Livestock and “Humanstock”

Within the line of sight of antinatalism as a moral theory lie not just human beings but also non-human animals. Animals too begin to exist, are born, and suffer. Billions of animals, indeed, begin to exist solely because human beings wish to consume either them or their glandular secretions (milk and products derived from it). This, for example, is the only reason for the existence of many billions of cattle, to speak here only of them. In order to quench the world’s thirst for milk calves must continue constantly to be born. Because only animals who have just given birth can provide human beings with the milk that they desire – milk of which the calves are largely deprived, often to the point of becoming anaemic. Instead of being raised by their mothers and nurtured with these latter’s milk, the calves are taken away and brutally slaughtered so that they can be served up as tender meat on our plates. It is something very peculiar that parents not only expect their children to eat, without demur, the flesh of mercilessly slaughtered lambs and other animals but also never tire of urging their sons and daughters to gobble down more and more of such fare. Were it not for our thirst for milk, eggs and meat many billions of animals would have been spared beginning to exist whose fate, in this existence, consists in being, at the end of an existence already rich in terrible pains, brutally slaughtered or even cooked while still alive (as happens to hundreds of thousands of pigs in slaughterhouses, who are barely stunned beforehand). But there will always be an >Axiopath to hand who will subscribe to the view that the life of an animal that is dedicated wholly to the increase of the supply of meat is better than no life for this animal at all.  And as regards, at least, the meat on people’s plates, one must, unfortunately, number among these “axiopaths” that Esther Vilar whom we have mentioned, elsewhere in this handbook, as someone engaging in a thoroughly antinatalistic reflection:

 

Vilar, Esther (*1935)

“We slaughter animals, then, and eat them. But precisely our pitiless behaviour here is all that ensures that these animals get to see the light of day. And if one had, oneself, the choice between not being born at all or being born and living for a short while, after which one would be executed without too much pain – would not each one of us prefer the option of a short life ending in execution and being consumed for our flesh? But perhaps this line of argument assumes too vigorous and general a love of life. Perhaps the result of such a survey would turn out, in fact, very differently – since the question, it is true, has never yet been put to people in this way.” (Vilar, Die Erziehung der Engel)

What Vilar undertakes here is nothing less than a >Zoodicy. More precisely: an agro-zoodicy: a justification of the existence of billions of livestock animals on this earth that, had there been no demand for their flesh or for their glandular secretions, would never have been begotten. Looked at in this way, agriculture would be a massive industry dedicated to bringing beings into the light of the world; every farm and every factory-farming institution would be devices for liberation which would indeed bestow the gift of this “light of the world” on creatures who would otherwise never see it.

But Vilar must face the question: what was the alternative for these beings to having this “light of the world” bestowed upon them? Had this not occurred, would these creatures then have languished in some dark Limbo or Hades? Vilar adopts the maternalistic? attitude of believing herself able to speak for all the livestock animals of the world when she finds that a short existence that ends in execution is preferable for them to no existence at all. Indeed, that which she believes she can decide on behalf of these livestock animals she then transposes onto human beings, thus formulating also an anthropodicy: we human beings too, she imagines, would prefer a brief painful existence – though “without too much pain” (!) – ending in execution to no life at all. Vilar performs here a classic Salto Natale. Because the question is not whether a human being or an animal ought, or would want, rather to remain in some state (since non-existence is not a state of a living being) but rather whether a new entity is to be created which is capable of experiencing states at all.

Perhaps it is Vilar’s own àAffinity with Existence which makes it impossible for her to carry out a àRewind back before the start of her own existence, from the point of view of which the question of whether she, Esther Vilar, would prefer to exist or not makes no sense. In any case, she is clearly unable, in this passage, to see that the beginning of the existence of a living being represents no change from a “being-that-way” to a “being-this-way” on the part of an entity which was somehow already in existence prior to this but rather represents a beginning of being in the most radical sense, prior to which there can have been no “being-this-way” or “being-that-way” at all. Vilar’s own wanting-to-begotten and wanting-to-be-born (which she also imputes to others than herself) is a wanting so constituted that she would be willing to accept as part of its price her eventual execution and consumption as nourishment by others. If, in accordance with the general principle underlying ethical systems, we universalize this personal stance of Vilar’s, we end up with the following position: a world in which human beings are killed and eaten by their fellow human beings is to be preferred to a world in which no more human beings are born. We have to do here, then with a cannibalistic “affinity with existence” – with a >Fear of Never Having Been of such magnitude that it prefers to play with the thought of being murdered and eaten by others than to give space to the thought of never having existed.

 

Salt, Henry Stephen (1851–1939)

Perhaps the most important critic of  >Zoodicies of the sort developed by Vilar is Henry Stephen Salt, who wrote: “The argument advanced by many defenders of meat-eating, as by defenders of fox-hunting, to the effect that the pain that it is inflicted on the animals at the time of their death is more than counterbalanced by the pleasure that they will have experienced in the course of their lives, since they would never, had it not been in order to play the roles they do play, have been brought or permitted to exist in the first place [>Proto-Self], is an argument that is more ingenious than it is convincing. This by reason of the fact that it is none other than the well-known, already-discussed fallacy, the arbitrary ruse [we have called it: Salto natale] of making ourselves spokesmen and interpreters of our own victims. […] Instead of committing the absurdity of speaking of non-being as a state which is good or bad or in any way comparable with being, we would do better to consider the fact that the rights of animals, assuming we concede them to have rights at all, must begin with their birth and persist until their death and that we cannot, therefore, get around our established responsibility by means of ingenious speeches about some invented prenatal choice in some invented prenatal state. 

The most sinister consequence of meat-eating is that it degrades the coming into being of countless thousands of living beings. It brings them into life to no better end than to deny their legitimate right to existence.” (Salt)

We may transpose this natal-ontological clarity acquired by Salt through examining the example of livestock animals into the sphere of human matters, something which will lead us to quite other results than those we have seen Vilar arrive at above. It is impossible that the begetting of a human being should ever be committed for this human being’s own sake. If such a begetting serves a purpose at all, this purpose is always only the fulfilment of the wishes or the plans of parents or of society. So as to lend to this state of affairs all the crude clarity that it deserves, there ought really to be introduced into our language, on the model of the term “livestock”, the term “humanstock”.

 

Johnson, Samuel (1709-1784)

As his biographer Boswell tells us, Samuel Johnson drew a clear antinatalistic line of association running from those livestock animals who are known to be bred for an existence full of suffering to the countless human beings begotten without being asked if they wish to be.  From Johnson we learn that that fundamental pronatalistic argument – the one adducing a supposed goodness of existence which makes up for all its suffering – which is still to be heard in our own day was already advanced by Francis Hutcheson (1694-1746). We know of only one passage in Hutcheson which matches the passage quoted from Johnson (below?):

“Don’t we see that the weaker tribes of ‘speechless’ animals are destined by nature for the food of the stronger and more sagacious? Were a like use of inferior animals denied to mankind, far fewer of these animals fit for human use would either come into life or be preserved in it.” (Hutcheson, Philosophiae Moralis)

Johnson will not let this logic stand: the supposed goodness of existence does not compensate for the sufferings undergone in it. No more than are those animals who are created explicitly for the use and pleasure of Man are human beings themselves – begotten by other human beings but often eagerly described as “ends in themselves” – compensated, by the happiness that they may happen to experience, for all the misery that goes hand in hand with an unchosen existence. Boswell reports Johnson as arguing just this, citing in his support the authority of Madame de Sévigné from the preceding century:

“’There is much talk of the misery which we cause to the brute creation; but they are recompensed by existence. If they were not useful to man, and therefore protected by him, they would not be nearly so numerous.’ This argument is to be found in the able and benignant Hutchinson’s Moral Philosophy. But the question is whether the animals who endure such sufferings of various kinds for the service and entertainment of Man would accept of existence upon the terms on which they have it. Madame de Sévigné, who, though she had many enjoyments, felt with delicate sensibility the prevalence of misery, complains of the task of existence having been imposed upon her without her consent.

‘That man is never happy for the present is so true, that all his relief from unhappiness is only forgetting himself for a little while. Life is a progress from want to want, not from enjoyment to enjoyment.’” (James Boswell, Life of Johnson)

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