Saturday, June 18, 2011

An Encounter with a Speciesist Children's Book

Recently, Rose and I were visiting a couple friends at their house. They have a daughter who is quite a bit younger than Rose. They also had a friend over with an older child (my guess is about 5 or 6 years old). Rose and I were the only vegans in the house.

Rose and her new younger friend were playing on the floor when the older child came up to Rose and started sharing a book of his with her. When I noticed what the book was, I was horrified. It was a book geared to toddlers about fishing. This book, full of graphic photos of fish being yanked from the water with hooks penetrating through their faces, was telling toddlers all about how to kill these sentient beings and how fun it is to do so! The child was trying to show Rose this book while explaining what was happening in the photos. I certainly didn't want Rose to see these horrible images! I am horrified at the thought of ANY toddler being shown these images and told it is good and fun! I had to quickly distract her and was able to do so without having to explain to the child that I didn't want Rose to be taught that.
After this happened, that book was on my mind for quite some time. Especially when the child's mom sat him down on her lap and enthusiastically read him this book about torturing and killing these sentient individuals.

Are people like this cold-hearted, cruel people? Certainly not. I grew up as a speciesist non-vegan myself and as a child I used to go fishing every summer - and yes, I enjoyed it very much. But did I enjoy torturing animals? No, I didn't. I didn't enjoy fishing because I found thrill at any knowledge that a sentient being was suffering. Enjoyment usually came out of the effort, the challenge, the act of obtaining a "reward", and the time spent with my family. When I killed these animals, I hardly thought about how they were feeling. There really was a disconnect of an extreme kind. Whenever the thought ever did come to my mind about what the fish might be feeling, I would get very uncomfortable. But then I would push it to the back of my mind and go right back to what I was doing. After all, as I and most people are taught from a young age in a speciesist society, nonhuman animals are considered inferior and using them for our purposes is the norm. Everyone else is doing it, so it can't possibly be wrong, can it? How wrong I was.

Almost everyone I know who kills fish or other animals themselves (by hunting and fishing) cares for dogs, cats, or other animals. They are not "cold-hearted monsters", they are deeply confused. They show with their attitude towards and treatment of dogs and cats that they recognize that animals are sentient beings and they do have compassion and concern for animals. They can cry and rage about someone who beat a puppy to death, and then an hour later happily go out to the lake and painfully kill a fish! This is what many call moral schizophrenia. Almost everyone agrees that causing unnecessary suffering is wrong, but most people don't think clearly about this and apply it to their everyday lives. Almost everyone, when asked if causing unnecessary suffering to animals is wrong, will say yes, yet all animal use (except for extreme life-or-death circumstances) is just that! We have no need to consume animal products or use animals in any way. In my non-vegan days, when I would see a dog being slapped or someone throwing rocks at birds, I would get very upset with them, because I knew it was wrong to cause unnecessary harm to other sentient beings, but when I sat down to a dinner of animal products or climbed into a boat with my fishing rod it never crossed my mind, "Is this necessary?". I was morally confused. I didn't think my actions through. I didn't enjoy unnecessary suffering, I didn't even SEE unnecessary suffering.

This is why I won't jump to the conclusion that this person who happily read a book about fishing to this small child was a cruel, cold person that wanted to share delight in torturing animals. Rather, I assume that she is, like I was, someone who has compassion and reasoning, but is morally confused, and doesn't even see that what she is showing her child is very violent and unethical. She may simply need someone to talk to her about veganism and the moral issues of animal use, so that she will think more deeply about what she is doing when she uses animals and teaches her child to do the same. There are certainly humans out there who know they cause unnecessary pain and suffering and actually delight in it, but this is unusual.
The best thing we can do is not to angrily tell people they are terrible, cruel people (in my opinion, they're not) but to kindly offer them some education on veganism and the moral problems of using animals. And of course, to teach our own children (those who have children) that all sentient beings should be treated with respect and not used as our property.


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