It is worth tiptoeing into the worldviews, now and then, of those who want us to live some other way, extreme as their views may be. Maybe they are partly right. More likely they aren’t. Either way, we’ll see ourselves clearer in comparison. Meanwhile, we’ll catch a glimpse of what’s behind their carefully orchestrated public image—and then see if they are actually what they claim.
The keynote speaker was none other than Peter Singer. Oh, don’t know him? That means you haven’t been reading academic journals in your spare time and haven’t felt compelled to dig into his 1975 tome, Animal Liberation. In this book Singer argues that the interests of all beings capable of suffering should be considered equally—humans and animals, according to Singer, have the same inherent rights. Singer says giving lesser consideration to chickens and deer is akin to discriminating against another person because of the color of their skin. This line of reasoning has prompted some animal-welfare activists to attempt to sue ranchers on behalf of their cows.
Though such a line of reasoning quickly descends into silliness—without a real Dr. Doolittle in the courtroom the pigs and pheasants would be a little hard to question—it is nevertheless worth knowing him, as his philosophical views are foundational to today’s animal-welfare movement. These are, after all, the people who want to outlaw hunting, take the meat off your table and do away with pet ownership, zoos, circuses, horseback riding and the use of leather in shoes, handbags and furniture.
It is actually hard to give Singer fair treatment in an article, because when quoted his views quickly show him to be an extremist who could have impressed the Third Reich. In his book Practical Ethics, Singer argued that abortion is okay on the grounds that the unborn are neither rational nor self-aware. And this view of his doesn’t stop with birth. Singer has said that “killing a newborn baby is never equivalent to killing a person, that is, a being who wants to go on living.” He has even said it would be morally okay to kill disabled babies.
You don’t have to dig deeper than Singer’s Wikipedia page before you’ll see why, when Princeton University gave Singer a professorship, many alumni protested publicly.
When Singer took the stage this weekend to speak to the HSUS-assembled group about the future of meat, he began by attacking the practices of poultry farmers and others who raise animals for consumption. Now, few would argue that we shouldn’t raise livestock in the most ethical ways practically possible—and perhaps none have it better than the wildlife we cherish, control and maintain with scientifically managed hunting—but, in step with HSUS, Singer wasn’t just fighting for better farming practices. The goal is to put an end to raising all livestock—cows, chickens, pigs, sheep, goats—and ultimately put an end to all meat eating."These are, after all, the people who want to outlaw hunting, take the meat off your table and do away with pet ownership..."
Singer often attempts to take the academic high road by rationalizing that we must not do anything to end the life of something that wants to “go on living.” But, as he does, he conveniently ignores the natural fact that animals eat each other every day.
His view of the rights of animals doesn’t stop with their desire to live. In 2001, Singer published a book review titled, “Heavy Petting,” in the online sex magazine Nerve. The review was of Midas Dekkers’ book Dearest Pet: On Bestiality. Singer argued that sex with animals that results in harm to the animal is wrong, but that “sex with animals does not always involve cruelty” and that “mutually satisfying activities” of a sexual nature can occur between us and animals.
In his "Future of Food" speech for the HSUS crowd, Singer lamented that as countries such as China and India become more modern and prosperous their people are “eating more meat” as they seek more protein. To offset this he said he hopes stem-cell research will find ways to grow meat without growing animals. This seems a strange view for someone in a movement that often argues we should ban even genetically-modified seeds, but then reason that it is antithetical to the core tenets of today’s radical animal-welfare activist.
During his speech, Singer also said that much of the grain we raise is grown to feed our livestock, which he says contributes to climate change. He said if we stop eating meat we won’t need this grain and the land can be returned to the wild. Sounds nice until you realize that if people aren’t eating meat, they’ll need much more grain and other crops to make up for the high nutritional value meat provides. But he doesn’t mention that. Like so much of this philosophy, he avoids reality. His views are constructed to fit in every far-left cause—not to be real, science-based solutions.
When asked by someone in the audience about what the ideal conditions are for animals, he meandered and was uncertain. He finally said they should have “shelter” and “enough food.” It sounds as if he was only thinking of livestock, but given that he wants to “evolve” us away from meat-eating altogether, it is a very big oversight to ignore the natural world. Isn’t the wild the ideal state for animals? If so, how would he address overpopulations of deer, geese or even mice? How would he protect the crops we need from these animals? What about when predators—bears, mountain lions, alligators—prey on us? Is that just a natural thing to understand or isn’t it really a natural thing for us to protect ourselves and our food sources with the use of hunting and other game-management practices? Doesn’t this entire, and very real discussion, about meat, wildlife and our actual role in the natural world inevitably lead to the conclusion that we are omnivores? Doesn’t it also force us to rationally concede that we are ethical omnivores who are seeking balance? Can we really find balance by ignoring the reality that wildlife also eats—and that we do as well?
Though this is only a taste of Singer’s beliefs, as we ask such questions it quickly becomes clear that Singer and HSUS are stark raving mad. When their worldview meets reality it collapses into contradictions and real harm. Singer’s views can live in the alternate reality of academia and in the emotional worldviews of HSUS’ radical activists. But when we peek into their tent, we find that what they really want isn’t rational or even compassionate, but is actually harmful to us and the natural world.
Singer likely understands this, as he has even described himself as a flexible vegan. He once wrote: “That is, I’m vegan when it’s not too difficult to be vegan, but I’m not rigid about this, if I’m traveling for example.”