Animals In Print
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20 November 2010 Issue

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On Nonhuman Slavery
by Therese Kritzinger

"We can see quite plainly that our present civilization is built on the exploitation of animals, just as past civilisations were built on the exploitation of slaves." - Donald Watson

Cruelty of Factory Farming

Cruelty of Factory Farming

Animal Slavery

Many people think that moral choices are always obvious, but it only takes a brief glimpse into history to see that they definitely are not. Slave owners were just normal human beings. We balk at the thought, because we do not want to believe that we are capable of such immorality. We would much rather believe that slave owners were heartless, immoral monsters.

We have been programmed since birth to hold certain views. These views include ethical stances which we believe by default to be correct, regardless of whether they are truly moral. Believing that animals are made for us to use is one such a view. Many people try reasoning about vegetarianism from the a priori assumption that it is just the natural order of the animal kingdom for humans to make use of the other animals as they please. They end up doing philosophical gymnastics in an attempt to bend reason to fit their ingrained belief.

No animal is made for anything other than [his or her] own survival. Humans are horribly efficient at enslaving other humans and other species. We can enslave other humans, so what makes it immoral?

The dismissal of the interests of others makes slavery immoral. Even if you deny it, most of us hold the basic belief that we must not hurt others if we would grant ourselves freedom from being hurt. Robbing a human of his or her freedom as an individual is a grave injustice, along with all the injustices that accompanies the underlying one.

The reasons for caring about the suffering of a chicken is the same as the reason for caring about the suffering of a dog, a toddler, people of a different race from yourself, and any individual other than yourself. You know what it feels like to suffer or to feel pain (or you can imagine it), and by universalizing your own interest in not suffering, you can pre-empt that others do not want to suffer. We extend respect for the needs and wants of others because we have interests.

You may call a chicken your slave and the chicken will not know the difference as a human would. But when a hen has rubbed her breast raw and featherless on her cage due to an instinct to dust-bathe, when the flesh of her feet grow around the wires, when she loses all will to fight for some personal space and allows her cell-mates to trample her, when she struggles to crawl underneath other chickens in an attempt to lay her egg in some privacy, and when she barely eats despite her hunger because her beak is throbbing with pain from being part-amputated, you can be sure that such a chicken is suffering intensely, even if she has never known any other surroundings.

Chickens did not end up in these conditions because humans are inherently cruel. Hens lay eggs in cruel confinement because humans invented egg factories before they had spent much time considering whether chickens are individuals with private lives, or how badly their welfare could be affected when kept in such intensive confinement. Agribusiness has grown by leaps and bounds, and where more intensification led to a higher mortality rate along with higher profit, profit was the main concern and not mortality.

It all starts with the principle that chickens, pigs and cows are our slaves. It was never necessary to call them slaves, we just called them beasts. Once we believe an animal to be our property to do with as we wish, once an animal is food or a device for producing food, once an animal is a unit of production, once [he or she is] commercial fodder, [s/he] stops being an individual to us.

Therefore, it is necessary to end our exploitation of non-human animals in order to grant them the same right not to suffer or to be killed that we grant ourselves. Billions of animals will not be safe from abuse by us until we grant them the respect that they deserve as autonomous individuals with an inner life of their own. by Therese Krintzinger

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Please send comments and submittals to the Editor: Linda Beane [email protected]

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