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Animal Welfare, Vegetarianism

Garth George and the Confused Culture

It’s not often I’m moved to comment on Garth George – for those who are blissfully unfamiliar with his work, he’s a longtime conservative critic for the Herald, who in the past has railed against the decriminalisation of both abortion and homosexuality. Thursday’s Herald included a fascinating editorial in which Mr George commented on the recent 33-dog slaughter in Wellsford, demonstrating a poignant knot that braces much of the globalised Western legal and social culture.

Garth begins his post by enumerating the three things he still cannot get his head around. In his own words:

The first is child abuse, paedophilia and cruelty to domestic animals; the second is male homosexuality; and the third is vegetarianism.

I will refrain from commenting on the second point since this is not the appropriate forum (although I do find the specific phraseology ‘male homosexuality’ fascinating), the first and third of Garth’s big confusions reveal a fascinating contradiction. Interestingly, he spends little time actually commenting on the relative merits or otherwise of vegetarianism or veganism (a distinction he admits ignorance of), and when he meets a member of this strange breed, he, ‘..simply shake[s his] …head in wonder.’ The rest of the editorial is devoted to shaming the perpetrators of some of the more heinous instances of animal cruelty over the recent past. Throughout the post, George makes it clear that he has no practical or comprehensible ethical or philosophical grounding from which this set of arbitrary rules are derived.

I don’t mean to pick on George (although it definitely is fun), but rather use George as a representative of a wider trend, a truly confused culture. George’s arbitrary and unthinking preference for certain classes of animals (what he calls ‘domestic animals’, although there are myriad other names for this class) over ever other kind of animal is difficult to rationalise when given more than a moment’s thought. Clearly, many people share mutually beneficial relationships with their pets, and over time can develop a deep reverence and respect for these animals; implicit in this relationship is the injunction on harming that animal. Extending this sphere of compassion to other animals means refusing to adhere to a mechanism of food and clothing production that systematises and normalises abuse as a necessary part of its mission. Garth’s assertion that he has no time for vegetarianism fails to acknowledge either the presence or the injurious nature (or both) of this system – it is simply not an issue.

One possible explanation for this stems from the practical experience of the individual – we are, by and large, not involved in our food system, and accordingly what happens within that system is not within our sphere of providence. However as individuals we are involved in the lives of our domestic animals – they have a tangible impact upon our lives (where we can live, our exercise regimes, who we socialise with etc.) and accordingly we are bound to protect that relationship, since it directly and immediately benefits our own lives. The suffering of animals within our food system also carries direct and immediate benefits for many people (although over time these impacts become illusory).

Personally, I believe these pandemic cultural neuroses develop from an attitude of possessive individualism, broadly structured within a capitalist framework, although I accept that this moves us into political debate, something I don’t wish to broach here.

I would be interested to hear other peoples’ comments on George’s editorial though, perhaps we can try to get to the bottom of this twisted web of cultural preferences…


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