Friday, November 15, 2013

How the Treatment of Dogs in Korea Should Shake our Conscience on Eating Meat: My Story


First an update on Noah the dog (original post here), after my concerns about how my in-laws were taking care of him I was then slightly disappointed to learn that they also couldn't keep him.  Why oh why they couldn't have realised this before they got him, lord only knows, it could have saved them, me, and more importantly the dog a lot of heartache.  For a variety of reasons my in-laws had to give him up.

Despite the chopping and changing of owners being horrible for the dog, I am at least optimistic about who they have given the dog to; a man who owns other dogs and doesn't believe in keeping them tied-up outside.  It seems as if he has other dogs and cats also, so if he can train Noah well enough, it seems like he will have a lot of company.  It is certainly far from the perfect solution, but it is at least not the worst that could happen.

So, on to matters of eating meat.  I was a vegetarian for about ten years from the age of about 20.  I became one not because I knew all that much about how animals were farmed or slaughtered, but simply because I was reading quite a lot of moral philosophy at the time and was logically argued out of it.  Basically, there is not any good reason why we should rear and kill animals purely for our own pleasure when clearly the results of doing this are against the animal's best interests or choices (the fact is we should not assume their choices or make them for the animal).

I was fairly strict (in that I wouldn't eat seafood also) for most of these ten years up until I arrived in Korea.  For the first year, I ate seafood in Korea as I found myself struggling for vegetarian options (especially as I was so inept at sorting things out at the time generally), but still no meat.  However, after I met my wife and started working in a public school I lapsed into eating meat also.  My reasons were based around the lower availability of meat alternatives (especially in school food) and the great advantage it gave me in keeping my in-laws and work colleagues happy.  I can eat basically anything and I love Korean food.  You wouldn't believe how much easier this makes my life in Korea and also how much more liked I am for being this way by Korean people.

Still, I did not eat that much meat generally and in the last few months I have stopped buying it completely, but still eat it if my in-laws serve it up or if it is unavoidable in my school dinners.  I still don't drink milk and avoid dairy products as much as possible, but for more practical reasons as I am lactose intolerant.

A few weeks ago, however, I decided to go back to being a strict vegetarian again.  What prompted this change?  It was the feelings I had about Noah's situations and the hypocrisy of  eating meat at the same time.

I was so concerned for Noah, so much so I was prepared to turn my life upside-down to keep him in a ridiculously unfavourable situation.  Even when I realised the expense and the trouble of taking him to Australia, I was for a time trying to find ways in which I could do it.  All this despite the fact he was almost impossible to take care of in my small apartment, on my own, and with my work commitments, which was causing me a fair amount of stress.  When I had to give him to my in-laws as planned, and then saw the conditions they were keeping him in and the way they were looking after him, I was almost moved to tears.

Noah wasn't being abused by my in-laws, just neglected slightly and not treated with the love and attention I thought a dog needed.  His quality of life was not up to scratch. 

But this got me thinking while I was eating pork ribs (galbi) round my in-laws house.  The dog was outside and I was worried about him, but here I was tucking into meat from a pig that probably had a far lower quality of life than most dogs would have, even in Korea.  I knew also that there was no real reason to differentiate between the suffering capacity of a pig and that of a dog.  I was a hypocrite, I cared so much about this cute fluffy thing outside because he had become a part of my life and I could see him and his relatively low-level suffering, but I cared very little about the pig I was eating.  The only reason I didn't care was because it was out of sight and out of mind.  Willful ignorance or delegation of responsibility of rearing and killing what I ate were not good reasons to continue eating meat.  I was eating it, I spent money on buying meat and I therefore supported, not only the killing of the animals, but of the cruel factory farm practices where approximately 66% of the animals eaten in the world come from.

A while ago I received a comment on one of my blog posts saying exactly this (here) and the person in question lambasted me for being a hypocrite.  Essentially, the comment was right, but I thought it was a tad judgemental.  She did not know that I knew about all the issues and had been wrestling with them for quite some time while also dealing with living in a different culture and family (and that I had been a vegetarian for so long).   The writer of the comment basically said what many Koreans say when confronted with how they treat dogs and the fact of eating them, "well you eat pigs, cows and chickens, don't you?  What is the difference?"  In my posts on abortion and the treatment of dogs in Korea I stated some of the reasons why I do think there is something special about a dog and that the way they are treated does tell a story about morality in Korean culture.  I stand by what I say, if you can't even treat our closest friend in the animal kingdom with some compassion and respect, I don't think this is encouraging and is definitely going to make the job of animals rights campaigners much more difficult in the changing of attitudes towards all animals in general.

At least in Western countries more people do seem to understand that animals can suffer and our close relationship and care of dogs can help us achieve a base for greater compassion and empathy for other animals also.  Indeed, I think dogs can really serve as a consciousness raiser for Western people when it comes to the ethical treatment of other animals.  Of course, many Korean people have a love of dogs and animals, but the culture is very different towards dogs, especially bigger dogs and because of this Korea doesn't have the head-start most Western countries have in striving for the better treatment of animals.

That said, though, the vast majority of Westerners still don't really seem to care about what happens behind closed doors and the pleasure of satisfying their taste buds is simply more important to them than the suffering of other sentient beings.  In essence Koreans are correct, it is hypocritical of us to come down on them hard over the eating of dogs and the cruelty they sometimes show towards them.  As long as we all support factory farming, in particular, by continuing to buy meat products they will always have a point.  Their treatment of dogs and the use of them as a food source should serve to make us all feel uncomfortable about what is going on in the meat trade in our own countries.

Knowledge of what really goes on in the meat trade is important; one has a moral obligation not to simply turn a blind eye on what is going on and this is precisely what I had been doing.  Noah's predicament set me on the path to rediscovering the horrific amount of suffering we impart on animals on a shocking scale.  Reading a couple of books on animal rights by authors such as Peter Singer or watching documentary videos such as, "The Earthlings", is enough to put anyone off their appetite for eating meat.

On top of all this I have never heard an anywhere near convincing argument for eating meat in modern developed societies.  I watched a debate recently by Intelligence Squared in Australia on the issue of eating meat and I was fairly shocked how hopelessly inept the side in favour of eating meat were in defending their position.  Most people in my experience simply pretend do know things they do not know by saying things like "animals don't suffer" or "slaughter is painless for the animals."

It is hard not to become preachy as soon as you make the decision to be a vegetarian.  Once you realise the injustice of how we use animals for our own pleasure it is hard not to be outraged by it.  Factory farming, especially when combined with animal testing in science and medicine, compares frighteningly well to the Holocaust, for example, because if you can accept that there is even a chance that animals can suffer and feel pain in similar ways to which humans can suffer, our conscience should be heavily weighed-down by what is happening daily with animals.*  Back in 2001 an average of 2.5 million animals were killed daily for the purpose of food, the vast majority in abattoirs.  This figure is almost certainly much higher at present.

Perhaps the way forward is a compromise; I find it hard to be so upset about free-range animals as a source for food.  I think there are still problems with slaughter, but in principle the life of a cow roaming around a large pasture before being killed, for example, is less troubling.  In an ideal world though, there would still be a massive issue with regard to the moral treatment of animals because even ethically-reared animals often end-up going to abattoirs to be killed, which are grim places indeed, not to mention the troublesome issue of the transport of them to the abattoirs.  Even if the methods used to kill the animals were proved to be utterly painless, both mentally and physically, can we guarantee that every time an animal is killed this is so?  This seems to be a problem.

Think of your own job or even general tasks and hobbies and how many small mistakes you make over the length of one day; just writing the last sentence I had to make 3 corrections.  Make small mistakes in the killing of animals and you can cause extreme pain and suffering.  These mistakes become more likely due to time constraints caused by trying to process as many animals as possible in order to save/make more money and cope with demand from consumers.  This also assumes the people responsible for killing the animals in abattoirs are all well-adjusted, highly moral human beings that won't abuse the animals further, and considering what the job entails and the potential for a significant amount of desensitisation to killing and pain that must occur even over the space of just one day on the job, this seems highly unlikely.

So there you have it, a blog basically dedicated to promoting the idea of becoming a vegetarian, with some small relevance to living in Korea.  I guess though, that conclusions we come to in life and the following decisions we make can really be affected by traveling and living in other countries.  The true experience of another culture is often an unsettling one, which forces us to confront some uncomfortable issues regarding our own.  Sometimes we are well aware these things exist, we can play-out thought experiments in our heads, but actually having to deal with it first-hand in another culture often brings the message home with frightening and possibly life-changing clarity.  If you live in a culture different to your own for a long enough period of time, you will begin to slowly change many of the ideas, principles, and ways of living you previously thought of as normal or simply took for granted.  This is precisely why, as it is famously said, travel broadens the mind.

* Altered from the original piece to include, "especially when combined with animal testing in science and medicine" because of a point raised in my comments section by Burndog.

24 comments:

  1. I can't see how just Korean treatment of dogs should shake my conscience. Plenty of people in America treat dogs and various other pets way worse than they do here.

    What really gets me about this article is that if you just replace "animals" with "plants" you get my argument on why I can't be a vegetarian. I've met plenty of vegetarians and usually they give me a great response about not eating meat, such as disliking the taste, which I think is perfectly acceptable. If you don't like something, don't eat it. But plants are treated cruelly as well. We just don't hear about it because plants can't cry out like animals do when they are wounded and killed. Plants become genetically modified, and most people go on eating them(some of which are so modified that they cannot grow in the wild). Sure there are some people opposed to this, but they are far fewer than those opposed to animal cruelty.

    You said, "more important to them than the suffering of other sentient beings." I believe plants are sentient beings. All animals on the Earth eat other living, breathing creatures in order to survive. Therefore everyone contributes to this in one way or another. Here are a few articles:

    http://www.popsci.com/science/article/2010-07/study-unveils-plant-nervous-system-illuminating-how-plants-remember-and-react

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/05/do-plants-think-daniel-chamovitz-see-feel-smell_n_1571027.html

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/10598926

    I then as well understand your position on free range animals. Why not give those a try. If they are hard to come by and don't agree with your diet then I think that is perfectly understandable, but every time you stick a fork into your salad, remember that these were once living beings that couldn't even scream when they were ripped from the ground and killed.

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    1. It is clear we have to eat something, so what do our moral intuitions, first, and then science tell us about the ability to suffer? The presence of a central nervous system is important, pain receptors, consciousness, affection towards others like offspring, etc. Now you can argue that all are present in plants (but not really, care of offspring no, CNS no, ability to feel pain, maybe) but you must admit that if they do have senses approaching any of these, they are significantly less apparent. Also, comparing, say a pig, kept in a stall where it cannot turnaround or squeezed in with other pigs for most of its short life, does not relate very well to a plant, which has roots and doesn't move. You can cause far more suffering on a pig and not acknowledging this is just silly.

      We can't not eat, so we have to make a judgement about the lesser of the evils out there and plants are surely the more moral thing to choose to eat. I grant you the ability of plants to suffer or feel pain (although I have my doubts that it is in any way meaningful) but the key is to examine the degrees of suffering a living being can feel and take this into account. If you honestly do this, you must see that eating plants is the better option.

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  2. "Factory farming, especially, compares frighteningly well to the Holocaust, for example, because if you can accept that there is even a chance that animals can suffer and feel pain in similar ways to which humans can suffer, our conscience should be heavily weighed-down by what is happening daily with animals."

    I find your comparison lazy (it's the first sign of a lazy writer to glibly compare things to 'Nazis' or 'the Holocaust') and incredibly offensive. Whilst I do strongly support animal welfare, and was a vegetarian myself for many years, I feel that you've crossed a line here.

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    1. Sorry to disagree with you again, Burndog, but I couldn't disagree more.

      The Holocaust comparison is not unique to my writing, it is a common comparison drawn in animal moral philosophy and bioethics. Because if I tell you 6 million Jews died in the Holocaust and 50 Billion or so animals were killed factory farms last year and ask what is the difference, you might say the Jews were humans and the animals are not. This begs the question, however, why do we not consider the suffering and killing of 50 Billion animals in the same way as anywhere near registering a similar moral or emotional response? If the only thing you come up with is the human/Animal difference, it is simple specieism. The argument comparing this to the Holocaust is designed to raise consciousness and has been used by a number of writers. If I am lazy in making this comparison, I am in good company:

      Isaac Bashevis Singer (Nobel Prize Winner in Literature 1978)
      J.M. Coetzee (Nobel Prize Winner in Literature 2003)

      A number of others also and the president of PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals). They also used the comparison in an ad campaign back in 2003 (although I know they do make some shit campaigns and statements sometimes, like Pokemon "encouraging violence towards animals").

      Of course these writers and other's use of it doesn't make it right, but I can see their point and the accusation of laziness I think is incorrect. Controversial and offensive, perhaps, but both of those do not necessarily imply "wrongness."

      Look up some books by the Australian moral philosopher Peter Singer for a detailed argument on many of the issues I raise in this post. He himself is a controversial figure, but one that I happen to agree with mostly, especially on animal rights.

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    2. Heya Smudgles!

      Lazy might have been harsh...so I will explain my misgivings as best I can. Firstly, full disclosure...my paternal grandmother was a German Jew whose entire family (save for one brother) were murdered in the holocaust. I have therefore seen these references "blah is like the holocaust", "blah blah is like the Nazis" a million times. I find it an easy comparison. We always hear that the Jews went quietly into the death camps and were led "like cattle" or sent "like sheep to slaughter" among other things. The comparison is an easy one. That PETA campaign that you are talking about as a stand up example was actually a huge embarrassment for PETA, and they eventually apologised for the pain that the campaign had caused people.

      I am aware of Isaac Singer's writing, and think that it's a little bit too soon to put yourself in his league! He said, "every day is Treblinka for animals", and whilst I agree with the sentiment, I think that it's important to look at the historical context of the holocaust and realise that just because one thing is total and bad, it does not make it the same as another thing that is total and bad.

      I don't think that Peter Singer necessarily supports the argument that the holocaust and animal slaughter are similar, I always thought that he merely argued that PETA should have the right to make the comparison between the two? Anyway, I haven't read enough of his work to have any real idea.

      In my opinion, comparing the two serves little purpose other than to trivialise the suffering of people like my grandmother and those like her. I also think that the actual plight of animals, and the actual conditions in which they live and die is horrific enough that you don't need to try and utilise this polarising argument that it's somehow just like the holocaust. It's not different because we're talking about 'animals instead of humans' it's different because it's actually VERY different.

      The Nazis determination to erase the Jews from Europe was borne out of hatred, anti-Semitism and greed. The slaughter of animals is borne almost entirely out of greed. Companies want to make money. The Holocaust was an act of anti-Semitism, racism, and homophobia. Slaughteryards exist to make a cheap product as quickly as possible, animal and worker's rights be damned. The holocaust was a short and brutal period of human history. The slaughter of animals has been a long and sustained campaign of aggression.

      Two things can be wrong without being similar.

      I know a lot of Jewish members of PETA gave up on them when they made that stupid ad campaign and touring sideshow. The reason for this is that it's entirely short sighted to compare the two. The holocaust was an act of 'cleansing' by the Nazis. Those who were deemed unfit for labour camps were sent to death, and then there was a huge effort in determining the most efficient way of disposing of their remains.

      The slaughter of animals on the other hand is performed in order to provide inexpensive food to people, as well as the many bi-products of the animal slaughter industry.

      There are many people who find that the treatment and slaughter of animals is far worse than the Holocaust. Certainly many more animals are being murdered every year than people were in the Holocaust. If that's the case, then why compare them at all? It's clear that they aren't anything alike, aside from both being events where there are people/animals killed at the behest of humans.

      It's clear that it's used as some sort of measure of human suffering so that people react. Unfortunately it's a weapon that constantly mis-fires and causes unnecessary hurt and offence to Jewish people who survived the Holocaust and their families.

      Now...it's past my bed time.

      I agree with

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    3. I agree with what you wrote here about the differences, let's agree that they are not the same things for the reasons you outlined here. However, I still think the comparison is useful as a consciousness raiser to highlight that the amount of animal deaths is horrendous and the amount of suffering is terrible. That is all it is used for.

      I don't think the comparison trivialises the Holocaust, and if it does that merely shows-up the need to make people understand the gravity of our current situation with regard to animals. The Holocaust and the slaughter of animals for food are alike in two key areas; a) mass murder (by extermination), and b) mass suffering. The fact is people care about people, so if you can pick a horrendous moment in history that bares some similarity to animal slaughter and make a comparison to switch a light bulb on in people's minds, what other moment in history could you pick? They are not the same, but you won't find a human/animal situation that is exactly the same. The Holocaust is the closest fit. The motivations for the killing is quite different, the results are not, except for the fact that many more animals suffer and die (that is in fact why the comparison should work to raise consciousness).

      I think there is a need for comparisons like this because so many people are just so unmoved by animal suffering. Perhaps, as you say, it may misfire but I can understand the desperation that campaigners feel when trying to make people care about what they eat. They must feel like they are fighting an uphill battle all the time.

      Finally, I think PETA are unwise to use the comparision as a campaign, it is only ever going to make them unpopular. But I do think people become offended by the comparison because of speciesism. The reason why people are offended is not because of the differences you highlighted in your comment, people get offended because in one case we are talking about animals and in the other we are talking about thinking, feeling, fellow human beings (of the same species). You must surely realise this and it is important to somehow find a way around this prejudice. Being offended by the comparison to the Holocaust does I think highlight this prejudice.

      PS: I am not putting myself in those other writer's league, just noting that it was not just a stupid blogger from England's argument.

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  3. I replied earlier on my phone and it somehow deleted. Annoying.

    So...here's a short version of what I wrote.

    Firstly, I think that you talk about the Holocaust like it was a football match. I don't think that you really understand the feelings and emotions that the term evokes in survivors and their families, and I hope that you get the chance to spend some time with some survivors before they all pass. I guarantee that if you hear their story, and understand the reality of what people like my grandmother went through, then you would understand how what you wrote causes hurt and offence.

    PETA apologised for the hurt that this opinion caused. Food for thought?

    You accuse me of species-ism, yet you failed to address any of my points that were specifically NOT related to the differences between the two being species related. I acknowledge that you did say that you agree that they are 'not the same things'.

    If we killed cows for being homosexuals, pigs for following a certain religion, or horses for being wealthy, then your argument about species-ism would hold up. Murder is more often than not judged by two things, motive and execution. It's the motive for the murder of animals that makes the comparison insulting. It's even more insulting that you're comparing the slaughter of animals like pigs with the slaughter of the Jews of Europe, and if you understood the Jewish faith, you might understand why that's so disgusting.

    In short, I don't see how you can make the leap from "It is hard not to become preachy as soon as you make the decision to be a vegetarian." to "Factory farming, especially, compares frighteningly well to the Holocaust...". It seems like you're not trying at all not to be preachy.

    Now, you will be hard pressed to find a more staunch opponent of factory farming than your old chum Burndog. I remember reading Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation and being disgusted by the shit that I was eating every day. My argument is not with anything else that you wrote...in fact...in a rare day for both of us...I agreed with pretty much everything else you said!

    I'm sorry to bang this drum, but I have argued respectfully (no swearing!) and on your blog rather than as a fresh post on my bully pulpit. I hope that you appreciate that I am not trying to wind you up or antagonise you, I'm just trying to express my opinion on a very personal topic.

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    1. I appreciate the disagreement Burndog, and the way you are going about it, no worries.

      I do get it, I do understand that there is a significant difference between humans and animals and animals and plants (unlike the other commenter on this post). Some living beings are capable of more suffering than others and humans are, I believe, capable of the most. I think this is essentially what you are getting at, i.e. there is much more to the suffering of Jewish Holocaust victims and their families than there is to the killing of animals for food.

      Still, however, I find the comparison a useful one because it is a consciousness raiser and I really don't understand how it belittles the suffering of Holocaust victims. All it is doing is raising the perceived suffering of the animal victims, which I think is a good thing in a world almost completely desensitised to it.

      We kill cows, chickens, pigs, etc, for our own pleasure and why, because they are non-human. When we oppress others like homosexuals, those of other religions, or of different race, we do exactly the same thing, we de-humanise them, we make them like animals. I am sure this is what you are getting at with the offence part. My argument is that the word de-humanise has a kind of prejudice to it, it implies only humans are worthy of being treated with respect and kindness (more kindness and respect, maybe yes).

      Maybe saying "specieist" was wrong of me, so I apologise about that.

      I think the reason for PETA apologising was not that they recognised they were essentially wrong, but that the reaction was not good PR for them and perhaps the world is not yet ready for such a comparison to be drawn.

      While I must be forced also to acknowledge the comparison is not like for like and there is more suffering on the individual down to the Holocaust, we are making-up for it in shear numbers of animals killed and the fact that the vast majority of people in the world still think there is nothing wrong with the way we are rearing and killing animals for food. The comparison with the Holocaust, I think is justified to get people's minds ticking-over on the issue because if we cannot learn anything from the suffering of a group of de-humanised people and still impart suffering on other beings for no good reason, I think that is a greater insult.

      PS: Seeing as I am so concerned about the treatment of animals, I fail to see how drawing the comparison to animals is me treating the Holocaust like a football match. On the contrary, I am appalled and deeply moved by both. Again, I am not trying to bring the Holocaust down, but trying to lift the issue of animal slaughter for food up.

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    2. From the Nuremberg trials -

      "Principal prosecutor Telford Taylor began his opening statement with these somber words:

      The defendants in this case are charged with murders, tortures and other atrocities committed in the name of medical science. The victims of these crimes are numbered in the hundreds of thousands. A handful only are still alive; a few of the survivors will appear in this courtroom. But most of these miserable victims were slaughtered outright or died in the course of the tortures to which they were subjected ... To their murderers, these wretched people were not individuals at all. They came in wholesale lots and were treated worse than animals.

      He went on to describe the experiments in detail. Some of these human guinea pigs were deprived of oxygen to simulate high altitude parachute jumps. Others were frozen, infested with malaria, or exposed to mustard gas. Doctors made incisions in their flesh to simulate wounds, inserted pieces of broken glass or wood shavings into them, and then, tying off the blood vessels, introduced bacteria to induce gangrene. Taylor described how men and women were made to drink seawater, were infected with typhus and other deadly diseases, were poisoned and burned with phosphorus, and how medical personnel conscientiously recorded their agonized screams and violent convulsions."

      You're cheapening the experiences of Jewish people b y comparing what these companies do with the systematic rape, murder, torture and mis-treatment of Jewish people during the Holocaust. You keep comparing the two in a really cold way, like a football match report. I find it troubling that you don't see rape, torture, anti-semitism, homophobia and racism as any different to what happens to animals. I find that odd.

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    3. I think we are going to have to agree to disagree.

      All of what is described in your reply, I am aware of and what can I say but, horrific, evil stuff. But you must know that all of that and more is STILL conducted on animals every single day in animal testing for science and medicine. Fair enough, I didn't mention that in the post and maybe should have, but I was trying to stick to the topic of meat.

      This is why the topic of the Holocaust is the only real comparison worth making between human suffering and animal suffering. It is clear that we do not have a problem with animals suffering as long as it is not us as individuals that are doing it. Most know what goes on yet still choose to support it by buying meat, for example (including myself not long ago). We absolutely need a comparison to the Holocaust to open people's minds to the very grave possibility that animals are suffering in similar ways to people, as most people just feel nothing about animal suffering, absolutely nothing. We don't know how animals feel pain or what emotions go on inside their heads, so we need human examples to compare, because that's all we know. Without a comparison we are lost and it is difficult to empathise with animals.

      The more horrors you describe about the Holocaust simply serves to make me even more upset about how humans treat animals precisely because when I imagine how the Jewish people involved must have felt and suffered, I am almost torn apart with pity, grief, sorrow, anger, and disgust. When I then consider the possibility that animals can suffer in similar ways and the similarities with what happened to the Jews it makes me angry and sad that, as I said, we are still doing it and on such an unimaginable scale with animals.

      I am not cheapening the experiences of Jewish people, I still can't comprehend why you keep saying it. I care, genuinely, about both human and animal suffering. I don't care about the suffering humans less because I care about animals too and make comparisons. Saying or insinuating that I do is simply illogical.

      I am trying to keep things logical and emotionless because too much emotion clouds judgement, especially in debate, but believe I feel upset, very much so.

      What we are essentially arguing about is the value of life and the ability to suffer pain. How many animals is one human life worth? All of them? 10 of them? 1 000 000 of them? How much suffering can an animal really experience? Half that of a human? About the same? None at all? One tenth? All these are incredibly uncomfortable questions that we simply do not have answers to, however until we do, we should be giving animals the benefit of the doubt that they can suffer in very meaningful ways and not do as we please with them. If comparing their treatment to the Holocaust helps focus minds on their plight and aids animals in better treatment from us, at least we have used the terrible things that went on in Nazi Germany in a useful way to reduce suffering in the world. Surely that would be a good thing.

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    4. No. One agrees to disagree when one has a discussion and both parties have wildly differing but solid opinions on a topic. One does not agree to disagree when one side of the argument feels that the other side has said something offensive, and the other side refuses to understand or acknowledge the offense caused.

      Firstly, you stated that "all that of that, and more is STILL conducted on animals every single day in animal testing or science and medicine." I'm not sure how animal testing for science and medicine (and cosmetics I might add) relates to your argument that factory farming is like the Holocaust. I mean, if you move the goalposts enough then you might be able to make everything fit into your argument. We were discussing factory farming....not animal testing. Even so, I doubt that the animals are actually raped or killed because they are homosexuals (to use just two of my examples). I would love to know which scientific or medical facility is routinely murdering gay animals. I would also be interested to know where animals are being murdered, or forced into work camps purely because of their religious beliefs.

      Your final paragraph is doing exactly what I've talked about a couple of times before...you keep using numbers as though that makes you right. It comes across as cold and weird. I have no idea why you keep throwing numbers around like that makes things better or worse. It's not about how many of this or that. I don't know why you don't understand that. If somebody kills your dog because they don't like dogs, that's upsetting, but if someone kills your grandmother's entire family because they don't like Jews, you can't understand how this is different or worse?

      Maybe we should agree to disagree. Maybe that's the best way forward, but at the same time, you should understand that what you wrote isn't "edgy" or "shocking" or "a wake up call" or any of that shit. You're not asking "uncomfortable questions". You're simply sitting in a position of privilege talking about issues that you are safely distanced from, emotionally, historically and racially. Here we sit, me being asked by a goy to decide how many animals each of my grandmother's family were worth. Oy vey! Maybe her sister was worth a dog? Her sister's baby? A cat? Or maybe a kitten? What about her brother's dog? The dog was killed too. Maybe the dog was worth two people, but don't worry, they were Jews...I don't dare consider how many gentiles a Jew might be worth.

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    5. Also...you mention the Nazi's dehumanising the Jews, which was a key part of the ideology that fueled the Holocaust. I hope that you understand that by comparing Jews to animals, there is the possibility that rather than 'humanising' animals, you are instead further 'dehumanising' Jews. So much for learning from history!

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    6. Firstly, let me say that if I have offended you, I am sorry. I think, however, there is no need to be offended. I don't understand how I cheapen the suffering of the Jews. Again, I am not bringing down humans to the level of animals, I am bringing the level of animals up to somewhere near that of humans. I care strongly about both humans and animal suffering, but humans more. However, I think animals do deserve better and I think comparisons with great human suffering will help raise consciousness about it.

      I think humans should be considered of higher moral value because they are capable of more suffering, but there is a tricky philosophical problem here, which is, does superior moral value justify the killing of many other animals for the benefit of a few humans? That is an important question, and to be honest, I don't think we are justified. The Nazis would certainly have thought of themselves as possessing a significantly higher moral value than that of the Jews and this helped them justify what they did. I think the comparison is actually growing closer with the suffering of animals the more I explore it.

      Whether i wrote it in the original post or not, the issue is that we do similar things on animals in the name of scientific progress. As I didn't write it in the original, I was wrong on that (which I have admitted already, and has now been changed on the post with a note saying why), but let's move forward in the discussion now that I have admitted my mistake.

      While I think you maybe being facetious with the gay animals comment, maybe I was also unclear in my statement. To clarify, I think many horrific procedures are done to or have been done to animals that mirror those performed in the Holocaust and a whole lot more.

      Not trying to be edgy, just trying to be honest in my opinions. I think a wake-up call is needed to shock us out of what is going on with animals. Again, I am not alone in drawing the comparison to the Holocaust. Peter Singer is an interesting example, actually. He never made the comparison himself, but did not condemn PETA for making the comparison, in fact he defended them. Peter Singer himself was a descendent of Holocaust survivors, he obviously did not take it personally. Also Isaac Bashevis Singer was a Jewish writer who said, ""To Animals, All People are Nazis" (featured on the PETA poster).

      Please read this article by Peter Singer in the Guardian, he explains things quite well (towards the end of the piece): http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/belief/2009/apr/15/religion-islam-atheism-defamation

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    7. We are right back where we started. At this rate we will end up catching our own tail.

      In short...there are plenty of counter arguments and disagreements with both I.B Singer and P. Singer. Plenty of them. I could link to them...but there's no point. We will just end up at the beginning again.

      Now I'm going to go and kick a puppy.

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  4. I will respect your choice, as long as you respect my choice and don't go out of your way to impose. I feel no moral contradiction in eating meat what so ever, it is what has given humanity a boost in survival and the chance to evolve a bigger brain. I see no reason to halt that.. Than again, I also don't feel bad about animals eating people ...

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    1. I would never impose and I think it would be useless to do so as it would ultimately cause a push-back response. However, I do see a problem morally with eating meat the way we currently do it and would like people to be as informed as possible about where their meat comes from and therefore encourage people not to eat it.

      Giving humans a boost in survival was in the past when we had no other options, we have got to the point now where we can live a healthy, happy life without eating meat and without imparting suffering on to other animals. If we consider ourselves moral beings that have evolved past savages scrabbling around for what ever we can in order to survive, we really should have a more caring attitude for the suffering of other sentient beings.

      We are not going to halt our evolution by not eating meat, I think that is fairly obvious.

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  5. The real problem with comparisons to the Holocaust lies not just in its offensiveness, but also that it has become trite – happens far too often, when someone wants to say that something is bad, really really bad, it gets compared to whatever the National Socialists were up to 75 years ago. Then people get offended, and instead we get to arguing about whether the comparison is fair and accurate or rather insulting and trivializing, completely losing the thread of the issue ostensibly under our gaze.

    Some us shake our heads at the inability to grasp the nature of the error in comparison: the two things are qualitatively different, yet those who espouse the analogy seem to get hung up on the notion of quantity – x million dead from genocide in ww2 vs x billion charming critters slaughtered in abattoirs. They just aren’t the same, and it’s because humans are qualitatively different from animals.

    The holocaust is NOT ‘the closest fit.’ It does not fit at all. It is not a necessary comparison, and for reasons cited by yourself and others it is a false comparison that does more harm than good to anyone broaching the topic. It’s not just apples and oranges, it’s apples and submarines.

    You yourself have said: ‘Some living beings are capable of more suffering than others and humans are, I believe, capable of the most.’ We’re are still caught up in quantity, I’ll note, and of things that probably can’t be quantified – but this ignores other things that humans are capable of, doesn’t it, such as deductive reasoning and abstract thought, music and other forms of creative expression, language, oh, and one more thing – compassion for other creatures identified as a class of beings.

    Animals are simply unable to make ethical choices of the kind those of us who may choose to alter our diet are in fact doing – and if someone labels this ‘specieist’ then there is at least some rational basis for it. Humans are capable of that kind of compassion, and we are also capable of choosing when it is appropriate. Often that choice is very personal.

    Vegetarianism is a personal choice, and sometimes a cultural one, but it is something that human beings can choose which animals cannot. What can be puzzling, though, is that – primarily this is a Western thing – those who make the choice don’t stop there, but rather want to talk about it and try to persuade people to make the same choice. It springs from a desire to become a better person, and then to move on and make the world a better place.

    So far, so good, but there’s an almost inevitable sense of self-righteousness and better-than-you that creeps into such discourse almost immediately. Why the need to proselytize? Say what you will, by promoting and describing your own very personal decision to alter your diet, it’s really hard to say that you aren’t seeking to convince others to do the same.

    Some people choose to hike in the mountains on the weekend, others choose to hang out in bars till the wee hours. Some choose to sell life insurance, and others write poetry. Seldom do these people try to tell others that their choice is better for others as well – but we do see that a lot from vegetarians, however, the need and desire not only justify but also to persuade. Where does that come from?

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    1. Surely you can't really believe what you wrote in the last 3 paragraphs? How can you possibly compare eating meat in this day and age to hiking in the mountains, hanging-out and writing poetry? The fact is by eating meat, and not caring about its source, we support factory farming, we keep them in business, plain and simple, that is the direct consequence of our choice to eat meat. What are the direct ethical consequences of a walk in the mountains?

      I also can't believe that you think trying to persuade others to alter the choices they make in order to alleviate the suffering of other sentient beings is a waste of time or worse. Self-righteous? Not really, as I did eat meat until recently, I am as guilty as anyone else, but if you want to call it self-righteousness then why not if you are indeed righteous and correct.

      I used to have an acquaintance that told me he went out on a Friday and Saturday night to start fights, he was a thug, especially with a few drinks down him. Now, I knew him for long enough through playing squash that I was confident he wouldn't hurt me for criticising him about it, so I did. Was I wrong to do that? After all it was his free choice, other people read books, walk in the mountains, or knit, he just liked to beat people up. You can see where I am going, sometimes it is necessary to try and convince others that what they are doing is wrong and I understand why veggies and vegans do it, they just care about the suffering of animals and want to stop it and there is nothing wrong with that.

      I agree with you that comparisons to Nazi Germany has become a trite thing to do. I myself have been accused of being a Nazi a few times. However, that doesn't mean that the comparison is never justified. In the case of the comparison between humans treatment of animals and the Holocaust, I think it compares well, and I do believe it is necessary to find a situation in human history comparable to animal suffering to raise consciousness about it. The Holocaust fits best, in my opinion, but I am open to better example, can you find one? Torture, experimentation, mass execution, detainment in atrocious conditions, and the ability of people to overlook this suffering because they see the other (Jews and animals in this comparison) as something not worthy of consideration. I think the two fit very well.

      While I agree that numbers are not all important, they are at least somewhat important. Humans can suffer more greatly, but the degree to which they do suffer more is debatable and the fact is we don't know enough about animals suffering to just assume they don't suffer that much, so we should be able to do what we like with them.

      We are the only creatures on earth capable of making logical ethical choices, but animals do exhibit altruism and care for others. Also, suffering is the key here; not intelligence, music, language, etc. The ability to suffer is all important. We have every reason to believe that animals can suffer to a significant degree and that their suffering is not much different in the realms of bodily pain and even emotional pain in cases like separating young from their mothers. We also know that animals suffer from mental illness when confined in unnatural circumstances. This is enough to give them the benefit of the doubt and not torture and slaughter them by the billions.

      We can't feel how they feel, so we do need human comparisons to give us an idea, and I can't (as well as a number of other writers and thinkers) think of a better comparison to make than the Holocaust, sorry but that's what I think. Perhaps you shouldn't try and convince me otherwise because that would be wrong under your own analysis, after all I choose to write controversial blog posts others write poetry and some others walk up mountains. It is just a free choice, why try to convince other people their wrong?

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  6. ‘ Surely you can't really believe what you wrote in the last 3 paragraphs? How can you possibly … ? The fact is … plain and simple … I also can't believe that you think … We have every reason to believe that … We also know that … This is enough to … ‘

    Boy, I’ve heard some say that you can be smug and condescending but I’d never experienced it first-hand until now.

    Every single thing you have labeled as fact, ‘plain and simple,’ are really opinions – and it is perfectly fine to have opinions but it is important to know the difference between things that are empirically provable and things that people can and do disagree about. There are a lot of people with a lot of different opinions about modern agriculture, and please don’t ask me to accept yours simply because you would prefer I do.

    Well, here is a fact. In no place in the world at any time in history has a meat processing plant, slaughterhouse or abattoir filed for bankruptcy because some serious-minded and well-meaning individuals decided to stick to tofu instead of beef. It has simply never happened. You’re really talking about a boycott and they seldom work, or the extent to which they do work is highly debatable. If you have some information at your disposal to convince me otherwise, I’ll be happy to listen.

    I’ll say it again. It is a personal choice. You are free to believe it is a political choice, and that by asking the nice lady to leave the julienned ham off of your bibimbap and adding a little more bean curd that you are joining a million other little raindrops that will create a flood of wonderfulness and make the world a place of sunshine and rainbows where no one ever gets hurt … but I’m afraid I will tell you, as Mr Dawkins enjoys saying to the faithful, that you are deluded.

    Another fact: We don’t really know how much or how badly other living creatures suffer, though we can make conjectures based on quantifiable trauma and reactions the animal makes to pain-inducing stimuli. We can’t know, because there are limits to certain kinds of knowledge, and beyond that is conjecture and little else. I think you’ve admitted this much.

    What we do know is that when we see animals suffering, we feel bad. Most of us do, those of us without sociopathic pathologies. So we should certainly try to cut out as much of it as we can. But we should be honest with ourselves about the reasons for our own altruism … and it serves us well also to be realistic about our chances of saving the world. (A lot of vegetarians enjoy the warm feeling of basking in the glow of their correct choices, and the rest of us are so happy to see how happy they have made themselves.)

    One more fact: false analogies convince no one. Did you mean to call me a thug? Well, thank you, sir, and good day to you.

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    1. What!! I certainly did not mean to call you a thug!! How did you come to that understanding? If I somehow accidentally insinuated it, I apologise, but it certainly wasn't my intention. It was merely an actual true example of a situation relevant to the argument from when I was younger. The guy actually had "Thug Life" tattooed on his back, would you believe.

      "We don’t really know how much or how badly other living creatures suffer", precisely my point. Shouldn't they be given the benefit of the doubt? What if they do suffer much like humans?

      I am not basking in the glow of my correct choices, as I said, I am as guilty as anyone.

      You make the age old excuse for not doing anything to reduce suffering in the world, why bother? What difference can I make? Well, if everyone thought that way the world would be a significantly worse place. The fact is that I am guilty of a great many things; buying meat for too many years without concern for its source, not giving enough to charity, not volunteering enough, and more. If I had done such things, yeah I agree, the world wouldn't be that much different (although I think I would be a better and happier person), but if we all did it, then surely the world would be a better place. I know how we can strive for a better world and that is with an attitude that, however small a contribution, we can make a difference. By saying, why bother we will never make a difference and nothing will change for the better. And in fact you are wrong about this anyway, back in 2012 Free Range egg sales in Britain over-took caged-hen egg sales for the first time based on showing people the cruelty of factory farming. This means less chickens suffer, full stop, it is a good thing. Perhaps no actual battery hen farms shut down, I don't know, but these trends would surely have stopped significantly more opening up. Some supermarkets in the UK don't even sell eggs from battery hens anymore.
      http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2102905/Free-range-eggs-outsell-caged-hens-time.html

      I apologise if you took from my comment that I was condescending towards you, I am certainly not, I respect you as a person. However, do I think the specifics of your comment were worth being harsh and possibly condescending to? Yes actually I do, I thought they were gravely wrong. So what if I sound smug? Arguments should be countered with better arguments and if I don't here a better argument and especially a poor one, I will attack it and you have every right to do it back to me in return, and by all means be as smug and condescending as you like.

      Please do not think I analysed you as a thug though or threw any other ad hominem at you. I am pretty sure you are a good person, I just disagree with you on this point and how you argued it.

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  7. I never said ‘Why bother?’ You are saying that.

    There are plenty of things we can do to make the world a better place. And in fact the world is faced with a lot of problems that require solutions that need the participation of large numbers of people. More people join us on the planet every day and, sure, it is important that we do what we can to solve those problems, not only for our species but for all the others we share the place with.

    Becoming a vegetarian, though, seems pretty far down on the list, and it really does seem like something people do to make themselves feel better, whether healthier in body or more at home with their conscience. (If I recall, Steve Jobs tried to cure an easily operable cancer by altering his diet, and that didn’t work at all, but I’m sure he went off feeling very good about himself inside.)

    Yes, I do feel it is simply one more choice among things a person can choose to do, but for so many who make the choice it becomes akin to religion in that it needs to be spread around, others need to be involved in the matter, and the person’s sensitivities need to be respected and family and other social events need to be altered to accommodate them. And yes, also, practitioners nearly always communicate an impression that the choice they have made not only makes them a better person than before, but also better than the people around them who have not yet ‘seen the light’ and joined them on the path …

    And people get put off by that. Understandably so, I think.

    I knew a woman who was so ethical that she wanted her cat to join her in her vegan lifestyle. The poor critter almost died before someone stepped in. Sometimes, it is very sad to see where altruism leads.

    We are part of the natural world, and that means we will often eat other parts of the natural world. We don’t improve our connection with nature by divorcing ourselves from it.

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    1. I thought you were implying the "Why bother" attitude, sorry my mistake. I do think if more people did become vegetarians or make better choices about their sources of meat, we all could improve the situation for many animals.

      Of course part of my reason for becoming a vegetarian is to feel better about myself, I don't really have delusions of grandeur that I am really doing anything to help the plight of animals on my own. The main reason is that I cannot ethically justify eating meat, and I am just simply trying to live a morally as I can. Becoming a vegetarian is part of a life habit for me of trying to be a good person, in my opinion, that's all. I do think the world would be better if we ate less meat though, so I do want to encourage others not to eat it or at least buy meat from more ethical sources.

      Your last point is exactly my point really, we are more divorced from nature than ever and especially with regard to eating meat. Most people never connect what they eat with where it comes from and the price the animal had to pay so we can have the pleasure of eating it. It is just packed in plastic and that's it.

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  8. I just felt like sticking my two cents in. I don't think that making a blog post about the morals of vegetarianism is being super preachy. You chose to read it. It's easy to ignore.

    I have met vegetarians who can be preach, but in my experience they are few and far between. 3 of the 5 teachers at my previous school were vegetarians, and they never brought up the issue. Ever. They attended staff dinners and made no complaints about the shitty excuse for a meal they were served. In my current school there are 2 vegetarians and they also never talk about it or complain, and we all know how limited the options are for veg food in Korea.

    I myself was raised vegetarian, and was so for 20 odd years. I never tried to convert others, but you know what? I was constantly having people try and persuade me to eat meat, shoving burgers in my face, telling me how delicious they are, and how fucked up in the head I must be to not want it. Their preachyness was much more loathsome than any of the vegetarians I knew, and much more ubiquitous.

    Not to mention there are plenty of bullshit ideas about vegetarians being unhealthy, pale, lacking energy, having low sex drives and on and on. Which is all complete bullshit, but believed by so many people.

    Now I eat meat. I started out of curiousity (because I literally never ate any meat at all when I was raised veg), and also boredom of the lack of choices. My mother is great vegetarian cook, but outside of the home the offerings were poor. I am completely aware of my own moral shortcomings and in some ways I take the weak option and just decide not to care. But I know for a fact that there are tasty alternatives to meat that would satisfy me completely. If vegetarians can persuade enough restraunts and supermarkets to buy into the idea, more power to them. But please, stop all the bullshit about how they should all just shut up.

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    1. Great comment. I think I have shared most of your experiences. It is a great point to make that not many vegetarians are that preachy and in fact meat-eaters, when they come across a vegetarian, are far worse. I always thought many meat-eaters felt threatened and insecure about their position in eating meat. I think merely encountering a vegetarian exposes something about themselves they can't really justify, so I think the responses you talk about are a symptom of this.

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