• Answering Jerry Coyne on animal activism

    Last week I posted a skeptical view of the orcas shows criticism and why I think ending it’s killer-whales show was the wrong move for SeaWorld, though it can be good PR. I mentioned briefly Jerry Coyne‘s take, and said it’d be nice if he read my post and give this topic a second thought.

    I don’t know if he’s read my post, but he’s definitely doubled down on the animals’ ‘rights’ issue, saying we treat unfairly the animals activists — I think it’s the other way around: the animals movement is a misanthropic one, which aims to erode the rights of human beings… but I digress.

    In his post, Coyne makes some claims I’d like to challenge here, so with no further ado:

    if you think animals are capable of suffering, and they are, then don’t they at least have some of the “rights” that we reserve for humans?

    No, they don’t, because rights stem from our species’ moral agency, not our capability to suffer.

    Second Coyne claim:

    Isn’t the criticism of groups like PETA, or the kneejerk feeling that any experimentation on animals is justified so long as it has potential to save human lives, simply something that we espouse to avoid thinking about the important issue of animal suffering?

    No, it isn’t. Experimentation on animals has guidelines that take animal suffering into account and try to diminish it as much as possible.

    By the way, experimentation on animals also has the potential to save animal lives and make their life expectancy longer. That’s a benefit for animals!

    Onto the next claim:

    Experiments have shown that chickens, for instance, much prefer wandering on grass than standing in wire cages. And what we do to chickens—confining them in cages, clipping their beaks, and crowding them horribly—is unjustifiable if you think that these animals suffer. The evidence suggests that they do, and who with a scientific and empathic turn of mind could deny that suffering, or the proposition that animals feel pain?

    No one. Yet again, this is a strawman argument. This is a problem within the meat and poultry production and it is being addressed by the industry and people like Temple Grandin, who promotes improvement of standards for slaughterhouses and livestock farms. (She was even awarded by PeTA!)

    Coyne goes on to claim animals in zoos suffer:

    Perhaps humans, because we have greater rationality and the presence of culture, may suffer more than some animals, but can you really say that a gorilla or chimp who is captive in a zoo, or subject to experimentation to cure human diseases, isn’t suffering?

    Well, what can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence. So unless I see compelling evidence of animals suffering due to the fact of being in a zoo, I can really say that a gorilla or chimp in a zoo isn’t suffering — what’s more, unless there’s compelling evidence that animals understand the meaning of the words ‘captive’, ‘freedom’ or ‘liberation’, anyone saying anything for animal ‘liberation’ —like Peter Singer or Steve Stewart-Williams— is deceiving his audience for there’s no trans-species telepathy (there’s no inter-human telepathy even, for that matter).

    Anthropomorphism is an irrational trend and I find it odd Jerry Coyne adhering to it. And it gets worse from there:

    People automatically assume that this is okay if such experimentation will save human lives, but how many dog, cat, or mouse lives are worth one human life? Could it be justified, as Stewart-Williams asks, to experiment on humans, killing a few humans to save thousands of chimpanzee lives? If not, why not? Why is the saving of human life worth the expenditure of vastly more animal lives, and perhaps—adding it all up—the greater suffering of animals than of humans?

    Like I mentioned, animals movement is a misathropic one and not even Jerry Coyne can escape its man-hating mongering rhethoric. “How many dog, cat, or mouse lives are worth one human life?” As many as it takes. Are you seriously asking that question?

    “Could it be justified to experiment on humans, killing a few humans to save thousands of chimpanzee lives? If not, why not?” No, because we have rights (and, remember, those stem from the moral agency of our species, which no other species have).

    “Why is the saving of human life worth the expenditure of vastly more animal lives, and perhaps the greater suffering of animals than of humans?” Well, if you can’t decide whether saving a boy or a rat in a fire, then you should really check your priorities.

    Coyne then makes the ascetic self-righteous claim that we can live without eating meat hence we should:

    It’s even less justifiable to eat factory-farmed animals, I think, for we can live without eating them. Why—and I am complicit in this—do we simply ignore all that suffering so that we can have a nice roast chicken or a plate of fried eggs on our tables?

    What an odd stance to take for someone who doesn’t like Leisure Fascists™!

    First of all, you can live without eating animal products in the First World, but this is the only protein source in parts of the world where hunger is as common as leishmaniasis.

    Second of all, and I have mentioned this before, any time you eat anything, be it a fruit, a vegetable, rice, wheat or meat, animals died and suffered. The fact that there’s no (a very much needed) movement against the veg-animalist fad doesn’t mean that agriculture doesn’t take it’s toll on animal lives. Just because you’re not eating the animals whenever you’re having a salad, it doesn’t mean there were no corpses.

    So yes, animals die when you eat meat, fish or chicken. Animals die as well when you eat fruits, cereals and vegetables. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. So following Coyne’s line of thought maybe we should resort to eating rocks (ohh, wait, those ain’t organic!).

    “Why do we simply ignore all that suffering so that we can have a nice roast chicken or a plate of fried eggs on our tables?” Maybe you should ask yourself the very same question: why there’s no space in your post for the animals that die due to fruits and veggies diets?

    Maybe because we need to eat something in order to survive? Bear with me the last sentences in Coyne’s post:

    We need to face the fact that if we really care about suffering, there is no justification to limit our concern to the suffering of Homo sapiens.

    Back with the strawmen, huh? Like I explained earlier (and on previous post), we do care about other beings —and we should—; I’d like to see the claim that we “limit our concern to the suffering of Homo sapiens” backed up with some evidence. Otherwise, it’s just a gratuitous assertion, used to advance an agenda — and a very dangerous one that is (just ask Caterina Simonsen).

    This is a very good opportunity to remind ourselves that even the finest skeptic can be convinced with appeals to emotion and that it can affect his critical thinking skills — aside from the strawmanning and the gratuitous assertions, I also found Jerry Coyne’s post containing an unhealthy amount of cherry-picking, appeals to emotion, anthropomorphism, and begging the question fallacies.

    Category: PhilosophySkepticism and Science


    Article by: Ðavid A. Osorio S

    Skeptic | Blogger | Fact-checker