I used to embrace the idea the world is a violent place and that violence is an inherent part of human nature. In the face of my vegetarian friends I would tell myself that we cannot avoid harming insects and other animals in our day to day living, so eating animals was merely an extension of the violence within nature. I understood eating meat as a form of primal connection with our history, engaging with and being part of nature.
I was once a Realist.
I have since rejected the Realist's way of looking at our ethical responsibility towards animals. However, it seems important enough to consider whether or not there is anything really to this 'realism'.
The most common argument that comes from the Realists is that we harm insects everyday, in fact we cannot avoid harming insects. If we cannot avoid harming some animals, then veganism is unreasonable as vegans don't want to harm animals, therefore it is justifiable to dominate and kill other animals for food, clothing, and entertainment.
The major flaw is the assumption that it is either all or nothing: if we can't exist without inflicting death and suffering on animals, it gives us license to inflict more suffering and death on animals beyond what we cannot control.
However, it is doubtful that a Realist would use this argument to defend other forms of violence toward animals such as dog fighting, or torture outside the bounds of normalised abuses within the food, entertainment, or research industries. The extent to which the Realist embraces the natural rightness of violence concerns only normalised violence towards animals. The Realist sees these normalised acts of violence as being integral to the comfort and enjoyment of their day to day lives. To eschew meat, dairy, eggs, leather, wool, and silk etc. would be detrimental their personal comfort.
It is clear that the Realist is a confused speciesist: they use the natural 'rightness' of violence only to the extent that it justifies their discrimination so that they can continue to gain pleasure and convenience from violence. If consuming animal products were necessary for human survival, the argument would be more nuanced, however, it is clear that consuming animals is not necessary for human health and happiness.
It may sound very spiritual and very deep to suggest that violence is an inherent part of the universe, but for the most part, people reject forms of violence which stem from the unnecessary gratification of base pleasures. So, for example, a Realist generally would not conclude that if a person enjoys raping another person, that it is simply a reflection of the righteous violence woven into the tapestry of the universe.
I have rejected the Realist's perspective as it elides that which we can't control with the deliberate, avoidable acts of violence. This elision is symptomatic of irrational discrimination rooted in violent practices which we have normalised for our own pleasure and convenience and does not represent a profound point of view.
So, I would ask all who claim to be 'Realists' when it comes to the consumption of animals to consider what this actually means. Are you stating something genuine, or is it an excuse for you not to change your personal habits and take ethical responsibility?
- Stevie Schafer, 2012