By: Elijah Sweete, January 2010
In my initial interview with Marybeth Wosko, recently posted through the courtesy of Dr. Estés, I put the following to TMV’s commenters: “The usual comment section comes with both critique and support, but I ask TMV’s always thoughtful commenters to consider additional questions they would like to see addressed on this subject. “ What follows is a selected compilation of questions and comments from TMV’s commenters and Ms. Wosko’s responses.
For those who missed the initial post, Ms. Wosko, in addition to being a vegan activist, is a practicing attorney and partner in a law firm as well as a gifted athlete [half marathon runner, A/Open racquetball player, fast and slow pitch softball]. She is on the Board of Directors of the Compassionate Living Project, www.compassionatelivingproject.org , and a Trustee of the Mary T. and Frank L. Hoffman Family Foundation, www.all-creatures.org.
NATIVE AMERICAN TRADITION
ES: One commenter put this forward: “I would be curious to hear the author’s views vis-à-vis the Native American view. There was a certain consciousness and gratitude in their killing. The respect and thankfulness it takes to take another’s life so as to feed your own…”
MBW: Yes, there is certainly a significant difference in degree between Native Americans’ consideration and treatment of animals and that of American society. Native Americans were grateful towards the animals they killed for their food and clothing; and recognized a symbiotic relationship between all life. However, the difference is one of “degree” and not “kind”, because at the end of the analysis, an animal is still killed. Putting myself in the animal’s skin, I would find little solace in the fact that my killers were “grateful”. Having said that, Native Americans took only what they needed, did not kill for sport, and minimized suffering to the degree their conventions allowed.
QUESTIONS ABOUT PETA
(ES: A number of people offered comments on People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). A distillation of those comments and questions follow.)
ES: A commenter objected to PETA “building an animal rights movement on the exploitation of women….” Given PETA’s past tactics, including putting naked women in cages in public, has PETA gone too far in some of its tactics, and does it, in your opinion, exploit women?
MBW: To say PETA builds its base on the exploitation of women is incorrect. Although I cannot speak for this fine organization, it seems to me PETA’s “naked women in cages” is intended to illustrate the insanity of confining any animal, human or nonhuman, for public view and gawking. PETA, in my view, does not exploit women. To the contrary, it uses a readily understandable frame of reference that would or may appeal to and resonate with a general public that is morally and ethically stagnated in its cultural memes, or accepted, unchallenged ways of thinking.
ES: PETA’s tactics were referred to as “shock activism” similar to Green Peace. What value do you see in “shock activism”?
MBW: I see value in “shock activism” where oppressors – any oppressors, whether the oppressed are human or nonhuman – do not respond to logical discussion.
ES: From another commenter: “My question is whether PETA advances the discussion or impedes it…” and suggests that the time has come to move on to a “more rational and less stunt-based conversation of real issues.”
MBW: PETA does so much more than “outrageous tactics”. If one peruses its website, www.peta.org, one may find a wealth of facts, educational tools, and alternatives to animal exploitation. Again, rational argument is always preferable, but that assumes the public is rational and receptive to logic. The mere fact that meat and dairy are popular reflects an absence of logic because meat and dairy damages health, is environmentally unsustainable, and inflicts unimaginable cruelty.
ES: One commenter said PETA makes false representations.
MBW: I am aware of no false representations made by PETA. If the reader believes such has taken place, I would encourage him/her to contact PETA directly and address the issue.
ES: A commenter, after acknowledging a need for addressing animal industries, health concerns and environmental issues, commented “but I don’t see a higher moral purpose that would make it immoral to eat [meat]…”
MBW: I am presuming he/she would not give his/her life voluntarily, or the life of a loved one, so some family he/she never met could grill him/her up at a football tailgate party. That would never happen because it would be “immoral”. Query: why would it be immoral? Because such conduct would violate fundamental rights of an innocent third party. So often I hear people say, “you do your thing, I’ll do mine. You may choose to eat vegetables and fruit and nuts and grains, I choose to eat meat and dairy”.
MBW: That argument is basically and dangerously flawed, because the most interested person – the one being killed – is not party to the discussion! That is like me saying, “you may choose to have slaves and whip them, or kill Jews because you feel they are inferior. . . I disagree! Blacks and Jews are equal, and deserve fundamental rights, just like you or me – but that’s OK – I don’t want to step on your toes – you do your thing, I’ll do mine”.
MBW: The argument ignores the basic rights of the individual most affected. That individual – always a member of a disempowered class – women, blacks, children, Jews, gays, etc. – the list of oppressed subsets among humans alone goes on – deserves basic rights. A wise person once said, “I would defend to the death your right to believe what you believe. . . but that right stops where your fist hits another’s nose”.
ES: Following up, that commenter took issue with your use of the word sociopathic …and also suggested that humans could not empathize with animals nor assign motivation to them.
MBW: I respectfully disagree. Jeremy Bentham, the British philosopher, once wrote, “The issue is not can they think, nor can they reason, but can they suffer?”
HUMAN CONSUMPTION INCREASES THE ANIMAL POPULATION
ES: One comment pointed out that “Some animals would never have lived at all were they not bred for eating…”
MBW: The statement is literally true, but disturbing in its implications and ignores the ethical element. It is like saying, “I will breed children, so I may use their skins to make handbags”. While true that “I gave the gift of life to my children”, what kind of life is it? The ethical issues – the rights to life, liberty, and happiness – are ignored.
ES: In the context of animals bred for eating, would you agree with this from a commenter, “More is not necessarily better. I won’t say that their lives would be better or worse…but that their lives would have been their own”…?
MBW: I agree with this statement.
MURDER OR SUSTENANCE
ES: Two commenters objected to being compared to murderers based upon the consumption of meat. Your response?
MBW: The issue is not the meat-eater’s feelings – whether the feeling is one of pleasure over a juicy steak, or indignation at being compared to a murderer. The issue is the individual animal, once vibrant and hopeful, and now dead, who suffered and died so he could be on a dinner plate. It is not about the oppressor’s feelings. It is about the animal’s rights.
ES: Your assertions on sustainability were challenged by commenters, particularly suggesting that we have poisoned the earth with chemicals for feed crops to the point that they cannot be used for crops suitable for human consumption.
MBW: It appears true that we have ruined a lot of arable land through use of chemicals. Additionally, although it is difficult or impossible to prove, it seems probable that we have created many cancers through the use of herbicides, pesticides, and insecticides. I do not know the solution to this major problem, and would defer to experts – but not those same experts that got us into this problem. Johns Hopkins and Pew Charitable Trust recently did a study about factory farming and sustainability. I encourage the reader to visit it at http://www.ncifap.org/bin/e/j/PCIFAPFin.pdf.
A final comment from Elijah Sweete: First, let me thank TMV’s commenters for their insightful, and sometimes pointed remarks. Let me also offer most gracious thanks to Clarissa Pinkola Estes, PhD for posting these pieces and for her always thought provoking introductions and CODAs. Most importantly, allow me to thank Marybeth Wosko for her sincere and honest replies.
I have known Ms. Wosko for many years. While she believes me an infidel for not fully embracing veganism, her gentle guidance has caused me to give serious consideration to my personal relationship with animals. Because of her, I am conscious of, and have dramatically reduced, meat consumption. Because of her, I no longer purchase leather jackets or clothing, or purchase cars with leather seats or trim. Because of her, I will never again purchase an animal from a pet store or a breeder. Because of her, I no longer go fishing and find the practice of catch and release particularly abhorrent. Because of her, I am a more conscious and, I hope, more conscientious citizen of our planet. It is my sincere hope that these two interviews will provide a spark for others to think and reconsider their relationships with the broader world.