I was introduced to the principle of non-violence by the books of Gandhi and Tolstoy. These authors made it clear that living non-violently meant that they did not eat meat. After I had been vegetarian for a few years, I began to feel like a hypocrite because I still ate the products of the animals who spend their life locked-up. That’s when I became vegan.
In this post I want to go back to that first principle of non-violence. Gandhi used the word ahimsa, which means not to injure (himsa):
A votary of ahimsa therefore remains true to his faith if the spring of all his actions is compassion, if he shuns to the best of his ability the destruction of the tiniest creature, tries to save it, and thus incessantly strives to be free from the deadly coil of himsa. He will be constantly growing in self-restraint and compassion, but he can never become entirely free from outward himsa.
So far about the morality of human-animal relationships. But today I also want to look at a question that was asked below my post Precious life: What are the rules between animals? As humans we can dream about a non-violent world, but that will always be limited to our own food chain. Everywhere in nature, violence is commonplace (see The Selfless Gene). For many people this is probably not a problem, but I find it hard to reconcile this reality with my ideals.
David Pearce, a British scientist, has the same problem. He therefore proposed to put an end to predation by either making predators go extinct or genetically “reprogramming” them. He did this in the article Reprogramming Predators. Pearce belongs to the school of transhumanism, a philosophy that wants to use technology to elevate mankind above the restrictions of nature. We have to read his bizarre idea within this philosophy. It assumes that “On almost every future scenario, we’re destined to “play God“ ‘. In such a scenario, all nature in the world will be comparable to a small nature reserve, where doing nothing in response to suffering is also a choice.
Floris van den Berg calls predation “perhaps the most difficult issue in animal ethics”. He cites a number of reasons why animals do not have to adhere to the moral rule not to kill. The most important is that carnivores need meat for survival. That’s why there is no cat food without meat as an ingredient. Predators are also part of ecosystems that rely on them.
Many philosophers say that animals are moral patients, but not moral agents. Animals do not act from a choice between good and evil. But that does not mean that we should remain indifferent to the suffering caused by them. Van den Berg agrees with Pearce to the extent that he will not stand by if he can intervene in a situation.
But I think the way in which Pearce wants to intervene is dangerous. His idea is too similar to historical errors like the attempts to ‘reprogram’ homosexual people. I do not believe in the future scenario of the transhumanists and I think that as humanity we should practice humility. Let’s change the world by starting with ourselves. The wolf and the lamb can always follow our good example.
- M.K. Gandhi, An autobiography: The story of my experiments with truth
- Floris van den Berg, De vrolijke veganist
- Picture of lionness: Hanay