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A Matter of Life and Death

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It has been suggested by some that a concept of death, plans for the future, or an interest in some form of ongoing activity is necessary for an interest in continuing to live. But again, if this were the case, as explained above, many humans would not have an interest in continued existence either.

Note: An analogy to a legal contract is helpful to explain why sentience alone, rather than any conception of the future, is the necessary and sufficient criterion.  Legal contracts are often complex and contain unfamiliar terms and meanings to people who are not lawyers.  Suggesting that an individual must conceptually understand the future in order to have an interest in future existence is analogous to suggesting that a party to a contract must conceptually understand a harmful clause in order to be harmed by the clause.  But we know that we can be harmed by clauses in legal contracts that we didn’t understand when signing the contract.  Similarly, it is obvious that sentient nonhumans (just like sentient humans of limited mental capacity) can be harmed by killing even if they don’t have an understanding of their future or their death as an abstract, conceptual matter.

In fact, wouldn’t it be fair to say that untimely death at the hands of another is, with the possible exception of severe torture, the ultimate infliction of harm? Even a quick and genuinely painless death deprives an individual of the chance to experience his or her life, in any capacity, ever again. It stands to reason then, that if we believe animals other than humans ought to be protected from being harmed unnecessarily, they ought to be protected from being killed unnecessarily. Since our society’s reasons for using animals are based on custom and convenience, and are, in fact, all unnecessary, we have no grounds on which to justify the continuation of such archaic and barbaric practices.

It is straightforward to see that if death is harmful to sentient humans, regardless of intelligence or other capacities, then it must also be harmful to sentient nonhumans, regardless of their intelligence or other capacities. When people who consider human lives and deaths to be important are willing to dismiss the importance of the lives and deaths of nonhuman animals, they are making an arbitrary distinction based on a speciesist prejudice, in the same way racists or sexists arbitrarily dismiss the important interests of minority groups or women.

When we make a sincere and honest effort to place ourselves in the position of another sentient being, it is very easy to see why we should respect their lives, regardless of their species or any other characteristics they possess. Like us, they want to be happy, healthy, free from harm, and to enjoy the most precious thing they have: life itself.

with Dan Cudahy

Angel Flinn is Director of Outreach for Gentle World – vegan intentional community and non-profit organization whose core purpose is to help build a more peaceful society, by educating the public about the reasons for being vegan, the benefits of vegan living, and how to go about making such a transition.

Dan Cudahy is author of Unpopular Vegan Essays: Unpopular Essays Concerning Popular Violence Inflicted On The Innocent.

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200 comments

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6:52AM PDT on Jun 12, 2013

Thank you Angel, for Sharing this!

7:02PM PDT on Apr 20, 2013

Excellent post. Thank you.

11:56AM PDT on Apr 19, 2013

Thank you for the article. The continual justifications remind me of the question, "Why keep looking for the right way to do the wrong thing?" Please keep it up the thought provoking work.

1:38AM PST on Feb 6, 2012

Franco, you are still as out of line as ever. You're now referring to a comment made by Kye a month ago? I don't have a clue what on earth she's even talking about. What private e-mail, and if she was sending it privately to you, as it sounds like she's saying she did, there is no way it would be posted publically. Nobody ever "slandered" anyone, unless it's Kye, who was blocked by me from sending ME personal messages in Care.2 well over a year ago, as many of us resorted to doing for the same reasons.......receiving nasty, personal messages. Of course, you wouldn't know anything about sending nasty, personal messages, would you?

10:38PM PST on Feb 5, 2012

I was reading the comments and don't really want to join this slugfest; just wanted to thank Angel for your article. You articulated what I have been feeling for a long time; that animals have a right to live, no matter what. I am so tired of people justifying killing animals for whatever reason because they consider them "lesser beings".

7:18AM PST on Feb 5, 2012

Kye, don't feed the trolls. She will never stop. She is a nuisance but she is part of the community and the less we feed into her insecurities the better off the rest of us all are. I don't communicate with her in any way any longer.
Franco

8:00PM PST on Feb 4, 2012

So very true Emma.

6:50AM PST on Jan 20, 2012

our attitude towards animals illustrates our attitude towards life, towards sentience, towards phenomenal reality as we perceive - and create - it, and towards existence in general.

2:56AM PST on Jan 10, 2012

interesting article, thanks for sharing

11:13PM PST on Jan 9, 2012

I agree. Corporations use "happy" language to get humans to ignore the real facts -- that animals are sentient beings, as we humans are, and that their place on earth is just as valid as ours.

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