David Frum

01.23.13

The Absurdity of Vegan Ethics

Rhys Southan pens a crushing essay against the idea humans should extend the Golden Rule to animals. His use of the "alien invasion" metaphor, whereby aliens with superior technology land here and treat human beings like we currently treat other animals, is particularly enjoyable.

[H]umans cannot consistently apply the Golden Rule to the rest of the animal kingdom without going a lot further than vegans are asking us to go. Animal rights philosophers are positing a problem that might have no practical solution. Yes, nonhuman animals are thinking and feeling individuals who want to live, but attempting to correct the power imbalance between humans and other animals would require much more than humans giving up animal products. We would have to stop spaying and neutering animals, reverse our destruction and fragmentation of animal habitat, give up agriculture and civilisation, refuse to eat animals even when our wellbeing requires it, and become pacifist gatherers who never foraged food that other animals needed for themselves. Even then, other animals would have nothing to gain from our presence here. This is why some people believe that the logical conclusion of animal rights is human extinction.

The Golden Rule works for humans because it isn’t necessarily a zero-sum game between us all. The conflicts between humans of different races, genders and sexual orientations are socio-cultural and thus subject to betterment — there is no inherent reason that men and women of all colours cannot work together for our mutual benefit. The conflicts between humans and other species, however, are genetic and inevitable: our DNA and accumulated knowledge and technology currently makes us the cleverest, most powerful species on the planet, and since we cannot cooperate with wild animals for the mutual benefit of all sentient beings, we have little choice but to dominate instead.