A world with no battery cages, trawl nets, TD, slaughterhouses, mastitis, gestation crates, mulesing and so many other atrocities, is a dream coming true, for almost all activists. But it would still be a world in which every single day, billions of sentients are suffering.
In many activists’ minds humans are the only problem in this world which without them would be perfect. But…
In a humanfree world, hyena cubs would still viciously fight each other, tearing off slices of other cubs’ faces including ears and lips, to get more food.
In a humanfree world, crabs would still be pulled apart limb by limb by otters.
In a humanfree world, fishes would still be digested alive by the stomach acids of a pelicans who gulped them whole.
In a humanfree world, wasps would still inject their eggs into a live caterpillar’s body to ensure that when their descendants hatch they will have easy access to food as the larvae eat the caterpillar from the inside out.
A humanfree world is definitely not a masculinity-free world. Brutal fights for territory and for the "right" to mate would still occur in immense numbers. Walrus would still fight each other over territory with giant teeth that can reach up to one meter long and more than 5kg weight. And the biggest males with the biggest tusks would still push their way to the center of the iceberg pushing the females and pups to the edges where they are more likely to be attacked by an orca.
In a humanfree world, billions of insects would still get chemically liquefied before they are eaten by spiders. And snakes would still swallow whole animals and slowly digest them until hawks hunt them, digging in with their talons into the snakes’ body until they give up fighting back, and then start to cut off pieces of their body and eat them.
Eels would still electrify other fishes to hunt them using up to 600V in a single discharge - this is 5 times the shock one would get from sticking a finger into an electrical socket.
Young offspring would still get murdered by opportunist males who want their own genes to be spread. And in a humanfree world, duck, dolphin, seal and sea lion females would still be gang raped routinely as a way of mating.
For many animal rights activists nature represents perfection, a romantic and virtuous ideal we should aspire to, something that ought to be reverently preserved and never criticized. But the truth is that nature is where trillions of sentient beings suffer from hunger, thirst, diseases, parasites, injuries, extreme weathers, rape, infanticide, violent dominancy fights, the constant fear of being attacked, actually being attacked, and only rarely from caducity.
Probably the first natural cause of violence that comes to mind is predation.
Predation is literally as old as life itself. It goes back to the most ancient life forms - single cell organisms. As soon as there were living single cell organisms, one of their major functions was to acquire chemicals from their surroundings. As time went by, some organisms, by chance (mutation), started obtaining the organic molecules they require by devouring the cells around them, instead of gathering them from the surroundings. This turned out to be an efficient "strategy". About 3.5 billion years later there are fangs, claws, talons, venoms, webs, beaks, sonars, infra-red vision, tentacles and etc.
But besides predation, there are many other suffering causes in nature.
Every single second somewhere in the world, defenseless and frightened babies are left alone because their mother has to search for food, a turtle is burned alive as she can’t out run the flames of a fire, a bird’s feet are frozen to a branch since he couldn’t find shelter from the harsh weather, a baboon monkey is in ongoing stress as an higher ranking female takes food out of her mouth and eats it herself, a nestling is thrown off the nest by the other siblings so they can get more food, a coyote is experiencing severe hunger as the rabbit he chased managed to escape instead of being torn apart, a female dolphin is being raped after she couldn’t outswim a male or even a few of them who gang rape her, a badger drags his rotten legs with infectious wounds resulting from constant fights, a zebra is dehydrated but can’t approach the ponds as the lionesses might be on the prowl, a lizard is being slowly devoured by a fungus that spread through the organs, a weak robin chick starves to death because his parents don’t feed him as it makes more sense energetically to invest in his stronger siblings.
Unfortunately these examples are only a tiny glimpse of the horrors happening every single moment in nature.
It is amazing how one magical word - Nature - can purify anything.
“In suffering we are all equal” - the argument so many activists use so often is true about all animals just as much.
All suffering should be stopped no matter how we define it, where it happens and by whom.
Activists should be obligated to preventing suffering no matter to whom, by whom and where it happens.
What makes animals worthy of moral consideration is their subjective ability to experience, not the objective conditions of their lives (such as to what species they belong to, where they live and their relations with other species) or their relations with humans.
The frequently quoted Jeremy Bentham is relevant here as well - “the question is not, can they reason? nor, can they talk?”, but it also shouldn’t be by whom they suffer, or where. The question is only can they suffer.
Moral status is non-dependent. Sentient beings don’t lose their moral status when their suffering happens in nature.
Our moral obligation to prevent suffering is driven from the fact that suffering is intrinsically bad for those who experience it. So if suffering is bad when humans cause it, there is no reason to think it is not so when it results from other causes, including the actions of other animals.
We mustn’t accept suffering just because it happens in what we refer to as nature, and to nonhuman animals by other nonhuman animals. To the sufferers, suffering is bad when it is considered natural just as much as when it is considered unnatural. And the victims are not consoled by the fact that it is nonhumans that hurt them and not humans. If labeling a violent scene as ‘natural’ doesn’t affect the suffering of the victims, then it doesn’t have a moral effect.
How can a compassionate person watch sentient animals struggle to unleash themselves from an aggressive grip, hear their yelling and screaming, see their dying spasms and say that it is o.k? And using what kind of justification? That it’s a natural panic?
When watching suffering of wild animals on the screen, many humans and certainly every animal activist, are dramatically emotionally moved by these horrific scenes. Some rationalize their way out of it by calling it natural and others by claiming it is inventible, failing to infer the moral conclusion out of the situation - when something that horrible is such a natural and inventible part of life, life is horrible. Activists mustn’t rationalize their way out of horrible situations but act to change them.
Unfortunately the argument ‘what is natural is morally right’ is very popular, even in the animal liberation movement. That is despite that there is no conceptual connection between what is natural and what is moral. A natural behavior is the one that is probably the most successful in terms of survival and reproduction, not the one who successfully promotes moral ideals. Therefore many actions are perfectly natural but morally horrible.
To say that something is natural doesn’t add any moral value to it. It only says that it evolved spontaneously through time and improved or didn’t interrupt the reproduction of its beholder. Nature is indifferent to the suffering of its residents.
Activists shouldn’t consider nature as an ethical model but as an ethical problem.
Of course, some activists observe nature neither as an ethical model nor as an ethical problem. They are aware of the suffering, only they don’t think they are morally obligated to intervene. We find this argument false in the best case, and speciesist in the worst. We address the various claims they make, such as: that humans must not interfere in nature, that humans will only make things worse, that nonhuman animals are not moral agents, that nonhuman animals as opposed to humans have no other choice but to hurt others, that there are more urgent problems, that humans are obligated to help only the ones that they are responsible for their misery, in a post called The Violence Even Activists Are Disregarding. For a completer answer please read it.
An idealized and a very partial view of nature, causes activists not only to ignore most of the horrible parts of the lives of animals in nature, it also causes them to ignore most of the animals.
Usually the idealized image of nature is consisted of adult individuals of large herbivore mammals pasture in a green field. However, there is nothing ideal in the lives of adult herbivores considering the constant social stress of many, the constant fear of predation of most, the harsh weather, the hunger, the thirst, the diseases, the frequent injuries from successful escapes from predation, and the excruciating pain of unsuccessful escapes from predation. And more importantly, herbivore mammals dying in adulthood are by no doubt extraordinarily exceptional and utterly unrepresentative of life in nature.
Most of the sentient beings on earth never reach adulthood, but live for a short and extremely brutal period, in most cases, lives of nothing but suffering.
This fact is particularly relevant for the case against nature as an ideal moral model since this mass scale horror is mainly driven by one of nature’s most fundamental elements – the reproductive strategy.
The two main reproductive strategies are called K-selection and r-selection. To put it simply, K-selection is putting all the energy on maximally preparing individuals to survive the environmental conditions, while r-selection is putting all the energy on the maximum number of individuals and minimum investment (in many cases none) in each individual.
Of course these strategies are combined in some way or another among different species, but generally that is the main framework.
Basically, the higher the value of r, the lower the value of K. So every single case of reproduction of r-selected species ends up with numerous individuals who will die shortly after.
Since the population of these species is more or less the same from generation to generation, then on average only one offspring will survive to replace each parent.
The absolutely natural process of r-selection reproduction involves, the starvation, dehydration or predation of hundreds or thousands of beings, often shortly after they start to be conscious. Only one individual out of them survives to sexual maturity, and then of course repeats this exact same scenario. The suffering of the rest of the individuals is meaningless in nature terms. The tragedy of trillions is nature’s triumph.
Of course not all the individuals of each reproduction will live long enough to become sentient (consumed while still in the egg at a very early stage for example) and there are those who argue that some never become sentient, no matter their age, because they are simply non-sentient. However, given that most animals practice r-selection, including invertebrates of course (by far most of the animals on Earth) and many vertebrates such as fishes, amphibians and reptiles, and given the enormous number of reproductions and the enormous number reproduced beings, nature is not only far from being ideal, it is full of suffering on every level.
The philosopher Oscar Horta thinks that the existence of r-selection leads to the inevitable conclusion that there is far more suffering than happiness in nature. He gives an example to prove his point:
“Consider just one example regarding a certain species of animals, the Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua). These animals can lay from a few thousand to several million eggs. Let us suppose that they lay 2 million each time. It is estimated that in 2007 there were around 33,700 tons of Atlantic cod in the Gulf of Maine bank alone. An adult cod can weigh up to 25-35 kg. Assuming they have an average weight of 33.7 kg, there would be around a million of these animals (the average weight I have proposed is too high, though on the other hand I am assuming, for the sake of simplicity, that these animals are all adult animals). Assuming the cod population remains stable, on average only two of the eggs that a female cod lays in her life end up developing into adults. Thus, a total of 2 trillion eggs laid will fail to become adults. Assume each egg has a 0.1 probability of developing into a young, immature fish, a codling, and that there is a 0.1 probability that codlings are sentient. Finally, assume that on average they suffer for just ten seconds before they die.
All of these are extremely conservative assumptions. Yet they entail that each time these animals reproduce we can expect that 200 billion seconds of suffering is experienced (and these are only the cods in the Gulf of Maine). Since there are 31,556,926 seconds in a year, this amounts to 6337.7529 years of suffering. If this continues over an average human lifespan (that is, six decades), the number of years of suffering generated would be 380,265.174. All this for a very specific species in a very specific area.”
Oscar Horta’s terrifying illustration is extremely important for several reasons:
Even non-negative utilitarians must infer that nature can’t be morally justified.
It further refutes the idealistic view of nature.
It further induces the moral need to act against it.
It further refutes the idealistic view of a vegan world which is many activists’ moral ideal.
The kinds of lives that the absolute majority of sentient beings on earth are forced to live, are of nothing but suffering. And that is a much more accurate view of nature’s true nature.
To positively view nature one must wear extraordinarily optimistic lenses when looking at individuals from K-selected species, and simply cover the eyes when looking at individuals from r-selected species.
A world with no humans is a dream come true only compared with a world with humans. On any other standard it is a nightmare.
Nature is hell but not since animals are devils. Nonhumans can’t be blamed for the horrors they cause. We include them in the solution not because they are guilty of cruelty but because they can’t help but cause suffering.
Our moral view is not about judgments, justice or punishments. It’s about viewing the cruel situation for what it is, recognizing that someone is a victim, acknowledging that suffering is suffering.
The fact that animals as opposed to humans aren’t cruel because they don’t inflict pain on purpose and since they don’t have other choices, doesn’t make the situation less cruel for the victims. There are no painkillers in lack of intention or in the lack of other options.
Predation is immoral despite that predators are not acting immorally. Intentional or not, necessary or not, there are still victims to their actions. A hurtful action is bad even when not a bad actor does it.
Actions, and surely situations, can be horrible even if no moral agents were performing them. One unequivocal example for that are natural disasters. Earthquakes are not moral agents yet we think they are bad. We can’t hold anyone responsible for their harms, but surly we consider harms made by earthquakes bad. And not only that we consider them bad, it is unlikely that anyone would argue that we shouldn’t interfere in favor of the ones hurt by an earthquake because it is a natural disaster, in fact most argue that it is our moral obligation to do so.
Many parts of reality are cruel without anyone guilty of them. The fact that earthquakes are not moral agents doesn’t prevent us from thinking we should help its victims. So it’s not moral agency which is relevant here. The lack of moral agents makes the situation injudicable but we can certainly judge the situation as horrible.
When an earthquake happens we define it as a tragedy and bad luck for the ones hurt. If it happens in a certain place once a day, we would say that this is a very bad place to live in. That is despite that no one is doing it on purpose or can be held accountable. No moral agents, and still - a bad place. The same can be said about nature. Only that in nature the bad thing doesn’t happen once a day but every single moment. We can say that nature is bad without anyone bad living in it. Just as we can say that natural disasters are bad without anyone bad causing them.
But of course moral agency is not the only reason for the difference in the feelings towards suffering caused by humans, and suffering caused by nonhumans. Most of the suffering humans cause to nonhumans is since they want to. Most of the suffering nonhumans cause to other nonhumans is caused since they have to.
However, the fact that suffering is always bad for the victim, makes an action that caused suffering bad whether there were alternatives or not.
How is it of any difference to the victims if there were other options available for the victimizers? No animal would stop running away in panic if the chasing animal would explain that there are no other options but starvation.
The fact that suffering is inevitable is not a reason to ignore it, but the primal reason why this world must be destroyed.
We don’t want to annihilate nonhuman animals or human animals.
Annihilation is the mean not the goal. We want a sufferingless world.
We don’t want fear, pain, hunger, thirst, diseases, injuries, parasitism, hypothermia, hyperthermia whether they happen in battery cages, laboratories and slaughterhouses, or in forests, savannas and oceans. Suffering is suffering. And unfortunately suffering is an inherent part of life. As long as life exists, suffering will too.
Like in any other situation, only when we acknowledge the roots of the problem, will we be able to solve it.
That’s why the few people who care about suffering, all suffering, must do their best trying to end it.