Apr 21st, 2009 by ravi
Noam Chomsky on vegetarianism and animal rights

On a [Western] leftist list that I am on, I have had a devil of a time convincing [some] participants that animals suffer in a manner similar to humans and that this suffering is worthy of our moral considerations. Below is Noam Chomsky on the issue, in an interview with Michael Albert (all emphasis mine):

Q: It’s also true that how people live their lives in their homes, how people regard one another, sets a framework in which even work is affected. All these things mutually interact with each other and affect one another.

And in every one of them that you look at, there are questions about authority and domination that ought to be raised constantly, and that very rarely have satisfactory answers. Sometimes they do, I think, but it has to be shown. As a matter of fact, you can even ask the same about your relation to animals. The questions can be asked there, too, in fact are being asked.

Q: You’re an animal rights activist?

I think it’s a serious question. To what extent do we have a right to torture animals? I think it’s a very good thing that that question …

Q: Torture?

Experiments are torturing animals, let’s say. That’s what they are. So to what extent do we have a right to torture animals for our own good? I think that’s not a trivial question.

Q: What about eating?

Same question.

Q: Are you a vegetarian?

I’m not, but I think it’s a serious question. If you want my guess, my guess would be that …

Q: A hundred years from now everyone will be.

I don’t know if it’s a hundred years, but it seems to me if history continues–that’s not at all obvious, that it will–but if society continues to develop without catastrophe on something like the course that you can sort of see over time, I wouldn’t be in the least surprised if it moves toward vegetarianism and protection of animal rights. In fact, what we’ve seen over the years–and it’s hard to be optimistic in the twentieth century, which is one of the worst centuries in human history in terms of atrocities and terror and so on–but still, over the years, including the twentieth century, there is a widening of the moral realm, bringing in broader and broader domains of individuals who are regarded as moral agents.

Q: Nothing could be happening to that underlying, wired-in, inate, intrinsic character… That can’t be changing.

No, but it can get more and more realized. You can get a better and better understanding of it. We’re self-conscious beings. We’re not rocks. And we can get more and more understanding of our own nature, not because we read a book about it. The book doesn’t have anything to tell you, because nobody knows anything. But just through experience, including historical experience, which is part of our own personal experience because it’s embedded in our culture, which we enter into.

Q: So then it’s plausible that vegetarians, animal rights advocates and the like are just a couple of steps ahead in discerning something about …

It’s possible. I think I’d certainly keep an open mind on that. You can understand how it could be true. It’s certainly a pretty intelligible idea to us. I think one can see the moral force to it. You don’t have to go back very far to find gratuitous torture of animals. In Cartesian philosophy, for example, where it was assumed … the Cartesians thought they had proven that humans had minds and everything else in the world was a machine. So there’s no difference between a cat and a watch, let’s say. It’s just the cat’s a little more complicated. You go back to the court in the seventeenth century, and big smart guys who studied all that stuff and thought they understood it would as a sport take Lady So-and-So’s favorite dog and kick it and beat it to death and so on and laugh, saying, this silly lady doesn’t understand the latest philosophy, which was that it was just like dropping a rock on the floor. That’s gratuitous torture of animals. It was regarded as if we would ask a question about the torturing of a rock. You can’t do it. There’s no way to torture a rock. The moral sphere has certainly changed in that respect. Gratuitous torture of animals is no longer considered quite legitimate.

[From The Chomsky Tapes Conversations with Michael Albert]

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Feb 11th, 2009 by ravi
Felony indictment in animal cruelty case

Workers get indicted for “stomping, kicking, throwing … turkeys”. I wonder how the majority of the Western orthodox Left will resolve this one. On the one hand the issue of “solidarity” with the workers, while on the other, the utter disregard for the rights or welfare of any animal other than the most destructive one… oh wait, there is no conflict for them, is there?

The PETA Files: Victory: First-Ever Felony Charges of Cruelty to Factory-Farmed Birds

In a huge victory for animals, a grand jury has issued 19 indictments for cruelty to animals against three former employees of Aviagen Turkeys, Inc. And it gets better—11 of the indictments are on felony charges. This marks the first time in U.S. history that factory-farm employees have faced felony cruelty-to-animals charges for abusing birds.

These indictments are the result of PETA’s undercover investigation at Aviagen’s factory farms in West Virginia, which uncovered workers stomping, kicking, throwing, and killing turkeys in unimaginably cruel ways. Our investigator’s video footage was seen by the West Virginia State Police, whose investigator then conducted his own prompt and thorough investigation, leading to these indictments in Greenbrier County.

[ Link ]

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Aug 28th, 2008 by ravi
14 non-human Holocausts a year

CollageFrom The Guardian:

Vivisection: Study finds 115 million animals used in tests worldwide

About 115 million animals were used in scientific research globally in 2005, according to an estimate based on official national figures and extrapolations from the number of scientific papers that were published involving animals.

The vast majority of the animals used were rodents (83.5%) with primates, cats and dogs making up 0.15%, 0.06% and 0.24% of the total respectively.

In case primates are the only thing that give you the warm fuzzies of empathy, that’s 172,500 chimps and friends a year. Or you like dogs? Well that’s about 276,000 dogs. But that’s not too much for a bottle of Chanel, is it (however the % of testing is for cosmetics)?

[ Link ]

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Jul 31st, 2008 by ravi
A Farm Boy Reflects on Animal Rights – Op-Ed – NYTimes.com

Op-Ed Columnist – A Farm Boy Reflects on Animal Rights – Op-Ed – NYTimes.com

While one of our geese was sitting on her eggs, her gander would go out foraging for food — and if he found some delicacy, he would rush back to give it to his mate. Sometimes I would offer males a dish of corn to fatten them up — but it was impossible, for they would take it all home to their true loves.

Once a month or so, we would slaughter the geese. When I was 10 years old, my job was to lock the geese in the barn and then rush and grab one. Then I would take it out and hold it by its wings on the chopping block while my Dad or someone else swung the ax.

The 150 geese knew that something dreadful was happening and would cower in a far corner of the barn, and run away in terror as I approached. Then I would grab one and carry it away as it screeched and struggled in my arms.

Very often, one goose would bravely step away from the panicked flock and walk tremulously toward me. It would be the mate of the one I had caught, male or female, and it would step right up to me, protesting pitifully. It would be frightened out of its wits, but still determined to stand with and comfort its lover.


More broadly, the tide of history is moving toward the protection of animal rights, and the brutal conditions in which they are sometimes now raised will eventually be banned. Someday, vegetarianism may even be the norm.

[ Link ]

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Jan 31st, 2008 by ravi
Torture vs “our nation’s children”

CNN says:

Video of workers abusing cows raises food safety questions

The video shows Hallmark Meat Packing Co. workers administering repeated electric shocks to downed cows — animals that are too sick, weak or otherwise unable to stand on their own. Workers are seen kicking cows, jabbing them near their eyes, ramming them with a forklift and shooting high-intensity water up their noses in an effort to force them to their feet for slaughter.

Yes, that’s the headline. The primary concern about this sort of abuse of animals is the food safety question. In case that’s not clear, here is Dick Durbin rephrasing it in politician speak:

“The treatment of animals in this video is appalling, but more than that, it raises significant concerns about the safety of the food being served to our nation’s children,” Durbin said.

I think the greatest danger that my child faces is morally-challenged human beings who inflict this sort of pain on animals and those who respond with this order of prioritisation.

[ Link ]

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Jan 16th, 2008 by ravi
Round n+1 of civilisation vs Japan

The Guardian covers (with an evenness impossible to find in US media) the latest edition of high sea drama involving Greenpeace, Sea Shepherd and the “disgrace to civilised society” (in the words of Paul Watson of Sea Shephard) that the Japanese whalers and the government that supports them represent. Read about it: A tale of two ships. Go ahead, click on the link, if only to take a look at the gorgeous picture at the top!

[ Link ]

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Sep 28th, 2006 by ravi
Serving a ray of truth?

Australian media personality Steve Irwin’s widow Terri offers this, regarding the video footage of the event that led to his death:

BBC | Irwin death film ‘will never air’

Footage of Australian naturalist Steve Irwin’s death will never be broadcast, his widow Terri has said in her first interview since his 4 September death.

“What purpose would that serve?” she asked presenter Barbara Walters in an interview with US programme 20/20.

She goes on to say:

… his death was just a “stupid” accident – “like running with a pencil”.

Well, it looks like she has answered her own question. The video would serve the purpose of establishing whether the event was similar to “running with a pencil” or to poking a pencil into your eye.

[ Link ]

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Sep 25th, 2006 by ravi
Cousteau on Irwin

More on Steve Irwin:

Irwin interfered with nature, says Cousteau – smh.com.au

Marine explorer Jean-Michel Cousteau says that, while he mourns the recent death of Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin, he disagrees with Irwin’s hands-on approach to nature television.


But, he added, Irwin would “interfere with nature, jump on animals, grab them, hold them, and have this very, very spectacular, dramatic way of presenting things”.

“Of course, it goes very well on television. It sells, it appeals to a lot people, but I think it’s very misleading.

“You don’t touch nature, you just look at it. And that’s why I’m still alive. I’ve been diving for over 61 years – a lot more years than he’s been alive – and I don’t mess with nature.”

[ Link ]

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Sep 8th, 2006 by ravi
A stinging obituary

As the world suffers through another "Diana moment" (and I think the analogy is apt, though not in the manner intended by those who have suggested it), Germaine Greer, writing in the Guardian, brings some perspective to the death of animal clown Steve Irwin:

What Irwin never seemed to understand was that animals need space. The one lesson any conservationist must labour to drive home is that habitat loss is the principal cause of species loss. There was no habitat, no matter how fragile or finely balanced, that Irwin hesitated to barge into, trumpeting his wonder and amazement to the skies. There was not an animal he was not prepared to manhandle. Every creature he brandished at the camera was in distress. Every snake badgered by Irwin was at a huge disadvantage, with only a single possible reaction to its terrifying situation, which was to strike. Easy enough to avoid, if you know what’s coming. Even my cat knew that much. Those of us who live with snakes, as I do with no fewer than 12 front-fanged venomous snake species in my bit of Queensland rainforest, know that they will get out of our way if we leave them a choice. Some snakes are described as aggressive, but, if you’re a snake, unprovoked aggression doesn’t make sense. Snakes on a plane only want to get off. But Irwin was an entertainer, a 21st-century version of a lion-tamer, with crocodiles instead of lions.

In 2004, Irwin was accused of illegally encroaching on the space of penguins, seals and humpback whales in Antarctica, where he was filming a documentary called Ice Breaker. An investigation by the Australian Environmental Department resulted in no action being taken, which is not surprising seeing that John Howard, the prime minister, made sure that Irwin was one of the guests invited to a "gala barbecue" for George Bush a few months before. Howard is now Irwin’s chief mourner, which is only fair, seeing that Irwin announced that Howard is the greatest leader the world has ever seen.

The animal world has finally taken its revenge on Irwin, but probably not before a whole generation of kids in shorts seven sizes too small has learned to shout in the ears of animals with hearing 10 times more acute than theirs, determined to become millionaire animal-loving zoo-owners in their turn.

The response to Greer has been shrill, as can be expected, and rational… or rather not, falling back to the same old criticisms about her being a "man-hater" (comment on digg), "feminist bitch" (Tailrank), a has-been, etc. Really incisive stuff!

Hmm! What could be the reason for this manner of response? At The Age, Tracee Hutchison takes a guess:

If Steve Irwin’s story was a celebration of the boy who wouldn’t grow up, then Greer’s is a modern equivalent to the witch-hunts of Salem.

The outpouring of grief at Irwin’s death has been matched only by the outpouring of vitriol poured on Greer. It has been astounding. Men, mostly, have lined her up and taken aim with the kind of venom you would associate with the kind of snake Irwin was most fond of handling.

And the message has been heard loud and clear; if you’re a woman of a certain age in this country – and a childless one at that – don’t you dare step out of the shadows and shout out that the emperor might not be wearing any clothes. You will be shouted down and marginalised and your situation will be thrown back at you as a weapon.


Very little of the anti-intellectual hot air blown about this week has been about what Germaine Greer may or may not have thought about Steve Irwin. It had everything to do with a dominant male power-base telling women to be seen and not heard. Of marginalising a particular kind of woman and reducing us to condition and circumstance. Of reminding those of us who like to speak our mind to watch our step, to remember our place and to shut up and agree with the menfolk. We are all a lot poorer for the unsightly fallout.

Men behaving badly defending other men behaving badly? Nah! Seems impossible!

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Aug 23rd, 2006 by ravi
Ducking the ethical issues

The city of Chicago, in a moment of surprising enlightenment, passed a law banning the sale of foie gras. The response? Civil disobedience from restaurateurs and a indignation from the already overfed population. Curtailment of civil rights? No problem. Illegal and immoral war? Who cares. Lesser cruelty towards animals? NO WAY, dude!

What is pathetic about this is the lack of a meaningful response in terms of the ethical issues raised. Instead naive individual choice arguments are offered to justify personal opinion. Some counts offer the staggering number of six billion animals killed each year for human consumption (the number perhaps is approximate and is intentionally coincidental with the current human population). At least the Germans just stood by while horror was committed around them.

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