The extremely inconvenient truth of wild animal suffering

Somewhere in South Africa, not that long ago, a young zebra has gotten stuck in the mud. She’s panicking. If nothing happens her cries and struggles will be to no avail, and she’ll suffocate very soon.

Yet suddenly, there is help: a young rhinoceros sees the zebra, puts his gigantic head under the animal, and lifts her out of the mud. For a moment, it looks like a successful rescue operation. The rhino, however, forgets about his tusk, which pierces through the zebra, killing the animal.

MADIKWE, SOUTH AFRICA: A RHINO was snapped fishing a zebra foal out of a mud pit with its horn. The bizarre pictures show how the giant two-tonne beast spotted the baby zebra being stuck in the mud and attempted to lift the hapless creature with its horn. South African guide Roel van Muiden was showing visitors around the Madikwe Game Reserve when he saw the incredible scene, which sadly ended in the death of the foal.

At a safe distance, another being has been watching the scene: a Homo sapiens. A professional nature photographer, he made a series of pictures of the drama. The man could have interfered, but would later tell a journalist that he felt it was best to “let nature be nature”.

So this was the situation: a zebra in mortal danger is “helped” by a rhinoceros who cannot help her (maybe he wanted only to play or was just curious), while a human, who could have helped, watches and decides that fate shall have its course.

When a human being in need of rescuing crosses our path, we will take action – at least if there’s little or no risk for ourselves. With animals, we don’t have this sense of moral obligation. Especially wild animals seem to belong to a different world, in which we should not interfere. But why not?

“Natural” doesn’t equal “good”
For many people, “what is natural”, still equals “what is good” or “what is right”. What happens in nature has to happen, or it wouldn’t happen. Or something like that.

Still, the whole of human evolution is a story of going against, conquering, outrunning and outsmarting nature. This is not a problem in itself. On the contrary. All the medication that we take is “unnatural”. So are glasses and crutches and cars and bicycles. Or the way you are reading this text: on a screen. None of this can be found in nature.
We are also constantly interfering in nature, most of the time for our own – Homo sapiens’ – sake. We have cleared nature for roads, farmland, parks, buildings. Doing this, we have killed countless individual animals.

Many people would agree that we, as humans, could or should try to solve the suffering in nature that we have caused ourselves – the way we make bridges or tunnels as corridors for animals when we have split their habitat into too many parts.
But what about suffering that is not due to us? Suffering is suffering, pain is pain. The cause of this suffering and pain – human or not – is totally irrelevant for those experiencing it. For a rabbit it is irrelevant whether she suffers because of some disease or because she got caught in a poacher’s trap (assuming both kinds of suffering are of similar intensity).

Saving a young zebra from suffocation is a small, concrete intervention, and maybe, if you had been the photographer, you would have done what you could, from a place of (very natural) empathy. But today we have already seen more structural interference among wild animal populations. We have vaccinated some populations (even though the reason has been to avoid human contamination). In some natural parks we have experimented with contraception (feeling that preventing some animals from being born is more humane than letting those already there suffer a horrible death from hunger).

Why the idyllic view of nature is wrong
You may have a very idyllic view of nature, thinking happiness and serenity abound. Throughout the ages, our views on the nature of nature, so to speak, have changed back and forth. Today, the view of nature as “red in tooth and claw”, as Tennyson described it, unfortunately seems a pretty good description of what’s going on in the wild. Here is part of the reason why.

We humans usually have few children, but we invest a lot in them and as a result almost all of them (at least in western countries, but more and more in developing countries too) will survive. Many or most animals have a different strategy: they have many young, but don’t invest a lot of parental attention in them. The result is similar: one or just a few survive (thus, the population remains stable). This second strategy (ecologists traditionally talked about “r-selection” and “K-selection”) means that an incredible number of animals will die at a very young age. European rabbits, for instance, can have 360 young in their lifetime, fifteen percent of which make it through their first year. Some animals can lay hundreds, thousands, or hundreds of thousands of eggs, not all of whom will develop into living beings. But even if an animal only has a few young, one or more will often not survive. A panda, for instance, usually has twins, of which typically only one will survive as the parents only really invest in looking after one of them.

Many or most of these animals probably don’t die a painless or quick death. Apart from hunger, thirst, cold and drought, wild animals suffer diseases and injuries without any medical care being available to them. They are confronted with natural disasters like floods and fires. There’s parasitism, and of course there is predation (see the video below, if you dare, for graphic examples).

Finally, let’s take into account the actual numbers that we are talking about here. Humans number about seven billion. A rough estimation of the number of fish we take from the sea is between one and three trillion animals. An even rougher estimation of the number of animals out there could be 10 to the 19th (see this article for more info).

The bottom line seems to be that the idyllic view of nature is wrong and that the amount of suffering is vast.

The question of whether we should ever do something about this huge problem is controversial. It especially surprises me that it is even controversial among vegans and animal rights supporters, who seem to think we should mainly care about our own duties and the suffering we ourselves have caused. Again: to the animal that is suffering, it doesn’t matter whether we caused the harm or not.

Yes, estimating the consequences of intervention could be incredibly, impossibly complex. Yes, intervention could have catastrophic effects. But the people thinking this issue through are obviously aware of both risks and complexity. Any progress will be gradual and slow. But let’s also not forget that what is happening is already catastrophic. If you’re not convinced, watch this video (trigger warning: graphic footage!)

The main question to me is not whether we should intervene or not, but to what extent and how. I think most people would agree with the interventions that we already do: saving individual animals, vaccinations, even contraception – at least on the condition that these interventions are done very carefully and cause no greater harm. But shouldn’t we go a bit further?

Two planets
On a wall in the office of the German vegan advocacy organization VEBU in Berlin hangs a framed letter. It is from a little girl, Annika, who later died of a brain tumor, and it is addressed to my friend Sebastian Joy, CEO of VEBU. In the letter, the girl suggests that we should have two planets: one for humans, and one for the animals. The thinking is endearing, and at first sight you might agree that this is a good idea. But thinking it through, you realize that this animal planet would be full of suffering. And you realize that maybe, just maybe, if Homo sapiens manages to survive itself and we become better at being human, then we could be of real significance and do something for the wild animals out there to make their lives better or to spare them from suffering. I’m aware that to some, this view will sound crazy, or hubris-like, or how they will say this is not a priority while there are easier ways to help people and animals. But just consider that we may be around for tens or hundreds of thousands of years more. Who knows what moral and technological evolution we may go through in that period?

In the meantime, what can we do? We can start being open-minded about this topic, for one thing. We can examine our biases, our speciesism. We can examine where our real priorities are: with animal rights? With the prevention of suffering? We can spread this idea further. We can support whatever thoughtful interventions are already happening. And we can be open to the development of new technologies that may help us in the future.

To the animals, this planet is hell and people are their devils, wrote Schopenhauer. I believe we don’t need to be devils to animals. Maybe we can be their angels. Someday.

Want to learn a bit more? Check out this talk about Wild Animal Suffering

Also check the research plans (and the need for funding) of the Foundational Research Institute.

This article was inspired by a talk by Oscar Horta at the Sentience Conference in Berlin.

101 thoughts on “The extremely inconvenient truth of wild animal suffering

  1. Wow. Thank you for shedding light on this. Do you think predation is an issue in and of itself, or just to the extent where (like in the video) animals sit there and are torn apart for minutes until death? Ill be deeply thinking and researching this issue now.

    1. depends what you mean with “an issue”. i would define anything that causes really bad suffering as an issue, so in that sense, yes. it’s hard to imagine what we can do about it, but i’m always assuming that there will inventions that right now we can not even imagine…
      It would be already something if prey animals died instantaneously…

      1. One solution would be to engineer opiates into the claws and teeth of carnivores. We would probably also need coordinate this with editing their opioid receptors so they don’t overdose themselves.

        Just sayin’ there are plenty of things we can do about it with genetic engineering. This particular technique might have selective advantage, so we might only have to release it and let it spread through the population, no gene drives required.

        1. in this scenario, the disadvantage would be that when an animal is trying to run away and is not mortally wounded but just gets a scratch from the predator and could maybe still fight its way out, in the case of the opiates it wouldn’t be able to, right?

          1. First off, it might not matter as long as the death is relatively painless. If the change is introduced slowly, populations will find ways to stabilize (not that that’s necessarily optimal). Additionally, the opiate quantity/strength can be set such that it takes several minutes of exposure to reach incapacitation, though this would mean relief would not set in immediately either.

            In any case, I think the barrier to intervention is not a technical one, but a social one.

  2. IMHO, we need to keep in mind the intensity and longevity of the suffering. But also, we need to keep in mind exactly what we can do about each cast. John Webster, professor of Veterinary Science, has noted that industrial chicken production is, “in both magnitude and severity, the single most severe, systematic example of man’s inhumanity to another sentient animal.” And this is something we can each do something about, every day. http://www.OneStepForAnimals.org/

    1. Let’s say we reach the “tipping point” and the world is barreling toward veganism. Do you think it makes sense, at that point, to turn to this issue?

    2. sure, that’s why i wouldn’t consider wild animal suffering as a priority either, though i think we should, like i wrote, keep our mind and our heart open for future work, maybe when the rest is done 🙂

  3. Thanks for writing this, Tobias. The topic of wild animal suffering is of paramount importance, but is still too controversial even in vegan circles (largely, IMO, due to the years of dominating conservationist narrative).

    For those who (are ready to) acknowledge the amount and severity of suffering in the Darwinian world, and are interested in the practical implications for moral agents like us, I suggest reading (and discussing!) some relevant work of David Pearce, e.g. “Reprogramming Predators” (http://www.abolitionist.com/reprogramming/index.html) and “The Abolitionist Project” (http://www.abolitionist.com/). David’s far-fetched proposals may seem first as too… I don’t know, outlandish?, but his arguments are solid =)

    1. thanks. yes, david pearce is an inspiration. still have to get my way through the whole hedonistic imperative thing too 🙂

      1. I was going to mention Pearce as well. I noticed that he actually commented on the video you suggest near the end.

        Pearce’s ideas are definitely being formed with an eye to the future, but they are rapidly becoming directly relevant.

        Our family hasn’t adopted any companion animals, largely because it seems rather hypocritical to buy meat for a cat (I realize that there are many good arguments to rationalize this, but I think they remain rationalizations).

        Memphis Meats, a startup which is producing lab created meat, holds more promise for obligate carnivores like cats than it does for humans. Currently, feeding domesticated cats requires killing other animals for their food. Lab created meat would remove this necessity. Of course, nature worshipers find this repugnant because it is “unnatural.”

        I believe lack of compassion for wild animals is based on a “dog eat dog” mentality that is not all that different from shrugging away a child’s death due to failure to use modern medicine by saying it was “god’s will”.

        I know this is controversial, but ultimately, we either believe that suffering and unhappiness are problematic and a conundrum to be solved, or we do not. I do not believe “nature” or any other form of arbitrary revelation should dictate our morality. All creatures that can MOVE avoid suffering. I believe that is sufficient information to determine that suffering is a bad thing and should be prevented wherever possible.

        Btw, I also admire Pearce’s notion that we have a moral imperative not only to prevent suffering, but to promote happiness as well.

        1. “I know this is controversial, but ultimately, we either believe that suffering and unhappiness are problematic and a conundrum to be solved, or we do not. I do not believe “nature” or any other form of arbitrary revelation should dictate our morality. All creatures that can MOVE avoid suffering. I believe that is sufficient information to determine that suffering is a bad thing and should be prevented wherever possible.”
          –> awesome comment!

        2. Something I don’t understand about vegan discourse in general is the inability to get past the dog-cat binary when it comes to companion animals. If one absolutely refuses to buy meat for a dog or cat, wouldn’t it make sense to adopt a naturally herbivorous animal like a guinea pig or a rabbit (I say this as someone who has been adopting guinea pigs for many years, including a one-eyed albino female who was rescued from a breeding facility)? There are far too many guinea pigs and rabbits being abandoned because people think they are good “starter pets” and fail to take into account how complex their needs are. The number of rabbits bought and then abandoned during the Easter season alone is very depressing to think about. Even Gary Francione who claims to be so hardcore is stuck in the dog-cat binary, since his Facebook page never mentions all the non-dog/cat companion animals that are being euthanized, many times simply because shelters don’t know what to do with a guinea pig, rabbit, hamster, gerbil, etc. I am not singling you out ModVegan, but I feel this is a topic that needs more attention, especially with the combined issue of feeding dogs and cats vegan food (which frankly, I think makes no sense).

          1. @Tobias I simply wanted to add this note that I’m the Leah from the Sentience Conference thread and I unknowingly used another account when I answered on my phone. I’m not trying to sockpuppet.

        3. This is not an attack on ModVegan.

          A vegan is able to give a rescued cat a good home, but chooses not to because the cat being an obligate carnivore requires meat (leaving aside controversial vegan cat food) and so entails the death and probable suffering of other animals.

          Questions and points –
          – what is point of view of the cat? The cat (we may presume) doesn’t give a fuck about stranger-animals, and, indeed cat-nature is to “terrorise”, torment and kill?
          – what will happen to the cat? Will it be killed (euthanized) because nobody took it in time?
          – what is the point of view of the food animals? They (we may presume) only know what they have suffered and the fear of imminent death. They (we may presume) think/feel nothing that they are being killed to feed some lucky bastard cat.
          – does the action of one vegan in not homing a cat make any difference?
          – does the consumer choice of one vegan in not buying meat/cat food for one cat they didn’t home make any difference?
          – personal morality will not change systemic problems. The vegan boycott strategy is so full of holes, it can not be effective in attacking major, *global* problems. Veganism is so full of holes, it can not create a mass movement for radical change.

          The only real issue is the moral sensibilities of the individual vegan – they are simply talking about themselves.

          My answer – give the cat a home, it’s a bit of compromised, conflicted good in a seriously bad world.

        4. This is hopeless, I googled “logical vegans” to find basic answers on vegan-ism because average people (most like stupid or at best never invested time in critical thinking) where full of bullshit that I want nothing to do with.

          I find people who can actually think, only to find out that this portion is trying to “program” predators not to hurt too much while killing for their food. I am really disappointed, honestly. I’m giving up.

  4. “When a human being in need of rescuing crosses our path, we will take action – at least if there’s little or no risk for ourselves.”

    I don’t think that’s actually true. A lot of people want to think it’s true, but we have so much evidence that suggests that rescue is fairly uncommon. The latest example: all the witnesses that saw and could have prevented the little 4-year-old from falling into the gorilla enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo. They just saw it happen and assumed his mom would stop him. They did not interfere; they did no rescue.

    1. Couldn’t agree more in regards to cultured meat. Before we could use it with any success, the cost of production has to decrease, right? I’ve heard 10 years for the timeline.

    2. A study some time ago suggested that people are quicker and less inhibited about helping someone if they see a connection with that person. In the study an experiment was set up where a ‘stranger’ stumbled and fell outside a building where a meeting for football fans was being held. The results were that fans were more likely to help if the ‘stranger’ was wearing a scarf with the colours of their team.

  5. Tobias,

    I have recently discovered your work here, and have caught up on some of the archives. It reminds me a lot of what I was writing 20 years ago (though I am sure I was not so eloquent then as you are now). It seems that little has changed. It strikes me that decades of almost no progress means that “vegan” is a failed brand, though that is a topic for another post’s comments.

    I believe the key issue for the present question, which you may be overlooking, is the classic ethical distinction between commission and omission. Or, more precisely, the ethical question of whether there is a difference between commission and omission. Singer, who is presumably still quite familiar to the vegan crowd, has written a lot about it (as have others, obviously). The “trolley dilemma” sums it up rather succinctly.

    Rather than ramping clear up to the complications of managing nature, there are much simpler omission ethics questions to explore. One that I often wrote about was the minimal interest in feeding vegan food to people who would have otherwise consumed animal food. I often presented this in the context of obsession about micro-ingredients and expending a great deal of money and opportunity to avoid them. The thought experiment was: Rather than do all that, why not just stand outside McDonalds (or wherever) at lunch and tell a random person that you will pay for his lunch today if he eats a vegan meal at the place next door. It is cheaper and easier, and results in a greater reduction in animal agriculture demand, than a year (or perhaps a lifetime) of avoiding foods with some minor ingredient that may have been manufactured from slaughterhouse byproducts.

    I never did get any traction with this concept, and I expect that would still be true. Some of this relates to the delusion of personal perfection — that it is possible to be 100% vegan rather than 99.x% at best — which you have alluded to. But it also relates to omission vs commission. You do not need the substitution part of that thought experiment, after all. Even if one is going to avoid the micro-ingredient anyway, why not stand outside of McDonalds? That action occurs approximately never. So the revealed attitude of vegans is one where (avoiding) commission is what matters, rather than material consequences that one could have prevented via affirmative action (but omitted doing).

    Whether or not that attitude is “right” or good, and whatever it might be motivated by (thoughtful assessment of the commission vs omission question; willful blindness about the effects of omission because it is too enormous to consider; accidental blindness; really caring about one’s purity rather than worldly impacts; etc.), it is the attitude. So it seems to me to be little sense in arguing that vegan ethics requires a particular attitude toward nature, when it is not seen as even requiring a more immediate intervention within humanity.

    1. hi carl, thanks for commenting. I should write something about omission/commission sometime (fascinating thought experiments in Living high and letting die, by peter unger.
      It seems that everything is better than doing wrong ourselves, even if the wrong done by others is a lot bigger.

      now, here in this article i didn’t want to imply that vegan ethics requires a particular attitude toward nature”, as you write. I think helping wild animals can at this moment best be considered as “supererogatory”: not a moral obligation, but nice if we do it (providing of course it doesn’t have worse consequences).
      i’ll think a bit about your idea.
      (there’s a lot on this blog about how there’s a lot more important and impactful things that we can do than caring about the purity of our own diet/consumption).

      1. I wasn’t trying to imply you were advocating for a particular position. I was just suggesting there were ways to distill down the question a bit, with questions that have only some of the complicated characteristics, but not all of them.

        Of course, you do not have to go so far as to think about saving a zebra. There are the real-life political fights about whether to try to exterminate exotic species to protect other species (e.g., wild pigs who kill the ground-nesting birds in Hawaii). The flag-waving vegans (which is, of course, not to say the average person who happens to be vegan) very often side against the environmental preservationists, objecting to the killing. Then there is the question of protecting — or even aiding or introducing — predator species who kill a lot of critters. It is hard to not wish ill upon the raptors who hunt the birds I house and feed in my yard, and the bunnies. Of course, if the bunny population exploded and started eating the garden….

      2. Why would relieving wild animal suffering be supererogatory to a vegan focussed on reducing suffering? Such a vegan may say that social/political/technological circumstances mean that certain types of suffering have to be focussed on first, but that wouldn’t make relieving wild animal suffering beyond what is required. It would, however, be supererogatory if we understand the position of the vegan as being one where what mattered was suffering as a consequence of consumption practices. This position is ofcourse completely conformable to the only thing veganism has ever consistently been – consumption practices, primarily diet. However, even this gets tricky. What about palm oil and the suffering that is often entailed in that? Well, ofcourse vegans get off that hook by the fact that palm oil itself is not from an animal.

        Like Carl is saying, veganism is full of holes – sort out your own house before you have the conceit of sorting out the whole of the natural world.

  6. This is a fascinating topic and I wonder if there is some spiritual context that can be applied to it. I am by no means a spiritual person but have been trying to ‘understand’ why there is so much suffering in the world and how karma could relate to it. This has really thrown a spanner in the works at the same time opening a whole range of explanations at the same time.

  7. Blimey…

    It would have been interesting if Tobias had touched on one way our species can reduce its negative impact, including causing suffering – massive reduction in human population and activities – even if he rejected that as impractical. For, it seems to me, that before we seek to remove the speck from the predators’ eye (perhaps by engineering them into being humane predators), we should remove the plank from our own. If anyone reading this has recently bought new-build property on land that previously had trees, shrubs, plants on it, then you have caused wild animals suffering simply for the sake of your own whims (assuming you were not in danger of dying of exposure without the new-build). If anyone reading this is serious about reducing wild animal suffering, what are your plans to end capitalist destruction of wild habitats and eco-systems?

    No, what is here so far is the great saviour technology sorting out “problems” for us, without us really having to sort out the problem that is us. And just so long as don’t ask questions about that technology – who owns it, what are the profiles of the companies, what is the whole web of investment, how was the technology developed, what resources is it using, is it polluting?

    Vegans (often) abhor how chickens have been bred to be egg-laying machines: here we have musings on engineering humane predators. I suppose the vegans who would support that, would also support the engineering of farmed animals so that they can feel no pain.

    Tobias’ piece is the first sketch for a manifesto of vegan imperialism. It is not just infringement of the natural world for gain or for good, it is creating an empire where the king-gods say “that’s bad, that’s bad, that’s bad, so we are going to change that and that and that”. Ofcourse what would be needed is a level of prescience impossible for humans, but perhaps technology will come to the rescue again – AI utilising incredible data resources.

    Or how about transhumanism? What could be better than our species engineering itself to be less impacting on the natural world? If you really care about wild animal suffering, but you won’t sign up for this sort of transhumanism, then you might wish to consider whether you are being hypocritical.

    I can’t help thinking of Aldous Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’…

    1. “If anyone reading this is serious about reducing wild animal suffering, what are your plans to end capitalist destruction of wild habitats and eco-systems?”

      How _more_ wild habitats promote _less_ wild animal suffering? Darwinian state of nature is inherently indifferent and conductive to suffering, so the fewer (wild) animals there are, the less pain and other intense distress are experienced. If this is not that intuitive to you, read, for example, “Habitat Destruction, Not Preservation, Generally Reduces Wild-Animal Suffering” by Brian Tomasik at Essays on Reducing Suffering
      (for more look in the sections “Welfare biology” and “Wild-animal suffering” on the same website)
      [can’t give direct links, sorry: the comment system does not give a pass]

      “What could be better than our species engineering itself to be less impacting on the natural world?”

      If we care about suffering, Darwinian world is morally unacceptable; therefore, we should strive for _more_ of (intelligent) impact on the natural world, not less. That world has ever been left to itself, and we can “appreciate” its resultant equilibrium.

      “I can’t help thinking of Aldous Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’…”

      IMO, Huxley made more harm than good with this work. See e.g. “Brave New World?
      A Defence Of Paradise-Engineering” by David Pearce

      1. (just fyi, i think if you put three links, the system will consider the comment spam. one or two should be fine)

      2. and yeah, i think huxley proved all of us a disservice with his brave new world. but his “Island” is better 🙂

      3. OK, fewer animals, less pain. But also fewer humans, less pain. Humans suffer in all sorts of way, and it is difficult to see how all causes of human suffering could be eliminated. Therefore the only sure way to reduce the sum of human suffering is to reduce the numbers of humans. So why not promote compulsory sterilisation as a philanthropic measure?

        And think – no animals, no suffering. Why not (humanely) eliminate all wild animals? Why tinker around with half-measures like vaccines and contraceptives and engineering?

        We shouldn’t engineer ourselves to have less of an impact because it is better for us to have more of an impact because we could make a bad world good. First of all, who are these human paragons who are so wise and altruistic? Darwinian nature is inherently bad? When did you last look at your own species? If our species couldn’t do with some major engineering, I don’t who does? So why not promote engineering of our species so that we can realistically fulfil this god-like role?

        What is the objective case for humans imposing their morality on non-humans? I don’t mean on an ad hoc basis within our own domain, like stopping two cats fighting in the street, I mean universally. Isn’t that a form of domination and imperialism, and if it isn’t, why isn’t it? I suppose it isn’t, if there is a presumption that humans kinda have a prerogative to dominate non-humans, that we have dominion. Do we have dominion simply because we are moral agents?

        And we if want to achieve our apotheosis as moral agents, we really need to think how we are going to break the stranglehold of a global economic system like capitalism, which itself creates suffering – after all “If we care about suffering”…

        1. “So why not promote compulsory sterilisation as a philanthropic measure?”
          That would not stop the evolution. Only complete elimination of the universe makes sense in the long run!
          At the same time I do encourage people to not to breed and instead adopt a child.
          Personally, yes, I would rather never existed. What stops me committing suicide? Today it’s some (naive?) goals to make a positive impact and increased fear of dying (though previously I was less reluctant on terminating my existence..)

          “who are these human paragons who are so wise and altruistic?”
          Right, today we have only crude approximations at best. But the ultimate problem of suffering is so urgent and unimaginably bad that we have to accept some inevitable risks. “Desperate straits mandate taking risks one would otherwise shun.” Of course, “safety first”, but let’s not forget about victims that current status quo will never help.

          “And think – no animals, no suffering. Why not (humanely) eliminate all wild animals?”
          This option should also be considered. Their genetic code, for example, would presumably be decided to be saved (at least to soothe pains of conservationists with collectionist approach to animals).

          “Isn’t that a form of domination and imperialism, and if it isn’t, why isn’t it?”
          One may call that whatever he/she likes. The point is, we are the only agents on this planet who can propose, and hopefully implement, solutions to the problem of suffering. We are the closest to being “adults” on the planet, and so should (because who else?) help all those beings (including future ones) that cannot comprehend the situation and are doomed to perpetuate Darwinian hell.

          1. i agree entirely with your last paragraph, chado (with the rest too i think), and it’s sad that many people can’t do anything else with it than just shout “hubris!”. like i said in my post, potentially we may be talking about hundreds of years to come to a point where we are moral AND tech savy enough to take these steps. but that still would be worth it, because the future could be very very long.

            and, off topic, but where does your fear of dieing come from?

            1. “where does your fear of [dying] come from?”
              I think it was in me pretty from realisation of death. How can one not to fear the process of dying, the assosiated agony? Even with some rationalizations (e.g. devising a painless death by inert gas inhalation; convincing oneself that it’s like going for a deep sleep after a hard day, etc.), the fear and doubts still stubbornly persist

          2. Just one thing.

            “Only complete elimination of the universe makes sense in the long run!” You see, that *is* the reductio ad absurdum, isn’t it?

            Or what about this. Humans have the capacity to travel any distance in space and explore other worlds. Extensive exploration leads to the conclusion that all planets with life are Darwinian hell-holes. This means the Universe is fall of suffering. Humans consider this option – to re-engineer every planet that has life in the Universe. But they realise that this will be a never ending project because as new worlds emerge there is always the danger of life evolving. To deal with this they would need to re-engineer the Universe itself to either be incapable of spawning life or somehow spawn life in a non-Darwinian, non-suffering way. Or they need to just destroy the Universe. Destroying the Universe is a reasonable option because even the Universe is not as important as eliminating all suffering. Or to be more accurate, even the Universe is not as important as the *human* project to eliminate all suffering.

            You see, I am the kind of human who can’t quite get their head round the proposal that destroying the Universe is of less significance than a *human* project to eliminate all suffering.

            1. ” “Only complete elimination of the universe makes sense in the long run!” You see, that *is* the reductio ad absurdum, isn’t it? ”

              Do you think posthuman superintelligence will share our conceptions of absurdity?

        2. This is the problem with negative utilitarianism, it ultimately leads to us killing ourselves. And it seems fundamentally odd to focus on reducing suffering while ignoring the pleasures life can bring.

          As such the ethical theory typically cited by vegans, when they can bother to do such a thing, is itself deeply problematic…..few philosophers argue for negative utilitarianism. Sorta of an idea Popper pooped out one morning……

          But a vegan world….its just on the horizon!

      4. This comment is not rhetorical, it is just me.

        So, there are some vegans who consider in a positive light habitat destruction because it theoretically reduces “suffering” – WTF!

        I am thankful for this re-inforcement of my decision to leave veganism.

        1. leone, your tone has become less pleasant over the last week or so. can i ask you to pay attention to it? particularly if you are posting so much. this is a place to think freely. there’s no need for smugness or sarcasm. thanks.

          1. No smugness. Some sarcasm – but just think of that as chilli rather than sugar.

            Unpleasant? OK, I’ll take that one.

        2. Dear Leone, twice you have mentioned that some of the comments here have re-inforced your decision to ‘leave veganism’. I’m not sure I understand why you would give up a lifestyle that aims to reduce animal (and human) suffering simply because some individuals have a different opinion from yours? Or have I misunderstood you?

          1. My move to ex-vegan (or post-vegan as I prefer to say) was not about people having different opinions to me. It was composed of a lot of issues.

            In this particular instance, when I say the content of many comments in this discussion re-inforce my decision, I mean that to me they represent in the most blatant form the warped-ness that is not uncommon with vegans. I kinda think that warped-ness is to some degree necessary to the survival of veganism. I came to see that things are much, much more complex than veganism can cope with or allow. When I say veganism I don’t mean the collective of individuals who decide that a vegan lifestyle is the right choice for them, I mean the promotion of “vegan” as the answer to any major or systematic problem.

            As for giving up a lifestyle that aims to reduce animal and human suffering, you see, I don’t think the vegan lifestyle does reduce suffering. Or rather, it can alleviate one form of suffering – guilt. This is why I have no problem with individuals choosing to be vegan if they feel it is the right thing for them.

            1. leone, i’m going to tell you the same thing as i told mr toad: by spouting your complaints about vegans and veganism here, on this platform, you are largely barking up the wrong tree. I myself have pointed out problems with vegans and veganism so many times here that i’m apparently actively hated by a part of the vegan community, and most of the comments made here by people are not exactly vegan-dogmatic. If you we can understand post vegan to be some kind of attitude where you question how we have veganism into an end all and be all, some rigid and dogmatic concept that we blindly accept as the nec plus ultra, then i i certainly do agree, and i think there are more people here who agree.
              Note that straying away from vegan orthodoxy can take many forms, and some do it more than others. Your pet peeve seems to be anti capitalism and intersectionalism. Some will share that, others will not, and will stray away in other ways. Concern about wild animal suffering, which you seem to kind of derisive about, is another thing that doesn’t belong in the canon of vegan issues and ideas.

              Really, you may find it a sad state of affairs, but as far as vegans and veganism goes, this place is one of the more progressive thinking and more unorthodox thinking places. if you (and toad) want to complain about vegans and their dogmas, then there’s so many places on the web where you could cry out to your hearts content. problem of course is that you’d be shown the door before you finished a sentence.

              1. I take the main gist of what you have said is that I am, or am tending, to abuse the tolerant culture of this site, and am inappropriately arguing with vegans here when they are the undogmatic type. Actually, I tend to agree that an ex-vegan like myself, and Mr Toad (not sure of his exact designation), who are intent on critiquing veganism, are out of place on a site dedicated to veganism (as in achieving vegan critical mass).

                To be clear, I do not conceive post-vegan as being about questioning dogmatic veganism: I conceive it as critical of veganism per se. For example, the recurring spats over what can be called the vegan boycott strategy here – usually fired up by Mr Toad – is an example where critics of veganism clash with many vegans on a point that is usually gospel with vegans (and the same can be said of the concept of vegan critical mass). The arguments never get anywhere, in my view, because the vegans just don’t allow traction to certain points from the critics. Perhaps the vegans quietly close their ears because they feel the critics are only spouting complaints. I suppose realistically the situation can only create frustration and rancour on both sides.

                What the critics of veganism offer – I think Mr Toad has called it a constructive contribution – is a questioning of the whole of veganism, from November 1944 and in every direction. This is probably out of place even on a site which is pleased to be non-dogmatic vegan.

                On a different point – and I am not clear exactly what you are saying in this aspect – you seem to be implying that I may be confusing my “pet peeves” and the topic of wild animal suffering with the “canon” of vegan issues and ideas. No, I do not. However, it seems to me a little funny if a site focussed on achieving vegan critical mass isn’t concerned with social groups, and if vegan critical mass isn’t looked at in terms if the socio-economic system it will have to work within.

                As for a concern with wild animal suffering, I am most certainly not derisive of that, but I have been strongly critical of the ideas put forward here. Indeed I am disturbed by them, which is an explanation for, although not excuse for, my less than pleasantness. Furthermore, while acknowledging that these ideas are not part of the vegan “canon”, I still feel they connect to strands within veganism.

                I suspect that there isn’t much chance that Mr Toad will stop croaking or hop off. But, as I have said before, I very much doubt that I have his stamina or, indeed, his level of interest.

                1. i just have the impression that in becoming “post vegan”, you seem to see normal vegans everywhere, whom your criticism applies to, even though those vegans can be quite different from the “mainstream” vegans. “vegan critical mass” (a title that disappeared in the meantime) is just a word (three words). i use vegan as a concept to make some things clear. to me it is about achieving happiness and reducing suffering. i don’t care how you want to call that.
                  criticism about that idea and about what boycotting vegan products can realize or not realize, is very welcome. just don’t think your reasons for leaving veganism automatically apply to all that is said here just because the word vegan is used a lot of times.
                  anway, not sure if this is a waste of time or not. for some reason, i seem to often have a lot of difficulty getting yours and toad’s points

              2. My criticism here are by no means “barking up the wrong tree”, I’m criticizing the core of vegan ideology…..not just some dogmatic segment of the vegan community. The claim that they are somehow misplaced is, to me, a demonstration that they aren’t being concerned which is also apparent from the low-level of engagement you find to criticism.

                Tobias seems to believe that his brand of veganism is materially different than other vegan groups and expects others to follow him in this belief….and gets angry when we don’t (e.g., results in, as a matter of habit, personally attacking the people providing criticism). But this difference only seems large in the context of the vegan community, from the outside its little more than different shades of gray in the context of the full spectrum of ideas surrounding the underlying issues.

                From years of interacting with the vegan community, its rather clear that the community is rather insular (including the supposedly pragmatic vegans)….there is little engagement with philosophers, scientists, etc….and people outside of the movement as a whole. Look at their events, how many people that argue against animal rights are invited? Its insular by design because, ultimately, veganism isn’t a reasoned intellectual position….its a social and quasi-religious position.

                But the one thing I do appropriate about Tobias is that he doesn’t, as a matter of routine, censor comments and criticism. Almost every vegan blog I’ve posted on routinely censors comments because, apparently, drumming up the base is more important than engaging people outside of it.

                1. Really, you’re not always well informed. The sentience conference i posted about (and which you were quick to criticize as always) hardly talked about animal rights and as far as i understand they are not very interested in rights. There were philosophers, lawyers, scientists and many other academic people there. I think it’s quite different than veganism.
                  If only you would tell your alternative

                  1. Tobias,

                    Right, nobody knows everything and I have no issue with people pointing out any factual errors or arguing against me. But I didn’t mention that conference in my post and the example was intended to, in part, be symbolic of the fact that vegan oriented conferences don’t invite people with dissenting views which points to the movement being more socially oriented than intellectually oriented. In the case of the named conference, how many critics of animal sentience were invited?

                    Alternative to what? Agenda driven conferences? That would be obvious, academically driven conferences that are oriented around some topic rather than a outcome/view of the topic.

                    The lack of engagement of people with dissenting views, with academia, etc….I think is one of the top reasons why the vegan community is little more than a social club for like minded individuals.

                    1. with “alternative” i rather meant “for veganism”. if i know your alternative, then i could kind of see how far 1. traditional veganism, 2. the advocacy talked about at the sentience conference (for instance) and 3. your alternative are apart. i’m just wondering if what you suggest (which is still don’t know what it is, see my other comment of today) is really so much further away from traditional veganism than what you think are just slight variations. you say you are calling into question the core parts of the vegan ideology, and i don’t think i’m really averse to that, but it’s hard to make out until i know what you are about.
                      can i at least assume that you care about the suffering of animals? or do we not even have that in common?

                    2. Tobias,

                      I have no ideological alternative for veganism and there are two reasons for that: 1.) Philosophically speaking the underlying issues are complex and and the thought surrounding them is still rather immature as such to insist that some particular configuration of the issues is “right” and create a movement from it will just end up being dogmatic. 2.) The practice of eating meat, our treatment of animals, how we behave towards animals, ,etc….is not ideological in nature but rather part of our culture. When you attempt to deny a large canon of cultural beliefs, behaviors, etc….you end up with a system that is *outside* the culture and therefore has little impact on the culture of origin since people will view those with the counter-culture as “other”. Therefore on a practical level veganism (or another such ideology) would have little influence since counter-cultures cannot effectively influence main-stream culture.

                      So from this view….what are you left with? Something more akin to environmentalism, that is, a loose systems of beliefs about our treatment of the environment that remains anchored in main-stream culture and activism that seeks incremental change on a piece-meal basis overtime.

                      While nothing stops one from being a closet-vegan and doing the above, I think the act of identifying with veganism and “being vegan” will always create a rift between you and main-stream culture and you will be promoting a system that goes beyond what can be reasonably argued. Which is why, I’d argue, that far more has been achieved environmentally over the last few decades where as, if anything, the situation for animals has just gotten worse.

                    3. I think i mostly agree with “While nothing stops one from being a closet-vegan and doing the above, I think the act of identifying with veganism and “being vegan” will always create a rift between you and main-stream culture ”

                      though i do believe that a counterculture can become mainstream.

                      But what i asked was if you care about animal suffering, and if so, what would you do about it. and please don’t answer by saying what does NOT work. Just, what would you suggest we do about it, if an ideological counterculture movement is not the solution.

                    4. Tobias,

                      Do you have an example of a counter-culture replacing, without any modification, main-stream culture?

                      You asked about an alternative to veganism and I answered that question. In terms of animal suffering, that is a rather loaded subject……but I gave an answer to this in my prior comment. Assuming one believes, in some sense, that we have some obligation to limit animal suffering…….then environmentalism provides a far better model of what can be done than a boycott strategy. Which would translate into creating incentives for people to seek alternatives to products/acts that grossly contribute to animal suffering, working piece-meal on legal changes that regulate and prevent acts that grossly contribute to animal suffering, understanding the reasons why people may contribute grossly to animal suffering and addressing these issues via advocacy, etc.

                      And that is all rather different than veganism which has no consistent ethical base and is rooted in a consumer boycott strategy. And, yes, I do realize that there are some animal groups (non-vegan ones) that sorta-kinda do what I’ve described above (e.g., The Humane Society) but these groups, generally speaking, tend to be disliked by vegans.

                      But frankly, I’m not sure if much will ever change on this front since the cards are just really stacked against change. The only thing I’m confident about is that veganism is counterproductive.

          1. “…eating meat, etc, again?” I’m going to be annoying and awkward and not answer that. But I won’t answer because I don’t want being post-vegan (ex-vegan, left veganism) reduced to what is or what is not on the plate. In my view a person can be post-vegan and still eat a vegan diet. In my view being post-vegan is moving away from and beyond vegan-ism, particularly moving away from thinking veganism is the answer to any major or systematic problem.

            “Why do others’ unconventional ideas affected that decision?” Please see my response to Dieter above.

            “Why not promote your own version of veganism instead?” I have partially answered that in the first part of this response. I will also add that I do not think that the promotion of consumption practices (which I think is all veganism has ever consistently been, plus dogma [as Mr Toad has pointed out]) has any merit since no movement for change has ever rested on consumption practices or the consumption choices of individuals.

            1. I’ve gotten this a lot, that is, “why not promote your own version”…..and I think it entirely misses the point of the criticisms being made. The problem with veganism is that its rooted in dogma and focused on adherence to a lifestyle doctrine, replacing it with another such system would suffer the same core problems even if it was more reasoned in regard to by-products, etc. On the other hand the canon of cultural beliefs and practices that underline how we treat animals can’t easily be described, or countered, under the heading of some ideology…..but that is precisely what veganism does and promotes. You have “veganism” and more recently “carnism”…..

              1. toad, in search of better mutual understanding and the advancement of the human race in general, would you be willing to answer some questions that i have for you in a concise and clear way? maybe i have missed things that you have been writing in all these comments, so maybe if you’d do that that could shed some clarity…

                1. Tobias, I’ve always answered your questions But I just answered the question about “alternatives”.

      1. Yeah, large comments do get through – under another post recently a really long comment, wittering on about carnism, and full of tendentious and fallacious points, got through.

        All part of the fun…

  8. Tobias, thank you for your thought-provoking article. I’m wondering about your stance versus wild animals in captivity, e.g. zoos. For the sake of the argument let’s assume that these animals are well cared for: there is no abuse, they are not lonely or bored, enclosures are large enough, they aren’t being shot because a toddler tumbles into their enclosure, etc. (This is the image/myth that Belgian zoos weave around themselves.) These animals are treated when sick and are protected from predators (except for humans). Feeding carnivores does remain problematic because pigs and cows that are raised for slaughter are generally not better off than animals that are killed in the wild.

    Most vegans will object that animals shouldn’t be held captive (against their will) and should be able to freely roam the wild. However, as you address in your article, ‘the wild’ might be more gruesome than we imagine (I did not watch the video). Your thoughts?

    1. yes, good question. at least in theory of course the possibility exists that some animals can have a good life in a zoo. this will probably be easier to achieve for smaller (and non flying) animals than for bigger ones. so in terms of that animal in itself, there may be no problem. there’s of course the complexity of: what message does this send out to society in terms of what is ok to do with animals… And of course: why would we do it? There should be a bigger reason than just commerce (and at most some educational aspect). E.g. i can imagine some non intrusive research to make animals’ lives in general better…
      Or you could say, like positive utilitarians do if i’m not mistaken, that a good, happy life is better than no life at all, and if you follow that, wonderful zoos full of wonderfully happy animals wouldn’t be a bad thing…
      In any case, i think if we automatically assume that an animal would prefer any “free” situation (no matter how bad) above any “confined” situation (no matter how good) we’re making a big, antropomorphic mistake.

      (i’m sure my critics will quote me on all this and expose the “speciesism” in this and the rejection of animal rights etc, but i’m just always trying to think a little bit further than the dogma)

  9. A thought: Tobias’ piece and most of the comments here play right into the hands of people like Lierre Keith and Derrick Jensen – one dimensional answers to sooth vegan fretting about how nasty nature is, instead of addressing the global catastrophe of climate change, loss of habitat, destruction of ecosystems, what has been described as the sixth mass extinction, etc, etc, which are causing enormous suffering and death to wild animals.

    I suppose someone like Jensen wants the natural world preserved in all its mesmerising and terrible light and darkness, while someone like Tobias wants it domesticated in pastel shades. What I think lies at the heart of Tobias’ view is another type of human domination, the hegemony of human morality so that nothing lies outside its dictat, nothing is allowed to have its own integrity.

    Thank you for helping to re-inforce my decision to move away from veganism.

      1. I did not make a statement of fact, I offered an opinion – “I think”.

        “Another type of human domination” may lie at the heart of your view on this topic in an intrinsic sense without it being your conscious goal.

        Offer a counter argument why seeing your position in this way is inaccurate.

        Also, since the topic here (which is *your* topic) is concern for wild animal suffering, why don’t you offer some thoughts addressing the following causes of wild animal suffering:
        – human population and activities
        – capitalist destruction of habitat and ecosystems for resources and profit
        – climate change, sixth mass extinction, etc

        Not even saying one word about these causes of suffering makes the whole conversation perversely distorted – like it’s fine and dandy to speculate about engineering humane non-human predators but mentioning the colossal and catastrophic impact of humans is irrelevant? Is it irrelevant, Tobias?
        Why is it irrelevant?

        1. those factors are obviously the cause of a lot of human and animal suffering, but they are rather irrelevant in the context of the argument made/question raised in this article, which is about the suffering we are NOT responsible for. i purposely avoided this as it is diluding the question.

          1. Alright, I’ll concede the “irrelevant” point.

            “Another type of human domination” is still on the table.

    1. Leone,
      if the non-human animals don’t want suffering, why would it be human domination or human morality hegemony if we do what the non-human animals want? Those animals are dying; where is their integrity if they all suffer and die prematurely in the wild? Those animals prefer their own integrity, but nature doesn’t respect those animal preferences. Nature doesn’t care about integrity; animals do, and we can care about their integrity as well. That is the opposite of human domination.

  10. Thank you for the article Tobias. The problem of free-living animal suffering can seem so impossibly vast we may be tempted not to think about it. Possible solutions must not merely be technically feasible but also sociologically credible. Technically, we could use CRISPR-based gene drives (cf. http://www.gene-drives.com) to regulate the level of suffering across the entire tree of life. Unfortunately, gene drives could “weaponised” as well as used for compassionate conservation and the creation of a happy biosphere. Either way, I think it’s important to show that choosing the level of suffering in the living world will shortly be a political policy option. Only when human complicity in the persistence of suffering in Nature is established can we have a serious ethical debate on what level of suffering we want to preserve.

    1. thanks for your feedback david. What exactly do you mean with “only when human complicity in the persistence of suffering in nature is established…”? Do you mean we are complicit by omission?

      1. Tobias, yes. Clearly, complicity by omission is a matter of degree. Right now, if someone chanced upon a toddler drowning in a shallow pond and didn’t yank the toddler out, we’d judge him almost as culpable as if he’d pushed the child in himself. Animal activists would probably feel the same way about someone who left a domestic nonhuman animal to drown rather than get his clothes wet. By contrast, wild animal suffering just seems a fact of life: realistically, what can we do about life deep in the Amazonian rainforest or the Pacific Ocean? The extraordinary thing about CRISPR-based gene drives is that if, say, a small team of smart postdocs released a handful of genetically-tweaked e.g. “low pain” organisms into the wild, then a few decades later the entire species could have the benign gene in question _even if_ such a low-pain allele would normally carry a fitness cost to the organism. Ditto for other benign – or potentially benign – alleles and allelic combinations shaping hedonic tone and the core emotions.

        At the risk of (I hope) stressing the obvious, I’m _not_ urging some messianic loner to act on his own initiative. Much more research is needed, together with an international regulatory framework. For more on the potential dangers of gene drives, see:
        https://www.quora.com/Is-genetic-engineering-crispr-gene-drive-etc-advanced-enough-to-kill-or-save-billions-of-people
        But the kind of fatalistic resignation about the plight of free-living nonhumans that most of us probably feel is no longer technically warranted.

        1. thanks david. i’ll read up on the CRISPR technology a bit. Would it work not just to reduce pain but also other annoying feelings? Like, what could it do against the sensation of hunger/dieing of hunger?

          1. Tobias, perhaps see
            http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/next/evolution/crispr-gene-drives/
            (“Genetically Engineering Almost Anything”)
            http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/gene-drives-and-crispr-could-revolutionize-ecosystem-management/
            (“‘Gene Drives’ And CRISPR Could Revolutionize Ecosystem Management”)

            Hunger? Well, IMO fertility regulation via cross-species immunocontraception is probably more promising than making so many nonhumans no longer feel desperately hungry. But yes, the subjective sense of hunger or satiety is amenable in principle to genetic regulation by exploiting e.g. genetic variations in the leptin gene promoter and the leptin receptor :
            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leptin

            When raising the issue of free-living animal suffering, it’s always worth stressing that no one is proposing e.g. a Five Year Plan to turn carnivorous predators into herbivores. What’s ethically in question is the long-term future of the biosphere. Do we want a living world where sentient beings harm each other – or allow each other to come to harm – or not? How much suffering do we want to create and conserve in the post-CRISPR biosphere? For sure, talk of actively helping free-living nonhumans is fanciful while humans are still systematically harming captive nonhumans in factory-farms and slaughterhouses. So why raise the issue of free-living animal suffering at all? Well, many people who think of themselves as animal-loving conservationists actively support “re-wilding”, captive breeding programs for big cats, and so forth. Do such initiatives contribute to the long-term goal of a world where all sentient beings can flourish?

  11. Can please someone answer me a few questions.

    -Is it possible to be vegan without adapting bullshit claims that we are not omnivores?
    -Is vegan-ism a luxury? Because its widely accepted in developed countries and not in underdeveloped ones. Would all arguments fall short in real hunger, like in Venezuela right now.
    -Do we need to be absolute? Not kill a mosquito or a fly?
    – Is it that illogical a symbiotic relationship with chickens (home grown not factory) I pay for your shelter, food and protection and you give me a few of your eggs.

    I feel ashamed of saying I’m a vegan (although I do want to support it) because my logic can not grasp a few basic concept that I hear, they really sound bullshit to me.My gran-gran parents where omnivores, my grandparents where omnivores, my parents where omnivores and although I have a choice in 2016, can’t it be just a choice without judging their whole lives, after all that lifestyle brought us all here.

    Thank you.

    1. -Is it possible to be vegan without adapting bullshit claims that we are not omnivores?

      Yes. Based on my understanding of the subject, humans have managed to live on a variety of diets, from the largely meat based diets found among the Inuit to veganism and various points in between. Given this huge diversity, it seems irrelevant to go on about what humans are supposedly “made to eat.” Humans can eat many things, but whether we should eat them is another question.

      -Is vegan-ism a luxury? Because its widely accepted in developed countries and not in underdeveloped ones. Would all arguments fall short in real hunger, like in Venezuela right now.

      I would question whether veganism is actually a “widely accepted” in developed countries, but that’s not the issue. I think in many developing countries, there simply isn’t a choice about food in general. What you eat is dependent on your culture and traditions, whereas in the West, there is veganism, paleo, Atkins, pescatarianism, the Mediterranean diet, the French diet, etc. The very ability to have these choices assumes a society that is not only fairly rich, but also allows one to have “exotic” ingredients that are not native to one’s own country. I’ve noticed that many paleo recipes use coconuts in place of grains, but coconuts themselves are a recent addition to the Western palate. I seriously doubt that Otzi the caveman was wandering around the Alps looking for nonexistent coconuts to grind into flour. However, even people in poorer communities and countries have food taboos or food ethics, as I mentioned with the example of the Seventh Day Adventists upthread. As I understand it, the food problems in Venezuela are mostly due to price controls enacted by the government that is somewhat reminiscent of the shortages of consumer goods during the late Soviet period. In such a dire environment, it probably would be best to get whatever one could get to eat. But since most Westerners aren’t subject to Venezuelan-style food shortages, I don’t think it impacts our own choices. If you are interested, organizations like the Food Empowerment Program help fight for social justice through ethical food choices both in the West and in the Global South.

      -Do we need to be absolute? Not kill a mosquito or a fly?

      I have no qualms about killing insects. I am highly allergic to insect bites and have been the recipient of a number of unfortunate insect-borne diseases. I suppose there are some people out there who take an extreme Jainist view that we shouldn’t harm anything at all, but I know that when I see a bug, I squash it. If this disqualifies me from the “vegan club,” so be it, but contracting anti-biotic resistant MRSA from a flea bite (among other things) has not endeared me to the insect world.

      – Is it that illogical a symbiotic relationship with chickens (home grown not factory) I pay for your shelter, food and protection and you give me a few of your eggs.

      There is a lot of controversy on this, but I would say not really. I think there is a difference between people who have chickens specifically for eggs and those who simply have chickens as companion animals. If you keep the chickens for eggs, you’ll soon find that they don’t lay eggs as much as you want, which can lead to frustration on the part of the humans. This is why so many backyard chickens are eventually abandoned. However, if the chicken is already a permanent part of the household and you have no intention of giving her up if she doesn’t perform according to your unrealistic standards of egg production, then you can do whatever you want with the eggs, as far as I’m concerned.

      I feel ashamed of saying I’m a vegan (although I do want to support it) because my logic can not grasp a few basic concept that I hear, they really sound bullshit to me.My gran-gran parents where omnivores, my grandparents where omnivores, my parents where omnivores and although I have a choice in 2016, can’t it be just a choice without judging their whole lives, after all that lifestyle brought us all here.

      While it is true that humans are omnivores, I think people over-estimate how much meat our ancestors actually consumed. Until recently, the staple of the Western diet was bread, not meat. When you read about food riots happening before World War I, the participants are demanding bread, not meat, because the former was a necessity, while the latter was a rarity that they didn’t expect to have anyway. The only time the average ancient Greek would have eaten meat was during religious sacrifices; the rest of the time, they were eating grains, cheese, and maybe a little fruit. This bread and cheese diet was pretty stable until the 19th century, when industrialization and globalization drastically changed people’s eating habits. Now that meat has become so cheap and common, it has essentially filled the place that bread used to have, especially now that many Westerners are so carb-phobic. However, this carb-phobia is only possible in a post-modern society that is mostly sedentary, as workers in an agrarian society need those carbs to work from sun-up to sun-down. I don’t think there’s a need to condemn one’s ancestors for eating meat, because they were largely operating on the information they had at the time. Their economic system and food production system was completely different than ours, so to me their choices and our choices are like comparing apples to watermelons. Now that we have more information about the environmental impacts of factory farming, animal psychology, and the like, our own food ethics should be different.

      I hope you found this helpful.

      1. Leah,

        The cultivation of grains and legumes allowed humans to reduce their intake of meat by giving us a source of energy-dense food that replaced most of the nutritional qualities of meat……but this was a recent event in our evolutionary history. Before the neolithic revolution our ancestors were eating a good deal of meat as it was one of the only consistently available calorie-dense foods around and we adapted away from a diet of low-calorie roughage. There is no example of a pre-agricultural human society with a plant-based diet.

        And westerners are not, as a whole, carb-phobic…….the percent of calories derived from carbohydrates hasn’t much much over the years.

        Whether a plant-based diet works for all people and all ethnic groups, the long-term consequences of a plant-based diet, the developmental consequences of a plant-based diet in pregnancy and children, nutritional guidelines for plant-based diets, etc……are all largely open questions. Being an omnivore doesn’t mean we can select any diet we like, we have specific adaptations that limit how we can derive the energy and the nutrients we require to thrive.

  12. Thank you for your reply, I did find it helpful.

    On the Venezuela issue, what troubles me is the fragility of vegan-ism. I am pretty sure most vegans would eat anything under starvation despite what they may be saying now, and I am perfectly OK with that, besides we cant judge the correctness of an ideology under the rare occasions of emergencies.

    Are there any groups or term that represent these opinions? I need to differentiate myself from hardcore vegans (people who post links on studies on why we are not omnivores or buy mosquito entrapment devices). “Vegetarian” is not enough of a term.

    1. Dear Alexandros, as you have already mentioned we can’t judge any ideology under extreme circumstances such as starvation. History has provided us with enough examples of how any civilized behaviour can be quickly abandoned in extreme situations. Therefore I would argue that not veganism but the whole of civilization is fragile.

      As to your last question: I’d think that the majority of vegans won’t display that ‘hardcore dogmatic vegan’ behaviour (I sometimes think of that specific group as ‘retard vegans’ 😉 ). It’s just that they don’t stand out as much because they don’t make such a big fuss out of it. After all, those who scream the loudest get the most attention. I do doubt that there are many groups or terms that actively go against dogmatic veganism (except for this blog perhaps), but why do you have a need for that? In my experience veganism is extremely diverse and personal, differing from one person to the next. For example, I have a vegan friend that will buy second hand leather products (shoes), another one that doesn’t completely freak out if she accidentally eats dairy or honey, and so on.

  13. I find this discussion to be both interesting and a slippery slope. Interesting because it does raise an important issue: should we help wild animals when we can? The example you gave of a photographer is one in which my answer is a clear yes. It’s like when photojournalists take pics of people dying from starvation or other horrible situations, they might justify their actions by saying that they’re exposing an evil but in reality they’re earning money from other people’s suffering, when they could be actually doing something to alleviate that suffering. A slippery slope because it begs the question: where do we stop?
    Should we stop lions from killing their prey? Should we distribute warm blankets to penguins? Should we, in short, have the entire human population watching over every single animal on the planet (assuming that’s possible, which is not)?
    And what are the consequences of these interventions? Will they not create more problems?
    What you’re discussing is further human intervention in natural processes, something that cannot have but a devastating effect on ecosystems. Frankly, I’m astonished to see that there is an actual discussion on the ethics of genetically engineering animals to reduce their suffering. Isn’t that the epitome of the anthropocentric mindset that animal liberation and environmentalism oppose?

    1. i think it all depends what your bottom line is… if it is the reduction of suffering, then many things might be okay, even antropocentrism 🙂

  14. I fidn your article interesting yet I don’t fully agree. Wildlife is a cruel world, that’s a fact. But death and predation are normal in the wild. Should we prevent lions from attacking and killing baby elephants ? Thinking that animals are soft creatures is delusional.
    But now let’s talk about human intervention. Nature has made things so that only the strongest individuals can survive. The sick and the weak are doomed. If humans intervene and save a sick or wounded animals that would normally die, then we allow weak individuals to live and reproduce. Isn’t that dangerous ?
    It means animals with weaker genetics will be able to reproduce themselves and therefore give their weaknesses to their cubs. It would weaken the whole species in the long run.

    So my opinion is to let nature do its work and let the toughest survive. Only thus can you be sure that the species remains strong.

      1. Compassion towards humans is not the subject here. We are talking about animals. Our human values and emotions don’t mean anything in the animal world. The weaker ones do not survive because they are not meant to.
        The notions of right and wrong cannot be applied in the wild. I find it dangerous to try to interfere with Mother Nature. There’s the example of the tourists at the Yellowstone who killed a baby buffalo. They put it in their truck and took it to its mother, only to have the calf rejected. The calf had to be put down. Human intervention can be dangerous to animals.

        1. the calf in yellowstone was a really bad example actually. this animal had been abondoned by his/her mother and was going to die. that’s why they picked it up. And putting down the calf, as a result of him/her being abanonned, was probably a better thing to do than letting the animal die of hunger or cold or whatever.
          There’s some more info in this article (though i don’t agree with the author’s conclusions)
          https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/animalia/wp/2016/06/07/i-saw-the-baby-bison-that-tourists-tried-to-rescue-heres-what-you-dont-know-about-the-story/

  15. I am always amused and simultaneously infuriated at the claims meat-eaters make regarding all the suffering of animals in the wild, and claim that slaughter is a better way to die. If nature were so completely riddled with violence, most species would not have survived thus far. Evolution is about both survival of the fittest and survival of the most adaptable to their environment. The “destructive” forces of nature assure that the best survive to propagate. Nature is neither a constant ruthless battleground NOR an idyllic garden-of-eden. There is great cooperation in nature, many species are not carnivorous, and there is an underlying harmony that does permeate the natural world. HOWEVER I have also considered that humans could use technological advances to help create less suffering for wild animals, although I’m not sure how. Seems that ANY interference we do, even with good intentions, just makes things worse for nonhumans.

  16. The arrogant and speciesist belief that humans can or should control nature hasn’t worked well for human or non-human animals in the past or present. And judging by the current state of our environment and the current immense scope of suffering for all animal species including ourselves, our obsessive love affair with technology hasn’t served the planet or the majority of its inhabitants all that well to date.

    No matter how well-intentioned we would-be human saviors may be, we remain, as always, clueless as to the actual and unforeseen consequences of our actions. And when one starts from the misguided and extremely speciesist belief in human intellectual and moral superiority over all other forms of life on the planet, while failing to acknowledge our vast lack of knowledge about and understanding of nature and our fellow beings, there’s an almost endless opportunity to get things very, very wrong and to make things much worse for other animals than we can even fathom.

    Though it may be an interesting philosophical exercise, from a vegan strategy standpoint, I fail to see value in pondering how, in some distant and supposedly more enlightened future, we superior yet somehow not speciesist humans could attempt to fix the many supposed shortcomings of nature and further, to speculate how we might do so by using a vivisectionist model (or is it assumed that we brilliant, infallible humans would automatically get the genetic engineering or whatever technological intervention right on the first try with every flawed species we decide needs to be fixed?).

    Also, anyone who advocates on behalf of our fellow animals really should be careful about positing the idea that captivity may possibly be preferable to freedom for some beings. Such claims have certainly been made in the past and perhaps some of those who made the claim actually believed that some form of “confinement” was preferable–for certain beings only–to the uncertain and sometimes harsh realities of freedom. Yet I doubt we’ll ever hear this as a serious argument for how to lessen the suffering of humans in war zones or on the brink of starvation.

    1. Monica, about controlling nature: of course it most often is not the case that if one controls nature in order to reach goal A (e.g. resource consumption or personal pleasure), one would automatically reach goal B (e.g. decrease suffering or save biodiversity). There is plenty of evidence that if the intervention is to decrease biodiversity loss (e.g. nature conservation interventions), biodiversity loss is decreased, and that when the goal is to help animals, animals are helped (e.g. wild animal rescue centers, wild animal vaccination programs).

      The critics who are against intervention in nature to improve animal well-being by arguing that they want to save biodiversity or respect natural processes, are the ones who are arrogant, because they impose their own values (that naturalness is good, that biodiversity has non-instrumental value) on other victims (wild animals) in a way that those victims do not want. Those critics believe that what they want (their own preferences and values) is more important than what all those suffering animals want. The animal activists who are in favor of intervention, are not arrogant, because they want what the others (the victims, the animals) want. They are primarily focussed on what the others want and don’t think that their own preferences and values are more important than those of the victims in the world.

      1. i agree with stijn, although i think the case would be stronger still if we could clearly demonstrate what exactly the animals want. but as long as we can’t (or don’t), i think the assumption that they want to avoid at least the worst suffering, is a safe one.

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