Hi everyone, was looking through some pieces from last year and I thought I’d share an essay I was fortunate enough to win the MHS Rai Gaita Philosophy Prize with- it’s on the topic of animal liberation. Feel free to leave feedback and/or rebuttals!
Essay on Animal Liberation
inspired by the work of Peter Singer
The principle of animal liberation is defined as the freeing of animals from the exploitation of humans and seeks to address the perceived value of animals in relation to that of humans. Since the first humans in history, which dates to two hundred thousand years ago, animals have remained the most primary source of food for humankind. This fact remains true to date, and it is time that the moral degradation that exists between humans and animals is recognized and acted upon, and by instigating change on an individual level, the global community has much to benefit from. Animals are, of course, biologically incapable of speaking up for themselves, and humankind’s consumption of them is an unpunishable exploitation of their moral worth, which is not any lesser than that of humans’. Further, the environment on which humans reside is at risk of destruction as a result of our consumption of meat, and by not doing so, not only do we make the correct decision on an ethical level, but we also increase the sustainability of our planet, which we consciously destroy when engaging in the consumption of animal products. Ultimately, it is humankind’s greed and desire for short-term gratification and universal dismissal of the value of animals that prevents us from liberating them; nevertheless, we have a moral obligation to aspire to affect impactful change and therefore liberate animals of their gross mistreatment.
In the last two hundred thousand years of human existence, societies have been built, people have learnt how to meaningfully communicate with each other, their purpose has extended from simply needing to meet their biological needs and technology has improved their lifespan. Yet, despite this progression which separates humans from any other species, one fact remains consistent over these millennia; that humans have relied on animals as a source of food. At first, this was reasonable- this was the sole source of nutrition and we learnt to become hunter-gatherers. However, we have now reached a point in time where meat is not an essential part of one’s diet, and we succumb to the temptation of prioritizing the few seconds of bliss that consuming these products provides to our taste buds over the sanctity of non-human life simply because it is more convenient to do so. It is inherently wrong to consume animal products because although they are biologically incapable of expressing it, animals are not morally worth any less than humans, and hence, to engage in their consumption is to support a form of murder. Peter Singer, author of Animal Liberation, describes this as our obligation to ‘speak up for those who cannot speak up for themselves’. However, as humans, we would rather choose to believe that animal life is not meaningful because it satisfies us materially and there is no consequence to doing so. Further, it has become tradition between generations to not question the immorality of consuming animals as we would rather choose to ignore the problem rather than respond to it. We possess a moral imperative as well as a pragmatic means of not consuming meat and yet meeting our own biological needs. It is irrelevant whether an animal is brought up as being fed healthily, having the ability to roam around or living to the extent of its lifespan compared to if it doesn’t have any room to sleep and is crowded with thousands of its kind- ultimately, the result is the same; these animals die at our hands and we choose to ignorantly believe that if their lifestyle was healthy, we have no reason to feel guilty. In fact, convincing ourselves of this is a coping mechanism for the guilt we may feel. However, despite the various differences between humans and non-humans, regardless of the condition they are brought up in, when in suffering, animals show the same emotional stress as humans. Hence, to kill and consume them from a moral perspective is in no way justifiable. Humankind has achieved much since the beginning of its existence, and in the words of Singer, ‘the notion that human life is sacred just because it is human life is medieval’, and therefore, as time moves forward, so must we.
In the case where the above argument is invalid, it can be said that it is still in humankind’s best interests to undergo animal liberation because the lifespan of the planet that both humans and non-humans live on is dangerously reduced every time we consume a meat product. The average Briton consumes approximately eleven thousand animals in their lifetime, and each time they do so, they threaten our capacity to survive and thrive on Earth. For example, a 2015 report showed that 18% of the world’s carbon emissions came from the rearing and preparation of the consumption of animals, and this amount was more than the carbon emissions from every form of transport put together. This dilemma represents a contradiction in humankind’s interests- is it better to preserve the sustainability of the planet or continue to consume animal products at its expense? It is unfortunate that the term ‘better’ in this context generally does not refer to which option is more ethical, but rather, which is more pragmatic and convenient. As can be imagined, it is easier for humans to dismiss the future of a planet they won’t be living on in eighty years than to act on the belief that it is imperative to secure a safe environment for future generations. Singer puts this decision as humankind’s ‘gambling with the future of our planet- for the sake of hamburgers’. It is imperative that we not only realize that the future of the planet is at stake as a result of our consumption of meat, but that we act upon it by pursuing animal liberation. Of course, this is not to say that there won’t be any threat to Earth if we all stopped eating meat, but we must strive to attain the attainable, and this can only be achieved in small steps, starting on an individual level.
Many consumers of animal products agree with the above points and are able to realize that our consumption of meat is inherently wrong from a moral perspective, and yet despite their own admission, continue to eat meat. This poses the practical problem of actually converting to a diet without animal products; on the one hand, there are animal-consumers who choose to reject these moral arguments for the sake of their own material satisfaction, and on the other, there are animal-consumers who agree with these points yet continue to eat meat. In this case, practical action through the spreading of awareness is vital if the pursuit of animal liberation is to be successful. We must learn to educate theoretically, but also practically, by practicing what we preach. The time is long overdue for us to, as a species, uphold the same value to the right to life for human as for animals- and most importantly, we must learn that we cannot always pursue our own interests simply because they benefit us; rather, we must act in pursuit of the best outcome for the most amount of people, and the pursuit of animal liberation is one element of this broader concept. Finally, in the words of Singer, “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 non-humans?”