Why do people ignore the obvious

We ignore the obvious

What do we lose when we give animals rights? Just a few ingredients when cooking.

It is difficult to promote animal rights in these times when human rights already seem more fragile than they have been for a long time. Three thousand people drowned in the Mediterranean Sea in the first half of 2016; Unfortunately, their human rights to life, home and security remained unprotected. Even the consensus to renounce violence, which has become, as it were, an identity-creating feature for European modernity, seems broken in many places. In Great Britain a politician is murdered in the street, terrorist attacks shake France, Turkey and also Germany, where refugee homes are also on fire. It is as if a lust for torture and killing began to shed its bonds, as if the thin varnish of civilization were breaking open.

Why should we take care of animals if we don't even leave our fellow human beings untouched? Shouldn't one hope that humanity will first respect the rights of other people before one can devote oneself to the weal and woe of the furry, feathered and scaled roommates of our planet?

No to-do list

Such questions are popular with classical humanists who express concern: If you pay attention to animals, it is lacking for humans. However, most of these worried people eat meat and conveniently take advantage of our rule over the animal kingdom in many other areas of life, whether consciously or unconsciously, willful or not. But even seasoned animal rights activists and vegans sometimes have doubts these days about which injustice they should tackle first.

From the perspective of political philosophy, this poses an interesting problem. There has already been debate in other contexts and situations as to which injustice is causally related to which other. Some of the old questions seem infinitely naive from today's point of view, for example the Marxist one: Must "the worker" be liberated first or "the woman"? A clear list of preferences can only be postulated with a very solid ideological worldview. If such a world view comes from Marx or Hegel - it itself acts like a piece of unenlightened metaphysics. Because there is simply no cosmically defined to-do list for improving the world. Nobody sits above the clouds or behind the scenes who has drawn up a plan for progress that we only have to guess and follow.

There is also no general formula that can be used to calculate what "most urgently" needs to be done. Nobody would accuse a Western European trade unionist that it is wrong to argue that men and women are paid equally for the same work - although in other parts of the world neither men nor women receive halfway decent wages. Nor can it be said that justice for us (over seven billion) people is necessarily more important and more urgent than justice for the sixty-five billion animals slaughtered each year. We would like to somehow offset urgency, effort, suffering, costs, effectiveness - but that's not how the world works. There is no single currency for need and help, especially not in ethics.

What does philosophy do when its own tools, namely precision and consistency, prove inadequately helpful? She seeks refuge in pedagogy. As is well known, Immanuel Kant was unable to bring himself to classify animals - like humans - as an "end in itself", as a being that exists for its own sake, because for this he would have had to recognize it as a rational person within the framework of his philosophy . Nor could cruelty to animals be dismissed as completely irrelevant. And so Kant argued, in a quasi-educational way, that it is not good for the human character if we get used to torturing animals. (A thesis that is not quite as easy to prove empirically as it is intuitively obvious; but more recent studies seem to confirm it more.)

But hand on heart: this is hardly the only reason why it is wrong to kick a dog, for example. Most people would flinch if someone without distress injured a dog in their presence; and their rationale for not doing this rests on the same ethical basis as the reason for the commandment not to harass or harm people. That is why you say to a child: "Don't do that, it will hurt the dog!" - or: "The cat doesn't like it when you pull its tail." This is of course an ethical argument that is immediately forgotten when it comes to fish, turkey or pork. But of course it also hurts them - the way we treat them, and they also don't appreciate being cooped up, deprived of their freedom, their offspring, movement and undisturbed rest; to be transported, marked, maltreated and finally killed by force. All sorts of auxiliary constructions, conceptual concepts and - one can safely say: - ideologies help us to ignore the obvious. So to ignore the suffering of the pig, which is locked up with its own manure, although we would report the same treatment of a cat as cruelty to animals.

«Pet» and «Farm Animal»?

The cat, however, is an animal we personally love, we call it a "pet". The animal in the farm barn, on the other hand, “is just a farm animal”; it was “bred for it”. . . But who determines that? Doesn't this distinction go back to the slave owner, who autocratically divides his living possessions into some that are there to be caressed and others that are there to serve?

And so, from a moral-philosophical point of view, if one had the opportunity to talk to Kant, one would have to point out to him that his pedagogical makeshift argument is not only somewhat poor, but that the morality he proclaims itself does not take seriously enough. Because it is not only the brutality to which the animal abuser gets used to worry; Even the animal consumer, who does not actively cause suffering himself, gets used to setting up boundaries without valid reasons so as not to undermine his or her comfort: Boundaries between "us" and "them", boundaries between those who enjoy the privilege, are taken into account to become, and those who are indifferent or at least secondary. That alone runs counter to the civilizational project of renouncing violence and morality.

We learn to be satisfied with templates and evasive maneuvers (“Is only an animal”), where we should actually learn to give the ethical argument room for universalization: What applies to our wish to stay alive also applies to our relatives Animals. We also learn - whether on animal skin sofas or barbecuing - to look over dead bodies and to degrade living beings to mere material things. We learn to separate some areas of life from the area of ​​moral action and to assert: "I can eat what I want."

But the freedom of purely private decision ends when it comes to third parties who are affected by our actions. Buying, having sexual intercourse, eating - all of these are initially activities in which the bourgeois individual is free. But for animal food as well as for textiles from child labor and for forced prostitution, suffering is a different prerequisite; and that is why in these cases we are not "free" to consume - such activity is no longer purely "private".

Strictly speaking, one even has to say: our own freedom is not curtailed at all by letting others have their rights, their lives, their bodies. In other cases than when eating the animal, this is already sufficiently clear to us: Who would say that his freedom suffers from the fact that he is not allowed to buy human slaves in the market and drive them to his field with a whip? Who would say it curtails a drunk's freedom not to be allowed to rape any woman on the way home from the pub? This only reduces the number of what is morally possible - but not human freedom.

We can only win

With these comparisons we are back at the beginning: Is it allowed to compare the rights of animals with those of human slaves, of sexually abused women, of starving children? Yes, you can - and you should! Just as the universe does not have a clear to-do list in hand, it knows the absolute distinction between the weal and woe of people here and animals there. We are relatives, at least since Darwin we have known that. But no matter how much we smile at Darwin's contemporaries, who found it outrageous to hear that they are descended from a monkey - morally, we still pretend that humans are isolated this world. This outrage "You shouldn't compare the misery of animals with that of humans!" corresponds exactly to the indignation from the time of the Darwinian Enlightenment. She speaks of pure arrogance.

But moral action requires breaking down boundaries where they cannot reasonably be supported; to let go of arrogance and undeserved privileges. As with the examples above, we will then find that our freedom is not curtailed at all if we respect animal rights. We may lose a few ingredients in cooking, but as humans we can only gain from it.

Hilal Sezgin is a philosopher and lives as a writer and publicist with a lot of sheep and other animals in the Lüneburg Heath. Her book “Why? Why? Vegan! Why animals have rights and schnitzel are bad for the climate »(Verlag S. Fischer) published.