Selective Personhood Syndrome – It’s Terminal
A video surfaced yesterday that has started doing its rounds on a number of news websites and social media platforms. It involves two nonhuman persons interacting with one another. You know, in the sort of way that makes all the non-vegans harmonise in choruses of “aww” and tell teary-eyed tales of their own animal-related experiences. The one nonhuman is lively, playful, and full of energy. The other is more reserved, gentle, inquisitive, but no less intrigued by the encounter than the other. The former spends the duration of the video attempting to coax the other into a game of chase, darting around on the grass, running circles around his/her new friend, and generally having a jolly old time. The latter remains reserved, making small yet graceful movements in response her new friend, but rarely breaking eye contact, and clearly having no less fun than her compadre.
The two of them have different personalities. They both came into this world, not as mindless automatons or inanimate objects, not as “vessels” for pleasure and pain, but as individuals, as moral persons, each with their own desires and wants, each as valuable as the other. They are different in the same way that you and I are different, or you and your friend are different. You may enjoy sports, your friend may enjoy board games. You may be an extrovert, your friend may be an introvert. But there is nothing in these differences that tells us about the moral value of our lives. The differences in our tastes or personality types do not require that some of us be treated differently in a moral sense. It simply means we are all individuals. The one thing we do all have in common is the desire not to be treated as the resource of another.
And so it is with the two persons in this video. They are different to each other. They are different to us. You are different to your friend. But all of us, as sentient beings, possess the desire to continue existing – in whatever individual ways we do – and to not be made to suffer.
The only difference, in a moral sense, between the two beings in the video, has nothing to do with any actual difference between them – there isn’t. The difference is in how they are perceived by humans. The one nonhuman, after finishing whatever outing resulted in this new friendship in the first place, will most likely go home to a warm hearth, food, water, and the care of a human family that views him/her as a member of that family too. He/she, while still unjustly relegated to the class of things via his/her property status, will most likely not be viewed as such by the human family. As a dog – an animal that humans in the western world fetishize – he/she will be seen as a being in need of love and care.
The other nonhuman, an animal that is not fetishized by humans, is not seen as a being in need of love a care. On the contrary, this moral person is a cow, and while no different to the dog, will receive a bolt gun to the head when her value as property has diminished to a certain level. She will not be going home to a warm hearth. She will be herded into a barn with her other unfortunate friends, restrained in a “rape rack,” artificially inseminated, have her baby stolen from her either to be killed or to share the same fate as her, and hooked up to a machine that steals the milk meant for her baby. She will live a short life of fear and pain, and will die having had her sons and daughters ripped from her grasp. Statistically, it is quite likely that she’ll be murdered while still pregnant, along with her unborn child.
Non-vegans, it is time to recognize that differential treatment based on species cannot be morally justified. There will also be humans that are lively, playful, and full of energy, and humans that are gentle and inquisitive. But those differences do not mean we can fetishize the former as somehow worthy of our love and care while simultaneously treating the latter as a replaceable resource. It is no different with the dog and the cow, the cat and the pig, or with any other animal we fetishize versus the hundreds of billions animals we use as replaceable resources.
Take that feeling of kinship, or wonder, or joy, or respect, or whatever it is you feel when seeing that video, and realize that there’s no way of making sense of that feeling, if you are not vegan.