Harvard University Class on Veganism | Animals as Commodities

by birtanpublished on September 24, 2020

I've been vegan now for just over four years January 2015 and my reasons for going vegan was always with the ethical aspects of how we use animals and I've been vegetarian for eight months before that and then I saw a documentary called Earthlings which is based in the US it's

All about US agricultural practices and I had a little companion animal hamster at the time his name was Rupert and I'd love to repo so much and I've had watched the documentary I went and sat next to Rupert and got him out when he

Was running over my hands and arms and I start crying because I realized that the humps that I loved in my hand was an individual and he had his own likes and dislikes he loved broccoli but hated kale like me

As well kind of ironically and but I recognized him has been individualistic and I thought to myself we'll hang on a second all of these animals in that film I've watched have fundamentally individuals in the same right as roof of

The hamster in my hand and for all the animals that I pay to be killed on my behalf who I pay to become modified on my behalf are also individuals in the same way that Rupert the hamster in my hand is and so I changed and that was to

Vegan at this point but I was always really worried I mean we just kind of lose it blue did to it then about being labeled as militant and extreme and fanatical and morally righteous I really didn't want to be labeled in this way so

I kind of kept my veganism to myself I went to university and just ate my falafel and hummus and chickpeas and other the normal cliche vegan food but I didn't see anything about it and over time is that to to now got me a little

Bit more because I was watching more documentaries and reading more and absorbing more information and I stands get quite angry like I was becoming really furious because I was like these people are paying for animals to suffer

And die and it's wrong but no one will change or no one seems like they want to change and I thought well that's not really fair of me because I'm not actually talking about this issue and I'm not raising this into people's

Awareness so I can't expect people to change if they've never been asked these questions before and so I decided that I would become an activist whatever that really meant I was a bigger I did a scary word to me if I can activist was

This eye I saw like protests happen in the US there was kind of like my benchmark for activism was like enough I don't know if I want to be like that but I thought I need to do something and so I start advocating by having

Conversations with people and going out on the street and just having dialog and seeing what people fought but when I started I had this real intense anger like I just said before and I was really judgmental and accusatory and I didn't

Listen to people very well and so someone would say to me well you know it's okay to kill an animal if you do it humanely I know how to say what describe humane slaughter and they say well it's alright you put electricity through the

Head and you cut their throat am i reaction at that point was to say well how would your mum like it if that was done to her and obviously that didn't go down very well at that point I don't know why I mean it's not controversial

At all but I realized after those conversations where people became really standoffish with me that I was doing something wrong and I said well if I'm trying to help the animals and I'm trying to raise awareness about veganism

But people are becoming angry and frustrated and annoyed at me then obviously I'm not doing this in a particularly productive or effective way and so I had to kind of take a step back and take a little bit of humility and

Just say well what am i doing that I need to change and I realized that it was that anger that kind of place of resentment and frustration is almost kind of a form of misanthropy I guess where I was becoming really just kind of

Disgruntled in the state of our species and blaming everyone for the wrongs and the world which isn't particularly fair of me to do and so I came across this method of dialogue called the Socratic method and it really resonated with me

And the Socratic method is is fundamentally a form of conversation where the imperative is to ask questions rather than give answers and I thought well this makes so much sense because we hate to be told what to do right we hate

That and we also hate to be told how we should feel and when people tell you you're angry even if you are angry that makes you more angry because you don't want someone to tell you that and so I thought Here I am pointing the finger

And saying this is wrong and you need to do this and you have to change but that's not particularly effective and it'd be much more effective to try and understand why people do the things that they do and more importantly what stops

Them from wanting to change in the first place it's almost like we have a collective apathy where it's much nicer for us to fit into the status quo and not challenge what we do and actually that's one of the things that came

Across was this notion obvious status quo bias which fits into an umbrella of something called cognitive biases an obviously started to make much more sense to me when I researched the the impact of the psychological aspects

Of why we are resistant to change and it helped because I no longer for angry because there wasn't blaming people until the power the Socratic method really allowed me just to understand how people felt and so I'd say something

Like do you think animal cruelty is wrong everyone thinks animal cruelty is wrong it doesn't matter if you're a vegan non vegan everyone agrees under that umbrella that cruelty is wrong and so I

Say what can you define cruelty to me what does animal cruelty look like and the normal schpeel would be that cruelty is causing or is an action or behavior that inflicts suffering that is unnecessary or pain that's unnecessary

And so I'd say well okay do we have to eat animal products to live and people would say no sometimes they'd say yes and I say which do you need know which nutrient they say protein I said we can get protein from beans and soy and nuts

And grains and legumes and vegetables and all these other sources and so they say okay you know we don't eat animal products to live and I'd say well if it's not a necessity for survival then by default it's unnecessary which by

Your own logic puts into the criteria of being cruelty which is something you're against and all of a sudden people resonate because they realize that this is what they feel and how they think and they're not being told what it is they

Should feel I think instead their be encouraged to understand it within themselves and so the more and more I had these conversations with people the more and more I realized that actually we have so much in common and we are all

Of course unique and very different in terms of how we see the world but really what kind of unites us is the fact that we're all kind of and I guess the word is victims we're all kind of victims or products of a society in which were

Raised and so if I go back to this notion of cognitive biases that we were just miles just discussing before there are kind of a few big fundamental cognitive biases cognitive biases are a kind of psychological imperfections I

Guess which kind of obstruct us from making decisions that are rationally aligned with our logical thinking brain and so a good example of this would be something called confirmation bias which is where we seek out information it just

Realigns and reaffirms our values now if all this makes so much– then to me because you see laws anti-vegan articles there's anti vegan videos and they get shared like crazy and people want to see that they want to read them

And they want to share them because it reaffirms something within themself and they want that to be true and so we have almost it's not a refusal but a kind of a discipline I don't know what the word would be it's almost like we're

Disenfranchised for information that kind of contradicts our values we want to be comfortable and we want to be safe and that's not only physically comfortable but also intellectually comfortable in many ways as well

Especially it comes down to something like lifestyle which is so intrinsically unique and something we hold on to so dearly and cherish so dearly as well and so confirmation bias replays into the fact that we just want to reaffirm

Things that we already feel and if the dominant paradigm is to suggest that eating or using animals is morally justifiable well that's what we want to be told and then we have to couple that with few other biases such as the false

Consensus bias which is the notion that because everyone in society does something or the majority do that must somehow make it acceptable and this is something I hear a lot of people say well if vegans were so right and it was

The morally I guess righteous or the moral imperative to be vegan then why is it that most people aren't vegan well therein lies the answer to your own question because people want to do what everybody else does and we don't want to

Step out to kind of the safety of being part of the the pack so to speak and if we look at kind of from an evolutionary perspective we were community animals and we relied on each other but fear of being ostracized was the biggest

Punishment of all if we stepped out of line and did something that went against the values of our community we'll be ostracized from that and so intrinsically and primitively speaking we want to be part of that community and

We don't want to do something that ostracizes us from the community that we exist in and now obviously community to us now is very different to what it used to be to our ancestors but we were so interconnected and so globally joined in

This day and age but still that fear is still deep-rooted in our evolutionary past and so to go vegan or to question something that everyone does was almost like a form of self Astra's isolation in the sense that we're stepping out of our

Comfort zone and doing something that contradicts what everyone else does we don't wanna be judged for that and we don't want to have our value diminished because of the lifestyle choices that we make and they have something called the

Status quo bias which is similar but in a sense it means that we have a fear of change we've a fear of doing something that alters our lifestyles our habits our routines our convenience or our cultures and traditions as the case may

Well be and so you couple these different psychological aspects together and all of a sudden you see why it's so difficult to get someone to join the dots and over something that we all kind of universally agree on we're against

Animal cruelty and against animal suffering yet the majority of us in some way or another pay for the suffering of animals to be perpetuated and not only that but we do it for our own behalf or to benefit us in some way and that was

Quite liberating away because although it seemed like an insurmountable task that then have conversations which got through these different challenges understanding that people aren't inherently bad was a really liberating

Moment because all of a sudden I wasn't blaming people for harming animals because I understood that there was some psychological reasoning which meant that it was really difficult for them not to harm animals it's not that we want to

It's just it happens behind walls and slaughterhouses and in farms and we're fed something that isn't true we're going to Walmart Target or Whole Foods wherever it is that we shop and we see labels and packaging of happy animals in

Fact I was I was in a supermarket yesterday and I couldn't believe what I saw it was for an organic milk product so cow's milk and on the packet of the organic cow's milk was a picture of a mother holding her baby lean into the

The dairy cow and so as an average consumer you see that and that paints just a wholesome picture of the dairy industry but what they don't tell you in the dairy industry is that baby calves are taken away from their mothers

Because if the calves drink from the mother that's less milk for the farmer to sell and so all of a sudden that simple imaging which seems so idyllic in Peaceville becomes insidious and sinister almost like a taunting because

There's a mother and her baby leaning into a mother who's had her baby taken away from her but that's not what we're told and so in essence the commodification of animals becomes larger than that it's almost like the

Commodification of us as well the commodification of humans both when we look at what happens to humans in slaughterhouses and indeed on farms but even the manipulation that we go through as consumers

We're sold something that isn't true in essence were commodified for our compassion because if we knew the truth we'd want to buy the soy milk color oat milk or the almond milk but instead we buy the cow's milk because our biases

Say that we should I'm a federal a boar that feeds into our compassion and the fact that we are against animal cruelty and so there's this whole web of marketing and of psychological barriers that make this kind of just a a loop

Where we just continue perpetuating something that deep down many of us are probably actually against behind these conversations it provoked one questioning me which was how do we define our morality when we commodify

Animals how do we define what it means to be good to animals what is the moral code that we employ when we view animals because does something doesn't seem to line up we live in a paradoxical situation almost and so part of the

Inspiration for that was for me to then start learning all the different arguments and all the different excuses that we use and to see if they fit it into some sort of consistent notion of morality and so when we look at issues

Of commodification in relation to ethics and morality we have to assign a couple of criteria to our moral code and the things we have to assign is we have to say are we being logically honest or within logically dishonest are the

Excuses that we're using based in truth or they're based in conjecture and speculation but more importantly are they without contradiction and are they non arbitrary and so we can apply this way of thinking to kind of a a human

Context and we can say that something like something like white supremacy would be in effect amoral obviously for a number of reasons but we can boil it down to a couple of notions and that is obviously to be a for ative / storm

Because of a notion like the skin color is an arbitrary reason it's based in no kind of differentiation between the two individuals but also it's a complete contradiction in itself because we say well the white supremacist would say

That they value their life based on the fact that they're conscious and they're sentient and they're individuals and they can suffer but then it's nan couplets it's a contradiction in terms they're not applied that same

Kind of way of thinking to every human because every human is of course sentient conscious individualistic and as an experience of life that is unique to them and importantly they can all suffer experience happiness feel pain

And have a preference to avoid the negative emotions and to feel the positive emotions and so I thought well okay that seems fair enough but one of the things that people often say to me is that I don't subscribe to

The morality that you subscribe to and often people say yes but morality is subjective meaning that morality doesn't even exist and I thought well that seems like quite tangent to go by and one day this person said to me that he defined

Himself as an existential nihilist and therefore while that seems like quite a big heavy term and so if I like an extensional existential nihilist and I said we'll describe what that means to you he says well I believe that life

Intrinsically has no purpose and there's no definition of morality meaning there's no such thing as right and wrong and I said then but do you think that you are better than than an animal and he said yeah I think humans about

Animals and I said oh by default you've contradicted yourself then because the idea of existential nihilism would just would suggest and ascertain that all life is equal because all life is complete devoid of purpose or any

Meaning then to place value on your own species means that you've created the system of morality within your own self you just have refusal to accept it because it's easy to say an existential nihilistic it means you continue harming

Others and so there's a contradiction almost every form of morality when we apply it to how we view animals and so let's link what we were saying to the commodification of animals because if we say that it's wrong to commodify a human

Because they're conscious sentient and have individualistic experience of life then by default to be consistent we have to say that it's morally wrong to commodify a nonhuman animal because they – especially the ones that we exploit

Conventionally like pigs and cows and chickens and sheep and even salmon and tuna they – a sentient conscious and have experience of life that is individualistic and unique to them so to be morally consistent if it's wrong to

Commodify humans it must be wrong to commodify non-human animals as well that's info straightforward but people didn't seem to buy that they've normally go for a whole list of other excuses there's a whole ton of excuse that we

Can probably think of that suggest that we shouldn't be vegan when I can have simplified these and bar these down to a few subcategories and so I refers that the biggest category has been the hedonistic

Excuses so that's sensory pleasure so that looks at taste it looks at you know enjoyment from watching bullfighting or going to the rodeo it looks at vanity you know if you enjoy how you how you feel when you wear fur

Sensory pleasure something that brings us intrinsic value and egoistic value so to speak another would be convenience so we say well it's inconvenient for me to go vegan because I have to change how I shop or buy some of the products or

Change my recipe or eat a vegan cheese they don't like as much some vegan cheese is terrible by the way of like but some of its really good and so actually the convenient argument becomes a little bit of a contradiction itself

Because it's just about changing habits and routines and when you get over that hurdle it becomes fairly simple and then we can break it down into another category and these will be defined more as the predetermined Osei and so if we

Look at issues of carnism and Melanie joy as I've been taught yeah yeah yeah okay so my min serves you who've read it might know but for those of you who don't carnism explores the relationship of

Kind of an invisible belief system that permeates through society which is why we love dogs eat cows and eat pigs but you know we have different viewpoints depending on the species of animal and so you kind of moralistically that would

Be defined as kind of a cultural or traditional or like a societal norm which is why I group these has been the predetermined excuses because these are things that are kind of out of our hands something we don't have control over how

We're raised the values that are assigned to us what our parents teach us what culture and society teaches us and obviously you know that kind of couples in with that contradiction of we look at you linen you know in China in Southeast

Asia where they consume dogs and we say morally that's apparent you know that's wrong we look at maybe Spain with his bullfighting we say morally that's wrong we look at Japan where they slaughter dolphins and we say morally that's wrong

Or in the Faroe Islands off the coast of Denmark when they slaughter pilot whales and we say morally that's wrong but actually on our own doorstep as the exact same level of brutality the same level of violence

Almost amplified and exemplified by the fact that we do it in such a huge system where the killing is so systematic and such a scale that we can't ever really comprehend that what that looks like and yet we point the finger and we

Assign that what others do is immoral but what our culture does is somehow morally justified because it's the culture that we were raised in the predetermined and the other the other subcategories are an appeal to nature

And so I find this becomes a really prevailing category because people say well we're omnivores and we have canine teeth and it's part of the food chain it's the circle of life our ancestors used to consume animals if your

Ancestors didn't eat meat you wouldn't be alive today and appeal to nature which in essence seems to be grounded in some notion of of logic and rational thought but it kind of overlooks the fact that we live

In a very modern contemporary society and importantly overlooks the fact that we do have something called moral agency which isn't necessarily unique to humans but is something that we embody in a very kind of powerful way and so moral

Agency basically means that we are able to make notional we're able to make decisions based on a notion of right and wrong and importantly we can also be held accountable for the decisions that we make and so when we make an appeal to

Nature fallacy and we look at what others are doing in the wild what our ancestors used to do and we try to sign those morals and those values to a modern-day society we're in essence doing ourselves a disservice and taking

Away the fact that we live in a very contemporary world where we're able to make decisions based on what we perceive to be right and wrong and not only what we perceive to be right and wrong but we objectively know to be right and wrong

As well and I think part of the problem with morality is it gets confused with we've kind of an old-time feeling of judeo-christian values and we think well you know morality is is its kind of an ever-shifting ever-changing paradigm

Which of course it is but what it's grounded in is kind of a consistent notion of suffering we look at what's right and wrong based on the impact that it has on others I mean that's how we've defined our society so far and

Importantly how we've progressed as a society so far by looking at wherever on our actions include a victim and so when we commodify animals as well the decision we have to make as whether or not we

Class them as being a victim and part of the problem of that is how we refer to animals in the first place because the commodification of animals is obviously both physical but it's also through language and through terminology as well

And so when we refer to an animal isn't it what we do is we demote them from a being to an object we can modify them through the language that we use we assign them the value of property based on just the fact that we call them an it

When in fact animals are not inanimate objects they're beings and so we should call them someone or are they or them a being that possesses a life that means behind their eyes they have a conscious awareness of the world around them and

So commodification happens in many forms it's not just going to a supermarket in buying them it's how we generally view animals in the world and what place they have amongst us in this planet and so part of being vegan

For me isn't just about buying soymilk or buying the beyond meat burger it's about how we view that symbiotic nature that we have with other animals that coexist in this world with us and I strongly believe that actually is

Through kind of a devolution of that commodification that we can progress as a society and how we view each other as well because while we cling on to notions of a supremacy and notions of kind of superiority it's such a whole

Back and such a pull back from us actually further progressing and so one of the words that's often used in connotation with animal commodification is the word speciesism which is to do with human supremacy and so that would

Be another subcategory human supremacy and that would look at intelligence that could be used for religion as well a doctrine that says they're animals beneath humans and that humans were made in God's image and therefore worthy of

Life and so supremacy could be another one and then another subcategory would be looking at notions of practicality and if this is where the thinking mind really plays a part because we can kind of rationalize a lot of the other

Arguments through veganism and we can look at how these other arguments don't create a system that morally justifies the use of animals but the issue of practical thinking creates more of a a rational thought process and so you

Might say well how will veganism impacts the world that we live on and we can look at the environmental impacts can we produce enough food to feed everyone if we're all vegan land usage do we have enough for land to

Produce all the plants we need for everyone to eat vegan and so we look at issues of the environment because the environmental aspects of it is tight so closely in with with veganism as well we have to kind of understand that part of

Being vegan as like I said before it's a symbiotic notion of living harmoniously and that doesn't mean just living cooperatively with animals it means living cooperatively with our environment as well and looking at

Notions of climate change and how consuming animals impacts our environment if you live greenhouse gas emissions you know lander certification topsoil erosion water usage as well but more

Intrinsically with the question we have to ask ourselves is is there a necessity for history animals not just from a nutrient perspective but in terms of a calorie perspective as well and can we feed every mouth in this planet with a

Plant-based diet and so actually a lot of the science suggests that we can resounding ly do so and not only resoundingly do so but in fact it's the only way that we will be able to feed every mouthful his planet is to adopting

That plant-based diet because as we know the consumption of animals is incredibly detrimental on an environmental level but it's unsustainable because it requires such a huge amount of crop usage just to meet the amount of food

That people desire to eat and so herein lies the problem that notion of desire and so for all these excuses that we go through rather you know the rational thought processes of commodification it kind of ends up with a notion of desire

That notion of tastes which is what we touched upon kind of near the beginning that notion of I want to do this I enjoy doing this this is something that I find pleasure in and from the conversations I have with people this is what always

Seems to happen we're going around about journey where we look at different issues and different excuses but it always comes down to that one Holy Grail I like how meat tastes I like how cheese tastes I like how X

Tastes and so this is what morality boils down to in that sense of well how do we justify that action do we require more than sensory pleasure to justify that because a world where sensory pleasure dictates what's right and

What's wrong becomes a pretty scary world we think of all the things that people this world can enjoy that cause harm to others we don't justify those simply because they cause enjoyment if we apply it to a

Nonhuman animal context we look at bullfighting like I mentioned before people great frills in bullfighting doesn't provide a justification for bullfighting to continue and so we look at taste as

Being the the beacon of why people do what they do the question becomes what has higher value taste our life the life of an animal or our taste buds if we have a weighing scale which one's heaviest on that scale because really

That's what it boils down to in the absence of necessity and the absence of any practical reasoning then it becomes a selfish desire which doesn't mean we're intrinsically bad because like I said before there's so many reasons why

We fitted into this mold of doing what we do but if that's the baseline for why we do what we do sensory pleasure and enjoyment then we have to ask ourselves well what world are we entering into or more importantly

What world do we want to enter into and is the commodification of animals something that needs to be considered is a moral imperative for us to look beyond the things that we've always done and the paradigms that we've been born into

And instead assess and analytically contemplate whether or not this is something that needs to be changed I'd be interested to know I mean I'm going to come round and have little pockets of conversation during the

Second part of it but I do want to leave you with these these ideas and these questions of which has high value what justification would you use does the commodification of animals need a different form of justification to the

Commodification of humans or the to both comes and kind of symbiotically together based on the fact that we are all alive conscious and sentient and for those basic foundations of what it means to be alive should we all be considered in the

Same circle of moral compassion and importantly what do we define our moral code as being how do we define our view of the world what do we think of other cultures and the actions that they commit do you think that they're

Acceptable or not acceptable if we think they're not acceptable than what does that tell us about what we do to animals and how we view animals and importantly if our environments at risk then why wouldn't we change

Why wouldn't we take a long hard look at ourselves and say it with so much on the line and so much at stake but if our planet the animals and potentially our own health as well what stops us from making that change and

What stops us from looking with a critical eye of the things that we do so taste our life life of an animal the life of our planet our own life as well what has higher value and if we say

Tastes how do we justify that to be justify that in what way because as we've said before there's so many excuses so many reasons so many elements to consider but if we find no justification for taste

Then what life must always have higher value in the case that life has higher value that tells us what we need to know about commodification tells us what we need to know about how we view others and I guess that's the question I'd

Leave you with on that scale of life and taste where do you fit both as an individual but also collectively as a species where should we align ourselves and I don't talk too much more because you

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