Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Oh, you're led to accept that, are you? On sea kittens and sea carrots

I recently read Peter Laufer's No Animals Were Harmed: The Controversial Line between Entertainment and Abuse (more about which later). I can't say I'd recommend it. It's impressionistic, and not in a good way - there are so many interesting paths he goes down...a few feet. Additionally, he begins the book talking about how he's a vegan and ends it no longer a vegan, but with no good reasons provided for either practice. He mentions thinkers who influenced his decision to become a vegan, but never engages with their arguments, and his rationales for eating meat are, frankly, creationist quality.

His "backsliding" begins with fish, and brings to mind PETA's "Sea Kittens" campaign. The campaign was widely mocked, and played dumbly and cartoonishly to emotions in lieu of making a rational-emotional case about ocean animals, which was entirely possible. But here's some of Laufer's "reasoning":
I've become a vegan backslider. I'm back to "vegish," and I made the change that day back in Florence. Since then I've chowed down on baked wild halibut and halibut burgers, roasted wild salmon and salmon burgers, baked Petrale sole, lox, smoked trout, and cans of Moroccan sardines for quick hits of protein (not to mention those trendy omega-3s). I'm still not completely comfortable eating fish, and not only because of the ghastly scenes in The Cove that are seared into my memory. I anthropomorphize the fish. But I've allowed Sheila's rationalizations, and others whose opinions I respect, to sway my routine. The fish, I'm led to accept, are not sentient. I'm starting to think of them as carrots. (KL 2496-2500; my emphasis)
Does any reasonable person think that halibut, salmon, sole, and trout are not sentient? That merely considering them sentient is anthropomorphizing them? That they're like carrots, or even that they're closer to carrots than to cats? There can be, and needs to be, an honest conversation about sentience and suffering amongst beings, human and nonhuman. If we're going to have this moral conversation, though, we can't allow ourselves to be led to accept claims that are fucking stupid.

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