I read this book because it was mentioned in Sunaura Taylor’s Beasts of Burden. Apparently this is classic animal liberation stuff that I had never heard of — it came out before The Sexual Politics of Meat (1990) and I could see, perhaps, the influence this book had on that one — the mentioning of Mary Wollstonecraft and Victorian veg writers and and and. Perhaps Singer was even mentioned in Politics but I just wasn’t in the right place of mind to notice it and care to dig in. This book was first published in 1975, apparently. All the same, I think Politics took these observations to a different level that I liked better. This book came off as very dry at times. What I did find interesting is that the term “speciesist” or “speciesism” has been around for a while. I thought it was a more contemporary term for some reason. Not sure if Singer perhaps invented the term?
As Taylor warned in Beasts, Singer does sound very ableist at times in his arguments. Example: “After all, most of us would agree that it would be wrong to bring a child into the world if we knew, before the child was conceived, that it would have a genetic defect that would make its life brief and miserable.” Many lives are brief and miserable without genetic defects, so to pinpoint a specific group of people, when all people could be lumped in as equally at risk of meeting such criteria, is a poor, ableist argument. And this is coming from an antinatalist.
Granted, this had to be pointed out to me by Sunaura Taylor, as I would not have noticed it on my own. I’m still unlearning and relearning.
What I noticed on my own, however, is that Singer starts out playing Devil’s advocate a few times — saying things like “We will pretend that meat eaters are right in this area X so I can make an argument with what’s left.” What I mean by that is he tries to be very clinical and very neutral but you can tell he’s just pretending. And I can see why he would approach it that way, based on the time period he was writing this in. But then it slowly unravels into emotion — spouting off platitudes like animals suffer and this is just plain wrong or humans are horrible at moments that I think would seem odd to a carnist reader. Not that he says those exact things, but that is how it feels.
Perhaps he thinks by that point, he has swayed the reader into agreement? What it actually feels like, though, is him no longer catering to the carnists and instead addressing us, the veg readers. Which is fine, but I’m still trying to figure out the target audience for this. I’m sure it’s changed over editions.
He does get very philosophical here and there, which I liked. I feel like I can argue the case for veganism better now. However, when he would sprinkle in facts about factory farms or vivisection, it did feel like some of it might be dated (though I know not much has changed) and I felt like the two approaches he was taking (philosophical and factsfactsfacts) didn’t mesh well together. Rather, he didn’t mesh them well together, as I’ve seen it done very well in the past. I much prefer the other two books I’ve mentioned here, simply because their focus is different — and, quite frankly, they’re more focused in general. This one does tackle a big topic, I guess. I did like it and got a lot of good quotes from it. But I feel like this is a book that is easier to be quoted from than read. So, vegan readers, don’t feel like you need to rush out and read this one. Maybe I started off with the wrong Singer book?
Some quotes I want to pin here:
“[Animal vivisectionists] cannot deny the animals’ suffering, because they need to stress the similarities between humans and other animals in order to claim their experiments may have some relevance for human purposes.”
“It is at this point that the consequences of speciesism intrude directly into our lives, and we are forced to attest personally to the sincerity of our concern for nonhuman animals. Here we have an opportunity to do something, instead of merely talking and wishing the politicians would do something. It is easy to take a stand about a remote issue, but speciesist, like racists, reveal their true nature when the issue comes nearer home. To protest about bullfighting in Spain, the eating of dogs in South Korea, or the slaughter o f baby seals in Canada while continuing to eat eggs from hens…or veal from calves…is like denouncing apartheid in South Africa while asking your neighbors not to sell their houses to blacks.”
“American television broadcasts programs on animals in the wild (or supposedly in the wild — sometimes the animals have been captured and released in a more limited space to make filiming easier) almost every night of the week; but film of intensive farms is limited to the briefest of glimpses as part of infrequent ‘specials’ on agriculture or food production. The average viewer must know more about the lives of cheetahs and sharks than he or she knows about the lives of chickens or veal calves. The result is that most of the ‘information’ about farm animals to be gained from watching television is in the form of paid advertising, which ranges from ridiculous cartoons of pigs who want to be made into sausages and tuna trying to get themselves canned, to straightforward lies about the conditions in which broiler chickens are reared. The newspapers do little better. Their coverage of nonhuman animals is dominated by ‘human interest’ events like the birth of a baby gorilla at the zoo, or by threats to endangered species…”
“Nature may often ‘know best,’ but we must use or own judgement in deciding when to follow nature. For all I know, war is ‘natural’ to human beings — it certainly seems to have been a preoccupation for many societies, in very different circumstances, over a long period of history — but I have no intention of going to war to make sure that I act in accordance with nature. We have the capacity to reason about what it is best to do. We should use this capacity (and if you are really keen on appeals to ‘nature,’ you can say that it is natural for us to do so).”
“The point of altering one’s buying habits is not to keep oneself untouched by evil, but to reduce the economic support for the exploitation of animals, and to persuade others to do the same. So it is not a sin to continue to wear leather shoes you bought before you began to think about Animal Liberation. When your leather shoes wear out, but nonleather ones; but you will not reduce the profitability of killing animals by throwing out your present ones. With diet, too, it is more important to remember the major aims than to worry about such details as whether the cake you are offered at a party was made with a factory farm egg.”
“Whatever the theoretical possibilities of rearing animals may be, the fact is that the meat available from butchers and supermarkets comes from animals who were not treated with any real consideration at all while being reared. so we must ask ourselves, not: Is is ever right to eat meat? but: Is it right to eat this meat? Here I think that those who are opposed to the needless killing of animals and those who oppose only the infliction of suffering must join together and give the same, negative answer.”
“Would we be prepared to let thousands of humans die if they could be saved by a single experiment on a single animal?…This question is, of course, purely hypothetical. There has never been and never could be a single experiment that saved thousands of lives. The way to reply to this hypothetical question is to pose another: Would the experimenters be prepared to carry out their experiment on a human orphan under six months old if that were the only way to save thousands of lives?”