We often care more about individuals in our group and less about strangers. So, we might care for our pets, but not for humans in a faraway country. So, why do we care about animals? Is it okay to spend € 5,000 on your dog’s limping leg while people in Yemen are starving? And why might it be wrong to eat meat? It depends on whom you care about. Perhaps, you care about your dog but not animals in the meat industry.
And can there be animal rights like there are human rights? Or are humans more precious than other animals? We might think so, but cats might have a different opinion. And we care more about mammals than insects. Somehow killing a cow feels entirely different from murdering an ant. And why are there no plant rights? Don’t plants have feelings too? Rights exist only in our imagination, so we can imagine that plants have rights too.
If we believe everything is interconnected and strive to minimise suffering, we must first define suffering. Suffering is something a conscious mind experiences. You can beat a stone, but it won’t feel anything. A plant is less aware than an insect, and an insect has less awareness than a fish. And fish probably are less conscious than mammals. We may also care more for animals that are more like us, so mammals elicit more sympathy than reptiles.
And nature doesn’t care and is cruel. It is survival of the fittest. Caring is an emotion. We care about other beings even if we don’t know them personally. Most of us don’t like to see suffering, and these feelings tend to become more intense if the beings that suffer are more like us or when we are emotionally attached to them, for instance, our children and pets. But there is no objective rule telling which beings deserve rights more than others.
Meat has been on the human menu since time immemorial. It provides us with several nutrients we need. But there will soon be artificial meat and meat replacements with the same nutrients that taste nearly as good, for instance, insects, so it may be possible to end the suffering of animals in the meat industry. And if we intend to feed humanity in the future or do something about global warming, we should reduce our meat consumption anyway.
Whether animals in nature always have a better life than those on farms remains to be seen. Animals in nature face predators, food shortages, and humans, so their living conditions can be less agreeable than on a farm. And nature is not what it used to be. Humans have profoundly altered habitats and ruined the balance in nature. With humans came animals that profit from human activities, like mice, rats, seagulls, magpies, foxes and cockroaches.
If we care for animals while the balance in nature is gone, this can raise questions. We can’t allow pests like rats and mice to multiply, so we have to kill them. Sometimes killing is necessary. But should we let our cats go outside and kill birds? Or if there is not enough food for the deer in a forest, is it not better to shoot the weak and eat their meat than to let them starve? Answers are not always easy to come by, and caring is about feelings rather than logic.
We feel that murdering or harming is wrong. In a caring world society, we need to take these feelings seriously. And the more aware a being is, the more wrong inflicting harm and killing becomes. That is why we feel that killing a plant isn’t as bad as killing a horse, and killing a horse isn’t as bad as killing a human. If we use logic alone, we let go of our feelings and could become cynical and uncaring.
And that would be a shame because we can end the unnecessary mass suffering and murder of billions of animals in the meat industry.
Latest revision: 21 April 2023
Featured image: Black sheep Frank from a Tele2 marketing campaign