The Hierarchy of Death – Animal Lives vs. Human Lives

The Hierarchy of Death: Animal Lives vs. Human Lives

What makes humans superior to animals?

What is pain? Pain is an experience of agony and despair. Pain can affect a person both mentally and physically. Verbal proclamations and facial gestures are used to determine a reaction toward a certain stimuli. Most people would say that pain is an essential aspect of the human experience as it presents us with the ability to grow and learn from our mistakes.

The meaning of the death of a human vs an animal is on the basis of a hierarchy with humans being superior. This can be attributed to many sources including, but not limited to the difficulty in assessing pain in animals. Defining pain in animals is troublesome due to the fact that animals and humans have no link in their communication. Pain can be assessed through the sensory system of nociception. [1] Nociception is the ability to respond appropriately to harmful stimuli.[2] This system protects animals and humans from further damage after encountering dangerous stimuli. Although, these nociceptors are present in even the most simple form of life, such as bacteria, they differ in how the nociception is interpreted. Humans have the capacity to turn the nociception into pain, while this parallel may not exist in animals that vary anatomically from humans. A set of criteria has been laid out to encompass animals that can perceive pain. This list includes possession of nociceptors, establishment of pathways from the nociceptors to the brain, a brain structure that serve the same purpose the human cerebral cortex does in humans, opioid receptors, a reduction in unfavorable behavior after exposure to painkillers, and finally, the learned instantaneous behavior to avoid painful stimuli.[3] It is unsafe to assume that just because an animal does not showcase signs visible to humans conveying a sense of despair, that there is no harm being done. Instead, researchers have defined pain in animals as the avoidance of aversive stimulus. This sense of misunderstanding can be applied to instances closer to home; language barriers across cultures call for other sources of communication. An example of this is the usage of a Facial Action Coding Scheme (FACS) to generate a scale relating emotions to action units (changes in the facial structure) to produce a globally applicable scale used to encode the inherent nature of emotional expression.[4]

The anatomy of humans shows great resemblance to other primates. This includes monkeys in the lab setting. To best understand the effect a certain stimuli has on humans, in hopes of determining effectiveness, what better to experiment on than a fellow mammal that humans share ancestry with? Monkey usage in lab has reached an all time high, with an increase in funding stemming from organizations such as the National Institute of Health. Reasoning for this trend has been accredited simply to “…these animals give us better data…”[5] Lab work on animals, especially mammals, usually aims in improving the lives of humans; by using animals similar to humans, the results immediately become more applicable to the human species. Unfortunately, research testing endurance of these primates can have deadly results. After a federal investigation at Harvard University’s National Primate Research Center  uncovered the death of four of their animals,[6] it faced immediate closure. This raises the question of primates being too close the human species, to be sacrificed for the sake of human development. This goes to show that humans’ superiority complex only remains intact when they are distanced from understanding the experiences of their victims.

Contrastingly, a tiny animal that falls victim to humans’ superiority is insects. The word pesticide itself has roots in the killing of pests, with pests being synonymous to a source of irritation. Pesticide research is unique, because no other method of studying has the sole purpose of termination of the species. The sensory system of nociception is evident in insects, as can be exhibited by their squirming when sprayed with pesticide. However, insects are simply not “…thought capable of suffering.”[7]  Insects will change their behavior when faced with aversive stimuli; however, in times of excruciating pain such as ingestion of their innards, they become unaware of the effects of their own actions.[8] This leads us to believe that insects have a sense of nociception, but lack the subjective feelings of pain associated with it. Self-awareness can be the differentiating factor between insects and other animals. This sense of self awareness can be found in artificial intelligence, showing its reproducibility.

Self awareness plays a crucial role in arrangement of the hierarchy of death. Although the sense of nociceptors are present in all animals, ranking of the pyramid tends to fall on whether the animal holds consciousness. Because consciousness is not easily measured experimentally, factors such as “cumulative culture”[9] of humans describes their unique understanding of one another. Humans’ ability to be integrated in a cumulative culture that accumulates over time and intensifies in complexity shows the drive to constantly build on innovations. A factor responsible for weeding out those deemed unfit for an environment is natural selection. Humans are able to adapt “…in almost all the territories of the globe.”[10] This further fosters the sense of superiority on a global level. Additionally, humans have the luxury of learning from one another, without having to experience the aversive stimuli. From being able to take precautions such as antimicrobial species to choosing the environment they wish to reside in, humans have the upper hand. Recent efforts have given humans the power to even determine where and how they die, through Physician Aid in Dying.

 

Comparative analysis of the brain of humans vs other animals. This image differentiates between an animal that holds consciousness and one that does not. A mouse lacks a prefrontal cortex, which explains its inferiority in the hierarchy of death.[11]

With these innovations, anatomical changes have followed. The human brain has been shown to increase to three times the size of ancient chimpanzee-bonobo lineages alive millions of years ago.[12] With this modern, enlarged brain, the neocortex has seen a drastic increase in size/thickness. The expansion of the neocortex allows for sharpened senses. Additionally, the prefrontal cortex in humans “…is proportionately larger…”[13][14] than prior ancestors; this allows for higher order functioning. This can range from planning for the future, adapting to roles, and attention span. By being able to focus on long term projects, intellectual development comes in flows. Some things were sacrificed in transition from neanderthal to the humans we are today, such as an prolonged dependency on parents.[15] However, this setback is compensated for by aspects such as the increased complexity in thought.  In addition to the experimentally determined definition of pain, the question of ethics is one of importance, especially in modern society where discussion of animal rights is on an uprise.

Are all organisms’ deaths treated equally in society?

A popular debate in the United States–whether or not animals should be used as laboratory subjects–is continuously being discussed. The ethical question of justifiable pain in living organisms as a result of laboratory testing has been addressed for decades. The nuremberg code, for example, was created in response to a complete, inhumane violation of any standard set of morals– grotesque human experimentation.

 

Pictured above in December 22, 1946, Jadwiga Dzido, a victim of human experimentation at the Ravensbrüeck concentration camp, can be seen being examined by a doctor during the Nuremberg Trials.[16]

If non-human lives are valued less, then their respective deaths would also be valued less- which is what propels the use of non-human animals in laboratory testing. However, if humans have an ethical responsibility to treat humans equally, shouldn’t that be applied to all sentient organisms that can feel pain?

When considering such a question, one also has to think about how society weighs human lives compared to animal lives. Legally, humans hold much more rights and responsibilities than other animals. Humans are more advanced mammals, due to their unique biological structures, “humans have the largest cerebral cortex of all mammals.”[17] Stronger development within the cerebral cortex leads to a higher functioning of complex thoughts, processes, ideas, languages, and more.[18] Biologically, humans are more advanced than animals, but does that ethically justify the use of animals in laboratory settings where their death may not hold as many legal or ethical consequences?

One should note that, even though there are standards created by the National Research Council (US) Committee on Recognition and Alleviation of Pain in Laboratory Animals, animals still feel some amount of pain within the laboratory setting. According to the same group, “some animal pain is justified in some circumstances,”[19] as the scientific benefits outweigh the potential ethical downfalls to most scientists, as the possible benefits would assist the more complex organism- humans. However, a moral code should be subjected to each scientific experiment that might induce any level of pain in animals, as they are still conscious organisms capable of the same pain humans are. According to Dr. Andrea Nolan, “How pain is sensed and the physical processes behind this are remarkably similar and well conserved across mammals and humans.”[20] Despite equivalent levels of pain each organism is capable of feeling, society still views animals as generally inferior beings[21] – as seen in the laboratory testing of animals.  With that in mind, does consciousness play a role in how society regards animal lives, and does that formulate the hierarchy of death?

In terms of consciousness, all sentient beings are considered to have some form of consciousness;[22] so, most non-human organisms will display some act of self-awareness through actions fueled by an innate purpose or goal. Therefore, even though all sentient beings form a community of life that supports each other, according to recent research[23] on moral expansiveness (the moral boundaries that dictate the progression of society), humans will most likely still value human deaths over less complex organisms’ deaths. In a paradox of a comparison, human lives were valued so much by the Mayans, that they were often sacrificed as a gift to their Gods. In addition, elderly human lives are often eaten in the process of cannibalism as a sign of respect in certain cultures. Dr. Donelley conveys that each organism is culpable for the survival and continuation of one another, as each becomes responsible for the other in the cycle of life,  “…by philosophically coming to appreciate that humans, animals, and nature are intricately interwoven in a single morally (as well as aesthetically and religiously) significant reality, we can begin to see the outlines of an overall moral outlook or perspective that comprehends or includes humans, animals, and nature (all morally matter and matter together).”[24]

Overall, due to the biological complexity, sentience and societal progression humans have constructed, humans tend to place themselves in a higher moral standard compared to other organisms, like laboratory animals. Humans, maintaining a higher status in the world as creators of infrastructure, medicine, and other advancements, view their status as higher than other organisms. Keeping humans in cages is considered abuse, while keeping laboratory animals in cages (and justifying their pain during experimentation) is legally allowed and accepted. Therefore, the death of these non-human organisms is minimized due to the standards that human society has ingrained throughout their culture and subsequent experimentation methods. Though the diversity in thought surrounding the ethics of death will continue to form from different philosophical methods, there are cultural attributes that define the hierarchy of death more coherently and distinctly.

How does culture change our perceptions of the hierarchy of death by eating habits/diets?

Culture plays a large part in our understanding of life. Cultural information taught and lived by us dictates a lot about or morals, values, habits and beliefs. Culture plays a large part in our understanding of death as well. It directs our moral compass on what deaths are acceptable, and what aren’t. I.e., hierarchy of death. Most cultures heavily focus their diets on carnivorous diets. For the purpose of clarity, let’s focus on Western (American) culture’s emphasis on acceptable diets. As humans, we do not have a instinctual habit with most things we encounter- such as animals.  “Unlike most animals, who instinctively know which foods to eat, and which to avoid, humans must learn these distinctions, relying heavily on culturally transmitted information.”[25]  Consequently, we don’t understand completely how culture dictates our diets, which contributes to our cultural hierarchy of death. Western vegetarianism/veganism compared to Western omnivore’s have statistically been proven to have different views regarding meat. According to several studies, “Although omnivores usually have positive explicit attitudes toward meat, associating it with luxury, good taste, and social status, vegetarians in the UK, Canada, and Germany tend to associate meat with cruelty, killing, disgust, and poor health.[26] [27] [28]   Western culture on hierarchy of death between humans versus animals has been divided into two understandings of humans; how animals are classified. Vegetarians/ vegans have classified animals on to a similar/ same scale as humans in terms of value of life and suffering. Studies have shown that participants who classified animals as simply a food source rated animals as significantly less capable of suffering and also less deserving of moral status.[29] The cultural context in which you are raised has a lot to do with your perceptions on animal death and consumption. It is closely associated with values and professional aspects as well. For example, a British adult who identifies as vegetarians/ vegans were more likely than omnivores to be employed in more charitable organizations, local government, education, etc.[30] American vegetarians were more likely to endorse liberal/ universalistic values like peace, social justice, equality, etc.[31] On the other side, a study in New Zealand showed those more prominent and secured in their beliefs and practices as omnivores were associated with right-wing authoritarianism.[32] In Western society, the diverse understandings of what the killing and consumption of animals is inherently linked to our culture and morals developed through our culture. The way one views an animal dictates how they feel about the importance or unimportance of their death.

Western vegetarianism is a countercultural diet that is historically associated with belief that killing animals is wrong- and has recently become concerned with health and environmental sustainability as well.[33] [34] [35] [36]   Because their diet habits were a conscious decision, Western vegetarianism is associated with the belief that animal killing is immoral and not more valuable than a human.  On the other hand, India, the country with the largest population of Vegetarians, has a different cultural understanding of the hierarchy of death of humans lives versus animals. Vegetarianism is motivated by religion in India (Hinduism and Jainism). Because of its established presence in India. For centuries, this diet has been linked to tradition, power and status.[37] [38]An important pillar in Hindu beliefs is “reincarnation” and they believe one soul may have been reincarnated from animals, but this isn’t as traditionally tied with the moral standing of an animal. It has more of an emphasis on the soul’s asceticism and purity. Religiously, Hindus are not practicing vegetarianism in respect to the welfare of animals (as Western vegetarians typically do), but because they want to keep the body free from pollution of meat.[39] [40] [41]This massive cultural difference between Indian vegetarianism and Western vegetarianism shows the difference in the hierarchy of death. Westerners focus on it because they value a human life and an animal life equally, but Hindus practice it as a way to keep their own life (human life) pure. Although they practice the same/ similar diets, it is because they have their own hierarchy of death.

 

 Pictured above is the Korowai Tribe. The Korowai are a tribe native to Indonesia, located in a remote Island. The Korowai tribe are one of the last tribes in the world to practice cannibalism. [42]

 

Moving on from how vegetarians differ in their hierarchy of death surrounding humans and animals, I would like to dive into the belief of omnivores more. How omnivores see animals as less of a moral standing than human because of their beliefs in terms of food. But, how do omnivores feel about cannibalism? If culturally, hierarchy of death is depicted by our intention or view of the killed and consumed- can cannibals justify their killing and consumption the same way omnivores do? Omnivores hold humans in a much higher regard than animals as they feel humans have more value and moral to their lives (in comparison to animals which are looked at as a necessity to maintaining our diets. But what if these omnivores encountered the Korowai tribe in New Guinea, the last known people to practice cannibalism? Traditionally, people from the tribe will only kill and consume the “Khakhua”, or in other words witches who take on the forms of men. Because of their little to no contact with the outside world, they are oblivious to the germs and diseases that infest their land. So, usually they put the blame onto the “khakhua” and use this as their justification to eat him. Because it is in their culture, is it wrong? Can omnivores justify their means of killing animals but reject the Korowai practice of eating someone they believe to be the enemy? The justification by the Korowai is the claim that they do not eat humans, they only eat khakhua. They demoralize and simplify their view of the khakhua, the same way humans do for animals. To the khakhua, their hierarchy of death is a bit more complicated than omnivores and vegetarians, but their justification is similar.

Culture’s effect on our outlook the of hierarchy of death is extremely prevalent. Dependent on our culture, we may be vegetarians for the sake of valuing our deaths more than humans, or because we value animals lives as much as human lives, or because sometimes not all human lives are ranked equally which therefore justifies cannibalism. The diversity among our morals and standards is drastic and is evident from comparing culture to culture. Hierarchy of death will always be dependent on a person’s individual upbringing or beliefs/morals and that is what makes these hierarchies so subjective.


Kaniz Momin – Scientific Perspective

Julia Walia – Ethical Perspective

Urooj Baig – Cultural Perspective


Works Cited

 

[1] Sneddon, Lynne U., Robert W. Elwood, Shelley A. Adamo, and Matthew C. Leach. “Defining and    Assessing Animal Pain.” Animal Behaviour 97, (2014): 201-212.

[2]  Sneddon, Lynne U., Robert W. Elwood, Shelley A. Adamo, and Matthew C. Leach. “Defining and    Assessing Animal Pain.” Animal Behaviour 97, (2014): 201-212.

[3]  Sneddon, Lynne U., Robert W. Elwood, Shelley A. Adamo, and Matthew C. Leach. “Defining and    Assessing Animal Pain.” Animal Behaviour 97, (2014): 201-212.

[4]  Sneddon, Lynne U., Robert W. Elwood, Shelley A. Adamo, and Matthew C. Leach. “Defining and    Assessing Animal Pain.” Animal Behaviour 97, (2014): 201-212.

[5]  Grimm, D. “US Labs using a Record Number of Monkeys.” Science 362, no. 6415 (2018): 630-630.

[6]  Grimm, D. “US Labs using a Record Number of Monkeys.” Science 362, no. 6415 (2018): 630-630.

[7]  Adamo, Shelley Anne. “Do Insects Feel Pain? A Qauestion at the Intersection of Animal Behaviour, Philosophy and Robotics.” Animal Behaviour 118, (2016): 75-79.

[8]  Adamo, Shelley Anne. “Do Insects Feel Pain? A Question at the Intersection of Animal Behaviour, Philosophy and Robotics.” Animal Behaviour 118, (2016): 75-79.

[9]  Yurtoğlu, Nadir. History Studies International Journal of History10, no. 7 (2018): 241-64. doi:10.9737/hist.2018.658.

[10]  Yurtoğlu, Nadir. History Studies International Journal of History10, no. 7 (2018): 241-64. doi:10.9737/hist.2018.658.

[11] Cole, M. “Human Versus Non-Human Neuroscience.” Neurevolution, March 24, 2007. http://www.neurevolution.net/2007/03/24/human-versus-non-human-neuroscience/.

[12]  Kaas, Jon H. “The Evolution of Brains from Early Mammals to Humans.” Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews:     Cognitive Science 4, no. 1 (2013): 33-45.

[13]  Kaas, Jon H. “The Evolution of Brains from Early Mammals to Humans.” Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Cognitive Science 4, no. 1 (2013): 33-45.

[14]  Cole, MW. “Human Versus Non-Human Neuroscience.” (2001) http://www.neurevolution.net/2007/03/24/human-versus-non-human-neuroscience/

[15]   Kaas, Jon H. “The Evolution of Brains from Early Mammals to Humans.” Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews:     Cognitive Science 4, no. 1 (2013): 33-45.

[16]  “THE DOCTORS TRIAL: THE MEDICAL CASE OF THE SUBSEQUENT NUREMBERG PROCEEDINGS.” United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Accessed April 4, 2019. https://www.ushmm.org/information/exhibitions/online-exhibitions/special-focus/doctors-trial.

[17]  n.d. “Adult Human Brain.” Temporal Dynamics of Learning Center . University of California. Accessed March 27, 2019. https://tdlc.ucsd.edu/educators/educators_myths_biggest_brain.html.

[18] Shaw, Philip , Noor  Kabani, Jason Lerch, Kristen Eckstrand, and Rhoshel Lenroot. 2008. “Neurodevelopmental Trajectories of the Human Cerebral Cortex.” The Journal of Neuroscience 28 (14): 3586–94.  http://www.jneurosci.org.libproxy.lib.unc.edu/content/28/14/3586.full.

[19] n.d. “Pain in Research Animals: General Principles and Considerations.” National Center for Biotechnological Information. Accessed March 27, 2019. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK32655/.

[20] Nolan, Andrea. 2015. Do animals FEEL PAIN like we do? The Epoch Times, Jul 15, 2015. http://libproxy.lib.unc.edu/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.libproxy.lib.unc.edu/docview/1794554521?accountid=14244 (accessed April 3, 2019).

[21] Amiot, Catherine , and Brock Bastian. 2017. “Solidarity with Animals: Assessing a Relevant Dimension of Social Identification with Animals.” Plos One, January. https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0168184#sec050.

[22] Shephard, Joshua. 2017. “The Moral Insignificance of Self‐consciousness.” European Journal of Philosophy 25 (2): Pages 398-415. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/ejop.12221.

[23] Bastian, B, D Crimson, PG  Bain, and MJ Hornsey. 2016. “Moral Expansiveness: Examining Variability in the Extension of the Moral World.” National Center for Biotechnology Information 111 (4): 53–636. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26751743.

[24] Donnelley, Strachan. 1999. “How and Why Animals Matter .” Oxford Academic 40 (1): 22–28.  https://academic.oup.com/ilarjournal/article/40/1/22/705802.

[25]  S. Kitayama, D. Cohen (Eds.), Handbook of cultural psychology, Guilford, New York (2007), pp. 391-416

[26]  S.I. Barr, G.E. Chapman “Perceptions and practices of self-defined current vegetarian, former vegetarian, and nonvegetarian women” Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 102 (3)

[27]   P.M. Kenyon, M.E. Barker “Attitudes towards meat-eating in vegetarian and non-vegetarian teenage girls in England—An ethnographic approach”Appetite, 30 (1998), pp. 185-198,

[28]   J. Stockburger, B. Renner, A.I. Weike, A.O. Hamm, H.T. Schupp “Vegetarianism and food perception. Selective visual attention to meat pictures”Appetite, 52 (2009), pp. 513-516, 10.1016/j.appet.2008.10.001

[29]  B. Bratanova, S. Loughnan, B. Bastian “The effect of categorization as food on the perceived moral standing of animals” Appetite, 57 (2011), pp. 193-196, 10.1016/j.appet.2011.04.020

[30]  C.R. Gale, I.J. Deary, I. Schoon, G.D.Batty “IQ in childhood and vegetarianism in adulthood. 1970 British cohort study” British Medical Journal, 334 (2007), pp. 245-248, 10.1136/bmj.39030.675069.55

[31]  T. Dietz, A.S. Frisch, L. Kalof, P.C. Stern, G.A. Guagnano “Values and vegetarianism. An exploratory analysis

Rural Sociology”, 60 (3) (1995), pp. 533-542, 10.1111/j.1549-0831.1995.tb00589.x

[32]  M.W. Allen, M. Wilson, S.H. Ng, M.Dunne “Values and beliefs of vegetarians and omnivores” The Journal of Social Psychology, 140(4) (2000), pp. 405-422, 10.1080/00224540009600481

[33]  M. Joy, “Why we love dogs, eat pigs, and wear cows. An introduction to carnism” Conari Press, San Francisco (2009)

[34]  P. Rozin, “Meat” S. Katz (Ed.), Encyclopedia of food, Scribner, New York, NY (2004), pp. 666-671

[35]  T. Stuart, “The bloodless revolution. Radical vegetarians and the discovery of India” Harper Press, London (2006)

[36]  J. Twigg, “Food for thought. Purity and vegetarianism Religion”, 9 (1979), pp. 13-35, 10.1016/0048-721X(79)90051-4

[37]  R. Preece, “Sins of the flesh. A history of ethical vegetarian thought” UBC Press, Vancouver (2008)

[38]  C. Spencer “The heretic’s feast. A history of vegetarianism” Fourth Estate, London (1993)

[39]  P. Caplan, “Crossing the veg/non-veg divide. Commensality and sociality among the middle classes in Madras/Chennai” South Asia. Journal of South Asian Studies, 31 (1) (2008), pp. 118-142, 10.1080/00856400701874742

[40]  R. Preece, “Sins of the flesh. A history of ethical vegetarian thought” UBC Press, Vancouver (2008)

[41]  C. Spencer, “The heretic’s feast. A history of vegetarianism”.Fourth Estate, London (1993)

[42]“Korowai People – One of the Last Tribes in the World to Practice Cannibalism.” DocumentaryTube, August 14, 2015.http://www.documentarytube.com/articles/korowai-people-one-of-the-last-tribes-in-the-world-to-practice-cannibalism.

 

 

10 Comments

  1. Madeleine Smith

    April 22, 2019 at 5:38 pm

    I found this to be an interesting post. I read it with the expectation that it would talk about how humans value the lives of pets so much and cry more when dogs die in movies versus humans but it didn’t talk about that at all which surprised me. I do think that animals are capable of showing and communicating that they’re in pain, though I don’t think all animals can. I know when my dog or my cat is in pain because they whimper and cry and many other animals do this too. So we may not speak the same language there are ways of showing pain, and really when babies are first born they can’t communicate with us but they also show pain through facial expression and crying. I thought the part about pesticides was a really intriguing point. I have never thought about the fact that a whole industry is focused on the mass killing of pests and as far as I know there isn’t really a lot of backlash surrounding it. Though there are a ton of people who are vegetarian and vegan because they consider animal deaths to be on par with human deaths. So I wonder how they feel about insects and pesticides or other chemicals that ward off bugs. I think the debate on using animals for research and experimentation is an interesting topic. It’s hard to know how to stand because on one hand I think furthering science and medicine for our benefit is crucial to survival but on the other hand I can see how it’s unethical and immoral so I believe there is a super fine line regarding conducting research using animals. Also talking about cannibalism was a very interesting contrast with other cultures. The fact that some value human lives so much and eating them is how they show it can really show the differences across countries and societies and there really is no normal way of behaving.

  2. First off, I’m so glad somebody did an article about the value of human lives verses animal lives as I think it’s an important topic to discuss.

    My biggest issue with this article though has to be your statements regarding whether a person is vegetarian/vegan or not based off their culture and personal upbringing. America in and of itself as a whole is very meat centric, and to me it’s almost viewed as eating meat products is the only American way when it comes to food. With that said, I do believe that the way you were brought up has a big influence on your personal choices, however, to me your statements almost seem to take away the autonomy a person has to make a choice for themselves in regards to their diets. I personally come from a family whose diets are very heavy in meat and seafood and I was raised eating meat. However, when I became a teenager I used my personal autonomy to make the decision to become a vegetarian. This obviously went against every aspect of how I was raised and to this day I’m still the only vegetarian in my family, because to my family a vegetarian/vegan diet is looked at as not natural. So, I would’ve personally liked to see your article make some sort of mention of that. (And please forgive me if I misread into your comments about this particular part of your article.)

    Also, something else I thought of when reading through your article was the lack of mention of another argument typically brought up in the debate of meat eaters vs. vegetarians/vegans. That argument basically raises the question of why Americans are so perfectly okay with eating animals such as cows, chickens, pigs, etc., yet are not okay with eating animals such as dogs, cats, etc. If you are personally okay with eating one type of animal than why are you not okay with eating all types of animals? What is the true difference between animals such as cows, chickens, pigs, etc. and dogs, cats, etc.? I think this argument, in addition to the arguments you present, would add a lot to this debate of the value of human lives verses animal lives.

  3. Kendall Bradley

    April 23, 2019 at 11:44 am

    I found your take on this really interesting. I would have liked to hear more about your thought process when you said “if humans have an ethical responsibility to treat humans equally, shouldn’t that be applied to all sentient organisms that can feel pain?” I think the argument you could build around this would be really intriguing, but I had trouble identifying the link or reason for the statement above.

    I would also be curious what you believe should be the alternative to animal testing in laboratory settings. I’m not disagreeing with you, and obviously you didn’t have to provide an alternative, but I would be really interested to know your thoughts on this. I think part of what makes some of the biggest ethical questions we face complicated is that it can be challenging to identify alternatives to the sometimes questionable ethical moves we make.

  4. There are a lot of interesting points made in this article! So many cool pieces of information as well! I wrote my post on suicide bombings and human sacrifice, and I think a link between my article and this lies in how we respond to deaths. For instance, if one commits an act of terror that kills many people that is an issue, but the killing of animals on a daily basis is never a concern, so long as it does not affect humans. Something I have always found interesting is that humans generally value things as they are socialized to think about them. In the US, we might think it is appalling that other cultures eat animals like dogs or guinea pigs but show no hesitation to eat a pig, cow, or chicken. To me, this is very hypocritical because the latter creatures feel pain just the same. Pigs are some of the smartest animals! The differences in perceptions on meat among omnivores versus vegetarians and vegans was very interesting; it makes a lot of sense that there is a stark difference in what one associates meat with depending on one’s lifestyle. I also thought the political tendencies of vegetarians/vegans and omnivores to be interesting and I wonder what the statistical significance of these findings is and what that may indicate. The input of cannibalism is an intriguing idea. I personally do not eat meat, but I would not expect any meat-eater to agree with cannibalism; however, the Korowai practice of dehumanizing those they eat does complicate the idea. What difference does it really make what animal one consumes? How much of what we eat is driven by culture? What makes humans so different?

  5. This article is very interesting and informative involving the complexities of using animals for research and meat consumption. It is interesting that when animals are viewed as a food source, they are regarded as less capable of suffering. I would have thought that people who eat meat believe animals are just as capable of suffering, but they believe it is our right as humans to inflict suffering upon these animals. I also thought it was interesting that this group discussed the different reasons for people to not eat meat based on their culture and religion. As a vegan who is Christian and from the West, I chose to stop consuming animal products primarily due to a desire to alleviate animal suffering. This is interesting when compared to vegans and vegetarians in other cultures such as Hindus who have a religious reason for this diet.

  6. While I do agree that it is important to keep the feelings of animals in mind, I do see a lot of value in the scientific ability to test certain things on animals. I examine it using the utilitarian calculus, which bears in mind that we are searching for the greatest good for the greatest number. I do understand that this is not a very commonly accepted ethical principle in today’s society, but it is worth noting.

    We must ask ourselves if we have the means of doing so, should we forgo testing important medical treatments on animals so that we do not risk their lives? A plethora of vaccines and medicines have been developed and refined through the use of animal research. Scientists are saving human lives by sacrificing certain, unendangered animals.

    While this does fit directly into the notion that humans feel superior to all other forms of life, but what would be the alternatives to animal testing? Human testing? By definition, this would be murder, or at the very least manslaughter. Humans are the most sophisticated life forms on Earth, and with our brainpower, we have the ability to solve problems that other life forms have not proven the ability to do. For this reason, some species must contribute to the greater good, and create a better future for humans, as well as other animal species.

  7. When I began reading this, at first, I pushed back and thought “surely pain can be traced in animals more easily than they believe.” However, after finishing your article, the medical explanation has clearly proven me wrong with the idea of nociceptors and how the bodies interpret pain. It’s also fascinating to me that even within the hierarchy of humans to animals, there’s an internal hierarchy within animals themselves, e.g., an insect to a dog and how we perceive their pain—pesticides are far more common than caninacides. I love that you all call into question what it means to be human—why should animals be treated differently if they can feel just as much pain as we can? If we could see animals’ expression of pain—e.g., a deer crying out and yelping in pain as a hunter shoots it—would this impact his decision to harm it and consume it as food?

  8. This article was especially interesting to me because I am a pescatarian. This means that I eat fish and seafood, but no other kinds of meat. Most of my siblings are vegetarian as well. For me, it has never really been about the hierarchy of life, but more about the environmental impact of eating meat. Because in nature there are the forces of natural selection and survival of the fittest, animals die at the hands of other animals. This is not abnormal, and it never will be. I think it would take some kind of very significant scientific discovery or spiritual movement to change the current paradigm of meat-eating, and of the hierarchy of life.

  9. An example of how it’s unclear at face value whether an animal is feeling pain is the fact that animals too can mourn their dead. This includes at least Western scrub jays, Elephants, Chimpanzees, and Giraffes, who feel the pain of mourning. While they may not show any complete outwards symptoms, they’re still going through the inwards experience.
    https://www.care2.com/causes/4-animals-who-mourn-their-dead.html

    Also, I’ve seen an meme, which is related to your question of how we decide how much different organisms’ life is worth. It was an edited version of a PETA ad, which said “All animals want to live… Where do you draw the line?” and a continuum of animals and a label going from Pet to Food.
    From the left of the Food marker there is a chicken, cow, pig, another cow, and a duck. Then, a little more towards the left, a rabbit and a horse are added. Then finally, cats and dogs added, which extends all the way to the left.
    The ‘meme’ in it was that someone clearly answered PETA’s rhetorical question of “Where do you draw the line?” with just a few red marks on their image: on a regular day, chicken, cow, pig, and a duck, in an economic crisis, add rabbit and horses to that, and in an apocalyptic crisis, add cats and dogs.
    This all goes to prove though, that not only do we value animal deaths differently based on the type of animal, but based on when it died..
    https://66.media.tumblr.com/a6068c40321cba1adcb88060cebe7c5a/tumblr_plyq80NgvN1uy57v5o1_1280.jpg

  10. This was a very well written article! I see the debate regarding the importance of animal lives compared to human lives often and this article did a good job in citing many perspectives on this issue, as well explaining why science behind these ideas. I can see why humans are on top of the hierarchy of death, because of the point you made about self-awareness and intelligence. Humans have a higher self awareness when compared to animals and that is why their lives are valued more. Also, this pattern can be seen within animals. Dogs have a higher sense of awareness when compared to ants, and this can explain why the lives of dogs are valued more than the lives of ants. I also like how you discussed the role the concept of “hierarchy of death” plays into vegetarianism or veganism. These dietary choices are practical examples of the direct role “hierarchy of death” plays in the lives of people.

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