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Welfarism & Property Status – Like Jailbreak With A Plastic Fork

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In our failure to recognise the implications of animal moral value, our society’s view of animals remains locked in a perpetual see-saw of  tension. The battle between recognition of sentience and the subjugation of sentient beings as property, leads people to raise questions that have no morally valid answers. In particular, the question of how to “humanely” use and kill a being who is seen as nothing more than an economic resource. Conventional welfarism fights in the one corner, maintaining that we must take into consideration a sentient being’s suffering, while property status – necessary to render animals useable by humans – dictates that property is that which has no moral value at all.

The conventional welfarism that dominates our society is problematic for (but not limited to) these two separate yet interrelated reasons. First, it errs in its assumption that it’s acceptable to use and kill animals at all so long as they are treated “humanely” in the process. This idea originates from a false judgment of a sentient being’s moral value by Jeremy Bentham in the 19th century, an idea that became widely accepted via its implementation in various animal welfare laws. Second, our conventional welfarism ignores the realities of what it means to be to property. Given that to be property means to be a thing, the welfarist terminology of “suffering” and “cruelty” has ultimately no meaning within a system that routinely denies the existence of any inherent value on the part of animals at all. In other words, it is not possible to inflict “suffering” or “cruelty” on a thing, at least in a way that implies the thing has some form of external value.

The confusion arises when you have welfarist ideas pitted against the realities of property ownership. Those who promote welfarism and believe there to be some value in animal welfare laws, ultimately misunderstand the use of their own terminology. They may well be talking about animal suffering in relation to the sentient beings who are being used, but as far as the law is concerned, that terminology assumes from the outset a certain level of necessary “suffering” and “cruelty” in order to render that particular being useable for a specific purpose.

Given that it is not possible to inflict “suffering” or “cruelty” on a thing, the law interprets these words in the only way it can – efficiency and profitability. That is, “suffering” and “cruelty” is only considered unnecessary when it has no human benefit. A decision to amend certain “cruel” practices or place a moratorium on a practice does not in any way represent the cessation of “cruel” treatment. It just means that the animals (the things) being used in such a way did not contribute to or result in any corresponding human benefits that could be passed on to a consumer of that property.

Aside from the immorality of welfarism as a concept in itself, this is where it completely falls apart practically. Even if property status was not a severe limitation on how animals are necessarily treated, there would still need to be a value judgment made against what level of suffering constitutes unnecessary suffering. In other words, how much suffering is acceptable when engaging in an act that has no real compulsion or necessity to it in the first place? That is, of course, a rhetorical question. It cannot be answered without first assuming that animals are of lesser moral value than humans.

I’m prompted to write about this after reading an article in The Guardian talking about the “abuse” and “illegal conditions” involved in the export of animals from EU countries. It follows the sort of trend mentioned above where concepts such as “abuse”, “cruelty”, and “suffering” are spoken of as having some sort of meaning that is relevant to the lives and inherent value of the animals involved. That false assumption is the product of a welfarist society. Such blind faith in these welfarist slogans in the face of animal ownership is like trying to break prisoners out of jail with a plastic fork. You might consider yourself armed and ready to storm the gates, but the reality is you’re still holding a plastic fork that will be snapped in half by the first security guard.

The organisation spearheading the effort to amend the regulations on live export, Eurogroup for Animals, states that the transport regulation is “not fit for purpose” and that we need to “move towards a food system where animals are reared and slaughtered as close as possible to the place where they are born.” Of course, the assumption here is that this will limit the infliction of unnecessary suffering. But, as mentioned above, they fail to recognise that there will always be levels of suffering that are considered necessary. Any changes that occur will never be in recognition of animal value. The animals – to remain things – are merely pawns in the game of efficiency and profitability.

Going vegan is the only rational response to a recognition of animal value. Anything less is to accept the welfarist assumptions that necessarily equate and betray animal interests to the legitimate “suffering” and “cruelty” inflicted upon all those who are denied inherent value as pieces of property.

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