Pete's Blog

Feh! Fie! Bah! and Fooey!

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Gary Steiner, a professor of Philosophy at Bucknell University, was given most of the New York Times' Op-Ed page over the weekend to call us all murderers for eating turkey on Thanksgiving. It was the usual litany of dietary self-righteousness we have become used to, but toward the end of the piece professor Steiner exposed the true heart of his argument more recklessly than most of his cohorts. "These uses of animals are so institutionalized, so normalized, in our society that it is difficult to find the critical distance needed to see them as the horrors that they are." Yes, professor, sometimes it's a curse being able to see things so much more clearly than the rest of us slobs. If only we all had your "critical distance"! "People who are ethical vegans believe that differences in intelligence between human and non-human animals have no moral significance whatsoever. The fact that my cat can’t appreciate Schubert’s late symphonies and can’t perform syllogistic logic does not mean that I am entitled to use him as an organic toy, as if I were somehow not only morally superior to him but virtually entitled to treat him as a commodity with minuscule market value." My cat is an "organic toy," a creature whose purpose is to provide me relaxation and diversion, not because she is not as smart as I am (there is some debate on this) but because, to put it plainly, I feed her. In the bargain we have struck, she and I, her "purpose" is to relax and divert me, in exchange for a lifetime of ease and comfort. "We have been trained by a history of thinking of which we are scarcely aware to view non-human animals as resources we are entitled to employ in whatever ways we see fit in order to satisfy our needs and desires." This is another way of saying that since the dawn of time humans have dominated the Earth and its creatures. There is nothing wrong with this. Cows dominate the grass they eat. Quite a few animal species would dominate us if they could. Some can and do. Like everyone who makes the moral argument against eating meat, wearing leather, using products tested on animals, etc., professor Steiner seems more concerned with some species than others. He does not, for instance, decry man's persecution of the AIDS virus and other micro-organisms who, if they were granted full rights to their beinghood, full scope to achieve their purpose, would kill us all. Professor Steiner claims to be concerned with all living beings on this planet, but really his concern is with those that give him the opportunity to tell the rest of us how ethically superior he is. The only species he really wants to save are the cute ones. You will notice that professor Steiner is given a large, prominent space in which to vent his self-love. Rebuttals will be found, if at all, as one-paragraph edits in the paper's "Letters" column.

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