The soft, gentle footsteps moving around the house early in the morning and late at night. Small, still noises emanating from their mouths. Noses wrinkling, legs stretching, feathers ruffling. Eagerly pressing their cheeks against ours, always holding out hope that a kiss will be given or a treat will be provided, if one is lucky. The sprinting races to the kitchen for meal times. The snuggles we enjoy with them at the end of a long day. The tears they lick from our faces during our times of greatest need. The excited sounds they make when we share laughter together. Our companions from other species bless us immeasurably when we open our hearts to embracing the differences, and celebrating the similarities.
In so many ways, our friends from the animal kingdom are so much like us, as it is often said, “in all the ways that truly matter”. Between each and every one of us, regardless of species, lies a deep capacity for love, affection, grief, frustration, kindness, pain, joy, among other characteristics. The human species has so often throughout history places itself as the pinnacle of the ecosystem, deciding which animals will share our homes and which will serve us. What an incalculable tragedy for those precious beings whom we decided simply did not fall under the welcoming category of “friend”.
When we step back to consider the system as a whole, a host of inconsistencies emerge. We’re enamored with our dogs and cats and hamsters, highlighting their wonderful qualities such as friendliness, kindness, curiosity, loyalty, and general affection. We shower them with gifts. Care for their needs. Ask nothing in return save for hugs, sloppy kisses, and warm cuddles. We require absolutely nothing of them; in fact, we consider it ludicrous to even consider the notion of taking their natural mammalian secretions or destroying them for their flesh. Undoubtedly, most people who share their lives with companion animals would come to blows with an individual who attempted to turn their friends into some some sort of commodity or product.
And yet, those frustrating inconsistencies remain. What we consider doing to one animal in regards to its slaughter would be regarded as horrific if he or she was a dog or a cat, but if he or she was a pig or a cow, we would immediately reach all manner of conclusions as to why those species must be tortured and killed. Gary Francione puts it very eloquently in calling this sort of reasoning an example of “moral schizophrenia”; we have compassion for one animal based on its inherent qualities, but our compassion quickly dries up in regards to, say, a pig or a cow, even when those species possess equal or even higher levels of those exact same qualities.
The moral principle remains. A living being has the right to express his or herself however he or she chooses, without fear of harm or death, regardless of species. Those who claim to love animals on the basis of certain tangible qualities often take no hesitation at consuming the flesh or secretions of other animals who possess these exact same qualities. Granted, most consumers of animal body parts have absolutely no idea that pigs are incredibly intelligent, brave, and curious, much in the same way as a dog might behave. They would be horrified to discover that the flesh they might be chewing on in that moment belonged to a dog or a cat. Why? Why the revulsion? Most likely, because they know a cat or dog personally. Perhaps they love and admire their animal companions. Perhaps they have rescued and adopted cats or dogs from horrible circumstances. With all these elements considered, the individual would be rightly horrified.
We have heard countless stories over the years from people who have had the sincere pleasure of befriending a pig, or a cow, or any traditional animal that we have bred to be “farmed”. They tell us in no uncertain terms that these animals have fascinating traits, such as the irrepressible curiosity of a pig, or the silly and playful antics of a goat, or the benevolent kindness of a cow. None of these characteristics should come as a great surprise to us; after all, species of any sort have long maintained strikingly similar, if not identical, aspects to their personalities. When it comes to the better angels of our nature (love, mercy, compassion), a person is a cow is a pig is a dog.
The world around is slowly but surely coming to the terms with the internal values of compassion, kindness, and mercy. We all have these “better angels” within us, and we have the means to live by them and honor them. How can those who have already been awakened to this truth help guide the others who are still sleeping? Point out to them these similarities. Show them that love and kindness is the same between these species. Help others to recognize how our hearts are opened and blessed when we bring all creatures into our circles of compassion. Live that truth daily, manifest it in our choices and actions.
Moral inconsistencies should worry no one. Upon closer examination, we see them for what they really are: toothless cultural norms which, although firmly entrenched, can be uprooted over time and shown for the absurdities that they represent. The swelling ranks of vegans across the planet are a testament to the fact that these inconsistencies can certainly be done away with, and they will be.