Many people like to defend their choice to eat animal products through reasons such as the human species being more intelligent, and whatever we choose to inflict upon animals or use them for is hence ‘justified’; they insinuate some sort of hierarchy based on mental capacity that the dominating species (us – not biased at all…) get to use as vindication for whatever we choose to do. Yet the one’s victimised by this theoretical hierarchy get no say at all (literally) – rather convenient wouldn’t you say?
In using these justifications however, the users are unconsciously creating a double standard: “a rule or moral principle that is unfair because it is used in one situation, but not in another” (Oxford Dictionary). If we take the initial example and claim that it is okay to kill animals for food because they are of a lower level of intelligence, we must be able to apply this same rule to humans and get the same outcome for it to not be a double standard. The rule in this particular scenario is that it is okay to kill a species of or below a certain level of intelligence for food (lets currently imagine that all animals used for food have the same level of intelligence: below humans). So is it okay to kill humans for food who have the same(/lower) level of intelligence as these animals? No, of course not – but in claiming that it is okay when the same principle is applied to animals, a double standard is created.
Now instead of generalising all animals to be of the same intelligence, let’s put this into a more realistic perspective. Some scientists have contended that pigs have the same level of intelligence as three-year-olds, they’re certainly amongst the smarter end of farmyard animals: “[Pigs] have the cognitive ability to be quite sophisticated. Even more so than dogs and certainly [more so than] three-year-olds“ (Professor Donald Broom of Cambridge University Veterinary School). So would it be okay to eat humans with the level of intelligence of general three-year-olds or younger, or people with some sort of mental disability debilitating them to this level of intelligence? No, of course not, that would be barbaric – can you imagine the pure fear they would feel? Do you really think they would have no idea what’s going on, or at least that something bad is happening?
If we now decide that the threshold for justification should be lowered to beings with such a level of intelligence that they wouldn’t know what’s happening, how do we draw the line? How do we decide which beings who want to live are worthy, and which are not? Whether you believe they understand what’s happening or not, go and watch the slaughterhouse footage of any animal and see if any of them are absent of fear. Pigs, cows, chickens, sheep, whatever the animal… they all fight for their life and who are we to take it away? Especially without necessity.
Even with the double standards arising from arguments such as ‘intelligence’, and even with other realities such as the evident will to live, many people still think the taking of these animals lives is justifiable because they deem them less valuable. But the question then becomes what is it about humans that make us so much more valuable? And whatever this quality is/these qualities are, if applied to animals would they suddenly have the right to not be butchered by us? The answer to the question of value will differ with every person; common answers encompass facets such as our high level of consciousness, our ingenuity, our ability to empathise (ironic given the issue at hand…) My own thoughts on this question are quite on the contrary: through war, pollution and exponential, unsatisfiable demand – the list goes on – as a species we seem intent on inevitable destruction of both ourselves and the planet. I would hence say these so-called ‘valuable’ qualities are inherently invaluable aside from for satisfying our own incessant greed (until the positive uses they’re put to start to eliminate all this destruction). So double standard or not, I personally conceive the ‘value’ argument to be unsubstantiated.
Another highly common double standard (although many more are recognising this now) arises from speciesism: I know many people, vegan or not, would be able to contend to have heard at some point “it’s okay to eat pigs and cows and chickens etc, but not dogs!” This outcry that arises in response to dogs being eaten or harmed in any way is usually in accordance with cultures such as China’s, but that’s all it is, culture (and a double standard of course). Whilst I obviously think it is appalling to eat dogs, it Is no worse than eating the animals we eat in our own culture. The argument that it is not okay to eat dogs because of intelligence can be completely disregarded because even chickens, for example, have outperformed dogs in some studies. The real reason is because in our culture we perceive dogs as pets, and we would never dream of eating our pets (most of us anyway..). Contrastingly, in India they view the cow as sacred and hence tend not to eat beef. Really it all comes down to what we perceive all these different animals to be and choosing which have a status that permits them to live: a form of speciesism.
A further argument that non-vegans often use that could quite easily flourish into a double standard is the defence of necessity: it is claimed that we need animal products to be healthy. So if it were necessary to eat humans for the same reason, would people then be able to justify that scenario or would our so-called ‘qualities’ eradicate the possibility? Really the answer doesn’t matter because there are countless studies out there such as the China Study (the most comprehensive nutritional study ever done) and continuous warnings from the World Health Organisation for example, providing evidence that animal products are in fact detrimental to our health and not necessary in the slightest for our survival.
All these arguments concede to deeming certain qualities worthy of securing a right to life; but given all these qualities are subjective (even humans can’t agree) what’s really important here? None of us have the authority to dictate the value of another beings life, aside from the authority we’ve handed ourselves (which isn’t exactly legitimate when those victimised get no input themselves…). I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s come across those militant non-vegans who claim “the animals want to be eaten” – but given they can’t speak, coupled with the fear and attempts to resist evident in slaughterhouses, I think we can all agree that is probably not the case (whether you choose to admit it or not)…. Our ‘qualities’ do not outweigh their right to life: especially when in this day and age and in our culture, the taking of it is absolutely not necessary.