Between our morals and our actions falls the shadow

I’d like to tell you about something I’ve thought about a lot, why is there such an enormous inconsistency between our moral codes on one hand, and our actions on the other? We say or think we believe in certain ethical values (justice, fairness, etc.), and can differentiate right from wrong; but do our daily actions reflect that?

Throughout humankind history, there are many examples of societies violating core moral values by committing horrendous actions. Nowadays, looking back, we consider such actions to be wrong, immoral, and evil. Hindsight is always 20/20. It’s Passover, a holiday that commemorates liberation from slavery, and I think of slavery, in its different forms, as one example.

One can assume that the majority of those who used slave labor, or owned slaves (and by the way, slavery still exists in certain cultures), were loving people to their children, families and friends. They may not have contemplated the morality of what they were doing, it was the norm. If they did, perhaps they justified it by using reasons such as: slaves allow us to continue our way of life, we will lose our livelihood without slaves, those people are not like us, they are sub humans, etc.

But in this day and age slavery and slave labor are considered unethical and immoral practices. It seems obvious, but why? A few reasons that come to my mind:

it exploits others
it abuses others
it oppresses others
it causes suffering
it causes emotional and physical pain
it’s cruel
it’s unjustified

But are we unconditionally against exploiting, abusing, and oppressing others? Against causing suffering and pain, and against being cruel and unjust?

Let’s shine a light on this dark side of our character that allows us to grossly ignore our ethics and core values and act in direct opposition to our principles, when it’s convenient.

We exploit, abuse, oppress, cause suffering and tremendous physical pain every day, every hour of the day. How? Sentient creatures, much like our companion animals, go through hell just so we can eat meat and cheese. Here is just one example (without the daily life details which you should view here): dairy cows are intensively confined, go through perpetual pregnancies, their babies are torn away from them within hours of birth (male calves are sold for meat), and after they’re “spent”, they’re slaughtered.[1] Very few cows are fortunate enough to be rescued from this hellish life, and live in a sanctuary. You can read and view one such uplifting story here.

Billions of “farm” animals are killed every year in the U.S.[2] The number of land animals killed each year for food has exceeded 65 billion globally.[3]

The question is why do we compromise our ethics and sense of justice? We are so certain about what is right and wrong, for example, politics, everyone has a an opinion about what’s wrong with other people’s beliefs or actions. If our morals are so clear-cut, why aren’t we outraged about exploiting and causing extreme suffering to sentient creatures? And even more dismaying, why don’t we feel any compassion towards them? If you are not a vegetarian or a vegan, I would love to hear your opinion, especially if you disagree with me, I mean it.

If it’s unethical (and inhuman) to oppress, exploit, torture and kill, no excuse can justify it. Like previous generations who committed similar actions, we do it because it is opportunistic, convenient, and above all, socially normative. I believe that social conformity and what is acceptable and habituated by society shapes our perception of ethics and morals. Like previous generations, the majority of us shut our hearts to the tremendous suffering we are perpetuating, and by doing so we betray our own integrity. What is most heartbreaking for me is that unlike people, our victims are voiceless and powerless, they do not challenge us, they are the sheep that go to slaughter.

Isaac Bashevis Singer, winner of the Nobel prize in literature, who fled Poland fearful of the Nazi threat in neighboring Germany, wrote, “When a human kills an animal for food, he is neglecting his own hunger for justice. Man prays for mercy, but is unwilling to extend it to others. Why should man then expect mercy from God? It’s unfair to expect something that you are not willing to give. It is inconsistent. I can never accept inconsistency or injustice. Even if it comes from God. If there would come a voice from God saying, “I’m against vegetarianism!” I would say, “Well, I am for it!” This is how strongly I feel in this regard.”

[1] http://www.farmsanctuary.org/learn/factory-farming/dairy/
[2] http://www.humanesociety.org/news/resources/research/stats_slaughter_totals.html
[3] http://farmusa.org/statistics11.html

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7 Responses

  1. Bev Pines says:

    Once again, Zahava, you reinforce my intention not to eat our fellow inhabitants of the earth. Cultural customs and habit justifies the atrocities we allow and choose not to think about, let alone question. Since you’re last blog I am more aware every time I have the opportunity to eat meat. I met a woman in Florida who lives on a small farm and raises a few head of cattle. She and her family raise them with care and respect. When they slaughter one of them for meat, they use a gun and kill it instantly so that the animal never experienced fear or mistreatment in it’s life. This to me is more acceptable as my biggest issue is the suffering of all the commercially raised animals. Would like to know your’s and other’s thoughts on this.

    • Thank you Bev for commenting, and above all, keeping your mind open, and changing your actions in response to reading about the reality of “farm” animals. Glad you brought up the question regarding animals (such as cows) who are raised on a small farm vs. a factory farm. I believe in the right of every animal to live without being exploited and killed by humans. Therefore, I’m against shooting and killing animals by hunters or by farmers. I believe we should not compromise our ethics – we should not exploit nor kill (I should say ‘murder’) other sentient creatures. There is another issue with the so called “humanly” raised animals. It allows people who feel bad about the animals a way out. The ones who can afford it (not the majority of humans on the planet), can purchase “humanly” raised “meat” and not feel remorse. You can read more about the debate in a letter from John Sanbonmatsu, associate professor of Philosophy at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, to Aaron Gross of Farm Forward who promotes “humane” animal products, http://freefromharm.org/animal-products-and-ethics/language-humane-meat-holocaust/.

    • Rita Anderson says:

      Bev, thanks for your heartfelt post. I have a couple of comments to respectfully make regarding same. First, I agree with Zahava’s response in that there is no way to “humanely” kill anyone, be it in a slaughterhouse or with a bullet to the head. Would it be considered humane to shoot a human in the head as long as they died instantly? Most people would say no, so why would it be acceptable for a non-human? My second comment is with regard to our language and how we use certain terminology to describe non-human animals or our interactions with them. I noticed you used the term “a few head of cattle,” which is commonly used by many people. It’s unlikely we would ever say “a few head of humans.” Because of our societal conditioning, we are taught to think (in a very subtle way and probably not even consciously ) of beings other than humans as groups rather than each one as an individual. By using terms like this, it helps us to think of them as being without faces, without fear and not individuals in their own right. I believe we must think of every human and every cow or chicken, etc. as an individual with a personality, perhaps a family of their own, a personal life, and a right to that life. This is not to criticize you, because I used to use many terms that I no longer use – just “food” for thought. I welcome any feedback by you or others.

  2. janet says:

    Can there ever be a humane way to slaughter what/who wants their lives – wants to care for their babies – doesn’t need to be killed in the first place because vegan is best for health and environment? People like the taste because they have been force fed this food from birth and is only indoctrinated into us and then becomes a mind set and an addiction. The methane alone is devastating for the environment – let alone the rainforest that is being chopped down at the rate of 1 acre/second to put food to feed cows – converted to steak and to actually replace the actual rainforest with animals to eventually kill. In your Florida example – this may seem normal, but, anyone who eats the animal is consuming corpse. We were not designed to eat meat or dairy. Eating this way causes inflammation in the body and eventual disease. Our teeth are not canine. We need to cook the meat in order to make it palatable unlike animals intended for this lifestyle who eat their prey that they kill themselves raw, consuming bones and brains etc . Ahimsa – ‘no harm to any creature’ is the path to peace. The body knows this and it revolts in disease. These peaceful creatures that humans consider food are to be left alone to live their lives – just as nature intended. Big Agro has put the idea around that we need this protein consumed waaay in excess and the recommendations of amounts are preposterous and unhealthy. We actually need much less than the recommendations as is now being ‘discovered’ – or should we say – uncovered. Protein comes adequately and healthily from vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds and beans and all good things that are cruelty free. If we can put ourselves in the place of another as in ‘do unto others’ and want a gun put to our heads at the age of probably about 3 or 4 (I’m guessing) or even younger, when the life span of a cow (referred to here as… what ‘head’??) is probably 30 – 35 years — this is cruelty. To be cut down in one’s prime, is this not unnecessary cruelty?. Animals want to live their lives in peace as we all do. As we are part of each other – sharing this space — the heirarchy of domination and condescension must end as we begin to see that all lifehas value and just wants to be here and to be and to be left alone.

  3. Ralph Gabriner says:

    Zahava,
    There is no question but that you are right. The dual moral code is a convenient invention. On the other hand, there may not be much duality there at all as history shows that mankind’s relationship to his own species is, at best, troubled. The violent conquest of this continent is a case in point. Every square inch of this country is historically drenched in the blood and misery of the former occupants. In the state of Connecticut some Native American tribes have made credible cases that threaten the claim of home ownership. The guilt can at least be widely owned.
    Is it possible to live on this planet without disrupting or harming? I don’t have the answer, but I am interested to follow your line of thought. Best, Ralph

    • Thank you Ralph. I agree that the way humans treat other humans is troubling, but at least most people would agree on that. However, most would not agree that our mistreatment of animals is troubling, and thus the double standard. There is a distinct duality in our moral code when it comes to our treatment of animals. First, look at the numbers, the sheer volume: every year billions of animals are exploited, tortured and/or killed in the various industries such as, food, clothing, entertainment, and research (you can see some kill numbers here http://animalrights.about.com/od/animalrights101/tp/How-Many-Animals-Are-Killed.htm and here http://www.adaptt.org/killcounter.html). As stated in my post, the number of land animals alone, killed annually for food, has exceeded 65 billion! And this is not being done in a different era, different place, or culture; this is here and now, by us. Second, the exploitation and killing of animals is acceptable and taken for granted by everyone (except for a very small minority). It’s the norm for men and women, religious and atheists, conservatives and liberals, those who believe in individual rights and those who believe in human rights: all eat meat and dairy, use cosmetics and cleaning materials that were tested on animals, just to mention a couple of examples. Most humans would agree that wars are wrong, the conquest of Native Americans and slavery are atrocities, but then they all sit around the table and eat chicken or pig, drink their coffee with cow milk, and would see nothing at all wrong about that! You can talk with your friends I’m sure at a dinner party about how human on human injustice and violence (from racial discrimination to unequal rights, from terror attacks to the use of guns) is deplorable, but try telling the same people that the piece of cheese they are eating is a product of babies torn away from their mothers, or that the procurement of the egg they are biting on involves the constant grinding of live newborn baby chicks, or that the “ham” they bite on is a piece of what was an intelligent and sensitive animal that was tortured from birth to death. Do you think any of your friends would agree with you, and perhaps even stop their exploitation, or do you think they would be very upset with you? I think I know the answer. Finally, to answer your question: “Is it possible to live on this planet without disrupting or harming?” Absolutely, it is possible, simply by stopping eating other sentient creatures. We all can live a healthy and moral life on a plant based diet, and help stop global warming at the same time. This is the first step, and there is more one can do when it comes to stopping the exploitation of animals (I’ll talk about it in future posts). Thanks so much for following my line of thought, dear Ralph.

  4. Mitzie Eien says:

    Goethe, in Faust, has Satan and God having a debate. Satan tells God he knows he can get Faust’s soul, because God made one terrible mistake when he created man. He gave man sentient choice. All other animals, according to Satan, respond by instinct. Giving man choice allowed for the possibility of inhumane behavior, creating greed and envy. When Satan offered Faust eternal youth and love, he won Faust’s soul. As we look around, we see today, how greed and envy cause us to make decisions that are hurtful to other humans, to other animals, and, indeed, to our very world! Is there a cure for such a mishap? Mitzie Eisen