The following is the last part of our critical review of Steven Pinker’s theory of a historical decline in violence, in which we further address his claim of a decline in violence towards nonhuman animals, and the ways in which he struggles to “massage” reality to fit his grand theory.
Violence towards nonhuman animals was of course in the center of all of our reviews, however in the former post and in this one, we specifically address his specific relation to the issue.
According to Pinker, the turning point from the 20th century’s regression in cruelty towards animals (as a result of “flood of cheap meat from factory farming”) was Peter Singer’s 1975 book Animal Liberation:
“Whether you call it animal liberation, animal rights, animal welfare, or the animal movement, the decades since 1975 in Western culture have seen a growing intolerance of violence toward animals. Changes are visible in at least half a dozen ways.”
The following are the half a dozen changes that Pinker mentions:
Since we addressed animal experimentation in the former post |(as he opened the chapter with it), and since Pinker didn’t add anything particularly important when he specified this particular form of violence as part of the 6, so called, changes, we’ll only address his reference to the routine use of animals to test cosmetics and household products by commercial laboratories: “Since the 1940s, following reports of women being blinded by mascara containing coal tar, many household products have been tested for safety with the infamous Draize procedure, which applies a compound to the eyes of rabbits and looks for signs of damage. Until the 1980s few people had heard of the Draize test, and until the 1990s few would have recognized the term cruelty-free, the designation for products that avoid it.“
That is the origin of the infamous Draize tests, and it is terrifying. We live in a world in which one woman got blinded from putting mascara about 70 years ago, and millions of animals are forced to endure extremely cruel experiments since.
2. Blood Sports
“Another conspicuous change is the outlawing of blood sports. I have already mentioned that since 2005 the British aristocracy has had to retire its bugles and bloodhounds, and in 2008 Louisiana became the last American state to ban cockfights, a sport that had been popular throughout the world for centuries. Like many prohibited vices, the practice continues, particularly among immigrants from Latin America and Southeast Asia, but it has long been in decline in the United States and has been outlawed in many other countries as well.
Even the proud bullfight has been threatened. In 2004 the city of Barcelona outlawed the deadly contests between matador and beast, and in 2010 the ban was extended to the entire region of Catalonia. The state-run Spanish television network had already ended live coverage of bullfights because they were deemed too violent for children. The European Parliament has considered a continent-wide ban as well. Like formal dueling and other violent customs sanctified by pomp and ceremony, bullfighting may eventually bite the dust, not because compassion condemns it or governments outlaw it, but because detraction will not suffer it.”
Unfortunately, Pinker’s brief review of blood sports is way too optimistic.
The bugles and bloodhounds are far from retired. Foxhunting still occurs, most commonly under the pretense of “trail hunting” – which has the same “hunting expedition” (humans riding horses along with a pack of dogs). The difference is that the hunters lay in advance a trail of animal scent, which is supposed to replace the fox. But these trails of scent are often placed in areas where foxes naturally live, so inevitably they still get detected, and then torn apart, “accidently”.
Cockfighting is still very popular in many places in the world as you can read in our article about it. In the United States there are many other blood sports such as hunting and Rodeo which are still very popular. Actually the most popular violent festival in the world, called The Houston Livestock and Rodeo Show, is annually held in the U.S. It lasts about 3 weeks during which more than 2.5 million humans come to watch tens of thousands of helpless animals being abused in dozens of different ways. Horse Racing and Dog Racing are not considered blood sports but there is a lot of blood and definitely a lot of violence in them. They are most popular in the western world and also most violent since they are more established and industrialized there. Their violence is much less visible and evident but these violent industries involve much more victims every year as you can see in the linked articles.
Regarding the Catalonian bullfighting outlaw that he mentions, we wish we could only say that it is a small scale and regional change, in a very small and disputable industry, and that it came to action only in 2012 and after decades of intensive international campaigns – 2 factors which say something very pessimistic about the chances of a real change in our speciesist society. But we can’t even say that, since even this relatively small ban wasn’t made out of mercy for the bulls but for political reasons of the Catalans, who aspire to segregate from the rest of Spain.
If moral reasons were on the minds of the decision makers, the rest of the bulls and other animals torturing spectacles called Correbous, which are very popular in Catalonia, would have been banned as well. Not only that they were not banned, but they have been regulated and shielded to be lawfully protected for good.
208 torturing spectacles in 28 different municipalities were authorized in Catalonia only 2 months after bullfighting was banned.
And now even the bullfighting ban was repealed, since in last October, Spain’s Constitutional Court overturned the ban for being unconstitutional. The formal excuse is that bullfights are part of ‘Spanish cultural heritage’ and thus outlawing them can only be legislated by the central government.
Hunting is another pastime that has been in decline. Whether it is from compassion for Bambi or an association with Elmer Fudd, fewer Americans shoot animals for fun. Figure 7–26 shows the declining proportion of Americans in the past three decades who have told the General Social Survey that either they or their spouse hunts. Other statistics show that the average age of hunters is steadily creeping upward.
Pinker’s data regarding hunting popularity in the U.S. is not accurate. According to a study by the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service, conducted close to the book’s publication, the number of Americans who hunt rose by 9% from 2006 to 2011.
However even if it was, the fact that the alleged decline in hunting popularity is much greater than the decline in meat eating popularity (meaning there are much more humans who oppose hunting than humans who oppose animals’ flesh consumption), is very characteristic of the human race, and points at a fundamental problem in Pinker’s book.
Generally speaking, Pinker doesn’t think from the victim’s perspective. In the case of animals he thinks only from humans’ perspective, and according to him there was a decline in the violence they inflict on animals. However, the case of hunting proves that the decline is not in the actual violence which is happening, but in the perception of violence – the sensitivity towards it, since as horrible as hunting is, it is so much less horrible than factory farming that they can’t be compared. In many cases hunting is sneaking or ambushing animals in their natural living areas, shooting them without the animals even noticing they are in danger till the second they are being shot at and to the point they die which even the hunters desire to be as quick as possible (not out of mercy but so the adrenalin won’t “ruin” the meat). That is as opposed to factory farms where animals are bred into a life of suffering from their first to their last moment of life.
Hunting is by far the closest to natural consumption of meat which is principally defended by meat eaters every time they are criticized for meat consumption (saying it is totally natural, as many other animals do it), and it is much less cruel. Yet most humans oppose the much less cruel and much closer to the natural method, and don’t even blink supporting the cruelest enterprise ever in history.
What is more self-centered, hypocrite, selfish, phony, rational in the bad sense, civilized in the worst sense, mechanistic, cold, distant, alienated, superior and anthropocentric than actively financing and supporting the most oppressive industry ever in history while opposing the less cruel method of “producing” the same product?
It is another proof how everything is about humans and their well-being and self-image. The animals are absent referents in this issue, and the image, not the facts is what counts.
If we were offered the hypothetical deal of switching all the factory farms meat with hunting meat we would take it without a blink of an eye. Only the ignorant and self-absorbed would resist, failing to understand how much suffering would be avoided. No confinement, no genetic manipulations, no thirsting, no famishing, no castrations, no dehorning, no iron branding, no kicking, no slapping, no electrifying, no loading, no unloading and no transporting. But that’s not on the hunting opposers meat eaters’ mind, and it shows how it is about them and not about the animals. How it is about their cleaner, enlightened, progressive self-image.
According to them, murdering wild and beautiful animals is a crime, but murdering animals that haven’t experience even one second without pain, severe discomfort and acute stress, is just business as usual.
Don’t get us wrong, nothing we argue is supposed to relieve hunters’ guilt or their responsibility of suffering causing. Obviously most hunters also consume meat from factory farms and hunt only for their sick pleasure. And obviously you have to be a serious scumbag to shoot an animal and all the more so to get a kick out of it. But that’s exactly the point. We don’t want to look at things from humans’ perspective but from animals’. For animals, there is no doubt that they’d rather live in their natural habitat, in their natural social structure, in a natural body, even though at some point a scumbag would shoot them in the head. It is easy to focus on the scummy hunters, but focusing on the rest of humanity, which consumes the flesh of animals who suffered every single moment of their lives, reveals how Pinker’s violence decline is illusive.
Violence decline is not about what disturbs you when you see it, it is about what disturbs you when you know it happens. And morality is not what one says s/he will never do, it’s what one is always doing.
In another manipulative argument, since Pinker can’t argue for a decline in fishing popularity, he gives an anecdotal example of a change in angling:
It’s hard to imagine that fishing could ever be considered a humane sport, but anglers are doing their best. Some of them take catch-and-release a step further and release the catch before it even breaks the surface, because exposure to the air is stressful to a fish.
Pinker’s single reference to fishing and all the more so to a minor change in a minor section of it, is a lame attempt to cover the sad fact that there is no decline in violence towards fishes. Not as a sport, not as a hobby and definitely not in commercial fishing.
Data about the hobby of hooking sentient beings with a fishing rod, from the two countries that Pinker refer to as the most “civilized”, the U.K and the U.S, show that angling is more popular than ever before. 20% of the British population have been freshwater fishing over the last 10 years (officially, it’s the biggest participant sport in the UK!), and according to a study by the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service, conducted close to the book’s publication, the number of Americans who fish jumped 11% from 2006 to 2011. There are approximately 60 million anglers in the U.S., of which 46 million are estimated to fish in a given year. That’s about one in every six Americans.
In recent years the British Environment Agency is taking harmful measures to help more humans torture more fishes by cleaning fishing rivers, as well as giving a credit crunch and over a million free angling guides to make it easier for humans to find a local fishing spot.
The Environment Agency also has plans to “revitalize” 14,500 km (9,000 miles), creating new fisheries and fish passes to “help stocks navigate locks and weirs”.
And probably the worst is that the agency will also be putting more than 350,000 farm-reared fish into rivers each year to boost angling and restock waterways hit by pollution incidents.
But that’s “only” the statistical argument. Things go deeper than that.
The reason that fishing turned to a hobby and a sport in the first place, is because of commercial fishing which obviously Pinker chose to ignore since it is hard to declare a decline in violence when every year more and more fishes are abused in the world oceans, in fishponds, and through various methods in aquafarming. Just like hunting became a hobby “thanks” to factory farming, fishing became a hobby and a sport “thanks” to huge satellited fishing ships with huge fishnets and “thanks” to industrial commercial fish ponds who lowered fishes’ price so dramatically that in most parts of the world, it is cheaper to buy fishes than to catch them on your own.
In the western world, “food” in general and fishes specifically, is much cheaper than the average salary so there is much more free time. Many humans are using this extra time to torture fishes as a pastime activity. So fishes lose twice from the industrialization, directly as more fishes suffer more cruelty, and from the fact that humans made stabbing fishes’ mouth with an iron hook, a relaxing pastime.
While we are dreaming of a world where no one ever fishes, not for sport, hobby or consumption, Pinker is telling us that there is a decline in violence since humans have recently started to develop more humane methods (and what’s more humane than violently intruding fish so humans can have another ego boost?) of amusing themselves on fishes’ expense that got nothing to do with feeding or survival.
It is not only the huge gaps in what the goals are and what the timetable is (meaning we hoped to reach much further much sooner) it is the principle that he misses. Angling is not violence that was considered necessary and humans understood that it is not, so it is slightly and slowly declining. Angling is violence that was specifically designed for humans who don’t have to inflict violence by themselves but want to anyway. Not for food or profits but for pure fun. It is a decline in a form of violence that should have never happened in the first place. Like in many of his other examples, the good things are only reversal of bad things.
As mentioned, and as opposed to angling, in which there is a slow and a very little positive change, there are huge and rapid negative changes in commercial fishing, and they have set the ground for angling. So there is a minor decline in a relatively small industry because there was a violence escalation in one of the hugest cruel industries which Pinker totally ignored.
In what is probably the greatest indication of how detached and ignorant Pinker is regarding violence towards animals, his next example for a decline in violence towards animal is the empty statement by film production companies: “No animals were harmed in the making of this motion picture”:
In response to movies that depicted horses plunging over cliffs by actually filming horses plunging over cliffs, the American Humane Association created its film and television unit to develop guidelines for the treatment of animals in films. As the association explains, “Today’s consumers, increasingly savvy about animal welfare issues, have forged a partnership with American Humane to demand greater responsibility and accountability from entertainment entities that use animal actors”—a term they insist on, because, they explain, “animals are not props.” Their 131-page Guidelines for the Safe Use of Animals in Filmed Media, first compiled in 1988, begins with a definition of animal (“any sentient creature, including birds, fish, reptiles and insects”) and leaves no species or contingency unregulated.
Again it is a false image. Of course these horses are props. Principally, since nobody asked them if they are willing to participate in a film and practically since there is no theoretical possibility not to harm horses, or any other nonhuman being for that matter, in the filming industry. What exactly happens when a horse doesn’t move to the exact spot the human director wants him to? Is he politely asked to move to the desired spot? What are these horses doing on the set if not carrying humans against their will and without their permission? Are they free to move in the whole set as they wish? Aren’t they confined even for a short while against their will? Aren’t they transported to and from the set?
In any case of horses’ exploitation in western movies or war scenes in historical and fantasy movies, there is a lot of fuss and noise around, which horses are particularly sensitive to. Since obviously they are tamed horses, what exactly did their taming include? They say that in scenes with acrobatic riding, high jumps and great falls, professional stunt horses are used and not “regular” horses. Only that all the horses were regular before humans made them “stunt horses”. And still, of course, it is never a profession but enslavement.
The American Humane Association holds no responsibility to anything before and after the shooting. The confinement and training, which are usually worse and always longer than the actual shooting, is not in their jurisdiction and so everything goes. Other animal welfare organizations discovered several cases of animal abuse (even under an extremely narrow definition such as of the AHA’s) in filming sites that yet were awarded with the “No Animals Were Harmed” credit.
Pinker presented a graph he called: Number of motion pictures per year in which animals were harmed, 1972–2010 with a sharp decline since the 80s’.
But that graph doesn’t deal with motion pictures in which animals were or weren’t harmed, but with motion pictures that during their rolling credits it’s written or not that “no animals were harmed during the making of this motion picture”.
An extensive investigation of the The Hollywood Reporter on the AHA’s Film and Television Unit disclose many cases of death, injuries and abuse that were totally overlooked. To name a few recent examples: the tiger in the Life of Pi almost drowned, 27 animals reportedly perished, including sheeps and goats that died from dehydration and exhaustion or from drowning in water-filled gullies during The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, A Husky dog was punched repeatedly in Disney’s Eight Below, a chipmunk was fatally squashed in Failure to Launch, dozens of dead fishes and squid that washed up on shore during the filming of Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, horses were repeatedly pulled for injuries – internal AHA notes from a single day show that 14 were “out of commission” at once. Yet it received the “No Animals Were Harmed” credit because, they explained that none of the injuries were serious or due to “intentional harm”, an elderly giraffe died on Zookeeper set, dogs suffering from bloat and cancer died during the production of Marmaduke. On Disney’s The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian. This is just a very short list of “no animals were harmed during the production of this film” mendacious statement.
The report also points at improper coziness between the AHA and the entertainment business:
“The arrangement by which the Film & TV Unit’s budget has been mostly financed — through what is currently a $2.4 million grant administered by two trade groups, the recently merged SAG-AFTRA actors’ union and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers via its shared Industry Advancement and Cooperative Fund — long has been criticized for the inherent conflict of interest present in Hollywood bankrolling its regulator.
“The conflict of interest is worsened by the fact that some monitors are known to maintain close friendships with their industry counterparts, particularly the animal trainers whom they most closely shadow on set. One AHA rep dog-sits for trainers. Others party with them. (Many monitors and trainers were classmates at the Moorpark College Exotic Animal Training and Management Program, north of Thousand Oaks.)”
Pinkers’ statements are disgraceful. There is no film with animals in which they weren’t harmed. It is a matter of standard. There are probably no filmmakers who are actually filming horses plunging over cliffs nowadays, but placing the standard so low indicates how violent humans actually are. Yours and ours standard is to leave them alone and not even get near them unless you can get their permission.
The fact that it was even an option is an indication of human cruelty not to mention that these horrors really happened.
Pinker’s last example of a change in cruelty to animals, which should have been the first and is definitely the first in importance, is the meat industry:
If someone were to count up every animal that has lived on earth in the past fifty years and tally the harmful acts done to them, he or she might argue that no progress has been made in the treatment of animals. The reason is that the Animal Rights Revolution has been partly canceled out by another development, the Broiler Chicken Revolution. The 1928 campaign slogan “A chicken in every pot” reminds us that chicken was once thought of as a luxury. The market responded by breeding meatier chickens and raising them more efficiently, if less humanely: factory-farmed chickens have spindly legs, live in cramped cages, breathe fetid air, and are handled roughly when transported and slaughtered.
Pinker is eagerly motivated to free humans from the guilt of imprisoning animals so he diminishes their share and blames the 1928 campaign “A chicken in every pot”.
Obviously these kinds of campaigns don’t help the chickens, however Pinker conveniently blames them and not humans since then he can argue that ‘if not for that campaign…’
However this campaign wasn’t global and yet the increase was. And this campaign doesn’t explain the increase in every other animal exploitation industry all over the world every single year.
Pinker argues for a decrease in mammals’ corpses consumption because in the 1970’s many humans became convinced that white meat is healthier than red. First of all the alleged decrease is not regarding mammals but cows specifically, since as he wrote the National Pork Board exploited the trend and rebranded pigs’ corpses as “The Other White Meat”. And even regarding cows, unfortunately it doesn’t mean that worldwide every year fewer of them were born into a life of misery than in the previous one, but that there is a decrease in the steady annual increase and a decrease in relation to the human population growth. The absolute number of suffering mammals didn’t decline, definitely not all mammals, and definitely not globally. And even if it did or will in the future, since most of the consumption reduction is not for moral reasons but health and environmental reasons, the result is that more beings, mostly chickens and fishes, are brought into life of suffering every year.
If humans are so easily convinced by campaigns, how come most of them are always convinced to do more of the bad things? The animal rights movement is also enthusiastically campaigning for several decades now, how come there are so few vegans?
Pinker’s view is extremely anthropocentric. He doesn’t look at the world, but at how humans look at the world. It is only humans’ consciousness that matters, not what actually happens in life. The fact that more humans are considering vegetarianism is his meaningful factor, and the fact that every year there are more victims who endure more suffering is not a factor at all.
So actually despite that his sub-headline is ‘the meat industry’, vegetarianism is his last example, since if it was really the meat industry, it was impossible for him to argue for a decline in violence. He write regarding vegetarianism: ”But the tide has begun to turn. One sign is the increase in vegetarianism. I’m sure I was not the only dinner host in the 1990s to have had one of my guests announce as he sat down at the table, “Oh, I forgot to tell you. I don’t eat dead animals.” Since that era the question “Do you have any food restrictions?” has become a part of the etiquette of a dinner invitation, and participants at conference dinners can now tick a box that will replace a plate of rubber chicken with a plate of sodden eggplant. “
After reading this paragraph we were surprised to realize that Pinker is not even a vegetarian
(as he admitted in one of his interviews). If he took his arguments about violence towards animals a little bit more seriously, assuming he is against violence himself, you would expect him to be at least a vegetarian. You’d expect him not to take an active part in what is a violent industry even according to his standards, for the obvious inconsistency, and also since he details the many vegetarian options in his local supermarket:
The faux-meat section of my local supermarket offers Soyburgers, Gardenburgers, Seitanburgers, Veggie Burger Meatless Patties, Tofu Pups, Not Dogs, Smart Dogs, Fakin Bacon, Jerquee, Tofurky, Soy Sausage, Soyrizo, Chik Patties, Meatless Buffalo Wings, Celebration Roast, Tempeh Strips,Terkettes, Veggie Protein Slices, Vege-Scallops, and Tuno. The technological and verbal ingenuity is testimony both to the popularity of the new vegetarianism and to the persistence of ancient meat hunger. Those who enjoy a hearty breakfast can serve their Veggie Breakfast Strips with Tofu Scramblers, perhaps in an omelet with Soya Kaas, Soymage, or Veganrella. And for dessert there’s Ice Bean, Rice Dream, and Tofutti, perhaps garnished with Hip Whip and a cherry on top.
First of all the increase in the supply exceeds the increase in demand for moral reasons. Meaning, there are more plant based options out there than there are ethical plant based dieters. The increase in options and the decrease in their prices are unproportionate to the increase of ethical veganism. It seems that the increase in environmental, healthful, and spiritual veganism is higher than the ethical one. Some may throw animals into their reasons list, but don’t hold your breath waiting for them to show up on your next animal liberation demo (as you surely already know).
Secondly, as well as an indicator for increase in demand, the culinary variety and the options’ abundance is also an indicator of how hard it is to convince humans to go vegetarian not to mention vegan. So many options and yet most humans still choose the most violent ones. Despite that meat eaters are losing one of their most common excuses – “what would be left for me to eat?” (the infamous me! me! me!), they stick to their violent habits.
How disturbing is it that even Pinker, the obsessively optimist, points some depressing crucial problems with vegetarianism:
For all the visibility of vegetarianism, pure vegetarians still make up just a few percentage points of the population. It’s not easy being green. Vegetarians are surrounded by dead animals and the carnivores who love them, and meat hunger has not been bred out of them. It’s not surprising that many fall off the wagon: at any moment there are three times as many lapsed vegetarians as observant ones. Many of those who continue to call themselves vegetarians have convinced themselves that a fish is a vegetable, because they partake of fish and seafood and sometimes even chicken. Others parse their dietary restrictions like Conservadox Jews in a Chinese restaurant, allowing themselves exemptions for narrowly defined categories or for food eaten outside the home.
And that’s only regarding vegetarians, who none of you we are sure, even consider them as ethical eaters. Vegetarianism is morally invalid. It is not supposed to be an ethical category, it is an ethical hypocrisy. It is inconsequent and irrational, hypocrite and double standard. What does it represent? Violent humans who nevertheless want to feel moral?
The milk industry and the meat industry are inseparably bound together as a mother is inseparably bound together with her babies. The leather industry is even more strongly bound with the meat industry and the egg industry shares with the meat industry all its violent elements and even for a longer period of time for each victim.
And yet, despite these facts, or any logical consistency and ethical coherency, vegetarians artificially separate the industries as if you can resist one and support the other. Not because they are unaware of the harms in the egg industry or the inseparable connection between the milk and meat industry, but only because this is where they have decided to draw the line.
And not only that the infirm concept of vegetarianism didn’t gradually merge with veganism, there are many more vegetarians than the ethically firmer, coherent, factually based and logically consistent vegans. Of course there are many problems with veganism as you can read in our article about the subject, however they are much more complex than the ones with vegetarianism, which scream out of the dairy farms and battery cages.
Pinker is focusing on the quantitatively bigger but ethically marginal group (vegetarians), since he wants to show a violence decline, and given that there are more vegetarians than vegans, they are a better example from his ignorant perspective. In 2011, the year Pinker published his book, probably every vegetarian knew what veganism is and yet each chose not to become vegan. In Pinker’s and many others’ eyes, vegetarians are more compassionate and moral humans. But you, who have encountered many vegetarians, know better. Most are not willing to hear about the violence they actively support for their pleasures, and many strongly cling to their violent vegetarianism, shielding themselves from any criticism. What goes to show that it is all about them and not at all about the animals.
We deal with vegetarianism not because Pinker deals with vegetarians (instead of with vegans), but since we find vegetarianism very characteristic of humans, being mostly an empty gesture humans do to sooth their consciences. By adopting vegetarianism, they gain the moral superiority feeling despite still participating in violence, the knowingness feeling despite the ignorance, the reasonableness perception despite the reasonless, and the self-image of sensitiveness despite the cruelty.
In general, gestures done by humans revolve around themselves and their own experience. Even when humans take a positive step, its purpose is conscious soothing. They make gestures which have less to do with influencing others’ reality – and more to do with their own self-image.
As hypocrite, nonfactual, inconsistent and senseless as vegetarianism is, it is easier than veganism, so many more humans choose it than the much more valid, logically consistent and ethically coherent option.
Easier than the anyway easy veganism, and ridiculously easy in itself, vegetarianism percentage is still very low. And that’s why Pinker, the statistics avowed fan, makes a non-measurable claim but a principle one. Suddenly when the numbers don’t act in his favor, he argues that vegetarianism is actually more of a symbolic indicator of a broader concern for animals that can be seen in other forms. For example humans who don’t abstain from meat as a matter of principle but eat less of it, restaurants and supermarkets who inform their customers about the living conditions of their exploited animals, and more significantly according to him:
“a majority of people support legal measures that would solve the collective action problem by approving laws that force farmers and meatpackers to treat animals more humanely. In a 2000 poll 80 percent of Britons said “they would like to see better welfare conditions for Britain’s farm animals.” Even Americans, with their more libertarian temperament, are willing to empower the government to enforce such conditions. In a 2003 Gallup poll, a remarkable 96 percent of Americans said that animals deserve at least some protection from harm and exploitation, and only 3 percent said that they need no protection “since they are just animals.” Though Americans oppose bans on hunting or on the use of animals in medical research and product testing, 62 percent support “strict laws concerning the treatment of farm animals.”
Pinker ignores the fact that out of the 96% Americans who said that principally animals deserve at least some protection from harm and exploitation, probably all actively support and encourage the exact same violent practices they say they are opposed to in the poll. It is not a violence decline it is a consistency decline. An improvement in politically correctness.
And he argues that the Europeans are “even” more progressive than the Americans:
“The European Union has elaborate regulations on animal care “that start with the recognition that animals are sentient beings. The general aim is to ensure that animals need not endure avoidable pain or suffering and obliges the owner/keeper of animals to respect minimum welfare requirements.”
But of course the entire animal based food industry is avoidable and the suffering inflicted in it is unavoidable, these are two reasons why factory farms are not supposed to exist according to the European Union. The thing is that these declarations are practically meaningless. Probably the most sad and depressing example is the battery cages outlaw, declared by the EU in 1999 and was one of the greatest hopes of many activists’ for 12 long years, until the new systems were exposed.
The following is taken from our article about the egg industry:
“As of January 2012, the European Union Council Directive 1999/74/EC, which was mistakenly referred to as the battery cage cancellation for the last 12 years, came into force. But what was entitled by animal rights activists as the cancellation of the worst factory farming practice, turned out to be merely a rebranding, the name was canceled but not the cages. Now, amazingly similar imprisonment structure is called enriched colony system instead of battery cages but it is actually trading one cruel metal cage system for a slightly less horrible metal cage system.
And one last thing about one of the most violent industries in the world, yet totally ignored in the book, Pinker mentions the practice of breaking on the wheel in the days of the Roman Empire and early Christendom as one of the cruelest punishment torture facilities. Battery cages are one of the worst torture facilities ever in history, and they are not even intentional torture facilities. Battery cages are not a punishment, but the “home” humans have built for chickens. The fact the humans have created one of the worst torture facilities ever in history, while aiming at maximum efficiency and convenient management, symbolizes humanity’s cruelty more than breaking on the wheel. Humans are so tolerant to violence toward animals that it took so long for so few to even see them as torture facilities. For most humans they are part of “nature”. They take their children to see chickens in battery cages and to dairy farms to see cows. And while they see them stand in their own shit, dragging their inflamed massive udders in filth, they ask their children how does the cow go and not themselves how can I accept this hell?
So the numbers are not on his side. Not the share of vegetarians (every year more animals’ flesh consumers are born than ones become vegetarians), not the number of self-proclaimed welfare supporters (actively support what they are passively against) and definitely not the number of victims (every year more animals are born into a life of suffering).
Only an extreme speciesist can argue for a violence decline despite the current state of affairs and despite the unequivocal statistics.
And Pinker excessively based his arguments on statistics throughout the entire book, obviously until the point that it didn’t serve his argument.
As mentioned in the third part of this book review under the subtitle the Absent Graphs, Pinker’s overflow of graphs and charts is being used to exhaust the readers. It is hard to argue against so much data. Statistical overabundance is a great concealment tool.
Among the piles of data, it is not surprising or coincidental that Pinker “forgot” the most important graph in the world – the animal torture graph, which expresses more than any other statistical evidence the violence rate in the world. And this graph is constantly rising.
Even if pinker was right about humanity and there was a systematical decline in violence towards humans, it is the opposite regarding animals. Every year billions of animals are born confined in their own distorted bodies, which are confined in crowded, moldy, stinky, sickening sheds, which are a part of the hugest production line of violence ever in history – factory farms.
The Narrow Boundaries of the Struggle
The fact that Pinker is a speciesist doesn’t mean that everything he says regarding the animal rights struggle is necessarily wrong (Michael Pollan, for example, is also a very speciesist person who wrote a very speciesist article, called “an animal’s place” which we replied to with “a sentient place”, but he still made a few good points).
Pinker does make a few strong points. For example:
“Unlike the other Rights Revolutions, the movement for animal rights was not advanced by the affected parties themselves: the rats and pigeons were hardly in a position to press their case. Nor has it been a by-product of commerce, reciprocity, or any other positive-sum negotiation; the animals have nothing to offer us in exchange for our treating them more humanely. And unlike the revolution in children’s rights, it does not hold out the promise of an improvement in the makeup of its beneficiaries later in life.”
From Pinker’s super anthropocentric perspective, it is a great sign of human progress that they gratuitously fight for other species. But looking from other species’ perspective – it is a tiny portion of their oppressors who are finally willing to waive a tiny bit of their immense oppression.
As we argued in the former reviews, reversing atrocities is not a progress.
Would he consider a gradual dismantling of the extermination camps by the Nazis, a progress?
No he wouldn’t. And it is not even a right analogy. Humans are not gradually waiving their extermination camps but gradually changing tiny parts within them. A more accurate analogy would be if Mengele had waived a tiny part of his experiments, the shower gas were replaced with gunshots, and the rest of the practices would stay the same with a constant expansion of the massacre’s scope.
So Pinker intended to point out a very positive thing, but indirectly pointed out a terribly negative one. The animal liberation movement is inherently and inevitably a third party. It is humans struggling for animals. And the fact that animals don’t represent themselves but are being represented by humans means that morality is always human oriented. Humans always and will always decide for everyone else. Even if things really progress, in every incident of clash of interests, humans have the upper hand. Even if some do their best to consider others’ interests, it would always be their choice, to their extent, with their measures.
It can already be seen among vegan animal rights activists, the group that most considers animals’ interests, who seriously believe that veganism is a cruelty free, non-speciesist lifestyle. They seriously consider it as an ethical solution and not as a much smaller problem (and those who know better, still present veganism as the cruelty-free answer).
As long as there are factory farms, veganism would look like a wonderful option. But it is terrible. It is so violent and cruel, that the only way for it to be considered nonviolent and ethical is under the long shadow of animal products.
Clearly it is hard for many activists to refer to their greatest hope in such a critical way, but a vegan world is not a nonviolent world and is not a solution to the speciesist and violent relationships between humans and nonhumans.
The state in which the decisions are always in humans’ hands is immoral as it is, definitely in a world of an interminable competition over limited resources, and all the more so when for many species other beings are the resources themselves. A moral world is simply impossible.
For further information and argumentation please read our article about veganism and our manifesto.
Pinker also directly points at problem with the animal rights struggle:
“The analogy between oppressed people and oppressed animals has been rhetorically powerful, and insofar as we are all sentient beings, it has a great deal of intellectual warrant. But the analogy is not exact—African Americans, women, children, and gay people are not broiler chickens—and I doubt that the trajectory of animal rights will be a time-lagged copy of the one for human rights.“
Blacks, women, children, and gay people are also not straight, adult, wealthy, white, human males. Their struggle for equal rights still has a very very long way to go. The progress of these groups is met with various glass ceilings, old ones and new ones. So, will future humans ever be horrified by what present humans are doing to animals?
Are humans horrified that they consume products of slavery nowadays? No. Because they don’t keep slaves, they “just” use them through practically everything they consume. It is the “prefect” arrangement, they enjoy the benefits of slavery without seeing the servitude.
Another serious impediment according to Pinker is meat hunger and the social pleasures that go with the consumption of meat, which explain the extremely low vegetarianism rate. But he thinks that the impediments run deeper than meat hunger:
Many interactions between humans and animals will always be zero-sum. Animals eat our houses, our crops, and occasionally our children. They make us itch and bleed. They are vectors for diseases that torment and kill us.
They kill each other, including endangered species that we would like to keep around. Without their participation in experiments, medicine would be frozen at its current state, and billions of living and unborn people would suffer and die for the sake of mice. An ethical calculus that gave equal weight to any harm suffered by any sentient being, allowing no chauvinism toward our own species, would prevent us from trading off the well-being of animals for an equivalent well-being of humans—for example, shooting a wild dog to save a little girl.
Pinker is so ignorant regarding animals’ issues that even when he makes a potentially credible point he does it wrong. You don’t need a wild dog to kidnap a baby for an interests clash – everything humans do is a clash of interests. Every piece of food that humans eat, every cloth item, every choice of residence and every time they transport something, there is someone in their way, and that someone is removed.
Humans have conquered the whole planet. It happens everywhere all the time, there is no need for this extremely exceptional scenario of a human child predation that no activist would relate to.
But the reason activists won’t relate to such a scenario is also ignorance. Since the reason this scenario is extremely exceptional is exactly because humans have conquered the whole planet. Wolves used to be humans’ arch enemies. That was before they murdered most, banished many, domesticated some, and by extremely expanding their own territories- dramatically pushed wolves and the rest of the species to smaller and smaller areas.
Pinker’s example is on the verge of delusional because humans violently turned this example to be extremely exceptional. The face of this planet is the result of inconceivable violence, inflicted by humans for dozens of thousands of years to the point that a clash of interests seems rare for most humans.
Currently even vegans are not ready to give up their comfortable lives to save the victims of their consumption, so obviously the day that common humans would not shoot a wild dog to save a little girl is a millennia away.
Further along the chapter Pinker raises a question which is cynically evasive coming from a flesh eater, yet one that moral people must seriously confront with:
Something in me objects to the image of a hunter shooting a moose. But why am I not upset by the image of a grizzly bear that renders it just as dead? Why don’t I think it’s a moral imperative to tempt the bear away with all-soy meatless moose patties? Should we arrange for the gradual extinction of carnivorous species, or even genetically engineer them into herbivores? We recoil from these thought experiments because, rightly or wrongly, we assign some degree of ethical weight to what we feel is “natural.” But if the natural carnivory of other species counts for something, why not the natural carnivory of Homo sapiens—particularly if we deploy our cognitive and moral faculties to minimize the animals’ suffering?
As long as the routine exploitation of animals by humans is as immense as it currently is, activists won’t bother themselves with these issues. The revolution, if it ever comes would stop at a very violent place. The ones who would continue to the next struggles would encounter numerous basic clashes of interests that would suddenly be revealed. Activists would be faced with all the suffering they ignored all these years because of the long shadow of factory frames. As long as these monstrosities are around, activists easily cast aside every other suffering element, even though some are here to stay as long as there are sentient beings on this planet of suffering.
Activists can easily dismiss Pinker, the speciesist meat eater, arguing that he excuses his animal consumption. But we, ethical vegans and animal activists all of our adult lives, along with more and more activists, are raising a similar question.
Clash of interests is an inherent part of life. It happens everywhere all of the time, between humans and nonhumans and between nonhumans and nonhumans, and for more about that please read our final part of this violent series: The violence that even activists refuse to deal with.
If everyone counts as one and no one counts as more than one, no one is allowed to hurt no one.
And if no one is able to live without hurting anyone in their entire life, no one should live.
Any other moral perspective is bound with discrimination, chauvinism, violence and oppression.
There is a way to achieve nonviolence, but you would have to stop looking for ways to change the whole world and start looking for ways to destroy it.