Anger at the Chinatown Market

11 12 2011

Yair and I overnighted in San Francisco’s Chinatown this weekend.  When exploring our neighborhood, we wandered into an all-Chinese grocery store – the type where nothing is labeled in English.

All was dandy until we walked by the deli, which arguably made up half of the store.  Whole skinned cows were hanging upside down in a row, hundreds of live fish and crabs were crowded into tiny tanks where they could barely move and a fish was banged and killed right in front of our eyes when a woman made her pick for dinner.

How You Know That You're In Chinatown

How You Know That You're In Chinatown

I felt disgusted and disheartened that so much of the world perpetuates what I consider to be cruel and unethical practices on a daily basis.  It also got me thinking about the philosophy behind food and I realized that – while I’m glad that cannibalism is illegal because it would be highly detrimental to our society – I don’t see such major differences between eating animal flesh and human flesh.

posted by ayo

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19 responses

11 12 2011
Jim and Gayle

I know how you feel, having been a vegetarian (and almost vegan) for over 25 years. It’s like when people are repulsed by other cultures eating dogs but they think nothing of eating cows and pigs.What’s the difference?

12 12 2011
ayo

The difference is cultural training, cognitive dissonance and being too busy in day-to-day living to really think about things and care. But I hear you.

And I didn’t know you guys were from Pensacola! Cool stuff. Our friend Matt (who we met through the blog and will be hitting the road in his own RV later this year) hails from your town. 🙂

11 12 2011
frugalveganmom

Completely agree with above comment – so absurd how people will treat their pets better than humans, but have complete disregard for the welfare of other animals. This is why I think if they really knew what was going on (“if slaughterhouses had glass walls…”) everyone would be vegetarian. Unfortunately people are so stuck in their ways and unwilling to be inconvenienced they find it easy to just look the other way…

12 12 2011
ayo

Agreed. Have you explored any sort of vegan / ethical eating / animal rights activism? If yes, I’d love to hear more about those efforts and what you found to be most worthwhile.

16 12 2011
Frugal Vegan Mom

I volunteer with a group called Compassionate Action for Animals (www.exploreveg.org) and have always thought about maybe starting a little one on one coaching business for people looking to go veg – if you’re busy and not a self-starter, it can be hard! But HA I’m not much of a self-starter either so the business is still only an idea…

16 12 2011
ayo

I’ll check out the group. The veg awareness world seems to be a bit disunified with multiple city-specific veg weeks throughout the year instead of any sort of national partnering. I’m hoping to partner with a group and do some pro-bono consulting. We’ll see!

16 12 2011
Frugal Vegan Mom

Yeah our group is only in Mpls – a very small non-profit – but let me know if you’ll be here and want to check it out!

12 12 2011
Gustav, the Modern Nomad

Really? Little difference between humans and animals? So you are honestly saying that you would feel more or less the same thing if you walked into a room where “skinned humans were hanging upside down in a row, hundreds of live humans were crowded into tiny tanks where they could barely move and a human was banged and killed right in front of our eyes”?

Because if you honestly mean that you would merely feel “disgusted and disheartened” by such a scene, then you scare me.

12 12 2011
ayo

Hi Gustav. Let’s chat. First, nuances are important so please don’t ignore them. My comment spoke to not seeing SUCH major differences philosophically between the two situations. Differences do exist, but – if you were to imagine an alien planet where people eat other people – I can see parallels to our current system of enslaving and murdering sentient beings. That doesn’t mean that I’m okay with either situation and I would be much more outraged by the systematic imprisonment and eating of humans, but at the end of the day I don’t eat human beings and I don’t eat non-human beings either.

But rather than asking pointed questions and making dramatic statements, why don’t you answer your own question and tell us what the major differences are in your mind between eating animal flesh and human flesh? I’m open to your questions, but I’m much more interested in your actual developed thoughts. It makes for better conversation.

12 12 2011
Gustav, the Modern Nomad

I’m glad to hear that you would indeed be much more outraged at the situation if they had been humans and not animals. I didn’t think your post made that clear at all and my pointed/dramatic question aimed to clarify your view on that. So thank you for doing so.

My view on the difference between single cell organism, insects, fish, animals and humans is that of a sliding scale of sentience and consciousness. I have, for example no qualms at using medicine to kill off virus and bacteria in my body to make myself better, nor do I suffer guilt at the thoughts of the countless times I’ve stepped accidentally on an ant. In a similar way, I don’t feel bad about fishing as I honestly do not believe that the fish is capable of feeling anything like the pain and suffering that I would feel at such treatment, and I like the sport and the dinner.

So there it is, that is my reason. I do not believe that animals have an extensive capacity for sentience/conciousness and as such I don’t have a problem eating them. (and I love the taste of it and all the culture that lies behind it)

But now I’d like to turn the same question to you. Why would you be ‘much more outraged’ if the first mentioned scene had involved humans instead of animals?

12 12 2011
ayo

Hmm, it seems like WordPress doesn’t allow me to respond ‘another level in’ to your comment so I’ll put my thoughts here.

I think that your comparisons are red herrings meant to distract rather than enlighten.

We are not talking about self defense (e.g. the bacteria in your body or a wild animal trying to harm you). Most people would uphold your right to defend your own health and safety.

We are also not talking about accidental harm. Most actions produce unintended consequences and even the most ethical and ardent vegans would not argue that you must stand still, not drive, etc. to avoid stepping on an ant.

We are talking about the planned, intention-filled and systematic raising, harming and killing of live beings to sustain our dietary preference. Our existence is not predicated on preying on and killing other beings. We have the choice to minimize cruelty in this world and not consume live beings without adverse effects to our own health.

You write that you ‘do not believe that animals have an extensive capacity for sentience/conciousness’. Well, what sort of capacity do they have and what counts as ‘extensive’? Where do you draw your line and do you see any objections to the mass-raising and slaughtering of puppies and kittens?

You write that you love the taste and the culture behind all of these things. I can understand that thought. Jewish tradition idolizes chicken soup and one of my favorite foods is chulent, a stew (usually with meat) that is served on Saturday afternoons. But something being cultural or traditional does not make it right or ethical. It just makes it easier to ignore. After all, it was American tradition and culture to enslave black people for some time and deny equal rights. Culture and tradition have value to a point, but NOT when they goes against an honest assessment of ethical behavior.

Yair is responding to your question about humans and empathy for fellow kind, so I’ll leave that question for now so as not to overload you with too long a response.

12 12 2011
Gustav, the Modern Nomad

No no, they were not red herrings at all. I did indeed give three examples of times when we may harm another animal, each example simultaneously raising the complexity of the animal in question. The goal was to show that depending on how much we value the animals around us, the more restricted our options for actions becomes. Somewhere you draw the line where the benefits for you outweighs the death of the animal. We draw these lines at different places. All I wanted to do with my examples was to show that you too draw a line, and the argument here is merely one of a sliding scale.

First argument was self-defence. But depending on how much you value all life, you could choose not to defend yourself. My choice of medicine and bacteria was a poor one though as your immune system will make the choice for you. So let’s use a tape worm instead. If you get a tape worm, then your choice comes down to you choosing between the life of the tapeworm and your discomfort and lowered health. (Note that you are not going to die from a tapeworm.) So which is worth more? For me the choice is simple. Even a slight lowering of my health or comfort is worth more than the tapeworm. But where do you draw the line?

Second example was about accidental harm to animals. Here I really wanted to show that we kill lower beings all the time and we never have any feelings of guilt. But why? What makes these accidental killings so trivial? If I had accidentally killed a human then I would be wrecked with guilt. But I am not. I have already explained why (I don’t value the lives of lesser animals like insects.) But what is your reason for not fretting over this?

My third example (which you chose to leave uncommented) was where I showed that I am OK with purposely killing an animal for the pleasure of the hunt and eating it. I am not doing it for health reasons. I am doing it for pleasure. And here is where we draw the line differently. I am OK with the killing of a fish for pleasure while you are not.

To answer your direct question: I would have no problem with the mass raising and slaughtering of dogs or cats if there was a demand for them.

You keep asking me where I draw my lines, and I answer. I’ve asked you too, but you do not answer. It’s a bit unbalanced, don’t you think? So let me repeat my question: Why would you be ‘much more outraged’ if the first mentioned scene had involved humans instead of animals? (In your opinion, wherein lies the fundamental difference?)

12 12 2011
ayo

Gustav, I would be more outraged at humans being slaughtered because I feel an affinity for them – being my own species – which is why most people value their friends’ and families’ lives more than strangers’ lives.

Also, I have been inculcated with the belief that humans have some sort of soul or additional awareness that other species do not that makes us different.

This belief ties into the understanding that humans can choose their actions beyond gut desires (eat-sleep-find shelter-reproduce) and elevate their life to a higher plane. That humans can earn respect by not devaluing the life of others and committing torture and murder simply for their own amusement and pleasure – whether murder of other humans or of animals.

So, to address your third example, I find your choice to be immoral and off-putting. It’s perhaps admirable that you’ve given thought to your actions and beliefs, but I don’t respect your seemingly blase conclusion that it’s fine to inflict pain and murder on animals so that you can have some fun.

Does this answer your question?

I know that my comments sound harsh but to euphemize and sugar-coat would not accurately reflect my thoughts. I am enjoying this conversation / debate and do appreciate your interest in engaging with these questions.

12 12 2011
Yair

Hey Gustav,

Could it be that the main reason why we are more outraged at the killing of humans is evolutionary, in that we have an innate desire and drive to see our species thrive?

I too have no moral qualms about using medicine to kill off bacteria in my body. If something is out to damage me, I’d very much prefer to damage it first.

My view: As human beings we are fortunate to have both a moral sense and an ability to survive quite nicely without eating animals. Cats, for example, are carnivorous. I don’t mind them killing and eating in order to survive. But we don’t need to do that.

Whether or not animals feel pain and have similar sentience to humans (and I believe that research has shown and continues to show that many have one or both), they certainly have a desire to survive and most fight back vigorously when you try to kill them. Beyond a certain limit – that I put pretty low – the extent of an animal’s “sentience/consciousness” doesn’t really matter to me. But, for example, to what extent can you argue that a dog doesn’t have an extensive capacity for sentience, relationships, etc.? Would you eat one? How about a Neanderthal? How far back in our species’ evolution would you go back before being comfortable eating a Homo X?

12 12 2011
Gustav, the Modern Nomad

For me, the choice for an act is a balance between the detrimental effect on the one I affect (e.g. killing it vs. hurting it vs. annoying it), the benefit for myself (survival, better health, pleasure) and the ‘value’ of the one I affect.

Because there are multiple variables, I cannot just say where I would draw a line on a general rule. It is up to each situation.

For example, if a person is trying to kill me, I have no problem fighting back with lethal force. (benefit: survival, value of the other: very high [human], detrimental effect: death)

But killing someone for sport is wrong. (benefit: pleasure, value of the other: very high [human], detrimental effect: death)

Meanwhile, eating a fish is for me OK because the pleasure outweighs the value of the life I take: (benefit: pleasure, value of the other: low [fish], detrimental effect: death)

There, this is the most comprehensive answer I have to your question. I would very much like it if you would answer your own question too.

Finally, to bring the point back to the post that started it all. I thought that the point was dangerously close to stating that the ‘value of the other’ factor in my little formula didn’t matter. I made my point that it matters a great deal by replacing the animals in the description with humans. Ayo then conceded that there was indeed a difference in how she would feel in the two different situations. My question then is ‘why’. I am still waiting for an answer.

12 12 2011
Yair

A very short reply, answering only part of your comment:

I didn’t yet read what Ayo wrote, but I think that I answered it in saying that the difference could lay in an evolutionary instinct to promote our species.

13 12 2011
Gustav, the Modern Nomad

To Ayo, thank you for that description of the difference of humans and animals. It comes very close to how I think too. Now, the difference between us is that to me, this makes it OK to commit a whole range of actions that improves the lives of humans even if those actions have terrible consequences to animals. (Note that actions that affect whole species is an entirely different question.)

I think we’ve come to the point in the discussion where you understand me, and I understand you. Our differences now come from core values and beliefs, both of which we have also laid on the tables. It’s been informative and helpful. Many thanks.

To Yair, please excuse the rudeness, but I don’t believe that is the only, or even the important, difference that you actually believe. If it were, then you would feel the same from the killing of a dolphin to the killing of an ant as both are equally ‘not your own species’. But perhaps you do.What do I know.

13 12 2011
ayo

Gustav, agreed that we are at the point in the discussion where we each mostly understand the other. Just one last question for you:

Given your set of beliefs and value assessments, wouldn’t you still side with the people who oppose the factory farming and cruel conditions under which animals are raised and killed?

Seemingly, according to the equation that you set up:

Benefit to humans: slightly cheaper meat
Value of the other: medium [large mammal]
Detrimental effect: torturous life, immobility and death

Conclusion: Even if you continue to eat meat, the few cents cheaper that each burger is would not seem to warrant the highly torturous conditions, prompting you to at least support better conditions for the animals that you consume.

Or do I misunderstand you?

13 12 2011
Gustav, the Modern Nomad

You understand me perfectly. I am indeed opposed to unnecessary cruelty to animals for petty benefits.

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