light is shed on a particular matter, is it not our obligation to let our actions resonate with our newly discovered knowledge? Should not our behaviors align as closely as possible with our understanding of the world’s truths?

“I had no idea it was as terrible as that! We’ve got to do something!”

These words were spoken by Harry Truman upon learning about the brutal murder of Isaac Woodard, an African American WWII veteran who had been killed upon returning home to the United States. Truman went on to say, “My very stomach turned over when I learned that Negro soldiers were being dumped out of army trucks in Mississippi and beaten. Whatever my inclinations as a native of Missouri might have been, as President I know this is bad.” He went on to expand the Civil Rights component of the Justice Department and pass anti-lynching legislation.

Truman did not let fears of alienating his Southern constituents override his desire to do what was right. He also admitted his previously imperfect views.

Humility, without a doubt, is one of the best attributes one can possess. Humility is an absence of the ego, it is a relinquishment of one’s pride, and in a great many cases it fosters the most beautiful endeavors for justice and the most powerful emissions of love the world has ever known. When deliberating a personal decision, I believe the right answer is always known from the onset; in other words, it is always felt, first, viscerally, before the mind has time to process or rationalize it, or in many cases, ignore it.

To grasp firmly on to that elucidation of what is right before our ego tries to distort and skew it, before our ego tries to vindicate our previous course of action which we now know to be flawed, is one of the most noble goals.

This very same train of thought applies to transcending into a vegan/vegetarian lifestyle. Many of us do not become vegans or vegetarians even though we know it is the right thing to do, for fear of being alienated by family or friends, or simply because we refuse to give up the gustatory delight that meat provides us; but, this sense of fear and weakness are products of our ego. My personal guarantee is that upon taking the leap toward a more ethical lifestyle, your satisfaction in making the world a better place (plus the health benefits you will feel) will alleviate any and all doubts you ever had.

Gunita Singh is a junior in the College of Arts & Sciences studying political science. She can be reached via email at breakfastclubsandwich@gmail.com.

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