What are you willing to do to live ethically?

A blurb about Peter Singer’s book “In Defense of Animals” on Amazon.com begins: “Paul McCartney once said that if slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be a vegetarian.”

I hate The Beatles, and John Lennon, and to a lesser degree Paul McCartney. This aside, my version of that quote would be “If slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would have a better understanding of the cruelty inherent in life, and it would be more difficult to convince people that life should be fair.”

I need to work on that… it’s not there yet.

I’ve been wanting to read Singer. I haven’t read more than some articles and seen a few videos and interviews. I feel he’s wrong, and I’m interested to read his argument… it’s just not as compelling as some of the other things I want to read, so I haven’t picked it up.

About a week ago  someone on facebook asked the question “Are circuses morally objectionable?”

I made the response (quoting another response):

“…but circuses are not known for ethical treatment of non-humans.”
I don’t think they’re particularly known for the ethical treatment of humans either. It’s one of those situations where you can get bogged down by the ethics, wrestle with the implications, maybe come to the conclusion that ultimately it’s harmful that humans reproduce at all and advocate for the extinction of life on the planet.
Or go to the circus.
Each is an appealing way to spend an evening. Only one results in seeing monkeys in funny hats.

Someone e-mailed me “You were kidding, right?”

Augh… here’s one of those things… I find it really hard not to respond to certain topics. I find it impossible in most cases to be moderate, even when I’m trying to moderate. I’m a cynic and a boor, fine, but you have the ability not to read this, and she DID contact ME.

I responded:

Had to check what you were referring to…
Circuses.

No, I really wasn’t. I was barely being flippant.
Living a fulfilling, considered, fully ethical life is probably impossible.

Sometimes you have to compromise, and compromise usually means nobody is happy with the results.
I recently read “Better Never to Have Been”… it’s an anti-natalist work that uses arguments that readers of animal rights books would be familiar with. The theory is that “it’s always a harm to bring a life into the world”.

I can’t counter his logic with logical counter-arguments. He’s a professional in the field of ethics, if all things were equal, he’s got more time to think about it. I’ve got a job and other shit.
So, let’s say logically, rationally, ethically, he’s right – just for the argument.
Should we not have children? Should all human life cease to be?

These are miserable, brain and gut wrenching things to spend any time pondering. It can lead to ponderous thoughts and disturbing consequences. The nature of evil, of rampant brutality and treachery in nature…

I read and consider, I try to be honest and a good person to those in my life that I care for, and not to be intentionally harmful to those outside that circle.

For all of this, I could look away from the road for one second… coffee could spill, an elderly woman could fall on the sidewalk and I want to see if she’s alright, and I careen into a minivan and kill a family.

If you’re in a lifeboat that will hold a maximum of 12 people, and dozens are swimming and grabbing on to the sides of the boat to save themselves, are you willing to lift up an axe and chop their hands off, so that they don’t capsize the crowded boat causing everyone to die?

If a city spends $2 million rescuing a child who has fallen down a well, would you be willing to cover the well and divert the funds to vaccinations that may save dozens or hundreds or thousands of lives?

I am serious, and wouldn’t it be nice to just go to the circus…

It ain’t poetry, and I’d edit it a number of different ways, but it says basically what I want it to say.

I’m driving to work one day last week, as I do every day, and this day I see a cat run out under the van in front of me and get mangled. I’m horrified by this and my thoughts were “I need to finish it off.” I needed to swerve the wheel of my car toward the animal that I just saw be twisted and magled by the wheels of the speeding van in front of me in hopes that I would smash its skull and kill it instantly. In the few seconds I had to bridge the gap between my current position and where the cat was still rolling from the impact, I saw its battered body twitching and bleeding profusely and a massive evisceration to the abdomen that was spilling out its entrails. I was horrified and my guts turned and I wanted to recoil and pull over but I knew that it couldn’t be saved, I couldn’t slam my breaks at that speed with all this traffic and what I needed to do was to stop it from suffering and being run over by a series of cars until it died from the repeated smashing or someone dealt a deathblow.

I couldn’t do it. I failed to do the only thing that would have helped.

I cursed cars and overpopulation and the whole goddamn world. I couldn’t have saved the life of that cat, but I didn’t do the one thing that probably should have been done to stop the suffering.

I looked in my rear view, it jerked and bled and was still dying. It disappeared under the car behind me and I sullenly, wincingly looked back at the road ahead, cursed humanity and gloomily made it through the day. I probably would have felt worse if I’d done it, even though I would have stopped the suffering of that poor animal.

When I got home and I sat down and the daily ritual of my own cat welcoming me home by standing on my lap and demanding my full attention until he’s tired of me commences like every other day. He doesn’t know about the dead relative, and if he did, would he care?

Life is just not that simple, and it certainly ain’t fair. Not eating meat or wearing a leather belt or abstaining from going to see the trained monkeys may make you feel better, but it doesn’t mean you’re not going to commit unspeakable suffering on someone or something at some point in your life. It certainly won’t stop unspeakable suffering from being committed upon you.

You’ve got to have some principals, some ethical framework, but unless they’re really fucking vague (or contradictory), you’re going to have to break a few to get through life. Tough shit. We’re poorly constructed meat-machines. What we think of as “I” is an illusion created by the brain. You lie to yourself every day, but you don’t know it.

I consider myself a skeptic, and pro-science and reason… but sometimes my gut overrides my brain. I can’t build an argument against the anti-natalist, but I disagree with him. Where I disagree with Singer, I probably can’t mount a logical counter, but I can’t forsee anyone convincing me to stop eating meat.

Am I less of a skeptic? Do I have a “faith”? Am I “anti-science”?

Be a “good person”, whatever you can figure that out to be. Be reflective and considerate, but don’t think you’re absolutely right. Reason and logic will get your far, but you’re not made for it. You’re made to run on lies and irrational impulses. You can’t get away from it. I can’t get away from it. You can only struggle and maybe at the end of the day you didn’t fuck up and hurt someone you didn’t mean to. If it’s a good day, you did something nice for someone you care about.

I don’t want cats to die.

I don’t want to be the cause of a cat dying.

I don’t want to see someone else be the cause of a cat’s death.

I don’t want to see a cat suffer a prolonged miserable and suffering death.

What’s ethical when a cat is in the road ahead of you, half dead?

Can you make the call in 3 seconds? Can you act on that?

The girl didn’t write back. I’m not holding my breath.

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  • http://demonharris.blogspot.com/ JamesHarris

    I found myself in a similar situation a few years ago, when I was trying desperately to head an obviously abandoned pet away from a dangerous intersection one night. While driving by, I noticed the seemingly frightened animal, so I pulled to the side and assessed the situation, hoping to maybe scare the animal away from the road it seemed intent on crossing. Of course, the second it saw me staring at it, it wanted to run across into traffic, so I stopped and looked away. When the wave of cars passed, I sprinted into the road and tried to make the damn thing run back into a quieter neighborhood behind a shopping mall, and IT WORKED! Unfortunately, no sooner than it began its retreat a car pulled into the lot, spooked the cat and sent it flying into the road, right under the front tire of a speeding car. I watched the whole scene in horror. The car never slowed or swerved, the driver didn’t seem to care in the least, and I wanted to smash the person’s skull in, whoever this uncaring cat-killer was. I’d risked my own damn safety trying to save the poor thing, and this asshole just callously sped right over it.

    Thomas Ligotti wrote a book (is it out yet?) called “The Conspiracy Against The Human Race” which refers to various anti-natal movements throughout history and their varied, yet ultimately same reasoning: Man is a bad animal. I recommend it, having read several draft chapters.

    I enjoy living, for the most part. If I didn’t, I would advocate wiping out the whole damn lot of us.

    • http://kevinislaughter.com Kevin I. Slaughter

      Thank you for the comment. I was hesitant to post this blog because a few reasons… one being I wasn’t even sure if it made sense. This post has been read much more than the average but met with silence.
      Thank you for the book recommendation. I haven’t read any Ligotti, but I’ve seen him mentioned pretty frequently in a positive light.

      [WORDPRESS HASHCASH] The poster sent us ‘0 which is not a hashcash value.

  • http://www.mattcardin.com Matt Cardin

    Perhaps of interest:

    Singer has a new op-ed at The New York Times online:

    “Should this be the last generation?”
    http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/06/06/should-this-be-the-last-generation/

    In the course of presenting the anti-natalist case, he prominently references the South African philosopher David Benatar and his book “Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming into Existence.”

    Thomas Ligotti’s “The Conspiracy against the Human Race” is now available — and comes with a laudatory blurb from Benatar.

    Looks like the anti-natalist meme is not just alive but is actively propagating and reproducing itself. Just like the human race.

  • Jack

    Your thoughts on this subject are logical and very eloquently expressed. I stumbled upon your blog a few days ago and have read a few of your entries. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experiences online. I look forward to reading a lot more.

    Jack