A Sour Note on Peter Singer

By John "Birdman" Bryant


The book Animal Liberation speaks out against what author-philosopher Peter Singer calls "speciesism", i.e., the belief that it is morally proper for men to use other species for his own comfort and convenience. Speciesism, then, in the belief of its designator, is akin to racism in that its adherents believe themselves superior to animals (a fact which Singer apparently wishes to deny), but goes beyond racism by endorsing the discretionary killing and use of the members of other species.

Now the first thing to recognize about Singer's objection to speciesism is that it is based primarily upon emotion, and, in particular, upon the distaste for the killing or discomforture of little fuzzies. This, however, is irrational -- i.e., it is not based on reason -- and thus constitutes an argument about taste, such as occurs between lovers of modern and classical art, and which therefore simply cannot be settled except at ten paces. Of course Singer would not wish to admit that his argument is purely emotional; but a rational examination of his position reveals it to be as full of holes as a Swiss cheese with worms.

The first hole in Singer's thesis is that, absent animal husbandry, many of his cherished species would no longer exist. Not only is this because the raising of animals obviously preserves them, but also because, without animals, the pressure on the land for the raising of additional vegetables to feed the human population would leave little room for such species.

A second hole in the Singerian theory is that killing plants is on a higher moral plane than killing animals, a thesis which remains to be demonstrated, particularly in view of the abundant evidence that plants are sentient -- if primitive -- beings.

A third hole in Singer's thesis is provided in considering St. Francis of Assisi, who held life in such reverence that he allowed vermin to inhabit his body. That is, are we compelled by Singer's morals to go about our daily chores while full of fleas and lice, and refusing penicillin because it might harm the microbes that are making us piss blood and infect our loved ones?

A fourth hole in Singer's thesis is that, in a very real sense, death in a slaughterhouse is a good deal kinder than the sort of death most humans suffer. For what is so good about dying slowly and painfully with heart disease, cancer and arthritis that we must rush to burden animals with it?

A fifth hole in Singer's thesis is that most animals are themselves animal killers and meat-eaters, and do not in any way demonstrate appreciation of the values with which Singer hopes to save their hides. In fact, if Singer would only watch a pack of hyenas make a kill of a male ungulate, he would discover that one of the first body parts the hyena sinks his teeth into is the animal's testicles.

Little fuzzies indeed.

But the real problem with Singer's thesis is not so much that it is full of holes, for most of the world's grand philosophies are not much better. It is rather that his thesis springs from an ignorant and stomach-turning liberalism, which is not merely inconvenient and unpleasant as a philosophy of life, but in fact is a life-threatening violation of man's biological heritage.

To explain, we first note that Singer's thesis is a female philosophy -- or, as William James would have called it, a tender-minded rather than a tough-minded philosophy; that is, it grows out of a basically emasculated female perspective which is oriented to nurturing rather than to fighting. By saying this, however, I am not intending to disparage females, whom I have loved far more than males. Instead, I am saying that a female philosophy is one which adapts the woman to a family role, rather than to the role of the male who must possess the balls -- and the accompanying testosterone -- to deal with the outside world and carve out a place for his family unit within it. In short, a female philosophy must be one appropriate for the family -- and in particular, one appropriate for the little fuzzies whom she must nurture to adulthood; while a male philosophy must be one appropriate for the world -- the world in which he is forced to live and work in order to obtain his family's sustenance. Accordingly, we see that it is the disparate anatomical destinies of men and women, and not some form of invidious discrimination hatched in the smoky environment of leather-chaired and oak-paneled clubs, which has made philosophy almost exclusively the province of males.

So what then is so stomach-turning about Singer's philosophy? Not merely that he is attempting to impose a female philosophy upon a male world, but also that he is a male without balls who presumes to have them by playing the role of philosopher. In many societies, a man is not considered a man until he kills his first lion -- or his first man -- but in Singer's case we have the very antipode of masculinity -- someone who presumes to be a man, and yet will not so much as eat meat or wear leather shoes. It is a jarring juxtaposition -- like pickles and ice cream -- and there is thus no secret why any male worthy of the name will piloerect at the thought of it.

But even with the objections that we have raised to Singer's philosophy, it is only fair to acknowledge that, at least superficially, his position is based upon a sound utilitarian argument, namely, that if the feelings of other sentient beings is important, and if (as we must grant) animals are other sentient beings, then we must consider animals' feelings as important. But while we do not question the argument just cited, we most certainly question the leap which Singer takes from it, namely, to the conclusion that animals are equal to humans. Indeed, we can see this leap as merely a variation of the sickening liberal egalitarianism which has equated men to women, blacks to whites, ignorance to intelligence, and the handicapped to the normal -- equations which make sense only if you believe that history would be unchanged if Napoleon had been replaced by a Juke or a Kalikak. Our objection to Singer, in utilitarian terms, is that animals are far less valuable in contributing to the sum total of the world's good -- or "utility" -- than are humans, which is why we can buy a cow for a few thou, but can only rent a human for a short time for the same amount. For this reason, we see that animals count for only a small part of the utilitarian summation, and for the same reason we see that the philosophy of speciesism is merely a brown smudge on the toilet paper of philosophy.

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