Sunday, April 5, 2009
I Love Honey Enough To Not Eat It!
A good friend said to me, "I saw that "Maxine the cow" video you posted on your last blog about that cow who escaped from a slaughterhouse onto the streets of NYC. Wow, it really moved me! She was like a dog! I could really see the soul in that cow's eyes. I honestly now think twice when eating a hamburger. But what do you think about chickens?" the person said. "I mean... aren't they just stupid?"
Stupid. Well. Yes. I think the answer is "yes, chickens are stupid". That is to say dumb as doorknobs, not going to be terribly enlightening in conversation and terrible math tutors. The question is, is that really the point? Isn't a mentally handicapped person (and there are some who are quite severely so) also "stupid"? What of people in comas or otherwise vegetative? Are they not also "stupid" to put it far too bluntly? Is it ok to treat them without respect? Do we discard people once they have reached a certain level of "stupidity"? Isn't "stupid" just a way of saying that they're not going to do so hot on the LSATs but says nothing about their ability to feel or do? So then what does it matter that a chicken is stupid? Does our superior intellect give us a right to dominate another or a responsibilty to protect them? Of course animals do not have our intelligence nor our ability to reason but as Princeton bioethics prof Peter Singer said,
"All the arguments to prove human superiority cannot shatter this hard fact: in suffering, animals are our equals."
And I believe it. A recent study suggested that even crabs "feel and remember pain". I believe it. That's what nervous systems do, they feel pain! I'll even go you a step further down to an insect. Will a bumblebee feel stress if it is made to continuously replenish its honey stores (used to feed its young) its entire life because its human beekeepers are constantly depleting it for their own use? Yes. I think it will. Stress is nature's way of showing us that something's wrong here and you need to do something about it (i.e. dammit, the honey's gone AGAIN (day 364), gotta go back out...). And I believe that bees experience stress in a surprisingly similar way to how we do because we've all evolved along the same path. There's a reason why you can implant a jellyfish's genes into a human and have it work as perfectly as it did in the jellyfish. Its because we've all evolved along the same path. The things that we do have in common with other species, we really have quite literally IN COMMON. As humans, we've got a whole load of extra features no doubt, but these things are built on top of the basics, not instead of. The basics remain intact throughout the chain. The basics do not include our human thoughts and rational reasoning. So what's left? Feelings. Basic feelings are quite universal I believe and are what drive animals and humans to be and do what they do. Love and lust drive them to mate and care for young. The instinct to love is strong enough that animals will even occasionally care for young across species! Fear and pain drive them to seek safety from the dangers of the wild. Jealousy, greed, altruism can all be found in nature. What makes us so arrogant to say that our love is somehow different or "better" than that of the animals in the cross species mothering video? What's different is that our love also has thoughts mixed in, but the underlying feeling is the same.
Does this mean we shouldn't eat honey? I think that is up to each person of course. "God" put compassion and reasoning into human nature. "He" did not give this in any abundance to the shark or the tiger (nor even my cute little kitty carnivores). So let's at least give our compassion and reasoning a chance to do their thing rather than ignoring them and pushing them away (they don't go away anyway, ignoring them makes it come back as stress). Not eating honey is where my compassion and reason lead me but its no more a "right" answer than anyone else's. I believe a honey bee is a conscious being (they can be knocked unconscious can't they? remember knocking out drosophila flies in science lab?). Therefore, as a human with compassion I can relate in someway to being a honey bee through knowing what it feels like to be conscious. There are vast differences between myself and a honeybee to be sure, but like Mr. Singer says, I believe, "in suffering they are our equals." And so it comes down to love. If I were a honey bee, how might I feel if day after day I found my honey gone after working all day, flying flower to flower to collect pollen? I might not have thoughts about this as a bee, but it would certainly be a more difficult existence. And so why would I inflict this suffering on another being just because honey tastes good and because a bee might not "know" what's happening in the same way I do? If you have an answer, please tell me because i do love the taste of honey. But until I hear a better argument, I love honey enough to not eat it.
ps for more info on bees and why they like to keep their honey, and other interesting vegan tidbits, go to this recent NY Times blog. A 3 part series of q & a from the public regarding the facts, myths and history of a vegan diet.
(and agave nectar is a sweet alternative to honey).
The photo in today's blog is ©2009 Eric M