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In Defence of Animals ed Peter Singer
Sunday 16 October 2005
The child has rights, because it is human. Conventionally, the other two creatures do not have any rights. Dogs are protected in the laws of some countries: in the UK you can't barbecue Labradors, for example, or boil them to death. But you can do what you want with pigs. You can - as agribusiness does - lock a pregnant sow into a stall barely bigger than her own body, chained by the throat or around her middle, prevent her from exercising, turning around, cleaning herself, foraging or exploring. Pigs like to dig in soil. But in the hell of modern farming there is usually no soil. There is simply concrete, or awkward metal bars.
Paul McCartney once said that if slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be a vegetarian. This book continues Peter Singer's important, urgent project of turning these walls, one by one, to glass. The essays alert us to the holocaust that continues in farms and laboratories; a holocaust that most people ignore - not because they are bad people, but, perhaps, because the horror of what we do to animals is too big to contemplate.
It's easy to believe that only a few particularly sadistic farmers commit the atrocities, and that your pork chop was never part of a sentient being that came into the world wanting to play, roll in the mud and feel the sun on its back, but whose miserable life actually contained torture and pain and ended with screams (if you think that the profit-driven executioners within agribusiness actually care about properly stunning animals then you really do need to read this book). It's easy to believe, because the alternative - believing the truth - can drive you mad. Or it can drive you to take brave, peaceful and considered action, as all the contributors to this book did.
People who suggest that animals enjoy pleasure and do not enjoy pain (as I just did) are often accused of sentimentality: indulging in false or superficial emotion. This is not sentimentality; it is scientific fact. Sentimentality is reading your child cute "farmyard" stories and buying him or her adorable "cuddly" versions of the animals that are painfully killed to make the burgers or sausages you had for supper. Sentimentality is what is driving a culture in which sweets in the shape of animals contain the ground up bits of those animals, and in which it is possible to go to McDonald's and eat a "Happy" meal after watching a film like Madagascar, or Babe, or Chicken Run. Sentimentality says that what goes on in the countryside is traditional and wholesome and we should look the other way because we don't understand the mysterious ways of country folk. Sentimentality prevents ordinary, decent people from properly educating themselves about what goes into the Sunday lunch that they don't want to give up - because Sunday lunch is a lovely, traditional thing that Grandma really enjoys and it's those terrible animals rights people who try to spoil it with stories of animals being skinned alive and drowning in their own faeces.
Slaves were called "animals". Hitler called Jews animals. In fact, once you've decided something is an "animal", you can do what you want with it - until enough people say it's wrong. The wonderful essays in this book remind us that any form of humanism must respect all sentient beings, and that a culture that can create workers who can bear listening to the screams of the "animals" they kill (and who have been so dehumanised by the experience that they are willing, in some cases, even to sexually abuse the dead or dying animals) and that can also create people who are prepared to look the other way and enjoy the spoils of the whole endeavour - is a culture that is not only cruel and deluded, but well primed for the next human holocaust.
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