After addressing the estimation of the sociologist Norbert Elias that as part of a general and gradual refinement in humans’ social behavior vegetarianism would probably be much more popular, for the second part of this series we wish to address a theory about meat by the anthropologist Nick Fiddes. In his book Meat: A Natural Symbol Fiddes suggests an anthropological explanation to why humans are so keen on meat, and what is according to him, the only condition which might alter them.
His thesis is extremely depressing but highly essential for understanding the motives behind meat eating. Though we disagree with his assertion that there is only one motive behind meat eating, we do agree that the motive he suggests is indeed extremely central, and it is extremely underrepresented in the animal rights community.
Basically, Fiddes’s argument starts by recognizing that meat is very highly valued by humans all along history, practically by every single culture. Meat’s value is incomparable to any other food, in no proportion to its nutritional significance (in other words to its actual practical importance to humans). Fiddes deduces that this special status of meat results from the fact that it embodies humans’ dominance over nature and the other animals. Animals symbolize power and nature, and so eating other animals is the ultimate symbol of humans’ power, of their superiority over other animals, and their triumph over nature.
“Consuming the muscle flesh of other highly evolved animals is a potent statement of our supreme power.” (Page 2) Continue reading
For the World Vegetarian Day, held yesterday, and for the World Farm Animals Day, held today, we wish to discuss The Civilizing Process theory by the famous sociologist Norbert Elias – in which he estimated that one of the next phases in the civilizing process could be mass vegetarianism.
The reason we are addressing this prediction despite that it is relatively old, is that it relates to a current and very popular notion in the animal rights movement. Elias’s theory, indirectly (and obviously independently) “refers” to McCartney’s famous quote that “if slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be a vegetarian”. Elias’s work suggests that since humans are a product of their cultural and social circumstances, if slaughterhouses have never had walls, nobody would ever be a vegetarian. A very frightening thought, which contradicts a belief too many activists hold about humans’ natural compassion abilities which are supposedly being canceled out by the animal exploitation industry manipulations.
To understand where this idea comes from, it is necessary to elaborate a little bit about Elias’s theory first.
But even before that, a quick word of clarification. Obviously the term Civilization is highly and rightfully controversial, and from several different aspects, including speciesist ones. We use this problematic term here only in the way Elias used it and only for the sake of the argument about vegetarianism. Specific and direct reference to Civilization can be found in some posts in the series about violence. Continue reading
In the last post we shortly discussed a new research regarding the sixth extinction episode . In this one we shortly discuss a newly published book by Peter Brannen about the 5 previous mass extinction episodes called “The Ends of the World”.
The book tells the story of the five biggest mass extinctions, and what can be learned from them about the current one. Obviously the target audience is not activists and supporters of the E.A.S movement , but it is very relevant for us. Continue reading
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. Continue reading
Unfortunately but unsurprisingly Pinker dedicates only a tiny part of his extensive book about violence to nonhuman animals. Unfortunately but not surprisingly, he decided to call this chapter Animal Rights and the Decline of Cruelty to Animals, that is despite that the book’s claim is for a decline in violence. Pinker knows there is no decline in violence towards animals, so he changed the term to a more conceivable one. Still wrong, but more defensible. Continue reading
Counter to the Inner Demons chapter, the topic of the former post, Pinker’s next one is called Better Angels, and in it he lists and details the traits that caused the allegedly violence decline. These are – empathy, self-control, moral sense and reason, and each has fundamental problems. Continue reading
In the former posts regarding the former chapters of The Better Angels of Our Nature we tried to show how wrong Pinker’s main argument is regarding the decline of violence mainly since in some cases his data is partial and since the most important figures are totally absent.
However, with the 8th chapter of the book called Inner Demons, where Pinker broadly details how naturally violent humans are, unfortunately we largely agree. We find it important, so we bring extracts from this chapter here, along with our remarks. Continue reading
The following is the third part of our critical review from an animalistic perspective of Steven Pinker’s theory of an historical decline in violence.
The strongest blow that the enlightenment ideas received, regards to their significant role in the horrors of the first half of the 20th century. As a great henchman, Pinker is particularly eager to prove that the enlightenment project didn’t fail despite the 20th century. Therefore he devoted a substantial part of his book to claim that the 20th century doesn’t stand out of the historical decline of violence he argues for.
As mentioned in the first part of this book review, most of Pinker’s critics focused on the 20th century, mentioning colonialism, post colonialism, western imperialism, the not so cold war, the arms race and etc. So we prefer to focus on different areas. If you are interested, we highly recommend the following critiques:
Steven Pinker on the alleged decline of violence by Edward S. Herman and David Peterson
Or their long version: Reality Denial: Steven Pinker’s Apologetics for Western-Imperial Violence by Edward S. Herman and David Peterson
Peace in Our Time by Elizabeth Kolbert
The Precious Steven Pinker by David Bentley Hart
However we do want to address 3 issues regarding these parts of the book: The role of personal responsibility during the atrocities, his choice to work with relative numbers and not absolute numbers, and his general conclusion regarding violence regardless of his statistical approach.
As part of our series about violence we made a critical review of Steven Pinker’s book – The Better Angels of Our Nature. For the previous post please click here.
Pinker argues that violence is biologically intrinsic, evolutionarily logical and historically habitual, so what according to him made it decline?
Pinker has a few explanations along the book. The first one is the old thesis of the political philosopher Thomas Hobbes, who also recognized that humans are naturally violent. Therefore the only way to avoid the natural state, which is according to Hobbes war of all against all, is by establishing an absolute sovereignty political figure he called the Leviathan. Continue reading
As opposed to the former thinkers in this series about violence, the cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker doesn’t think humans are naturally peaceful and non-violent. Along his extensive book about violence The Better Angels of Our Nature he thoroughly specifies how violent humans are and how violent humans can be. With numerous statistical evidences, examples and explanations, from the murder rates of non-state societies, through ancient wars, to the earliest known writings which are still canonical cultural elements such as Greek mythology and the Bible (substantially fictional as they are, both probably reflect human life and the values of that era, at least to some extent), corporal punishments, heretics torture, modern wars and up to psycho-evolutionist analysis of violence and brain parts and function specification, Pinker doesn’t really leave room for doubt that humans are naturally violent.
However, another difference between him and the former mentioned thinkers, is that he persistently argues that despite humans’ natural tendency to violence, despite its abundance through history and despite public image (Pinker blames the modern media for that false perception) violence has declined over long stretches of time, and today we may be living in the most peaceable era of our species’ existence.
In the former posts of this series about violence we addressed The Seville Statement on Violence and the book The Nature of Human Aggression by the anthropologist Ashley Montagu who bases many of his claims on hunter-gatherers’ allegedly non-violent lifestyle.
Our last representative of the thinkers who argue that humans are not naturally violent is Paul Chappell, a captain in the U.S. army who writes and lectures about violence, war and peace.
The following post mainly regards his book Will War Ever End? as well as some of the claims he often argues in his lectures and articles.
Like the former thinkers, he argues that humans are not naturally violent without even mentioning (not to mention considering), humans’ daily and worst expression of violence.
And like the former thinkers he also argues about violence and human nature but refers only to wars as if they are the only expression of violence, and despite that they are not even the worst expression of violence.
One of Montagu’s theory’s main foundations is hunter-gatherer societies which he writes about:
“these people live, more or less clearly approximately the way our ancestors lived during a great part of human evolutionary history, and they afford us some insight into the basic questions of human nature and human culture.
If we are indeed innately violent, if we are really creatures driven by genes to murder our own kind, if we are indeed incapable of controlling the hostile forces within ourselves, we should see these characteristics demonstrated here in these people… and they are peaceful. And friendly. And cooperative. They share their food and their belonging with each other and with strangers. Their relationships with each other are close and loving. They care.”
Like many Rousseauistic romantic anthropologists, his observations of hunter-gatherers societies are extremely biased. Since similar false perceptions are sometimes heard by some animal activists, we find it important to examine these societies from a more critical viewpoint. Continue reading
Many Rousseauistic thinkers, such as the ones that signed the Seville Statement on Violence, which we covered in the opening post of this series regarding violence, base their arguments that humans are naturally nonviolent on the hunter-gatherers’ allegedly nonviolent life style. According to them this lifestyle was corrupted by civilization.
One of them is the eminent anthropologist Ashley Montagu, who wrote a very influential book called The Nature of Human Aggression, which in a way is an expansion and explication of the Seville Statement‘s main ideas. Montagu argues that humans are not naturally violent but are peaceful cooperative beings in a violent world dominated by an aggressive culture, and he focuses on pre-state societies (mainly hunter-gatherers) to prove that.
Since similar arguments can be heard from time to time by many environmentalists and more importantly by many animal rights activists, we find it important to address the issue specifically and expansively, through one of the most Rousseauistic modern thinkers.
In the last post we have mentioned Joan Dunayer’s definition of speciesism and it seems that the spirit of some of the ideas she argued in her book Speciesism from a decade ago are expressed in the World Day for the End of Speciesism, so we thought that for a completer view, a critical review of the book is necessary. Continue reading
In the last couple of years Peter Singer has set himself as spokesperson of a new movement called Effective Altruism.
His latest book, which to its last chapter we addressed in a post called “From Groundbreaking Animal Liberation to Neverending Animal Exploitation”, is called The Most Good You Can Do. It presents the movement’s basic idea,as he simply says in its preface -we should do the most good we can.
Unfortunately and disappointingly, by “we”Singer is referring to the already allegedly do gooders of the world. The book and movement, clearly aim at a small section of the population. He basically offers a practical instruction guide for donors and potential donors, calling them to think before they donate because there are tremendous differences in the effectiveness potential of different charities.
Singer points out that in the United States alone there are almost one million charities, receiving a total of approximately $200 billion a year with an additional $100 billion donated to religious congregations and all this money could be distributed much more effectively.
He is obviously right, but we certainly don’t want to hear it from him. It is very depressing that human society needs a bold thinker like Peter Singer for such embarrassingly elementary inferences.
A call to save human tyranny from possible extinction in 2015
A call to liberate animals from human tyranny in 1975
It so happens that our third post is also the third post about the possibility of an asteroid collision, but not since the first international asteroid day was held yesterday, but since 2 months ago Peter Singer published a new book in which he also addresses the annihilation possibility, and speaks out about actively mobilizing caring people to regard this issue. Only that he calls for the exact opposite.
Undoubtedly, his status is in drastic decline within the movement (which is literally named after his own pioneering historic book) due to some very miserable statements he made over the years. However it was still surprising and disappointing that in his last book he not only made another significant step of disconnection, at least from the more radical activists, it seems that he lost contact with his own perceptions and with reality.
The book is kind of a manifest of the ideological movement he is part of in recent years called effective altruism, which basically asks people who wish to donate time or money to charities, to stop and think where their limited resources would do the most good possible, and accordingly it is titled The Most Good You Can Do.
In the following post we’ll refer to the rest of the book but currently we want to relate to its last extremely depressing part.
The chapter name is Preventing Human Extinction, and in it Singer lists some of what he refers to as extinction threats. He focuses on the option of an asteroid collision, mainly since as opposed to the rest of the risks he specified, humans can roughly estimate this risk possibility and can potentially prevent it. These two are crucial elements in effective altruism calculations, as the basic idea is how to reasonably choose the purpose which would produce the most good.
All along the chapter he deals with the question: Should we also be putting resources into developing the ability to deflect any objects that appear to be heading for us?