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Sadism As Virtue

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Traumatised. That’s not usually a word one tends to associate with hunter’s who take pleasure in killing their own ‘food.’ As it happens, however, this is exactly how Louise Gray (author of The Ethical Carnivore) felt after engaging in her first “botched killing” of a rabbit. Indeed, she felt so bad about inflicting “terrible suffering just to try and make a point at a dinner party” that she almost gave up on her two year quest to live off the non-human animals that she herself would hunt. 730 days later, with 21 different species digested, she’s all turned around.

We’ll discuss her motives shortly, but let’s first take a look at her rationale. She admits that the “guilt” of her first kill never went away but that it taught her a lot about “responsibility.” She was able to a “accept” the guilt and instead take responsibility for the kill. She believes that guilt is a “negative emotion” and that responsibility “suggests you are going to take that feeling on and examine it, then decide whether you are willing to do it again.” As this article in the Daily Mail demonstrates, Gray was willing to do it again.

Above an image of a desecrated and disembowelled pheasant, she is quoted as saying “I never took killing an animal for granted. I always feel the responsibility of what I am doing. I tried to be as humane as possible and used every cut of the meat. I think if more people understood where meat is from, they might appreciate animals more and see meat as more of a treat, rather than as a staple.”

So what turned this non-vegan who “never really made an effort to properly question where (her) protein came from” into a so-called ‘ethical’ non-vegan who believes she is fulfilling her moral obligations to animals by going out into the woods and pumping them full of lead? Well, at the core, an “animal movement” focused on treatment as opposed to use, where the only question posed to society with respect to animal interests is whether or not they were treated “humanely” right up until their throats were slit. Prior to her life as an “ethical carnivore,” Gray had been “traumatised” by a visit to a slaughterhouse and vowed to never again consume meat that had come from one. Instead, she “buy(s) meat direct from butchers and farmers” because she wants to support those who are “raising animals free range and sustaining the countryside.” She maintains that these people “deserve our respect too.”

So how is it possible that a person can believe they are doing right by animals by killing them? How does someone suppress the guilt of murder under the pretence of responsibility? How is it logical for someone to conclude that the answer to suffering and death, is more “responsible” suffering and death?

To us, Gray’s behaviour is sadistic and morally unjustifiable, just like the behaviour of any non-vegan in consuming and using animals as resources is morally unjustifiable. To Gray, she has merely taken the dominant welfarist paradigm to its rational conclusion; animals do not care that we use and kill them, they only care about how we treat them in the process. Like every other non-vegan in a welfarist society, the fact that we kill animals in the first instance is not considered to be the problem. Gray, in her deeply troubled way, has assumed the legitimacy of that position, and taken it upon herself to present society with a supposed alternative. Instead of realising that the guilt she felt was in recognition of a continued denial on her part of the inherent value of sentient beings, she buried the feeling and inserted a sense of false “responsibility” in its place. Gray believes she is acting morally, and the only way one can maintain such a thing is by assuming the legitimacy of the dominant paradigm.

The problem with that of course is that the dominant welfarist paradigm is speciesist and denies the equal inherent value of sentient beings. It assumes non-humans to be things, effectively denies their sentience, and ensures that they will lose every single balance of interests with humans. Even if human interest constitutes nothing more than taste or convenience and the non-human interest involves life and death. Gray merely reintroduces this welfarism in a different cap and gown, under the pretence that this new version somehow represents a higher level of moral living.

In reality it’s just more of the same speciesism – the only difference being that this new strand has a little bit of added sadism. This never ending cycle will continue so long as the conversation remains fixated on treatment. It is so crucially important as advocates that we discuss the immorality of animal use front and centre. Focusing on treatment does nothing but assume the legitimacy of welfarism and ensures that the paradigm we’ve been indoctrinated with the last 200 hundreds keeps on being reintroduced. It does nothing but fuel more Louise Gray’s to pop into existence who will continue to promote the idea that you can go stalking to fill your freezer with venison, or rabbit shooting and fishing to sate your desire for an afternoon snack, and that this is perfectly acceptable behaviour when interacting with other sentient beings. If it hasn’t become clear to you already, animals are in the trouble they are in because we have failed to educate people as to why killing them presents us with a moral problem. We do not counter that by continuing to focus on the very aspect of their exploitation that leads people to assume the legitimacy of killing in the first place.

Gray (like every other non-vegan defaulted on welfarism) assumes that it’s possible to “humanely” kill an animal who did not want to die; that in murder, we can absolve ourselves from guilt through invoking a sense of responsiblity; that appreciation for animals is consistent with their exploitation and that their suffering and death is to be considered a treat. If these arguments were used in the human context, we would quite rightly consider the purveyor to be a moral monster. These ideas are no less monstrous in the animal context. They will only end when we stop fixating on treatment, embrace abolitionism and encourage others to educate on the immorality of use.

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