Eating Humanely

This thoughtful article from Christopher Hitchens resonated with me profoundly… personal highlights follow

An Introduction and the main argument

The three critical areas of real-world debate are the human uses of animals for food, for sport, and for experiment. All these uses have now reached the point where they would be bound to arouse alarm even in a meat-eating, sport-loving person who was hoping for a particular medicine or organ graft that required extensive laboratory testing.

  1. It is we who must speak for the animals.
  2. Humans are also animals, with a responsibility or mutual-interest relationship to other species.
  3. Human stupidity (and evil) is ultimately what perpetuates animal cruelty


It is we who must act for other animals. 

Rights have to be asserted. Animals cannot make such assertions. We have to make representations to ourselves on their behalf. To the extent that we see our own interest in doing so, we … may simply become more ‘humane’ —a word that seems to require its final vowel as never before.

“Who can speak for the dumb? A man who has had to answer this question on behalf of the President himself [George Bush Jr.] is now stepping forward on behalf of the truly voiceless.”

“concern with the suffering and exploitation of animals can be expected to arise only in a fairly advanced and complex society where human beings are thoroughly in charge”


Humans are also animals, with a responsibility or mutual-interest relationship to other species.

Our near absolute dominion over nature has, however, confronted us with one brilliant and ironic and inescapable insight. The decryption of DNA is not only useful in putting a merciful but overdue end to theories of creationism and racism but also enlightening in instructing us that we are ourselves animals.

“the human species did not at all have ‘dominion’ over other life forms. The germs had dominion over us … Today ticks still rule over immense tracts of the terrestrial globe, and microbes rule absolutely.”

“Even the Christian image of the shepherd, which reduces the believer to a member of a flock, conveys the idea of guarding a human-organized and quasi-domesticated system from animal predators. And that, in turn, reminds us that the shepherd protects the sheep and the lambs not for their own good but the better to fleece and then to slay them.”

“We observe that animals, although they may respect one another’s territory, do not at all respect one another’s ‘rights’—unless those other animals happen to be human, in which case mutual-interest bargains can often be struck, and both sides can be brought to an agreement that neither will eat the other.”

“The morons who torture animals would obviously not get the same thrill from battering a toaster. Children, who are almost always en rapport with animals, do not treat them as toys. The many old or lonely or infirm people who find therapeutic value in animal companionship do not get the same result even from a semi-animate object such as a TV.”

“Sentimental stuff may have been written about animals having personalities, but it can easily be shown that they are able to distinguish human individuals almost as readily as human beings can distinguish one another”

“I would point out that many human beings have found consolation in sexual intercourse with animals (for instance, the prototype of Robinson Crusoe)—and who will say that this cannot lead to the sort of love that would be wasted on a car, or a lawn mower?”

“The gerbil-baby equivalence is one of the very few human delusions for which there is no scriptural warrant; and for all I know, in the context of interstellar time and galactic indifference, it may be valid. There are sound reasons for concluding that all life is ultimately random. But there is no way of living and acting as if this is true; and if it is true, human beings cannot very well be condemned for making the best of things by taking advantage of other animals.”

“Millions of animals, either semi-wild or semi-domestic, would never have been born if not for human design. Pheasants and deer are bred or preserved in profusion for sport and for food, and the famous British fox is, or was until recent parliamentary challenges, protected by horse-borne huntsmen from those who would otherwise have shot or poisoned it out of hand. Traditional farming … is a logical extension of this—and factory farming seems to most people no more than a further extension and modernization of the idea that civilization and animal husbandry are inextricable.”

“However, … In page after relentless page he shows that the horrible confinement of these smart and resourceful creatures, and the endless attempt to fatten and pacify them with hormones, laxatives, antibiotics, and swirls of rendered pigs recycled into their own swill (and then to use other treatments to counterweigh the unintended consequences of the original ones), are far worse than we had suspected. A sort of Gresham’s law means that more equals worse. The pigs develop hideous tumors and lesions; their litters are prone to stillbirths and malformations; their ‘stress levels’ (another accidental revelation of the despised ‘anthropomorphic’) are bewildering and annoying even to their keepers. Hardened migrant laborers who really need the work are frequently revolted by the slaughtering process”

“taking myself as averagely cynical, I came to discern while reading Dominion that in all the cases where animal suffering disturbed me, it was largely because of rationalist humanism. When my turn comes to get a heart valve or a kidney from a pig (and how is that for anthropomorphism, by the by?), I don’t want the pig to have been rotting and wretched, let alone cannibalistic or subjected to promiscuous mutations, while it was alive.”



Human stupidity (and evil) is ultimately what perpetuates animal cruelty

Thus when I read of the possible annihilation of the elephant or the whale, or the pouring of oven cleaner or cosmetics into the eyes of live kittens, or the close confinement of pigs and calves in lightless pens, I feel myself confronted by human stupidity, which I recognize as an enemy

“I find most impressive are the deadpan reprints of animal-experiment ‘reports,’ written by white-coated dolts or possibly white-coated sadists. (The connection between stupidity and cruelty is a close one.) If you subject this chimp or this dog to these given experiences, of shock or mutilation or sensory deprivation, it will exhibit just the responses any fool could have predicted. No claim of usefulness or human application is made; only requests for further funding.”

“Maltreatment of animals by a child is a famously strong indicator, as our investigators of psychopathology have found, of hideous future conduct. Hogarth intuited this centuries ago, in his sequence of illustrations The Four Stages of Cruelty.”

“The dumb academics who mouth this stuff are legatees, whether they know it or not, of René Descartes, who held that animals were machines and that their yelps or cries were the noises emitted by broken machinery”

“This would leave us and the ‘machinists’ with only the problem of language and cognition. The whale, we are in effect informed, has its cortex but is too non-sentient to know, say, that it is an endangered species. The great apes who learn to sign whole phrases to their human friends are just improving their food-acquisition skills. Dolphins can at best (at best!) talk only to one another. To all [of these prior] assertions the correct response requires no strong proof of language or logic in nonhuman brains.”

“It is enough to know that we do not know enough. All the advances in the study of animal sentience have been made extremely recently, and some of these findings are fascinating and promising.”

“… he introduces us to ‘canned hunting’: the can’t-miss virtual safaris that charge a fortune to fly bored and overweight Americans to Africa and ‘big game’ destinations on other continents for an air-conditioned trophy trip and the chance to butcher a charismatic animal in conditions of guaranteed safety. Those who can’t afford the whole package can sometimes shell out to shoot a rare wild creature that would otherwise be pensioned off from an American zoo.”

“[As to] the question of whether we lower our own moral threshold by deafening ourselves to animal bleats and roars and trumpetings. It is obviously tempting to think so, and the example of disturbed, animal-torturing children is a powerful one”

“Much animal experimentation is a wasteful perversion of science (Jonas Salk’s vaccine seemed useless when tested on anything but a human being). The elimination of elephants and whales and tigers and other highly evolved animals would be impoverishing for us, and the disappearance of apes would be something like fratricide”


Also influential was …

… that propels him and his overweight, quarrelsome family—so full of sugar and starch their faces fester—back and forth on purposeless errands and ungratefully received visits.

Rather than live as we do in the same village with our kin and our labor, the Americans have flung themselves wide across the land, which they have buried under tar and stone.

They consume our [oil] also in their factories and skyscrapers, which are ablaze with light throughout the night … I have visited this country … and can report that they make from your [oil] slippery green bags in which they place their garbage and even the leaves that fall from their trees!

They make of petroleum toys that break in their children’s hands, and hair curlers in which their obese brides fatuously think to beautify themselves while they parade in supermarkets buying food wrapped in transparent petroleum and grown from fertilizers based upon [oil]!

… they make deodorants to mask their God-given body scents and wax for the matches to ignite their death-dealing cigarettes and more wax to shine their shoes while the people of Kush tread upon the burning sands barefoot!”

from The Coup by John Updike


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