Some nights, when I am cozy in my bed, curled up next to the love of my life, my mind wanders to the factory farms, and I imagine the innocent pigs and cows forced to live out their entire lives without anything even resembling the kind of comfort I experience in my life, and I want to die. But more than that, I want to inspire change. The privilege I get to enjoy for simply being born a human is not something I take for granted nor is it something I want to abuse. The animals of the world are at our mercy, for we have created tools to dominate and destroy, and we are quick to use them. The fact is that oppression is never okay. It is never okay for those in positions of power to exploit the weak, not for any reason. Progressive humans can agree to this when it comes to our own species, but we struggle when it comes to including other sentient beings. Why should our circle of compassion be limited solely to our own species? What exactly makes other species unworthy of our respect? What allows us to feel so superior to them that we are able to ignore their suffering?
Scientists recently signed the Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness, which states that most nonhuman animals experience consciousness just as humans do. This is monumental, since the history of animal exploitation is built upon the ability to disregard the depth of other species, to write off their experiences as inferior to our own. That entire mindset is incredibly problematic, disturbing, and absurd. Who gets to decide what makes another being's experience more worthy of consideration? The oppressor? The privileged? Our power to force animals into subservience does not indicate any inferiority on their part. Since science is now backing what animal rights activists have been saying for decades (for centuries, really)- that these animals are no less conscious than humans- then what excuse do we have for turning them into commodities and subjecting them to heinous cruelty and violent deaths? This is not a rhetorical question, but there is no good answer.
Humans seem able to understand animal consciousness when it comes to our pets. We develop incredible bonds with our companion animals as we share our lives with them, and this relationship has even been proven to improve our health as it reduces stress and increases the quality of our lives. Why do we not extend this kind of empathy to other animals? Pigs are widely considered to be the one of the most intelligent species on the planet, ahead of even our beloved dogs. Dogs are farmed for meat in South Korea, and we can easily recognize what is wrong with that, yet we allow pigs to be treated as nothing more than meat in our own country. It's completely hypocritical.
It breaks my heart when otherwise good people choose to remain blissfully ignorant about the incredible violence going on for the sake of tradition, habit, convenience, and taste; when I see the desire for comfort outweigh the desire for justice. So many alternatives exist in our privileged world for amazing food and excellent nutrition. There is simply no need for so many beautiful creatures to be brought into this world for the sole purpose of exploiting and killing them. Just because we are able to live off their flesh and secretions doesn't mean we must to be healthy or to survive. Shouldn't we continue to evolve as a species? Isn't it a good thing that we can thrive off a plant-based diet rather than rely on animal products, which use so many more resources? And most importantly, don't we want to strive to be more compassionate?
A culinary preference should not be more important than a life. Do humans want to be the devil of a hellish world forever, reaping joy from suffering and death? I know the answer is mostly yes, so I'm at least grateful that the goliaths of industry are not sustainable and will eventually collapse. It's either that or we become the wasteland we're sprinting towards. I don't want to live in a world built on blood and pus and corpses, on the harrowing screams of mothers and their young. And I'm not being extreme when I describe it that way - that is exactly the world from which cheeseburgers and hot dogs come. How does it make any sense to demand respect for our dietary choices, but to consider it extreme to demand respect for the lives of sentient beings? Life is so precious and brief. And it will be full of tragedy no matter what. If you have the good fortune of choosing what you eat, why not choose an alternative to the direct result of oppression, violence, and death? Why not choose to live a life of doing less harm? Why not extend our compassion to the other creatures on this planet besides ourselves?
Humans are not the special snowflake of the planet. We are not the best species. It would be easier to argue that we are the worst. No other species on the planet can come close to rivaling us when it comes to horrors and atrocities. Every beautiful thing we have to offer is countered by a million terrible things. We have to use our treasured intelligence to be more compassionate and to make more informed choices. We can't deny the suffering of billions of sentient beings because they are "simply animals" anymore. Even science is on the side of those of us who know that animals have complex inner lives, and their inability to express themselves in ways we can easily understand should not be used against them. And the distance that separates us from them when we are consuming what was taken from them is no excuse for our apathy and indifference. Their lives deserve as much respect as do the lives of humans. That is the way forward. Our compassion is proof of our greatness.