Wednesday, November 25, 2009


noun ( pl. -ries):

1. The uncritical acceptance of transparently dubious assumptions in order to arrive at a pre-determined conclusion.

2. The unvarnished word for almost everything issuing forth from a philosopher

The impending arrival of the holiday season, presaged in the US by Thanksgiving, brings forth a hardy perennial: smug veganism.

The target is the benighted, who view animals as, well, animals, so manifestly deficient in the sentient arts that any notions of suffering, other than the truly unnecessary, can be dismissed out of hand.

Leave it to a philosopher to unbenight us. (beday is the word the dictionary is looking for, except for the unfortunate homonym)
The most penetrating and iconoclastic response to this sort of reasoning came from the writer Isaac Bashevis Singer in his story “The Letter Writer,” in which he called the slaughter of animals the “eternal Treblinka.”

The story depicts an encounter between a man and a mouse. The man, Herman Gombiner, contemplates his place in the cosmic scheme of things and concludes that there is an essential connection between his own existence as “a child of God” and the “holy creature” scuffling about on the floor in front of him.

Surely, he reflects, the mouse has some capacity for thought; Gombiner even thinks that the mouse has the capacity to share love and gratitude with him. Not merely a means for the satisfaction of human desires, nor a mere nuisance to be exterminated, this tiny creature possesses the same dignity that any conscious being possesses. In the face of that inherent dignity, Gombiner concludes, the human practice of delivering animals to the table in the form of food is abhorrent and inexcusable.
Well, of course, why didn't the unbedayed think of that?

Perhaps because, in the kind of moral relativism for which intellectuals have become so famous, possessing consciousness does not amount to even the tiniest grasp on time, mortality, loss, dread, sense of self, relatedness, or empathy. Worse, by far, is the unacknowledged, yet essential, binary notion of life. Any "conscious being", the redundancy here is telling, possesses the same dignity as all others, and unconscious beings -- sorry life without beingness -- has no dignity whatsoever.

This is preposterously, offensively, anti-human. That a mouse, fish, cow, each possessing consciousness sufficient for mobility and survival, possesses moral dignity equal to humans, whose awareness is nearly infinite in comparison, is to take for granted an assumption which collapses at the very first question: without humans, does the concept of dignity even exist?

Worse, it is an argument that fails to follow itself to its own conclusion: humans have no more dignity than a mouse.

Perhaps this philosophister needs to read some history to see where that goes.


Blogger Bret said...

I've looked into the eyes of a cow and I'm sure that nobody was home.

November 25, 2009 8:53 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Steiner says the turkey has nothing to be thankful for today. But on what day does a turkey ever feel thankful?

November 26, 2009 9:55 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Harry -- I think that is the thread winner right there.

November 26, 2009 12:18 PM  

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