Over the ages, humankind has suffered various forms of self inflicted violence and oppression. With the gradual development of firm grounds for the institution and dissemination of social justice and equality, this age old violent and self-destructive propensity in humankind has been curbed but not fully defeated or overcome. Narrow selfish desires still animate individual egos, pushing them to hold on firmly to racist doctrines and acts of discrimination.
Racist attitudes can be understood as sublimated frustrations of individuals no longer capable of inventing something new. They opportunely find a breeding ground in unimaginative and uncreative minds. When individuals or small groups fall back on explicit or undeclared racist doctrines to justify their moral superiority, they will spend most of their time and effort looking for all kinds of excuses to subjugate and persecute individuals, ethnic groups or other social formations that come to occupy at one time or another the position of the other.
Looking broadly at the extent of this vast collective human theater since the beginning of human history, the most imposing conclusion one is left with is that human intellectual evolution and its gradual progress towards a better understanding of human nature became possible when consciousness and perception extended beyond the narrow confines of the ego.
Humankind fought and is still fighting to this day racism with its multifaceted shapes and forms. Racism is expressed sometimes against a given skin color, sometimes against a religious belief and at other times against a specific gender.
However, what tend to be forgotten or rather not so much talked about openly are those other forms of racism that do not seem to be frowned upon or indicted. Despite the elevation of human feelings and the sentiment of fellowship, humankind at times falls short of its human nature while it carries on boasting about its greatness. The limited ego still constitutes a barrier between humankind and its human dimension or between humankind and that which makes it human, its very essence.
In principle, humanity is characterized by its grounding in a double consciousness which reaches within towards inner psychological affects and without towards the surrounding physical environment. This balanced double movement allows us to choose the most appropriate way of life which best accommodates and cohabits with different individuals and cultures. This is our true responsibility towards our humanity and towards all other living creatures.
Despite the gigantic leaps made by humankind from the dark ages of ignorance towards an enlightened present, we failed to overcome or restrain the primitive feeling of anxiety rooted deep within our collective psyche. This anxiety is sublimated in different practices whereby individuals or groups enslave animals or their fellow men and women. This primitive drive towards the exercise of oppressive power over others cancels out the idea of free will and choice.
Whoever justifies the slaughter of animals by the need to provide food and nutrition will have to take a look at the recent health studies insisting that a vegetarian diet is the best suitable diet for the human body. These primitive and unthinking practices are informed by a deeply rooted habit that controls our behavior towards that which is different from us, or that which we are ignorant about. As a consequence, our ability to open up our minds to reach a higher level of perception is instantly lost. Such attitudes and unconscious reactions are perhaps informed by far away memories of victories over the sentiment of anxiety achieved through false victories over other forms of life.
The primitive humans had limited choices to fend for themselves and survive adverse natural circumstances. They resorted to killing each other because they had to compete over limited resources. But with the passage of time and the invention of agriculture, the long journey of humankind towards higher levels of consciousness began and slowly culminated in civilizations where humanity is offered more choices rather than simply driven by necessity. And yet, some people still live by primitive and racist practices and dogmas perhaps to fill up the bottomless abyss that dwells within their minds.
All the evidence and justifications put forth to maintain a system of differentiations and discrimination need to be constantly refuted because no matter what the subject of discrimination is, the principle of discrimination itself is founded on the idea of putting the other to death because they are worthless. All these excuses to legitimate the violence of racism are symptomatic of the narrowing down of perception and the inability to make sense of that which we are ignorant about.
The ideas of discrimination and racism have been justified by inequality among individuals in terms of their intellectual or creative abilities. Haven’t women been seen over the ages as lesser creatures and second-class citizens? Hasn’t anti-Semitism been justified by the idea that the Jews are a cursed people who do not deserve to live? Haven’t all religions resorted to discrimination because they endorse the idea of an elect people and that believes are not equal in the eyes of god?
Through a stronger intellect, humankind managed to rise above these primitive principles and condemn racist practices, but despite these improvements we always fail to take the discrimination against animals seriously. As Isaac B. Singer famously put it in one of his short stories “In relation to them, all people are Nazis; for the animals it is an eternal Treblinka.”
Just take a look at all those meat dishes that we enjoy every day. I wonder what’s delicious about this barbaric sight that should remind us of our cruelty towards animals. As Tolstoy once said: “by killing, man suppresses in himself, unnecessarily, the highest spiritual capacity – that of sympathy and pity towards living creatures like himself – and by violating his own feelings becomes cruel.” If we turned our bodies and stomachs into “graveyards for dead animals” how can we look forward to a better future?
To this day, there are still many individuals and cultures that find the daily slaughter of animals totally acceptable. They limit the value of life to its human form only and consider human life as the only form consciousness capable of improving life. But life is not limited to its human form. It extends to all living creatures. And if we deny animals the right to life because they are incapable of contributing to human progress we must as well put to death all those human beings who fail to contribute anything to the betterment of humanity. Not everyone is capable of adding something new to humankind but does this mean that they have no right to live?
A genuine idea of human progress is possible only through a sense of sympathy with the other whether another human being or another form of life. This sentiment of sympathy urged us to protect the environment when we finally started to have a greater awareness about its crucial importance to the continuation of life. There is a close connection between gorging ourselves with animal meat and the protection of the environment.
A quick look at major reports by the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization should alert us to the extraordinary extent of the catastrophes causing pollution and global warming where the breeding of livestock is at the forefront of environmental concerns.
David Molden, coordinator of the Comprehensive Assessment on Water Management in Agriculture and deputy director of research for the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) revealed in his report to the FAO: “meat consumption is one of the major causes of pollution. The transportation of products to feed livestock is responsible for 2,4 billion ton of greenhouse gas emissions each year.” He also noted the devastating effects of the extraordinary amount of products and water consumed by animals bred for human consumption. “5000 to 25000 liter of water is needed for the overall production of every kilogram of animal proteins compared to 10 kilograms of vegetable proteins.” Developed countries purchase on average 80% of their crop to feed their livestock from poor countries where many people are suffering malnutrition. Brazil for instance sells 70% of its agricultural crops to rich countries; this amount of crop would be sufficient to feed its hungry citizens. Economist Jeremy Rifkin argues that this high percentage of world crop production, around 670 million tons are sufficient to feed 850 million people suffering from malnutrition.
Now these and many other studies should urge us to take our diet seriously. With every single piece of animal protein consumed, nine times that same amount of vegetable protein is denied to another person.