In the former part of this series of posts reviewing the book The End of Animal Farming we have addressed the factor of the supposed expanding moral circle. In the following post, which is the last part of the series, we’ll address the factor of technological developments in the animal-free food systems, as well as some additional moral concerns that Reese brings up other than animal farming.
The Expanding Technological Circle
The last but not least factor in Reese’s predication of the end of animal farming is the technological developments in the animal-free food systems, or in his words ‘The Rise of Vegan Tech’.
Reese elaborates about the abundance of companies and investments in the field of plant-based technology aiming at developing products similar, and even identical to animal based products.
However, the success and abundance of these companies is also worrying.
That is, first of all, because some of these companies have already developed and are marketing, for several years now, plant based products so similar to animal based products that humans are left with no culinary excuses anymore, and yet they don’t stop consuming animal based products. Many humans are not even willing to try plant based products that numerous people say taste exactly the same as the ones they refuse to replace.
The fact that the list of excuses to consume animal products is getting shorter and shorter, and that the list of reasons to go vegan is getting longer and longer, yet veganism is still a very marginal phenomenon, is very worrying. If some could have said in the past that the problem with veganism is that people feel that they have nothing to eat (wrongfully obviously), and that they don’t want to eat leaves, tofu and nuts all day, every day (if we ignore for the sake of the argument that that’s not what vegans used to eat, and of how cruel and speciesist it is to support animal abuse just because humans don’t want to eat leaves, tofu and nuts every day), nowadays these claims can’t be made anymore. In many places around the world, especially western countries, vegan culinary is so developed that it’s sometimes literally impossible to tell apart the plant based foods from the ones made of the carcasses or bodily fluids of animals, yet veganism is still a marginal phenomenon.
Never before did humans need “to give up” so little, so not to actively support industrial animal abuse, but still, the utterly vast majority maintain their violent and oppressive habits, perhaps except for switching one meal on Mondays.
Not the enormous food waste, not the enormous water waste, not the enormous pollution, not climate change, not obesity, not diabetes, and not the risk of a heart attack or cancer, and now not even when it is the same product with the same look, texture and taste, have made veganism mainstream.
Reese asks a supposedly rhetorical question: “isn’t it harder to take down the multibillion-dollar meat, dairy, and egg industries than to inspire them to switch their production to animal-free versions?” And the answer is seemingly yes, but that depends on humans’ consumption habits. And so we can raise a similar question about humans: isn’t it harder to convince all humans to stop supporting animal abuse for the sake of nonhuman animals, than to inspire them to switch their consumption to animal-free versions for the health benefits they would personally gain and because otherwise they are harming, polluting and depleting the only planet they can currently live in, all the more so now that they can have all their beloved products without all these harmful consequences? Well, evidently it is not that simple.
Despite that the cruel products humans like so much, are available nowadays in a non-cruel version, the vast majority still choose cruelty. More and more don’t, but their share is still marginal, certainly compared with the expectation, since if it was truly a matter of taste, now that humans can have their favorite food made with no animal flesh, there shouldn’t be any dilemma. And for most indeed there isn’t. They want animal flesh.
Obviously the more similar plant based products would be to animal based ones, the more humans would consume them, but the problem was never merely the taste. Evidently, many humans who have smugly stated in the past that veggie burgers are disgusting, have never tasted, smelled or even saw one. Blindfold taste tests have proven long ago that most humans can’t even tell the difference between animal based and plant based products, not to mention find the later disgusting. And that proves that in many senses, humans are eating symbols, not food.
Every new plant based product that successfully imitates an animal derived one, doesn’t prove that there is no culinary need for any animal based product, but the opposite. It is not by chance that the most popular plant based burgers are also the ones who “bleed”. And it is not by chance that many humans want their food to bleed, or that they find plant based “meat” products disgusting before they have tasted, smelled or seen them. It is the symbol attached to these products that disgust them, and it is the symbol attached to animals’ flesh that attracts many of them.
As previously argued, food is not a mere energy source. And meat particularly, is very unique among foods. All along history and to this very day meat has been very highly valued by humans, by almost every single culture. Meat’s value is uncomparable to any other food, and is in no proportion to its nutritional significance, therefore, in his book Meat: A Natural Symbol the anthropologist Nick Fiddes suggests 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.
Meat is a dominance and power symbol and humans take pleasure in the power and the predominance, as well as in the taste. Obviously nowadays they can get the same taste from equivalent plant based products, and they can most definitely get the required nutrients from other sources, but the social aspects of meat eating are much stronger and much more significant than its nutritional values, and even its taste.
Meat’s symbolism is far from being the only reason humans eat meat, but it is definitely a significant one, and so it is highly important to acknowledge it.
Food is deeply imprinted in human society and culture, so just asking humans to switch the animal derived raw materials of their food to a plant based one, even if it has the same look, texture and of course taste, for many it is not enough.
If eating animal based products was only a preferable energy source, then it would have been much easier to convince humans to simply change it, especially once there are culinary equivalent options. But no matter how many times vegans are telling humans that converting their diets into a vegan one is only a raw-material swap, clearly it is not at all just that. It is a much more profound step, for most a self-determination one. Veganism is not a raw-material swap since food is not fuel.
Plant based “alternatives” are on the market for years now. The most selfish, cruelest and despicable excuse non-vegans are using – nothing tastes like the “real thing” – should have already been defeated, since some plant based products do look, feel, cook and taste like meat. But it is not happening.
It is very good that there are plant based products in regular supermarkets, and it is encouraging in the sense that they have not been there up until recently and now there are plenty. Notwithstanding, despite that all these vegan options are available in many places, they are still surrounded by non-vegan ones. So activists can be encouraged and draw optimism from the fact that there are plant based burgers along with flesh burgers in the meat aisles, but in the same breath they must ask why the hell are there still flesh burgers when there are equivalently tasty plant based burgers right next to them? How careless to other sentient beings’ suffering must someone be to still choose the flesh burgers? There is nothing encouraging about the fact that humans choose again and again the cruel options over the amazing variety of the vegan ones.
How apathetic must humans be to enter Burger King or McDonalds, see the veggie burger option, and order the one who was made with fear, pain, agony, boredom and despair?
The fact that humans have never had to “give up” less than they do now thanks to the abundant plant based products, which are amazingly similar to animal based products, but they still choose the violent versions, is a reason for worry not a cause for optimism.
When humans run out of excuses as to why they don’t stop consuming animal based products but they still don’t, activists run out of excuses as to why they still insist on trying to convince them to stop instead of making them stop.
The second worry we find important to mention in that relation might sound too theoretical if not purist, but we think it is concrete, and it is relevant to mention it here, especially considering that, as we’ll elaborate later, Reese himself mentions sources of enormous suffering, current and potential, other than animal farming.
Accepting that the only way to bring about the end of animal farming is by giving humans what they desire, because as Reese argues – “As humanity gains unprecedented technological power such as a deep understanding of cell and tissue biology, we will be able to create meat, dairy, eggs, leather, and other products without the metabolic waste of biological processes like movement and brainpower.” and that: “The system’s fundamental inefficiency will end animal farming one day, regardless of our concern for animals, the environment, or human health” – is obviously not really challenging the confines of humans’ moral circle, not to mention breaking them as we should, and it is perpetuating speciesism.
And don’t get this point wrong, again, this is not coming from moral purity. Had it truly been the only option, and had it truly been a certain option, an inclusive option that could have solved all of humans’ caused suffering, and forever, then we would agree this should be the way to go. But considering that it is not the only option, that it is not certain, that it is not inclusive, that it is not forever, and far from being able to solve all the suffering humans are causing, this is not a desirable solution, but a cruel and speciesist compromise. And this cruel and speciesist compromise has and would have dire consequences, on the animals exploited as part of animal farming, and as we’ll mention later, on various other dimensions.
Starting with animals exploited as part of animal farming.
Reese predicts that animal farming would end at about 2100. That is according to many, a very optimistic prediction considering the human race. But even if it happens to be so, in the 80 years until then, based on the number of victims of animal farming nowadays (not including fishing), and considering that some of it would gradually decline along the years on the one hand, while the human population would increase, and that animal consumption would increase in many developing countries in the following decades on the other hand, and it is probable that about12 trillion, that is 12,000 billion nonhuman animals would be tortured by humans, in farms alone, not including fishing, and not including every other way that humans are hurting nonhumans. And that immense number is according to the rather optimistic prediction…
Reese argues that he doesn’t want to treat animals any different than humans, but would he accept similar activistic methods as the ones he suggested along the book in case tomorrow morning about 8 billion creatures from another planet would land here, imprison all humans, rapidly and intensively breed them in farms to the point that there are over one hundred billion farmed humans more than ten times the number of the creatures from the other planet, at every moment? I doubt that in such a case he would suggest waiting for all the aliens to realize that there are better, more efficient ways to achieve what they desire rather than exploiting humans.
It is speciesist to focus on trying to give humans what they desire so that hopefully, maybe, someday in the future, it would reduce only some of the suffering they are causing, and it is speciesist to suggest waiting so that hopefully, maybe, someday in the future, humanity will be willing to settle for these options.
The human race is a cruel and dangerous species and it has proven this time and again throughout its history.
As earlier mentioned, claims about a decline in violence have been refuted in the series of reviews of Steven Pinker’s famous book. Violence in the world has increased along history not the other way around. Contemplating about the last century being the most violent ever to humans, is sufficient to realize that, not to mention that each century has shown an increase in violence towards nonhumans, especially the last ones.
We don’t really expand humans’ moral circle by providing them with what they desire only by non-cruel means. It is like giving the bully exactly what he wants only by somehow providing technical protection for most of its victims. This is great for most of its victims, and had it been the only option, clearly we would have supported that. But the bully has many other victims, and many other ways to bully others. And there is no way to prevent all the suffering that it causes. And given its problematic character, we can never know what he would cause in the future.
However, there are already some possible frightening options and current alarming dimensions in that regard. And Reese mentions some of them in a sub-topic he calls Looking Forward.
Not Looking Forward
The first dimension Reese mentions is time:
“Researchers have estimated that in the long run there could be 1038 humans (and even more animals) if humanity colonizes the Virgo Supercluster, the massive concentration of galaxies that includes our own Milky Way galaxy and forty-seven thousand of its neighbors. Interstellar expansion presents a tremendous opportunity for a progressive society to expand and flourish, but it’s also a terrifying risk for the expansion of inequity, persecution, slavery, war, torture, genocide, and every other tragedy that’s happened on Earth.”
The second one is potential danger associated with artificial intelligence:
“One technology that could have a critical impact on the well-being of humans and animals in the far future is artificial intelligence (AI), so one way we could have an impact on the far future is through AI safety, working to ensure that AI has positive rather than negative effects on the world. One troubling scenario is if AI progresses slowly toward human-level intelligence, but then due to its ability to quickly improve upon itself, suddenly overtakes even the smartest human minds. Evolutionary processes took billions of years to shape modern biological intelligences, but a sufficiently advanced technology could modify itself, test those modifications, and learn to improve itself as dramatically in mere moments. It might be tempting to assume that humans would have total control over the AI’s goals or to dismiss negative outcomes as science fiction, but experts in the field see value alignment—whether or not AI will have the same values as humans—as a very tricky problem, especially given factors like the competition between companies and countries to be the first ones to develop such a superintelligence.”
The third one is not futuristic but is as ancient as sentience and that is of course the suffering of wild animals:
“They endure injury, illness, and starvation with astonishing frequency. Yet there has so far been very little research into or advocacy for large-scale interventions to improve their welfare, despite extremely large-scale impacts of humanity on their welfare through transportation, agriculture, and building construction. It’s not a question of whether we should intervene in the wild, but whether we should continue with our current haphazard approach.
To be clear, what we’re considering here is more than just conservation of natural habitat. Instead, it’s the idea of actually intervening in nature to improve the welfare and protect the autonomy of individual wild animals who suffer intensely and in vast numbers.”
And we couldn’t agree more about how enormous, urgent and neglected suffering in nature is.
The fourth dimension he mentions is also not futuristic but is as ancient as sentience, and that is human relation to bugs:
“bugs—a term I’m using to refer to all the small invertebrates like insects, spiders, and earthworms—are frequent subjects of academic inquiry, including from neuroscientists and biologists who have studied their nervous systems and behavior. I won’t dive all the way back into a discussion of sentience, but it’s safe to say that bugs show many of the behaviors we associate with sentience in our own lives, such as fleeing from danger and moving toward food. The best explanation for these actions is that they are driven by emotions like those you experience when you perform the same actions, such as fear in the case of fleeing danger, and excitement in the case of approaching a tasty meal. Many bugs even show reinforcement learning, the ability to seek out or avoid an outcome based on previous experiences.”
Having said that, he argues: “bugs could still face significant human-caused suffering, if, for instance, insect-based foods increase in popularity. When I go to conferences and events on the future of food, insect protein is a frequent discussion topic, and there are certainly plenty of foodies who see a big role for it in the future of food. While I appreciate that this food system could reduce some of the harms of conventional animal farming, such as greenhouse gas pollution, the number of insects that would need to suffer and die for a pound of protein is many times the number of cows and pigs, and even fish and chickens. This should make us cautious about a switch to insect consumption because of the greater number of animals involved.”
The last concerning dimension he mentions is artificial sentience, that is sentient beings who are nonnatural, meaning that instead of evolving the way humans and other animals have, they are adapted or created by humans or other intelligent beings: “If we do create sentient machines, which many scientists see as a legitimate possibility, we could see these beings being subjected to an immense amount of suffering. Less powerful digital minds could be treated as lower classes, similar to how humans today treat animals as tools and property. In fact, if digital sentience emerges, we could see brand-new social movements emerge with these machines to fight against their oppression, just as we’ve seen for biological victims.”
All these concerns, some of which already exist, and some are speculative but astronomical in their suffering potential, only further strengthen the argument that we need not focus on convincing humanity to end animal farming, but on ending sentient beings’ suffering, all the suffering, of all the sentient beings, the ones who already exist and are suffering, and the ones who might one day exist and will suffer, regardless of humans’ position about it.
Convincing humanity to seriously address all these issues, when it is so far from solving so many historical problems among its own species, is absolutely ridiculous.
We believe that the way humans treat members of their own species is the strongest indication of how hopeless the chance to create a moral change in human society based on humans’ morality is. Please take the time and read our articles and posts about how humans systematically exploit the poorest of their own kind, how they treat half of their own species and their own posterity. Of course it shouldn’t matter to which species someone belongs, but it does matter to them, and still, this is how they treat each other.
It is impossible to educate most humans not to use one another, not to objectify each other, not to turn to violence in conflicts and crises so easily, not to discriminate each other on the basis of race, gender, ethnical orientation, class, weight, height, looks and etc.
The homo-consumericus knowingly and systematically oppresses members of its own species for the most trivial material goods. The dynamics of psychologically repressing and soothing any uncomfortable thought about the numerous faceless human victims half way around the world that pay a huge price so that consumers wouldn’t have to make the slightest compromise on their lifestyle, is very characteristic of the human race. The ease in which humans conduct horrendous acts towards one another is proven again and again by social-science (particularly psychology studies), by history, and by daily affairs.
It is even hard to imagine a world without wars, hunger, poverty, racism, chauvinism, and a slavery free world, so one in which humans are taking seriously moral issues that don’t regard them, or don’t regard them yet, is delusional.
In fact, Reese himself feels the need to convince his readers that even the plight of animals in farms is so compelling an issue, and therefore suggests to consider the following three facts:
“First, there are over one hundred billion farmed animals alive at this moment—more than ten times the number of humans. Second, over 90 percent (over 99 percent in the US) of these animals live on industrial, large-scale “factory farms” enduring atrocious cruelty such as intense confinement in tiny cages, brutal mutilation and slaughter methods, and rampant disease and suffering from artificial breeding for excessive production of meat, dairy, and eggs. Third, today we have scientific consensus that these are sentient beings with the capacity to feel great joy and suffering”.
We think these three facts alone, not to mention many others, are sufficient to convince activists that the problem is not in the way they are approaching humans but that approaching humans is the only way they can think of confronting the suffering in the world.
Activists’ natural tendency and the first and last plan of action, is to explain to humans that their daily torturing of the weaker for their own minor benefits, habits and pleasures is wrong, and that in itself is wrong, violent and speciesist. It indicates how human oriented the moral scope is, and how limited the discussion is.
All activists are aware of the fact that much more violence is inflicted in factory farms than the violence that would be required to overthrow the human tyrants. So why letting way more than a trillion victims per year (including marine animals from all kinds of commercial fishing) to suffer until less than 8 billion humans are willing to consume the same products without the cruelty?
We doubt that if animals could, they would choose to wait until all humans decide to end their daily torture. This issue reveals how the animal liberation movement, the only group representing the animals, is filled with anthropocentric perspectives, talking and thinking in humans’ terms.
Our goal is that the human annihilation option becomes an acknowledged activism option. Our hope is that it would become activists’ first option. In fact, it must. When faced with the historical, systematical and inherent human dominion over nonhumans, stopping all humans from causing all their harms for good, is what should be our goal, and thinking how we can do that is where we must start. Advocacy, today’s go-to option, must be realized for what it is – an extreme compromise at animals’ expense. Advocacy shouldn’t be the obvious starting point. You start by aiming for the best, most radical option – the one that can end all the suffering in the world, and only if it turns out to be irrelevant should you turn to other options such as acting so that maybe someday there would no longer be animal farms in the world as this book suggests, or trying to convince as many people as possible not to consume animal based products as many other activists suggest. Even a totally vegan world (which is totally unrealistic) is a horrible world as we thoroughly explain in the article Vegan Suffering and in the article occupied territory.
A non-speciesist approach should lead you to first consider the best option for the nonhuman animals, which is stopping this inherently violent and speciesist world by any means necessary.