mandag 21. mai 2018

Beyond category: Seeing animals as individuals

Beyond category: Seeing animals as individuals 

In my previous entry, "Vegan... for your own good" I claimed that eating meat is not in your own interest as an animal has more to give alive than dead. Killing the animal for food is to sacrifice a unique individual for the sake of inferior food. There is a major possible objection to this, and that is: You do not, normally, meet the animals you eat. They are not in your life whilst alive, but the meat products they are turned into, can be. If meat is unhealthy, it still wouldn't be worth it to exchange your money for something that is damaging to yourself. However, let's go down a different road. Would you be thinking the same way about humans?

Individualism versus collectivism 

Often, nonhuman animals are viewed as categories rather than separate individuals. That is, whilst Angelica the human has properties ascribed to Angelica, the individual, Penny, the horse, has properties ascribed to the horse species. While it would be scandalous for Angelica not to be named, Penny being named is optional. 

Individualism means seeing those you meet as individuals rather than as representatives of their group membership  (often not assigned by themselves but by the human individual who defines). This can encompass individuals of other species as well as humans. A given individual of cat species can matter more to you, yourself, as an individual person, than another given individual belonging to the human species. You might care more for Penny, the horse, than Angelica, the human, or vice versa depending on who enriches your life the most. 

This view, however, is controversial. Many people seem to think you ought automatically to place every single human above every single individual of another species just because of their species membership. This view is collectivistic. Which club you are in matters more than who you really are. This is twice damaging. First of all, it teaches us to automatically view any nonhuman individual as inferior to a human one. This is unfair to the animal who isn't even permitted a true evaluation. Second, it is potentially damaging to the human who buys into the collectivist view. If Penny the horse is good to this human, and Angelica the human is not, he tries to place someone worse above someone better. 

Individualism also entails viewing the judgment of an individual more important than the customs and prejudices of society. That is: The fact that the collectivist view of animals is prevailing in society, should not matter. 

The supremacy of the human species

What is there to say for the view that all humans are more valuable than all nonhumans?

Intelligence is often mentioned. Humans are simply more intelligent. While this seems to be true when speaking of the species as a whole, there are exceptions, and a claim stating that ALL humans are more intelligent than ALL nonhumans would be false. Grown up crows are, as a rule, more intelligent than human infants or grown up humans with certain brain damages. While the grown up crows might be able to make simple tools and communicate between themselves, the human infants and brain damaged, might not. If intelligence were all that mattered, these grown up crows would have higher value and more rights than the humans mentioned. 

Other traits and properties proposed to be of defining value also elude being relevant for all humans and no nonhumans. 

The Egoist Viewpoint 

From the Egoist viewpoint, the value of another individual doesn't depend on what species or group he belongs to, but rather as to what he means to you, yourself, for better or worse.

This blogpost is based on my article "Veganer for ditt eget beste" on Masterbloggen (in Norwegian). Here, I chose to divide it into two separate articles. The article is based on my master thesis "The Ethical Egoist Case for Dietary Veganism, or the Individual Animal and His Will to Live". 

torsdag 17. mai 2018

Vegan... for your own good

for your own good

Is it a sacrifice to give up on meat and other animal products? Quite the contrary: It is a sacrifice not to be vegan. 

Veganism is on the rise. For what reason? To unselfishly and self-desertingly give up the taste of meat in order to save the world? Or... could it be that going vegan is the rational thing to do? Could it be that this is what would be beneficial to yourself? 

In my master thesis, I argued that embracing a vegan diet is the right thing to do from a standpoint even of ethical egoism. 

The Egoist Viewpoint

In this context, Egoism refers to the ethical view that choosing what is most beneficial to yourself is the correct thing to do. Given a choice between two options, the option beneficial to yourself is the good option, the option less beneficial or most detrimental to yourself is the evil option. 

There are many different versions of ethical egoism. I am primarily inspired by philosophers Max Stirner, Friedrich Nietzsche and Ayn Rand

Now, what is a self-benefitting choice? That is choosing the action(s) that help further your life. That is: the action(s) that make(s) you stronger, increase(s) your options, lengthen(s) and enrichen(s) your life. What weakens you is not self-benefitting. That is: a temporary high that leaves more damage than good in the long run is to be avoided according to this understanding of morality. 

Values worth keeping

The good(s) that enrichens and lengthens your life can be called values. When you collect values, you act in your own self-interest. 

Values are not necessarily material. A value can be a useful trait in yourself or in another person, that is a virtue. Living individuals can also constitute values. For one, they might have valuable traits, that is virtues. Second, for any reason, they might enrichen your life and contribute to your happiness. Individuals who contribute to your happiness constitute values. 

What is valuable is what you seek for. When you get it, you do your best to keep it. And the other way round: To exchange a value for something less valuable or even valueless, is morally incorrect given ethical egoism. An example of this would be to obey your parents in their aspirations for you, say in choosing a carreer, when you have better options that would make you happier. Exchanging a good for a neutral or a bad is a sacrifice and morally wrong.

What is most valuable to you? 

Choosing meat or animal products over a vegan alternative, could constitute a sacrifice. Given that you could choose between a diet based on animal products and a vegan diet, the question will be: What is most valuable to you?

I will take a look at two ways as to how meat eating could constitute a sacrifice: 
* If the individual animal has a value whilst alive, and this value is lost when that individual dies
* If meat or any animal product is less healthy than a vegan alternative

Would you have eaten a dog?

Nonhuman animals matter to us. Many of us have grown up with a companion dog or cat. Let's imagine you had a dog named Zeus. He had certain traits personal to himself and you think of him as an individual. 

If you've known other dogs, you'd probably recognize that they were each different from each other: that every one was unique. Maybe Zeus was especially intelligent? Maybe he was especially energetic? Or perhaps he was a lazy couch potato. 

Zeus was probably also very different from all the human individuals you knew. Zeus was more than "just a dog". He had specific traits and properties that the humans you know do not share. That is: Your dog Zeus was unique. Not only was he irreplaceable by any other dog: neither a human individual could ever fill his place. 

Can you imagine your dog Zeus being mashed up and turned into meatballs? Well. In most parts of the world, it is not common to eat dogs, so this thought experiment might seem odd to you. But what if Zeus wasn't a dog? Say he was a pig. 

Pigs can also be companions to humans. They have unique and individual personalities. Say Zeus the pig was your companion. What would be most valuable to you: Zeus, the companion, or the sausages he could be turned into? 

If you kill an animal to turn her into food, you sacrifice a personality. This is because a personality depends on a living body to sustain it. A corpse is rid of personality and cannot fulfill the functions of the living. 

What about your health?
And then what about the food itself? Let's just agree for the sake of argument that meat is unhealthy and that replacing it with a healthy vegan rich in fresh vegetables, fruit and vegan protein sources such as beans and lentils is an option. Then how could it be in your own interest to keep eating animal products?

A meatless diet can  be healthier than a diet containing meat. The so-called Adventist studies in the US found out that vegans have lower risk of obesity, diabetes type 2, cardiac disease and high blood pressure.

Now, nutrition is way too complex for us to conclude with certainty that a vegan diet is better than a meat based one. However, assuming that meat is less healthy than good vegan options, and assuming that living animals have value, then meat production is a negative value converter, turning value into nonvalue. That is, the living animal individual is turned into unhealthy food. A good is given up for a bad. 

The practice is detrimental. 

This post is based on my article "Veganer for ditt eget beste" found on Masterbloggen. The article is based on my master thesis "The Ethical Egoist Case for Dietary Veganism, or the Individual Animal and His Will to Live". 

The original article, in Norwegian, is longer. I figured it allowed for easier reading to divide the article in two and thus publish the second half as a separate entry.