Thomas Paine's Corner
“The moral duty of man consists of imitating the moral goodness and benificence of God manifested in the creation towards all his creatures. Everything of persecution and revenge between man and man, and everything of cruelty to animals is a violation of moral duty.”
–Thomas Paine from The Age of Reason
Despite the trappings of a civilized culture and the incredibly persistent myth of our moral exceptionalism, we in the United States are collectively a group of mean-spirited, depraved barbarians. Sparing our psyches the pangs of conscience by ferociously devouring the corporate media’s seemingly endless supply of rationalizations, euphemisms, historical revisions, distractions, denials, distortions, and affirmations of our pathological self-absorption, we each carry a degree of responsibility in the infliction of immeasurable unnecessary pain and suffering upon the rest of the Earth’s sentient beings.
Deeply integrated into a cultural and economic system in which compassion is considered to be a weakness and in which greed, exploitation, profits, property, winning, bellicosity and selfishness are sacrosanct, we cannot escape the reality that each of us participates in the American version of Hannah Arendt’s “banality of evil” to some extent. Unless we isolate ourselves in a mountain cabin or expatriate, as US citizens we are each damned to be one of the 300 million “Little Eichmanns” who enable our cynical plutocratic masters to dominate the world both economically and militarily.
Struggling to make itself heard above the cacophonous din of sound bites, advertising jingles, clichés, tropes, memes, mythos, and various other manifestations of the false consciousness that afflicts so many of us, the voice of conscience occasionally grabs our attention and violently reminds us how badly we are f*cking the rest of the world.
And when it does, the question we each need to ask ourselves is, “How much like “Eich” do I want to be?”
While there are myriad ways we can each minimize our culpability in the egregious crimes of savage capitalism and its most banal representation, consumerism, the struggle to end speciesism is at the vanguard of our much needed moral evolution. Yet is often minimized and ridiculed by sociopolitical thinkers of nearly all stripes.
Seeking to provoke a re-examination of our ghastly practices toward animals, Patrice Greanville, a force in the animal liberation movement for many years, has defined speciesism as akin to German fascism. While the comparison is doubtless inflammatory, it is well grounded in fact, since both speciesism and Nazism share a core ideology of entitlement to total dominion over anyone outside the “”master race” :
“[as] the oldest, crudest and most pervasive form of fascism or tyranny around…speciesism must be understood…as an unrecognized fascism…not so much as the organization of a mass party of thugs to beat back labor, or an outright rightwing military dictatorship, but as a form of institutionalized supremacism whereby a particular nationality, group, class, race (or species), unilaterally proclaims its ‘superiority’ over others, and proceeds to confer upon itself the right to exploit, murder, and tyrannize at will with absolute impunity.”
Infectious and insidious as racism or sexism, speciesism permeates nearly every facet of our existence—and it’s class blind: both poor and rich practice it with alacrity. Raising 4-5 billion non-human animals each year in the concentration camp-like conditions of factory farms, we torture and slaughter fellow sentient beings merely to satiate our carnivorous desires(1) or to justify any project, no matter how inane. As Peter Singer documented so well in his seminal work, Animal Liberation, we annually perform an array of horrendously brutal experiments on millions of non-human animals, including acids and solvents on restrained rabbits’ eyes (given their great sensitivity). Singer’s book clearly demonstrates that much of the “research” conducted by torturing animals involves redundant university studies that yield conclusions one could have intuited, frivolous government or military projects, and unnecessary consumer product tests designed to validate “new” brand claims.
Gandhi noted that “the greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be measured by the way its animals are treated,” and he was right.
If the United States has a prayer of attaining even a fraction of the “greatness” and “moral progress” it already attributes to itself, we must engage in a fearless moral inventory and prepare ourselves to make sweeping and dramatic social, economic, and political changes.
Treating non-human animals as objects for our convenience (hence subjecting them to horrendous suffering and abuse) is certainly one of our most shameful misdeeds. It is also one for which each of us can readily begin making amends. One simple step we can take is to refuse to consume meat or products from the fast food industry, a hideous manifestation of capitalism that catalyzed and necessitates factory farming.
[As a point of disclosure, this writer is a former carnivore. While in reality he was omnivorous, his diet revolved mostly around meat and he lived to eat it. There is rarely a day that passes that he does not crave a steak, a cheeseburger, or some other form of non-human animal flesh. However, as he explained in “Another Bacon Burger Anyone?” (http://rinf.com/alt-news/contributions/another-bacon-burger-anyone/57/), he remains committed to vegetarianism based on his rejection of speciesism, the detrimental effect factory farming has on the environment, and the fact that meat production is a huge contributor to world hunger because it consumes vast resources better utilized elsewhere. While veganism is probably not on his immediate horizon, he does minimize his egg consumption and makes a conscious effort to eschew the use of animal products derived from or tested upon animals.]