Cries of cruelty and injustice reverberate from the Western world each June as the Yulin dog festival transpires in China. Animal activist groups effectively draw awareness to the suffering of innocent canines, thanks to the concern of the general public, as visuals of the brutality endured circulate through countless media sources. Most individuals would recoil at the thought of eating roast golden retriever skewered on a kabob stick, but remain desensitized to the notion of consuming cow flesh squashed between two buns.
While victims and oppressors are easily identified and criticized from thousands of miles away, people experience far more difficulty critically examining their own practices and challenging the status quo at home. Cultural and societal practices are ever-evolving, so just because something is considered normal at a given point does not signify that a blind exception should be to be made to examining the ethics of a particular tradition.
People have a moral duty to challenge the unjust constructs perpetuated by society. After all, humanity must constantly evolve in order to progress. We must look beyond unconsciously adopting societal norms and instead consider our mindless consumption of animals here at home before calling for change abroad. We must be a part of the solution rather than continuing to contribute to the problem.
Two invisible forces primarily fuel the perpetuation of animal agriculture within society: speciesism and carnism. Speciesism serves as a belief system or ideology in which individuals feel they are justified in eating certain animals who are culturally considered lower in the speciesist hierarchy. Carnism, however, is a belief system which people are conditioned to eat certain animals. Carnism is considered a sub-ideology of speciesism or a “specific expression of a broader ideology.”
Speciesism devalues sentient beings upon the basis of a lack of certain characteristics which are considered favorable to humans, often ignoring an animal’s unique attributes, equally worthy of recognition in their own right. This discriminatory perception compels humans to consider the interests of certain species of animals as less important, dependent on the number of characteristics the being in question lacks in relation to humans. Such rhetoric essentially obscures the fact that all animals possess sentience — the capacity to feel and perceive emotions such as pleasure, fear and pain.
However, it is worth noting that several of the criteria employed to discriminate against animals are not exercised against human beings despite the fact that some humans lack some of these characteristics. For instance, humans lacking language comprehension or logical capabilities are deemed no less deserving of a right to life than those who possess such competency. We refrain from measuring the worth of human beings with the rationality that human beings possess consciousness and sentience. Although, such standards are rarely employed to assess the value of an animal’s life when he or she has been deemed fit for consumption.
First coined by Melanie Joy, a Harvard-educated social psychologist, carnism signifies a system of oppression “enabled by an unjust exercise of power that causes unnecessary harm to billions of individuals.” Joy also contends that carnism “runs counter to human values, such as compassion and justice.” People have consistently valued all creatures upon the basis of their utility to humans. Consequently, humans fail to contemplate the notion that an animal’s respective right to life outweighs our right to use them for our own selfish desires.
An overwhelming majority of people would not consciously support the wielding of violence against defenseless creatures. Thus, carnism requires a set of “defense mechanisms that distort our thoughts and block our natural empathy so that we act against our values without fully realizing what we are doing.” In essence, carnism desensitizes us to the deprivation of life. Such defenses hide the “contradictions between our values and behaviors, so that we unknowingly make exceptions to what we would normally consider unethical.”
Seeing as carnism is both a dominant and invisible ideology, most individuals are unaware that eating animals is truly a choice. Dominant belief systems become so widespread within society that their principles are considered “common sense” as opposed to a collection of widely held beliefs.
Joy eloquently articulates the societal implications resulting from this belief system, asserting that carnism limits the rights of both humans (the oppressors) and nonhuman animals (the victims). So long as we allow the implications of carnism to remain uncontested, we lack control over our ability to make choices in a truly candid manner.
Animals are also often depicted as materials or machines, existing for the sole purpose of driving up corporate profits. For instance, a majority of baby chicks are genetically manipulated to grow 65 times faster than their natural growth rate, resulting in conditions such as heart failure. The poultry industry slaughters 51.4 billion chickens annually, at the average age of 42 days old. Keep in mind, a chicken’s natural lifespan ranges from about 10 to 15 years.
The 200 million male chicks born to the industry each year are considered worthless to the industry due to their biological inability to lay eggs. Thus, these innocent creatures are deprived of their right to life by being savagely tossed into grinding machines or instead suffocated in plastic bags.
Even those who consistently purchase “cage free,” “free range” and “organic” chickens are contributing to a system of exploitation and violence, as all of these sentient creatures were at one point seized upside down by their legs, tossed carelessly into transport trucks and hauled to slaughter.
Countless organizations such as Animal Legal Defense Fund, the Farm Animal Rights Movement (FARM) and Compassion Over Killing (COK) advocate on behalf of the voiceless victims enslaved to the animal agriculture system, providing educational materials to the general public in the process. Individuals with even the slightest of interest in learning of the practices endured by farmed animals are encouraged to visit these sources.
Our Moral Duty
Humans are charged with changing laws which are not in alignment with morality. Currently, animals possess a legal status equivalent to that of property. We ought to abolish this status altogether, expunging the institution of animal agriculture entirely, as animals themselves possess interests unlike property.
The division between law and morality becomes increasingly questionable as partisan agendas are shown to influence policy outcomes. Social change is the catalyst to any significant legislative shift. Thus, humans must consider the societal inconsistencies held in regards to the treatment of animals.