What’s the difference?

Last night, I became a little it distressed about dead animals.

I had been watching District 9, and this had confirmed my belief that how we treat others should not be based on what species they are, but on their qualia.

I often ask omnivores what the differences are between human and non-human animals, and why this means it’s ok to eat non-human animals. I am generally given a list of meaningless differences, such as their intelligence levels (humans have differing intelligence levels, some lower than many animals), or superficial traits, like the number of legs or amount of fur they have. This has no more bearing on how we treat individuals than skin colour. Sometimes I am told it’s ok to eat them because animals are not compassionate; lions eat zebras, or hamsters eat their babies or something similar. This logic would mean we can eat humans who don’t care about others, whether that’s because they suffer severe disability or are just plain mean. I am not concerned with how they treat others, but with how I treat them.

Sooner or later  the arbitrary speciesist argument of “because they’re not human” pops up. So where does this leave us with regard to a hypothetical alien race, similar enough to us for it to be immoral for us to treat them as second class citizens, or even as property? Now we must start afresh with why it is wrong to treat the Prawns of District 9 the way they are treated in the film. They are not human, they are not even Earthlings. Why can’t we just kill them for fun?

It’s wrong because, although there are many differences, there are more similarities, and all the attributes they have which make it immoral to harm them, are shared by most of the animals we eat. Maybe farm animals are not quite as smart as the Prawns, but again, some humans aren’t as smart as cows.

Someone once told me one can ONLY enslave humans, not non-humans. I believe you can enslave animals, I believe we do, for the same reasons I believe it is possible to enslave the Prawns of District 9.

We can go through the same thought experiment with a being which is half human, half chimp, born in a lab. Can we enslave that animal? Is it human? Can we eat it? What if it’s 90% human, or what if it’s only 10%? The ratios become meaningless, what is important is that we look at how the individual experiences the world, and what its interests are.

My aim is to show that it is prejudice against other species, not an objective scientific appraisal of their ability to experience the world, that dictates how we currently treat them.


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