The final part of this series of posts regarding Why We Love Dogs Eat Pigs and Wear Cows An Introduction to Carnism is respectively about Joy’s final chapter of the book.
In it, Joy suggests to fight Carnism by bearing witness.
All along the book her focus is prominently on humans. On humans being deceived to act against their true nature, being deceived to consume unhealthy products, being victims of environmental pollution, and of course risking themselves in the dangerous job of murdering and tearing apart other animals. In the last chapter, again she asks humans to focus on themselves.
“when we witness, we validate, or make real, the suffering the system works so hard to hide, and we also validate our authentic reaction to it. Witnessing connects us with the truth of Carnistic practices, as well as with our inner truth, our empathy. We bear witness to others, and to ourselves”.
But ethics mustn’t be about connecting to ourselves, but about how others are being treated. It is not about us, it is about them. Morality shouldn’t be about witnessing the atrocities, but first and foremost about doing something to stop them. And in the case of the systematic exploitation of animals, suggesting bearing witness is also extremely anthropocentric since it shouldn’t be about us humans witnessing other animals. It is not about how humans feel about what nonhumans go through, but about what nonhumans go through. Morality should be about the victims. In a victim oriented ethics, the focus is not on what the activists think the victimizers’ interests are or what they are willing or unwilling to do about the cruelty they are involved in. It is about the victims and what they need to be done for them, regardless of what the victimizers’ interests, views and desires are.
Activists shouldn’t bear witness, they should bear solutions so the suffering will end. And it is not going to happen as long as activists keep believing that humans are naturally good but are deceived by a bad system that makes them do bad things and all that activists have to do is to expose the truth to them.
Joy tells that when she visited the Peace Abbey, as she gazed up at the towering statue of Gandhi, she saw the world as he had – replete with violence and suffering, but also a place of great beauty and potential. That is a very anthropocentric worldview as in both cases it is about what humans are doing, not about what happens to others. Ethics must be focused on the victims, not on the ones who are trying to help the victims and definitely not on the victimizers. And even if we did look at the world from this human oriented perspective, we find it impossible to see great beauty and potential. There wasn’t a second in the entire history of the world that even for humans only, it could have been said that this world is a place of great beauty and potential, not to mention when considering nonhumans, as we obviously must.
The equation she is making is false and not only because this world is a place where there is much more violence and suffering than great beauty and potential, but since the existence of beauty and potential are mainly when some humans are fighting against some of the bad things that shouldn’t have happen in the first place.
Evidently one of her examples is the 400,000 people march in New York City on February 15, 2003, against the impending invasion of Iraq. That is, of course, a very bad example as the war on Iraq serves as a very strong indication of how weak protests are. This war was a despicable war crime which everybody knew about, millions protested against, it was proved that it was justified using deceptive documents, and despite all that, it still went on, shattering the lives of millions overall, and with consequences many are still facing. The fact that millions were bearing witness didn’t make the world a place of great beauty and potential.
Also, it’s another example of how low she sets the bar for evidence of human empathy, despite her unequivocal assertions regarding it, as a war crime at the scale and length of the war on Iraq can’t be seriously compared with a few demonstrations at its beginning.
Another example she presents is Earth Hour 2008, in which 50 million people across seven continents turned off their lights for one hour to show their support for environmental justice.
In the face of climate change what humans should do is dramatically change their consumption habits, and the first and most important change must obviously be to stop eating animals. Obviously they are not going to do that, because they find it too demanding and because they want to eat meat. The fact that what they are willing to do is to turn off their lights for one lousy hour, such a lame action against what is supposed to be the biggest problem they ever faced as a species, should be a wakeup call, not an inspirational example.
But the worst example is obviously about nonhumans’ industrial exploitation: “Then, as I regarded the statue of Emily, I imagined what it had been like for her, brought into this world to serve as a living machine. I thought of the dark factories, and the terror and helplessness of the countless animals within. But I also thought of the undercover investigators from the Humane Society of the United States, whose videotaping of the brutal mishandling of animals at a slaughterhouse led to public outrage and the largest beef recall in U.S. history. At each monument, I saw the world through the eyes of those it commemorated. I became a witness.”
First of all, recalls are not products of consumer outrage but of corporations admitting there is some health or other safety issue with a line of product. And this was the case in the 2008 recall as well. The cows’ flesh industry declared a recall due to anthropocentric reasons, not moral concerns. It wasn’t led by the severe violence the investigation uncovered, but by the documentation of weak cows who can barely walk, being sent to slaughter – which means their sick bodies are consumed by humans.
Secondly, in recent years the estimations are that there is an increase in cows flesh consumption, despite these kinds of exposures, despite that cows’ flesh is considered unhealthy, and despite its major contribution to climate change.
Thirdly, these examples are not indication that there is bad and good in the world, but that there is a lot of bad and the good is the efforts to fight the bad. In the entire history of this world, activists of all kinds, have been fighting so that bad things, that shouldn’t have happened in the first place, would stop. Only in an extremely awful world, the efforts to stop horrors that shouldn’t have happened in the first place, can be considered good.
Even if Joy’s examples were truly of events that had a positive effect, they wouldn’t be examples of humans’ beauty and potential, but reversals of horrible things humans did.
Here is another anthropocentric example:
“When we bear witness, we are not merely acting as observers; we emotionally connect with the experience of those we are witnessing. We empathize. And in so doing, we close the gap in our consciousness, the gap that enables the violence of carnism to endure.”
Animals don’t need us to emotionally connect with their experience, they need us to practically stop their suffering.
Activists shouldn’t look at cows’ statues as witnesses of atrocities, but act so there would be nothing to witness.
Joy argues that history shows us again and again that, when people become aware of violent ideologies, they demand change. It is very unclear what the basis for this conclusion is. History doesn’t show us that when people become aware of violent ideologies they demand change, but it certainly shows us an endless list of violent ideologies. There is not even one regime in the entire history of humanity which really cared for all of its people. All the societies ever, including the most economically socialists, and culturally liberal, have always benefited the political and economic elites at the expense of the other social stratums, and that is of course in the least-worst cases in history. You know what happens in the worst ones.
There was never an egalitarian and righteous human society. Not even for a short period. All along history humans have exploited each other, tortured each other, raped each other, plundered each other, humiliated each other, deceived each other, enslaved each other, and murdered each other, and it all came quite naturally to them.
There isn’t even one moment in the history of the human race which supports Joy’s ideas, and every single moment in history refutes them. So how can we morally justify counting on humans to ever stop inflicting suffering on so many sentient beings?
The problem is not that her point of view is obsessively optimistic, but that it is speciesist. She argues in her book that it is very easy to deny individuality, but looking at horrible events in history and drawing inspiration from them because in some cases some people bear witness, is denying the individuals who were victims of these same events.
And more importantly there is something very ‘individuals negating’ and speciesist in asking activists to wait for each and every human to be taken out of the Matrix, as each human causes enormous suffering to a massive number of individual animals.
Giving the abusers unlimited opportunity to change while they keep their exploitative routine is an absolute denial of individuals. And given the average consumption figures of each human, each is worth tens of thousands of individuals. According to countinganimals.com, average American meat eaters are responsible for the life of suffering of about 55,000 individuals within lifetime, including about 10,000 crustaceans, 1,860 chickens, 950 fishes, 55 turkeys, 30 pigs and sheeps, 8 cows and between 35,000 and 50,000 of non-directly consumed fishes and crustaceans who are either “by-catch”, or are captured and killed to feed the directly consumed animals. And of course that is without counting the chickens suffering in the egg industry and cows in the milk industry. Morally opposing to stop humans, by all means necessary, means they are worth more than the pain and suffering of all of these animals.
A very striking example of this anthropocentric view is a quote from the vegetarian activist Eddie Lama, she chose for the finalization of the book: “I realize that animals will continue to suffer and die—but not because of me.”
Activists shouldn’t focus on what they are personally doing, but on what generally happens.
If you think that animals will continue to suffer and die, you should look for other activistic paths so they won’t. The goal shouldn’t be that animals won’t suffer because of us but that they won’t suffer at all. Our goal should be to make sure that no animal would ever suffer under human tyranny. So we are in favor of giving humans red pills but not ones which enable them to know the truth about what happens to animals, but ones which would make them stop doing what they do to animals. We shouldn’t bear witness but bear solutions.
Some find Joy’s theory very comforting as it eases their own pangs of conscience for their past share in the atrocities, and since it reduces their loathing of flesh eaters including their families, friends, co-workers and etc., by blaming the system and not its members. Even if we had accepted the basics of Carnism, we fail to see how the fact that humans are so easily convinced to participate in such extreme horrors, is comforting. Conformism doesn’t make things better but worse. Humans’ tendency to accept reality without criticism is scary.
Since the theory is very anthropocentric, it’s presented as a positive thing. Humans are not bad, they are good beings who are victims of a bad system. But if you think about it from the victims’ perspective (as you obviously should), it makes things much worse. It is very discomforting to realize how pliable humans are, how easily they lose their empathy, how easily they shut their minds to horrors, how self-absorbed they are, how hard it is for them to change their habits, how narrow minded they are.
We find it absurd to claim that humans are naturally good, but if this is how the world looks like despite that they are good, how is trying to destroy it even questionable?
Joy’s theory is dangerous because if activists are convinced that humans are naturally good, they would continue to try and convince them while trillions of animals continue to suffer every moment of their lives. Humans are not good and even if they were, it is definitely not good to wait until they realize that. Nonhumans mustn’t suffer until all humans find their inner goodness. It is speciesist to suggest that option, and cruel to practice it.
The problem is not that humans would delude themselves that they are naturally good while it is not the case, but that activists would delude themselves that humans are naturally good and so continue with the speciesist, violent and oppressive attempt to convince the entire human population to stop victimizing the rest of the sentient beings in this world. That is what is dangerous about the concept of Carnism.
The solution is not in humans’ hands, so we are not so bothered by what they think. The solution is in activists’ hands, so we are very bothered that they think the solution is in humans’ hands and not their own.