Thursday, November 17, 2005


I have a habit of mentally filing articles of interest which I usually find while looking for something else. I found this while looking for autism.

Temple Grandin is Associate Professor of Animal Science at Colorado State University. She's a leading animal welfare scientist and she is autistic. Being autistic has helped her in her work because she doesn't think in language, she's a visual thinker. She believes that is how animals think, in pictures.

She became interested in cattle handling when she noticed how they relaxed when they went into a squeeze chute. Like many people with autism and Asperger's syndrome she finds pressure calming so when she climbed into the squeeze chute, she found she calmed down. She began to design cattle handling systems to reduce the stress on animals at abbattoirs. She doesn't talk about the philosophy of animal rights because an animal doesn't understand rights. She believes that since we have brought them into existance we owe them a decent life and at the end, a less stressful killing.

She has developed systems that minimise animal distress by assessing five things: the percentage of animals stunned on the first attempt, the percentage insensible before being hoisted, the percentage vocalising, the percentage that fall down and the percentage moved with electric prods. Moving animals through a processing plant can be improved by installing non-slip flooring, removing distractions that cause animals to baulk or installing shields to prevent animals seeing any people ahead of them.

She is not insensible of animals' feelings and thinks we'll one day realise how badly we have treated them. While animal activists try to get legislation passed she does something concrete about the conditions now. She believes that autistic people have privileged access to lower levels of raw information, like animals, both work at the detailed level. She has written two books about autism, Thinking in Pictures (1996) and Animals in Translation (2005)

Some animal rights campaigners maintain that we should allow animals the same rights enjoyed by humans but not Gary Francione who is Professor of Law and Nicholas deB. Katzenbach Distinguished Scholar of Law and Philosophy at Rutgers University School of Law, New Jersey.
His idea is that a coherent theory of animal rights should focus on just one right for animals. That is the right not to be treated as the property of humans.

He says at the present animals are commodities and have only the value we choose to give them. We prohibit animal suffering only when it has no economic benefit (pets). There are parallels with the institution of slavery. We recognise all humans as having a basic right not to be treated as the property of others. So why do we deem it acceptable to eat animals, hunt them, confine and display them in circuses and zoos, use them in experiments or rodeos, or otherwise treat them in ways which we wouldn't treat humans.
We cannot justify human domination of non humans except by appeal to religious superstition focused on the supposed spiritual superiority of humans. Recognising animal rights really means accepting that we have a duty not to treat sentient non-humans as resources.

In another article by Prof. Francione, he says if we took seriously the principle that it was wrong to inflict unneccessary suffering on non-humans, we would stop altogether bringing domestic animals into existance for human use, and our recognition on the moral status of animals would not depend on whether a parrot can understand mathematics or a dog recognise itself in a mirror. We would take seriously what Jeremy Bentham said over 200 years ago: "The question is not, can they reason, nor can they talk, but can they suffer?"

In light of what humans are currently doing to humans all over the world, should we really worry about animals? Yes, because how we treat animals flows on to how we treat each other. Gary Francione and Temple Grandin, each in their own way, have a concern for the well being of animals. One uses practical methods that work now, one writes philosophically to change minds for the future. I became a vegetarian because I decided that if I couldn't kill an animal, gut it, skin it and then eat it then I shouldn't pay someone else to do it for me. I have the luxury of choice where a lot of the world doesn't so I like the way Temple Grandin thinks and the fact that her methods are applied around the world. I like the way Gary Francione states the animal rights case but it wouldn't be easy to convince a starving villager in Africa or Asia. I wouldn't dream of forcing my views on another culture. Meateaters do though, beef eaters look down on horseflesh eaters. Sheep eaters look down on pork eaters, westerners in general look down on dog eaters. We have our divides too, vegetarians eat eggs and dairy, vegans don't.

We vegetarians can't get too smug either, "The greatest increase in deforestation is in two Brazilian states within the Amazon Basin. One of them, Mato Grosso Province has the largest of the soybean growing empires and because of this, in 2004, nearly half of forest destruction in Amazonia was in this state".

It all comes down to a matter of balance, humanity and compassion, need not greed. If this rambles too much, I did say in my first post that my brain tends to fall out of my mouth without thinking sometimes and occasionally by thinking too much.


Gerry said...

First this: "Recognising animal rights really means accepting that we have a duty not to treat sentient non-humans as resources." And then this: "In light of what humans are currently doing to humans all over the world, should we really worry about animals?"

There's food for thought right there...

But then there's this beauty: " we treat animals flows on to how we treat each other."

Excuse me, but I would say it's the other way around i.e. how we treat humans flows on to how we treat animals.

Of course we could argue about this for a few hundred years whilst the planet goes down the gurgler...

Anyway, it was a very thought provoking post, JT. Thanks.

Kelly & Sam Pilgrim-Byrne said...

I stopped eating meat at the age of 12 when I realised the suffering animals endure at the hands of humans - I didn't want to contribute to it and in my own childish, small way thought I could make a difference. I'm still a vegetarian 25 years later and now I'm going to have to be certain of where my soy comes from as well!


JahTeh said...

Jerry, I think it's right the first time because animals don't think so it's how we treat a non-thinking being.
Humans can think and can fight back if they're being hurt. That's one of the best things about New Orleans, the way humans refused to leave their animals to starve and drown.

Hey Muriels, we have the vegetarian sisterhood, can we ever be beaten now? I'm not sure but I think the soy grown there goes to food manufacturers as filler in all sorts of products. Remember McDonald's having to admit their chicken nuggets had a big percentage of soy.

Gerry said...

Ok, if you insist, JT.

Then there is the "economics" angle. There is so much money tied up in the meat industry, it's a force hard to do battle with.

And so many other issues, most of them coming back to economics (profit) (greed?) driven issues.

Another issue is the demand on food that overpopulation creates.

All too much for this little brain.