A lot of Comparisons.

The Dreaded Comparison. I find it interesting how we often dread truth. Perhaps ignorance truly is bliss. Regardless, I find the comparisons between animal cruelty and slavery worth acknowledgement, but I try to keep in mind some significant differences that if forgotten, could lead us down a slippery slope of moral injustice. Is that not what we try to do as we analyze these blogs? It is our job as students, intellects, and people to seek truth with a critical, yet reasonable eye. It is a tough task, but I work to learn under this responsibility. If  I can paradoxically bridge the gap between racism and speciesism while distinguishing the two injustices, I can understand the means by which they can both be avoided.

Similarities and Differences

Here are some inevitable truths that we cannot deny. In both slavery and animal manufacturing, we manipulate life to bring about some commercial benefit. The value of life is degraded by taking away autonomy. One group asserts power, and hence control, over another. “Both humans and animals share the ability to suffer from restricted freedom.” (Dreaded Comparison 31) The degree of moral injustice between the two is much more complex. The difference lies in two aspects. One, putting a value on the life of one being

A hierarchy is necessary.

over another. Two, determining what capabilities ensure a living creature’s right to inalienable rights. In regards to the first, ideally every life entity would be equal and everything would be fine and dandy. However, we live in a world where choices must be made and a hierarchy must be established. When the death of a bird can save the life of a woman, when the death of a spider can save the life of a child, a value of on life must be assigned, at least comparative value. Second, is existing enough to earn rights? Perhaps, abstaining from wrong doing, or Locke’s social contract is what guarantees rights. According to the characters in,  “Am I Blue?” we have “forgotten that human animals and nonhuman animals can communicate quite well.” (Anthology 316). Maybe, this communication ensures rights. Regardless, we have determine what gives us the right to control another being, or rather, if we are justified in controlling any life at all.

 

Different Degrees of Slavery

I own a dog. Am I a “slave owner”? Well, I know that if I exploit children or ethnic people for free labor I am a “slave owner.” What about if I own a slaughterhouse? These questions are all viable in regards to slavery. In all cases I do have control of another being’s freedom. Are they all to some extent wrong? If I own a black slave, even if I treat them well, I am still performing an injustice. By these standards, am I not performing an injustice when assert control over my dachshund’s autonomy?

 

My pet to some degree obeys my orders, but I don't consider him a slave

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Speaking up for Justice

IF one believes that both speciesism and racism are definite injustices that should eliminated, then one has a responsibility to fight against such ideologies. This brings about an interesting point. Does this mean that one who embraces vegetarianism, animal rights, and species equality should show disdain towards those who promote species inequality? Is it the job of an anti-speciesist to fight against the butcher, the meat-eater, and the hunter? It might seem ridiculous to demand such proactivity from an anti-speciesist, but would you not ask the same for an advocate of racial equality? If we are to compare the two injustices as equal-or if one finds speciesism worse than racism-than the drive for reform ought to be just as strong.

 

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Published in: on November 24, 2009 at 2:54 am  Leave a Comment  

Sadism, Sexism, Altriusm, and Justice

What different words: sadism, sexism, altruism, and justice. The only thing I feel these words have in common is mankind’s ability to embrace them. While a lot of the readings in the anthology offer polarized views of human tendency towards good, or evil traits, I feel that our consciences are more complex. In this DB I hope to offer my views on our capabilities to experience a wide variety of tendencies, both good and bad.

Sadism

Does man have a tendency towards inflicting pain? I like to think not, but the despicable actions of several people make the topic questionable. We can look at the actions of man throughout history to see such injustice. The slaughtering of American bison, the tortures of Vlad the Impaler, the Stanford prisoner studies …I could make an endless list of historical situations in which peer pressure brings out “the worse in people.” In the case of the Stanford experiment, “One third of guards exhibited sadistic behavior” (Sadism Website). Peer pressure…I like to think this is the reason people can diverge from their naturally good-hearted tendencies.  In the case of animals, when one ignores “in a number of animals we observe gentleness and fierceness, mildness or cross-temper, courage or timidity, fear or confidece, high spirits or low cunning, and, with regard to intelligence, something akin to sagacity,” (Anthology 412) the rest follow. By blotting out the human like qualities in animals, we silence our conscience and allow ourselves to inflict pain.

Whether our own species or another, some seem to enjoy inflicting pain.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sexism and Speceism

I hadn’t really thought of this comparison until I read the Joan Dunayer’s piece, “Sexist Words, Speciesist Roots.” Because “man divides all beings into two contrasting categories” (Anthology 393), there is always room for man to put himself above others. In this sense I mean “man” as “male,” not mankind. There is no doubt that man has historically asserted himself superior over woman and animal alike. I specifically agree with the idea that, “speceism is even more deeply entrenched within us than sexism…” (Anthology 378). Animal cruelty is well hidden, and animals do not have the ability to communicate their pains as well as woman can. When it comes to speceism ,”in organized disavowal of this torture, voices are raised-minority, weak, marginal voices, little assured of their discourse, of their right to discourse and of the enactment of their discourse within the law…” (Anthology 405). Regardless we can definitely point to our mistreatment of women and use it as a tool to avoid speciesism. We can use the degradation of our own species through sexism as a warning. Power leads to more power, and unchecked power leads to subservience, and subservience leads to suffering.

We have already seen some of these scenes, but the director of Earthling’s discusses speciesism in this interview:

Altruism

I really have faith that altruism is a natural habit for humanity. Acts of goodness and altruism are too often overshadowed. Unlike Costello, I feel that evil is nothing but humanity’s suppression of naturally good forces that exist within all of us. Let us work to embrace emotional intelligence and ultimately justice. If we put behind our own wants to embrace the needs of others, there is only room for good.

Published in: on November 19, 2009 at 3:52 am  Leave a Comment  

Analyzing Costello’s Arguments

Primitivism
As Costello begins to talk about Hughes and primitivism, I can’t help but think of thanksgiving. To some degree, I feel Costello is criticizing the notion of respecting an animal for its worth, and killing it to take its practical worth ( as a piece of meat) after showing your gratitude towards the animal. For the bull you “eat him too, after you have vanquished him, in order for his strength and courage to enter you. Look him in the eyes before you kill him, and thank him afterwards. Sing songs about him” (Costello 97) For the turkey and other grand meals that we share, we thank the divine, our family, those who helped prepare the food, and work hard to show our appreciation. Even the government shows its gratitude towards the turkey by saving one from the slaughter each year.
In both cases, I think humanity shows a little more dignity by showing its thankfulness. I am quite sure that I would hold great disdain for the man who kills either animal without second thought, devouring the animal without understanding of the loss of life required to nourish him. Whereas a person who his thankful for the meat an animal can provide and shows their appreciation before and after killing it seems more morally acceptable to me.
However, I understand Costello’s point in that these scenarios cannot stand in our practical times. “We do not feed four billion people through the efforts of matadors or deer hunters…” (Costello 97)

Bullfighting: Are we really respecting the animal's value?

The Dance of Ecology
Costello discusses an interesting point about man and ecology. Some argue that because man is the only creature that can understand the interactions between creatures and nature, that he is given the right to control the lives and deaths of those creatures and ultimately, their interactions with each other.

How can we give ourselves the right over the lives of such a variety of species?

I believe this is a huge jump in conclusions. First, we obviously do not understand ecology enough to keep things running smoothly so to speak. For example, several species have gone extinct prematurely due to our failure to regulate our own actions. Also, I do not have the right over another person’s life if I understand everything about them. If I have a child and I know them like the back of my hand, I don’t have control over their freedom and their right to life.

Does Intelligence grant us Rights?
Costello discusses refutes near the end of her debate with O’Hearne the idea that Apes, as the smartest of animals besides humans, do not exhibit nearly as much mental capabilities as we do, cannot express their thoughts as well, and cannot appreciate life like we can. I saw some problems with both sides of the argument.
First of all, against O’Hearne, intelligence is a poor determining factor for the right to life. A genius without morality may lose his right to life after becoming a psychopathic serial killer. Likewise, a young child who hasn’t developed intellectual skills, even disabled children who never will be able develop these skill to their fullest extent, deserve a right to life. On the topic of freedom, doesn’t an animal have the right to enjoy the life that nature designated it to live in? If “freedom is reckoned among the most sublime feelings, the corresponding disappointment is also among the sublime.” (Anthology 367)  This disappointment being the grand irony in our failure to recognize our imprisonment of animals like slaves.
On the other hand, I would like to address Costello’s argument about an animal being able to “speak” to a person without actually speaking. She mentions the story of a hen that speaks to a little boy by “imprinting itself on the boy’s memory so hauntingly in 1958 he wrote an impassioned attack on the guillotine.” (Costello 108) I think this is no more than a boy’s reaction to his surroundings. If I see a great redwood being chopped down and it saddens me to the point that I fight against the guillotine-which is just as plausible- the redwood hasn’t “spoken” to me, and the redwood doesn’t have a right to its life for its capability to instill this feeling in me, because again, I am installing the feeling in myself, not the redwood or the hen.

While hens may not be able to communicate their ideas. This gorilla can. What rights does this grant Koko the lowland gorilla?

What is evil?

I had trouble focusing on Costello’s thoughts on evil in her sixth chapter. She definitely recognizes its existence as something that it is “everywhere under the skin of things, searching for a way into the light.” (Costello 167) She also uses the word “obscene” to help her distinguish acts of true evil, a word that she “hold on to as a talisman.” (Costello 168)
While she may not fully understand the origin of evil, she can definitely recognize it in her experiences with people’s love for pain and their lack of compassion. It saddens me that she does not recognize goodness and altruism that courses through life just as evil does. Perhaps evil is just ignorance. A person’s inability to find the good that exists in all of us. To me, evil is just an absence of virtue we all possess.

Published in: on November 17, 2009 at 3:50 am  Leave a Comment  

Animal Welfare not Equal Rights

As I read Elizabeth Costello, my feelings towards her activist approach constantly changed. I greatly appreciate her views on humanity’s lack of sympathy and how it causes a lack of action regarding individual liberties in both humans and animals alike. However, I am wary of “the function of analogy in the posing of some of the most urgent ethical and political questions.” (Anthology 342) I do see similarities in animal and human suffering, but it pains me to see direct comparisons between concentration camps and cow slaughtering, the Khmer Rouge and slaughterhouse butchers, and great apes and mentally disabled humans. (All of which I have encountered in my journey here as a student at UT) Regardless, I do acknowledge the large amount of suffering millions of animals undergo for the sake of human demands and see Costello’s ultimate desire as a realistic and morally sound desire for just treatment of animal life. Today, however, I take the devil’s advocate. Through informal blogging-which will lend itself to incomplete arguments- I will give my opinions on some of the common falters of animal right’s apologetics. Arguments which I would normally support rather than break down.

In the beginning of the book, Costello gives off a heavy sense of moral and logical reasoning. Despite her own emotional distance from her family, she uses the novel to “understand human fate one case at a time, to understand how it comes about that some fellow being, having started at Point A and having undergone experiences B and C and D, ends up at point Z.” (Coetzee 36) She writes with purpose. Her language is harsh as stated in the beginning of the novel, but her writing obviously drives purpose. Her purpose becomes more defined as she begins to describe the plight of animal rights in the third chapter of the novel. By using the works of famous philosophers she argues for the value of animal life. Rather, she argues against the points of many philosophers: from Aquinas, to Descartes, to even Kant who shares some similar views with her. By arguing that “reason may not be the being of the universe but on the contrary merely the being of the human brain” (Coetzee 67). I saw some problems in this argument. First, reason is only the distinguishing factor between man and animal in the views of a couple of philosophers. Aquinas felt that the ability to love and love god as a creature built in his image was the distinguishing factor between animals and man. While she doesn’t explain why the argument of “God made in the image of man” is weak ( I presume it would take a large amount of highly complex theological argument), she definitely spends most of her time breaking down the superiority of man’s ability to reason.   To me, the major argument that an animal rights activist would argue is that an animal’s ability to feel pain and suffer, rather than its lack of reason, is what ensures them rights, lest the trees and grass would enjoy rights to their own lives. Lastly, arguing that reason would never destroy itself is a circular argument. By saying that the reason would never destroy its own credibility is criticizing the capabilities of the whole institution of logic. An institution Costello ironically must utilize as a tool for arguing against it in the first place.

Tom Regan in this proposal argues for the equality that animals deserve and against utilitarianism.

Here is the problem I have with analogies: they attempt equalize the value of human and animal life. Where do we draw the line? My heart tells me that humans are justified in favoring their own species over another: is it not right to save the life a child over the life of a dog? Living in a world without a hierarchy is much too idealistic for my taste. There are plenty of situations in this world where choices must be made. It is important to understand that absolutism on either end is dangerous. To put flies on the same moral level as a person is just as dangerous as giving humans complete dominance over the life of a grown chimpanzee. I have trouble with equalizing animal life to human life not only because there lacks a defendable line by which to distinguish individual rights, but because such absolutism leads to a slippery slope of other moral implications. By this comparison, is killing a dog, even better, a fish, the same as murder? Should retribution be the same? I don’t think so.

My criticism of argument by analogy should not be taken as a lack of respect for animal rights. Indeed, I see great moral problems in skinning a seal for the luxury of a fur coat (as seen in Earthlings). I recognize that many industries that kill animals do not do so out of necessity, but I am definite that many do. Take the concept of animal testing for example. Earthlings and other animal rights activists argue that the differences between animals and humans are too different to get significant results. First of all, don’t activist usually argue that similarities between animals and human grant them human liberties? Secondly, every single medical achievement since the formation of the polio vaccine was available in part due to the use of animal testing. Wouldn’t you rather figure out that a drug is lethal on mammals after it kills a rat instead of your sister?

Looking back on my blog I have definitely digressed and addressed and multitude of issues too heavy for me dissect in a couple of sentences. I must concede that Coetzee, or Costello rather, is careful not to target any principles. She is simply opening her heart and listening to what it says. (Coetzee 82). Unfortunately, the way our profit run society works, the killing of animals for necessity is mixed in with the killing of animals for luxury as seen by the production of meat by slaughterhouses. If we could flip out capitalistic society on its back and kill animals solely for people’s dietary needs I would feel that animal killings would be completely justified. However, there is always unwarranted cruelty, killing for sport, overproduction due to demand,

Two Sides

How do we solve the issue between utilitarianism and moral righteousness?

food wasting, and a constant need for meat by a species that is biologically omnivorous. I feel a sense of some sad irony, that we have the intellectual capability to utilize the lives of millions of animals for our own needs and desires, but not a way to use such intelligence in a way that satisfies our moral conscience as much as it does our appetites.

Published in: on November 12, 2009 at 5:56 am  Leave a Comment  

Moral Questions I have yet to Resolve

Talk about a change in perspective…Before reading the second half of Philip Dick’s “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” I felt no sympathy whatsoever for any of the androids in the novel. Anything lacking true life I deemed artificial, and deserved absolutely none of my respect. Animate or inanimate, intelligent or not, machines simply would never receive any respect from me. However, after reading the second half of the

brokenTV

What makes breaking this television better than terminating an android? At what point do we assign inalienable rights?

novel, I began to contemplate the definition of life: a definition that goes beyond scientific explanation. I am writing this blog still trying to decipher the qualities of these fictional androids and the individual rights those qualities entail. Is retiring an android worse than breaking a television set? Is blasting an android in the head better than shooting a human in the brains? Just as “general laws are not inviolable truths” (Newman 224; Abstractions Website 1) the distinctions between android, man, and animal are not as clear as we perceive them to be.

I stubbornly read through the novel determined to prioritize human life over the androids in this novel, and even the animals. As the novel’s main character, Rick Deckard, journeys on his bounty hunting expedition his thoughts on androids begin to change. His “disposition to treat human beings and animals with consideration and compassion (Anthology 274I) stretches into the “lives” of androids. I quote the word lives because I saw a clever change in the author’s descriptions of the androids as the novel progresses. When Rick begins to see androids as more than expendable machinery, Dick begins to describe androids like Luba Luft as “-at least briefly-alive” (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep 131) I question myself as I read the book: “Why do we deserve more rights than androids?” “Is it pain, origin of creation, or empathy distinguish us from them? “Is it none of the above?” Not only do I fail to reach answers to these questions, but I become even more confused as the novel continues and my moral grounding begins to crumble.

happyrobot

Does a robot sense enough, feel enough, think enough to have the right to exist? Can a robot really be "happy" like this one?

The differences between human and android became extremely questionable and complex when Deckard is taken to the justice department building on Memorial. In this situation Androids had not only created perfect replica of a societal function normally run by humans, but they hired a human, Phil Resche, a bounty hunter of their own kind . Furthermore, many of these androids were direly desperate to be “humane.” Even before Luba Luft’s assassination, she tells that Deckard and Resch “life consisted of imitating the human, doing what she would do, acting as if I had the thoughts and impulses a human would have. Imitating, as far as I’m concerned, a superior-life form”(Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep 132) Even after Luba reveals her thoughts on mankind, I still remained uncertain about mankind’s “superiority.” The deterioration of human emotion and the hypocritical killings performed by humans on androids. Even Deckard sees the cruelty in his job. During this revelation he uncovers new truths and perspectives.

While this is not particularly my taste in music, this song talks about using robots “will do anything for you.” The song is titled “Robots have feelings too.”

He considers quitting his job and questioning his ability to sympathize with android Luft and his inability to empathize with human Resch. During this self-questioning, he briefly mentions that Luba Luft had done nothing wrong. He asks himself how “a talent like that can be a liability to our society” (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep 135) Maybe this is what determines the question of morality I have been trying to answer:

THINKER

I find most of my moral questions unanswered. I suppose it will take more time for me to figure out what defines life and the rights associated with it.

“Who should we be able to destroy/kill and when is it acceptable?” Perhaps it is possible to judge a machine, animal, human, or any other thing for that matter, solely on the actions they are responsible for. On the other hand, one could argue that taking the life of anything is always wrong. BUT, do androids have life? what is it that guarantee’s something or someone’s right to exist? I can’t help but get trapped in this circular reasoning. I finish this blog frustrated and unsatisfied, knowing that my attempts at defining life and assigning values to the lives of different creatures, men, (and in this case maybe even machines) remain fruitless.

Media References:

Published in: on November 3, 2009 at 1:17 am  Leave a Comment