George Bernard Shaw once wrote that “Custom will reconcile people to any atrocity.” It’s one of the scariest truths I have ever come to know.
Consider, for example, the horrible atrocities that took place against African Americans who were used as slaves, or the treatment of women before equal rights. For hundreds of years, ordinary people accepted, participated in, and perpetuated oppression, it would seem without question.
If you were to ask them at the time why it was ok to treat people this way, they might try to justify it by saying that they look different, or they are somehow inferior. In reality, however, there was no morally justifiable reason for this oppression. It was just how it was. It had become accepted because it was “custom,” and they had reconciled themselves to those atrocities.
Our Customary Treatment of Animals
Now let me ask you a similar question about our treatment of animals today.
Today, we imprison, abuse, and slaughter 70 billion animals every year. We enslave them and use them for entertainment, we use their fur and skin for our clothing, and we steal and slaughter their babies so we can drink their milk.
All of this is customary, and is accepted by the vast majority of the population.
But, if I were to ask you why it is okay to treat them this way, what would you say? Would you have a good reason? What would it be?
Whatever your rationalization, I guarantee you will think is just as indefensible as those who tried to justify slavery or the holocaust by the end of reading this blog post and watching this film.
In Speciesism: The Movie, director Mark Devries makes the indisputable case that there is no morally justifiable reason for excluding animals from our realm of moral consideration, and therefore, for our treatment of them. He takes all of our arguments, and through a process of talking to experts, scientists, philosophers, and ordinary people on the street, debunks them one by one.
So what’s your rationalization?
- That they aren’t as smart – Well, should we kill babies and people with mental disabilities then?
- That they don’t suffer or feel pain – They absolutely do. They feel pleasure, pain, fear, happiness, and suffering just like you and me. In fact, as Marc Bekoff argues in the film, they may experience suffering more than humans.
- That we can – That just makes us bullies. This idea that I can do this to you, so I am going to do this to you just doesn’t fly as moral justification.
- Because they look different – Really? Being covered in hair and having four legs gives us as much a right to kill as having a big nose, or different colour eyes.
I’ve pre-paid for the first 50 view of this film. Please, please go and watch it! I guarantee it will make you think, challenge your beliefs, and make you laugh out loud at the same time. To watch for free, click here, select “Rent now,” sign up for a free Vimeo account, and Enter Discount Code: “The Animals.”
A Paralyzing Conclusion
When you go through this process, what you quickly realize is that there is, in fact, no justification for excluding animals from our realm of moral consideration.
It’s scary when you finally see it, because what you must face next is the paralyzing conclusion that what we are doing to animals is not food production, it’s not science, it’s not fashion – It’s mass murder; an atrocity on a scale so large it surpasses any atrocity in the history of mankind.
We are talking about 70 BILLION animals slaughtered every single year. On any given day when you wake up and have your coffee in the comfort of your home, there are hundreds of millions of animals living in absolute heart-wrenching misery.
When you finally see it, it’s absolutely crippling. It is mass murder and it’s happening right now, all around you. Everyone you know is participating in it – your family, friends, co-workers, public figures. Our entire world is built on it. It’s our food, our clothing, our entertainment. It’s everywhere you look: that ice cream, that sandwich, those shoes, that circus. Every single part of society is soaked in this horrific truth; this abominable stain on humanity. We are drowning in it.
Oppression always takes the same form, explains Peter Singer in the film: “In all these cases you have a dominant group that holds power, and that defines itself as superior and develops an ideology to justify it, and to exclude the others.”
Even when you see it though; even when you recognize that this is precisely what we are doing to animals, and that there is absolutely no moral grounds for this exclusion, our instinct is to go into denial.
It’s a natural reaction, explains Singer. Think about the way slave owners would have reacted when someone brought to them an argument against slavery. People don’t want to hear the truth because they don’t want their illusions destroyed, and they don’t want to have to face the implications of what they are doing.
In the case of animals, if we accept this truth, it means that what we are doing is so wrong, and so relentlessly evil, that it far surpasses any past atrocity. That is a difficult thing to come to terms with.
The pain generated by this kind of cognitive dissonance makes it hard for us to believe that it could be happening at all, let alone, that we ourselves could be a part of it.
How Did We Get Here?
We are slaughtering 70 BILLION animals every year for food alone; animals who feel, are aware, and suffer just like you and me. How did we allow ourselves to believe that this was okay?
Yes, there was a time when we needed to kill in order to survive, but those days are long gone. And even then, we would expect that the animals were shown mercy, and that measures were taken to minimize suffering. Today, we have gone from killing for necessity to killing for pleasure; for our palate preferences, and the way we do it is damnable.
Stop and think about what must happen behind the scenes in order to “process” over 100 MILLION animals every day. They are treated like things. We keep them in cages so small they can’t even turn around, deny them sunlight, and force them to undergo painful procedures with no anesthetic. Then we ship them off to be slaughtered.
This one is just a baby… just over a year old. I ran to catch up to the truck before it backed into the slaughterhouse. He was covered in feces and he looked so scared. I reached my hand in to pet his nose, but he backed away. I don’t think he’s ever felt a gentle hand in his whole life. I’m told that he will have his throat slit open and his skin ripped from his body. Sometimes they remain conscious for the whole thing.
How did we allow ourselves to believe this was okay? They are babies! Yes, they are covered in fur and they look different than us, but they are babies, and we are slaughtering them like something out of a horror movie!
The truth is that most of us aren’t aware of the horrific details; the industry hides them from us, or we have closed our eyes to them, and what we do know, we have simply accepted because it is custom.
Think about it. We are up in arms when we see a dog left in a hot car, but we do nothing for the hundreds of thousands of cows crammed into trucks every single day in heat waves with no food and water, and we are fully aware of the terrible fate that awaits them.
Ask your children if they think it’s okay. Instinctively they know it’s wrong, and deep down, you know it is too. But custom has taught us to look the other way, so we have shut off our brains; we have reconciled ourselves to these atrocities.
“Never forget that everything Hitler did in Germany was legal.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
We have a moral obligation, regardless of custom, regardless of law, to reject oppression, and to rise up against it! Remember that everything Hitler did in Germany was legal, so was slavery, and so was rape at one time. The legality of those atrocities did not excuse those involved then, and it does not excuse us today.
Just as we needed abolitionists to stand up against slavery and the holocaust, we need people to stand up against the horrific atrocities that billions of animals endure everyday; people who will say:
“I don’t care that our laws defend it, that our government funds it, that our entire culture is built around it, and that every single person around me has accepted it, IT IS WRONG, and it needs to end TODAY!”
One day we will look back and think to ourselves: How could we have treated animals this way; how we could have imprisoned, abused and killed billions of innocent, helpless beings every year?
One day our grandchildren will ask us where we were when these atrocities were taking place, and what we did to stop this. What will your answer be?
Please don’t look the other way, please don’t pretend this doesn’t exist, and please don’t be silent!
Animals have no voice; they have no means to stand up for themselves. We are the only hope they have.
To watch Speciesism: The Movie, click here, select “Rent now,” sign up for a free Vimeo account, and Enter Discount Code: “The Animals.”