The “plants feel pain, too” argument to justify animal killing
Lately when I’ve explained that when I avoid eating animals it is because I’m trying to become a compassionate and merciful person, a number of people have responded that because plants feel pain, too, eating plants is just as cruel as eating animals. Oh, come on! Just as everyone knows that a peacock or a spectacular sunset or a view of a mountain range at dawn is beautiful, and that a strip mine, ghetto or garbage dump is ugly, we also naturally know that eating the fruit of a plant is not violent and that killing an animal is violent. While I don’t particularly feel that having to respond to people who justify eating meat because they claim that killing plants is violent is worth the effort–I’ve heard it enough lately to write a brief post on this matter. Here is a fictional analogy that demonstrates the difference between eating the body of a being that defends his body vs. eating the body of a being that is passively inhabiting a body:
Imagine a world where every person has a machine that he uses to transport himself as well as to obtain the things he needs and wants. In this surreal world, each being has only one machine that he strongly identifies with. In fact in almost every case, if you ask the inhabitant of the machine who he is, he’ll respond that he’s actually his machine. Some machines can fly, some move quickly and gracefully on the ground, some are ponderous and ungainly. But in every case, in this surreal world, the inhabitant of the machine is very attached to his/her vehicle.
The occupants of the vehicles choose to mainly communicate with others who have similar vehicles and in many cases have actually lost the ability to communicate with the occupants of differently configured vehicles. And the vehicles are amazing in that they are able to reproduce themselves and a new occupant simultaneously appears in the newly produced vehicle. The occupants of the vehicle that reproduced the new vehicle usually forms a strong attachment to the occupant of the new vehicle and in many cases will protect the new vehicle/occupant with his/her life.
There exists in this world, a class of beings who inhabit vehicles that don’t move. These vehicles are called “vetches”. Vetches gradually increase in size simply by absorbing nutrients that happen to come into contact with them, and the inhabitants only dully observe what is happening around them. The inhabitants of such vehicles are attached to their vehicle, but not to the point that they’d defend the vehicle and don’t have any strong interests or desires. They just passively occupy their vehicle. They don’t form attachments to vehicles that are produced from their vehicle.
In this surreal world, in order for a vehicle to continue functioning, it must use the parts of vehicles that are occupied by others. Some vehicles are designed to quickly immobilize the vehicles belonging to others and make quick use of the parts. Other vehicles make exclusive use of the vetches. There are a few vehicles (humants) that are designed in such a way that the owners of the vehicles are able to decide whether they will dismantle other moving vehicles to be able to continue running, or whether they will simply use the vetches. The occupants of such vehicles (humants) have an opportunity to make choices that are selfish, indifferent or even cruel or they can choose to make choices that are compassionate and merciful. Because the humant vehicles do need the parts of vehicles belonging to others, in some instances the occupants of the vehicles that they will use to “feed” their humant vehicle will necessarily be inconvenienced. However, if the occupant chooses to use the vehicle of another being that is only passively attached to his vehicle, a vetch, the humant is making a choice that is more compassionate and merciful that one who chooses to take the vehicle of an inhabitant who uses his vehicle to fulfill a variety of desires–and actively defends his vehicle if given a chance!
Similarly, in our world, we can easily see that while we do need to use the bodies of living beings to sustain our bodies, if we want to become more compassionate and merciful, we’ll do so in the kindest manner possible. Taking the bodies of beings who are only passively attached to their body and do not use their body to fulfill desires, but rather just accept what is in their immediate environment, is obviously much less violent that taking the body of a being who exhibits his individuality by interacting with family and friends.
I understand that many/most people do like eating meat . There is nothing wrong with truthfully accepting that you really like meat. I admire people that want to eat meat and then raise the animals they eat and “do the deed” themselves. That is more honest than a person who broadly identifies himself as an “animal lover” while buying chicken McNuggets that are produced at the expense of animals who live and die under horrific conditions.