Saturday, April 17, 2010

Earthlings: Not as Egalitarian as You’d Think

I just read this article on Dr. Clelia Mosher over at The Hathor Legacy. It makes for a very interesting read and I recommend it to everyone. Now why can’t we have some more awesome women like Mosher in film? I keep thinking how women like her would make great stories but no, all Hollywood wants is hetero white men blowing other hetero white men’s guts out and pirouetting in the carnage.

Oh well, on to Earthlings. Earthlings is a 95 minutes-long documentary about the Industry’s exploitation of animals used in food, clothing, entertainment, research and as pets. It is divided by each industry into five sections, while the beginning and end of the film focus on speciesism. I like the parts on speciesism; they do carry a potentially abolitionist message, but the majority of the film devoted to extremely graphic videos of animal torture smells awfully like a wind from the Peter Singer, PETA and other new-welfarist camps. They, as usual, focus on the treatment instead of use and go into supporting exploitation territory with talking about ‘humane’ murder and government legislatures and international treaties’ that protect animals from ‘unnecessary’ suffering violations. Emphasis is mine:

Euthanasia, generally defined as the act of killing painlessly for reasons of mercy, is usually administered by an injection in the leg for dogs, and sometimes in the stomach for cats. This is a quick and painless procedure for animals, and by far the most humane, but not always the most affordable. Due to the increase of the euthanasia in shelters and the growing and constant demand for drugs like the euthasol, some shelters with budget constrains are forced to use gas chambers instead.
In a gas chamber animals are packed very tightly and can take as long as 20 min. to die. It is by far less merciful, more traumatic and painful, but the procedure is less expensive.

Can the systematic murder of millions of sentient beings ever be ‘humane’ or ‘merciful’ whatever may be the tool used? Great! I think we’ve found the perfect solution to the human overpopulation problem here in India.

Perhaps one of the tough questions we should ask ourselves about animals that we keep as companions are:
“Can we keep animals as companions and still address their needs? Is our keeping companion animals in their best interest or are we exploiting them?”
The answers to these questions may lie in the attitude of the human caretakers and their ability to provide suitable environments for companion animals.

This is not an abolitionist stance, which requires the complete abolition of the institution of pet ownership. The documentary implies that the institution of pet ownership is acceptable provided the attitude of the ‘owner’ is satisfactory. Pet ownership can never be non-exploitive even if the care and environment the ‘pet’ receives is of the highest possible human standard.

People might hope that the meat that they buy came from an animal who died without pain. But they don’t really want to know about it. Yet those who by their purchases require animals to be killed do not deserve to be shielded from this and any other aspect of the production of the meat they buy. So where does our food come from?
For those of us living on a meat diet the process these animals undergoes is as follows:

The video goes on to describe each torturous process an animal faces in a slaughterhouse in great detail. This is focusing on some particular methods, i.e. the thing wrong with eating animals is these methods and if the animals were murdered painlessly or with less painful methods, it would be more ‘humane’. The part I’ve boldfaced implies that it is wrong because the animals didn’t die without pain, and it would be somehow better if they were killed painlessly. The next boldfaced part implies that a vegetarian diet is better; a step in the right direction. But actually a vegetarian diet is just as exploitive as a non-vegetarian diet.

The various methods of slaughter are used, in this Massachusetts facility. The cow is hoisted up, and his or her throat is slit. Along with the meat, the blood will be used as well. Though the animal has received the captive bolt to the head, which is supposed to have rendered him or her senseless, as you can see, the animal is still conscious. This is not uncommon. Sometimes they’re still alive even after they’ve been bled, and they are aware on their way down the assembly line to be butchered.

This is again focusing on treatment. Would it somehow be better if the animal was unconscious while having hir throat slit?

This is the largest glatt kosher meat plant in the United States. Glatt, the Yiddish word for smooth, is the highest standard of cleanliness. And rules for kosher butchering require minimum suffering. The use of electric prods on immobilized animals is a violation.
Inverting frightened animals for slaughters’ convenience is also a violation. Inversion process causes cattle to aspirate blood by breath in after incision. Ripping out the tracheas and esophagi from their throats is another egregious violation, since kosher animals are not to be touched until bleeding stops. And by dumping struggling dying animals out of chutes onto a blood soaked kill floors, with their breathing tubes and guts standing out. This sacred task is not clean or compassionate. Shackling and hoisting was ruled yet another violation. In order to correspond the kosher way of treating animals. If this is kosher, death is not that quick, nor merciful.

Yeah, wouldn’t it reduce a colossal amount of suffering for animals if they were spared electric prods and inversion and shackling and only had to have their heads cut off, quick and clean. Great merciful law of mercy! I worship thee!

Veal, taken from their mother within two days of birth, are tied by their neck and kept restricted to keeping muscles from developing. Fed an iron deficient liquid diet, denied bedding, water and light. After four months of this miserable existence they are slaughtered.

So would it be all rainbows and sunshine if the calves were fed a nutrient rich diet and then butchered? Because for all we know, that might be happening in some part of the world and there are a lot of people eager for ‘humane’ meat.

As for the living conditions, anywhere from 60.000 to 90.000 birds can be crowded together in a single building. The suffering for these animals is unrelenting, it is a way of life. Although their beaks were severed, they attempt to peck each other. For hens, they live in a lame warehouse, crammed inside so-called battery cages.

Dude, the suffering for these animals will be unrelenting as long as they are used. We’re talking about slavery here. You can give chickens bungalows to live in and not reduce a millimetre of their suffering because they are considered slaves.

And for those who think eating sea food is healthier than land animals, just remember how much irretrievable waste and contaminated elements were dumped into our ocean. In the past, oil, nuclear and chemical industries have done little for the protection of marine environments. And dumping on or under the sea bed has always proved a convenient place to dispose an inconvenient waste.

So would eating a smoked salmon be better than eating a chicken wing if it was declared tomorrow that Earth’s marine life is among the healthiest in the Universe? Just checking.

Finally whaling. Though the international whaling commission prohibited commercial whaling in 1985, many countries continued to kill whales for the so-called “exotic meat”. They use harpoons, firearms, blind hooks, even explosives, or drive them into authorized whaling bays where they are made to beach and can be kill with knives in the shallows.

This part supports an inherently speciesist single issue ban which considers some animals worthier than others. Are whales really more valuable than countless other fishes, birds and mammals? Should there even be such a distinction between sentient beings when their interests are the same?

Convulsing and contorting in froze of agony, while schoolchildren walk on by. Such images of slaughter and bloody red water clearly show the Japanese government has little respect for the state of the world’s oceans, with their inhumane methods of fishing, often violating international treaties, laws and conventions designed to protect overexploiting the oceans and the creatures that live in there.

Here it goes again. Can fishing ever be ‘humane’? By ‘overexploiting’ do you mean when the exploitation starts environmentally affecting humans? Because if these treaties, laws and conventions actually gave a damn about nonhuman sentient beings, there would be no exploitation in the first place, ‘over’ or not.

No laws indicate the killing of animals on fur farms.

Even if there were laws regarding the ‘humane’ slaughtering of animals used for fur, they wouldn’t matter because the animal is still being slaughtered. Any law short of prohibiting all animal use and making veganism the default is useless. And at this point, since the majority of the population is non-vegan, even if such a law existed it wouldn’t help, it’ll only drive the industries underground. That is why instead of focusing on the industries and laws we have to focus on the consumers and educate them about abolitionist veganism. Nothing can be done about the supply if we don’t curtail the demand first.

The term vivisection is used to apply to all types of experiments on living animals, and is said to be a form of medical science. The reason for experimentation of this type is to allegedly discover for human ailments and illnesses. But those who hope to find remedies for human ills by inflicting deliberated suffering on animals, commit two fundamental errors on understanding. The first, is the assumption that results obtained on animals are applicable to mankind. The second, concerns the inevitable fallacy of experimental science in respect to the field of organic life.
Since animals react differently from man, every new product or method tried out on animals must be tried out again on man, through careful clinical tests, before it can be considered safe. This rule knows no exception. Tests on animals are not only dangerous because they may lead to wrong conclusions, but furthermore, they also retard clinical investigation, which is the only valid kind.

The fact is, even if the results obtained from animals were beneficial for humans, animal testing would not be justified. Would you advocate testing on mentally disabled orphans who are incapable of volunteering if it could help in discovering the cure for cancer? I think not.

Even people who are aware that the traditional family farm has been taken over by big business interests, that their clothes com from slaughtered cows, that their entertainment means the suffering and death of millions of animals, and that some questionable experiments go on in laboratories, still cling to a vague belief that conditions cannot be too bad, or else the government or the animal welfare societies would’ve done something about it.

Traditional family farms still exist in several places in the world. Does this mean we should switch over to them from factory farms? Perhaps cows that are milked by hand shouldn’t be considered slaves. Is that what you’re saying?

If I go on picking each new-welfarist part of this documentary, I’ll be repeating myself over and over again. Let’s just say that instead of focusing on meaningful discussion, the majority of the film is devoted to emotional welfarist rhetoric a la PETA’s Meet Your Meat video. Not tackling the obvious question of ‘is using sentient beings as a means to an end justified,’ the video skirts round and round the issue with health arguments and environmental arguments that if disproved tomorrow would immediately lead people to ditch their veganism. As I’ve said above, only towards the end and in the few beginning minutes does the video discuss anything worth discussing. And whatever good effect the parts on speciesism might have had on viewers is washed away with the blood and gore of the rest of the video. The images the viewer is left with are not of the Earth being a place to share with other Earthlings but of a piglet being castrated without anesthesia.  

These kinds of slaughterhouse videos usually elicit one or more of the following responses from viewers:

‘This might not be real.’

‘This doesn’t happen everywhere.’

‘We should get laws to make sure something like this doesn’t happen during butchering/milking etc.’

‘This is a reality we have to face.’

‘These are like manipulative emo abortion videos that want to scare the viewer into submission.’

‘I love using X animal product and I'm using this great product right now and your bleeding video didn't make me cry har har.’

And this kind of response is to be expected, since the video focuses on affecting a person emotionally instead of logically. The success of the video depends upon the viewer’s emotional sensitivity and how desensitised ze is to violence. Once the video is turned off the viewer is free to conjure a less emotionally troubling image in hir brain. A cow roaming a grassy field is much less disturbing than a cow being prodded by electric prods into a shed ze can’t turn around in. Since the moral questionability of accepting milk coerced from a cow free to roam in a grassy field has not been addressed, and the focus has been on the treatment of cows in factory farms, the viewer will naturally consider family farms with grassy fields a ‘humane’ alternative.

Thinking that it would be helpful in starting a good discussion, I showed Earthlings to my brother with whom my discussions of animal rights have generally been limited to shouting matches. The documentary didn’t really help me much, if at all, in making my argument convincing. Indeed, I believe it rather worsened things what with my brother jabbering on about this doesn’t happen in India, it happens in only some places, we should get laws to make it more humane, and it doesn’t apply to him anyway as he's a vegetarian and going on and on about treatment rather than thinking about use itself even though I repeatedly pointed it out to him.

I really don’t see how making people who are already reluctant view images of the same exploitation a thousand different ways would help abolitionist veganism. If anything, it antagonises them towards what they view as emotional manipulation. It’s merely addressing the symptoms not the root cause of the disease.

You can view Earthlings online here. Or here. And yes, it’s legal.

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