“After fleeing Nazi Occupied Poland, Nobel laureate Isaac Bashevis Singer compared species bias to the most ‘extreme racist theories.’ Singer argued that animal rights was the purest form of social-justice advocacy, because animals are the most vulnerable of all the downtrodden. He felt that mistreating animals was the epitome of the ‘might-makes-right’ moral paradigm. We trade there most basic and important interests against fleeting human ones only because we can. Of course the human animal is different from all other animals…” (Friederich as qtd. by Foer, 213).
This quote uses a lot of powerful, heavy language, and clearly this is to evoke feelings of shock and indignation towards the animal industry in whomever reads the passage in Foer’s book, Eating Animals. However, in order to better understand the meaning of the quote it is helpful to understand the terms that Friedrich is using, especially when he is quoting a man who compares the Anti-Semitism of the Holocaust to the slaughtering of farm animals in Factory Farming. The meaning of this quote is better articulated by another statement made by Isaac Singer himself:
“They have convinced themselves that man, the worst transgressor of all the species, is the crown of creation. All other creatures were created merely to provide him with food, pelts, to be tormented, exterminated. In relation to them [animals], all people are Nazis; for the animals it is an eternal Treblinka,” (qtd. via animalliberationpressoffice.org).
This statement is a direct reflection of the result of “speciesism” on the morality of humanity and the effects that this indifference towards other species has on nonhuman animals. Speciesism is the belief that some species are better, or more inherently valuable than other species. Due to this belief, the specie that claims to be more righteous than another, believes that it has the right, and perhaps even the duty, to overpower weaker ones. This is further articulated by Friedrich’s comment that humans follow the ‘might-makes-right’ paradigm. Because meat-eaters often argue that the human species has greater power, intelligence and rationality than animals, they also claim that this is the very reason that this is a sufficient enough reason to kill and eat them, even if there happens to be a bit of torture as one of the unavoidable results of animal exploitation. Friedrich, Singer and Foer want to challenge this notion as a fallacious one; and they are right to do so.
An individual cannot just cite his ancestors’ past behaviors as a reason for justifying what he does in current society. That would be similar to comparing incest of the ancient English monarch eras to the notion that an Uncle should still be able to marry and copulate with his Niece, but this just is not the case. Not only is that considered to be outdated, it is also considered to be morally unacceptable and really damn gross by most, if not all, rational persons. In this way, the common assertion (excuse) made by meat-eaters is one that simply cannot be logically taken into account, as it commits both a naturalist and genetic fallacy. I think for this reason Foer, Friedrich and Singer are correct to believe that eating animals should become a largely noticed moral debate; it should stop being ignored and disregarded by people who don’t want to feel some sort of cognitive dissonance about being called out for a possibly immoral decision. Ultimately, Friedrich and Singer take the stance that the slaughtering of animals is such a great injustice—a genocide even– committed for no purpose other than humanity’s insatiable need for comfort.
Friedrich states that the human desire for meat is merely one of convenience and palate. In this way, he argues, that animals are even more abused than those who suffered in the Holocaust. Eleven million people were killed in the Holocaust (six million of those people were Jews). Billions of animals are slaughtered each year in factory farms. Do these two statements have something in common and something comparable? Yes, of course. Do animals currently suffer more than Jews do? I’d say so. But, is it actually reasonable to compare the slaughter of animals to the genocide of the Jews? Now, this is what I think is more of a gray area and more debatable than some activists would like to admit or believe. As an immediate reaction to this assertion, part of me wants to scream out, NO WAY! However, another part of me thinks it could be a possibility—an indication that people are more desensitized and contradictory in their thinking than they’d like to admit. But, before we concede to the idea that animals are facing a massive version of a modern day Holocaust, we first have to identify the differences that both Singer and Friedrich don’t mention between animals and humans.
There are two main differences that I can think of between humans and animals. The first is the fact that humans, unlike animals, are able to imagine a distant future and the second is the fact that humans are able to rationalize their suffering and find meaning in it. Humans are able to plan for their future and use their past to make difficult decisions that require contemplation and understanding of logical concepts and reasoning. Perhaps there are some forms of animals that are able to take in their species’ genetic past as a sort of guided natural selection, but they are not able to use that past to make moral decisions about future decisions because they are “primitive”, in a sense. They will always first be subject to their instincts, and then their training, or domestication (if they are a companion or farm animal such as a pig or dog). Whereas humans are able to rationalize their suffering in order to find meaning in it and to eventually overcome it—could this be the reason they have created a meaning for animal suffering as well—even if it is a selfish reason? I think this is why the murder of animals is different than the murder of humans—humans are able to understand their suffering and find some sort of meaning to prevail even the darkest of times, but animals do not have this ability.
Although, even if animals do not have the ability to find meaning in their suffering, they still are able to show some sort attitude of indignation (almost) in the face of suspected danger to their species. They even, at times, are able to help out their fellow “friends” who are caged in cramped cells. I actually remember hearing of a pig who learned to escape from his cage and he let out other animals, as well. The issue here, though, is that we cannot know if the animal did this out of instinct or out of an emotional desire to live a meaningful life… the latter seems unlikely, but who am I to say? Although human’s ability to rationalize suffering seems to be an ability that other nonhuman animals do not possess, is this a reason to not compare animal slaughter to the Holocaust?
This is the true question, which, I think, is difficult to answer because of its wording. I think it is safe to say that this statement, though it is offensive, it is actually quite effective in the way it makes an individual think. However, I think there is an even more effective method if one is going to make an Animal-Holocaust analogy. Rather than state that the animal slaughter is even more deadly and more unjust than the Holocaust, it would make more sense to use the human ability to rationalize suffering and death as a reason to defend the fact that humans have a greater ethical responsibility to not eat, torture and indirectly support these behaviors against nonhuman animals. As a species which seems to be genetically and intellectually different (not superior, though) to animals, wouldn’t it follow that we have a responsibility to also support the nourishment of the Earth and the other animals that inhabit it? Yes, our ancestors were primal, but today we are in a different era. We have the technology, the means, the medicine and the understanding to act in a much more environmentally-frugal and sustainable, compassionate manner. Just because the comparison is offensive, doesn’t mean that there isn’t some truth to it. This is something that I had to really think about. I eventually realized that it doesn’t make sense to compare a human to a pig because they are different—but in comparing the Holocaust to animal slaughter, one does not call a human a pig, but attempts to relate one suffering to another. If we humanize the issue, we put our actions and their effects into a greater perspective.
Based on the Book, Eating Animals by Jonathan Foer.
Copyright. RL 2017. Please Cite any use of this material.