Vegetarianism: Hypocritical?

Point of clarification (no. 1): I’m not talking about people who are vegetarian for religious reasons (followers of Buddhism or Hinduism for example), or personal non-moral reasons (e.g. health reasons/a dislike of the taste of meat). I’m talking solely about people who believe it is morally wrong for human beings to eat meat.

Point of clarification (no. 2): I am opposed to causing unnecessary harm to other living creatures. My personal opinion is that animals should never be harmed except for food or in self defense, and even then harm should be minimized.

So, here’s my point.

Vegetarians believe that it is morally wrong to eat meat. However, animals eat meat. Since I’ve never heard of a vegetarian who believes that animals are immoral for eating each other, I must assume that they believe humans and animals are different from each other on a fundamental level. Human beings are seen as moral, whilst animals are not.

In my opinion, this belief is flawed. Human beings are certainly different from other animals in that they are over-endowed with the attribute commonly referred to as “intelligence”. However, we are still animals.

It seems to me that these vegetarians have double standards. On the one hand they claim to love and respect animals, but on the other hand they claim a moral and intellectual superiority. They seem desperate to separate themselves from the beasts, creating a moral hierarchy and then egocentrically placing themselves at the top.

I am comfortable knowing myself as a human animal, and thus I reject this view.

Following this thought to its natural conclusion, I must consider how I would feel if I were placed at a lower point in the food chain. If there was a crocodile trying to eat me, I would be horrified. I would do everything in my power to avoid being eaten. BUT – I wouldn’t think of the crocodile as “immoral” for trying to eat me. It’s the circle of life, guys. Didn’t any of you watch The Lion King?

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  1. Comments/criticisms/corrections welcome x

  2. It’s a tricky one. I’m a vegetarian because I don’t need to eat meat to survive, so killing animals just for food seems unnecessary to me. But I support medical research using animals because I think curing horrible diseases is far more important than enjoying a bacon sandwich. I suppose I don’t think many (any?) non-human animals are capable of making this ‘moral’ choice (which doesn’t make them better or worse, just different). But humans definitely are, so I think we should all at least consider our choices.

    • Rosie
    • October 28th, 2011

    Unlike other animals, human beings have a choice – to be complicit in the suffering, torture and killing of sentient beings or to choose not to by refusing to eat murdered animals or consume their products. Here in the West and other industrialised nations, we have an abundance of wonderful foods that didn’t used to have consciousness and we can survive healthily and happily on these.

    Really meat-eaters, the only reason why you continue to eat meat and are responsible for 55 billion sentinent land animals being bred and killed in appalling conditions each year – is TASTE!

    “These animals deserve better. They are not just commodities. They are not just pieces of meat from the day they’re born to the day they’re killed. They are living, breathing creatures who deserve to be treated with compassion and respect.” Gene Baur.

    This short docu was made for kids but it’s well worth a watch: http://www.animalaid.org.uk/h/f/CAMPAIGNS/blog//4//?be_id=303

    • Rosie, you hit the nail on the head. Of course we have the choice and acting like we’re just part of “a circle of life” sounds like pleading ignorance of our place in the scheme of things.
      Meat is unsustainable, not cost effective and utterly wasteful. Jay, it sounds to me like you know better.

    • Emma
    • November 16th, 2011

    Humans are undeniably different from other animals yes, and therein lies the point. Human animals are self-conscious and able to reflect on their choices in a way that we accept animals are not. Thus most of us accept that if a human kills another human it is murder, whereas it would be ludicrous to put a lion on trial for ‘murdering’ a gazelle for instance. In the past this was misunderstood and animals were in fact put on trial for ‘immoral’ acts in the same way as humans – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Animal_trial. Fortunately we now recognise this crucial difference between humans and animals. Just because animals lack this moral capacity however, it does not make it acceptable to inflict unnecessary suffering on them. It is their capacity for experiencing pain and pleasure, in a similar way to us, which is the relevant point here. A very young child does not have the rational capacity to decide what is wrong or right – yet we do not exclude them from our moral circle. Why should nonhuman animals – sentient, feeling creatures, just like ourselves – be excluded from our moral circle? Is the fact that they are not human really a justified reason? The fact is we live in a speciesist society in which the minor interests of humans are ranked way and above the most important interests of nonhuman animals, purely because they are nonhuman. This is a morally untenable position for those of us who accept that we should not practice arbitrary discrimination when making moral decisions. For more on these ideas see ‘Animal Liberation’ and other works by Peter Singer.

    • Jay
    • November 19th, 2011

    Thank you all for your comments! Part of me would really like to continue arguing from a pro-meat standpoint, but in all honesty I’ve had a bit of a change of heart since I posted this. I’m not a veggie (yet), but I’m finding it much more difficult to justify a non-veggie lifestyle, especially when issues like sustainability are raised.

    I’m still not swayed on the whole “morality” thing – I don’t believe that humans have some magic moral sense that shows them the difference between right and wrong – but I can appreciate that different people have different personal preferences with regards to the treatment of nonhuman animals.

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