Bradshaw: I am not sure what point he is making. But, the core concept I’m advocating is that humans give up their self-appointed role as social engineers. In other words, stop pushing other animals around and start fixing the cause – predatory, industrialized human perceptions and behavior. This release immediately changes the dynamic and opens space and place for other animals to live. We have to start looking outside of the paradigmatic box that has enslaved the planet for centuries. For example, many argue that elephants in zoos must have babies. In fact, they argue that captivity is better because the wild has become so dangerous. Yes, 100 elephants die each day from hunters and poachers and yes, wildlife now suffers epidemic PTSD. But that does not mean that zoos are the answer. Captivity causes a suite of psychological and physical ailments never seen in wildlife until recently. Elephant infanticide is rampant in zoos. Now, tragically, wild conditions have converged to those of zoos. The wild has become a living prison. Human destruction has become too much for animal cultures to withstand. Let’s restrain ourselves as a species and do some common sense things – stop having babies ourselves, embrace plant-based eating, end industrialization – so that other animals can live in peace and freedom again.
Once genocide and the psycho-economics of breeding and captivity are taken off the decision menu, solutions will emerge that best suit the problem in question to the benefit of animals. We must never forget that we have created this situation and it is our responsibility to do what we can to fix it. Nearly all the change for good draws from changing ourselves – in short, relinquishing our self-appointed human privilege that has brought the planet to its near collapse. This entails substantial change in mentality and practice and an honest commitment to living ethically.
The MOON: Can you suggest a couple of steps we could take that would move us towards a more humane and compassionate future on behalf of domesticated animals?
Bradshaw: Yes. Embrace a plant-based diet and stop having babies. Both are common sense and everyone knows it consciously or unconsciously.
I recently read a quote by Reuben Blades, which says: “I think we risk becoming the best informed society that has ever died of ignorance.” It’s hard not to agree with it. Fortunately, the impact of animal agriculture on both the animals themselves and the rest of us, while still an unpopular topic, is being increasingly discussed and it’s getting difficult to ignore the problems associated with it. It seems probable that plant-based eating will be the norm in just a few years.
Also, outlawing industrial farming would be a huge and basic step: refraining from all practices where non-human animals are used for production for food or hides or skins or offspring. Obviously, that evolution will take some time, but we can start and big changes can happen fast. These changes not only bring our behavior into alignment with our ethical norms, but also with science, which, whatever its shortcomings, remains the dominant epistemic authority—the body of knowledge we ostensibly use to inform ethics and law.
From a logical, economic, and political standpoint, then, why should billions be invested in science and then maintain laws that go against what the science tells us? That’s counterproductive. Further, when we behave in a manner that is out of alignment with our beliefs and ethics we experience dissonance, which is very unhealthy socially, emotionally, psychologically, and even physically. It creates stress that, over time, is debilitating and results in all kinds of psychological defenses to rationalize or camouflage the simple fact that your actions don’t match your beliefs. But when internal beliefs are congruent with actions, dissonance resolves and the stress is alleviated. Eliminating harmful behaviors is ultimately beneficial to our own health, as well as the health of animals.
The MOON: What about the fact that animals eat other animals? Does that provide any rational justification for humans eating them?
Bradshaw: Not at all. That kind of argument is purely a distraction. Plus, it does not make sense. On one hand, people argue that we are different than other animals – we’re smarter, can create technology, more ethical, etc. – and then in the next breath say we are just like other animals – “since other animals eat other animals then why can’t we eat other animals?” It’s very interesting to examine some of the arguments made in defense of eating meat, one of which is that our Paleolithic ancestors did it; hence the popularity of the Paleo diet. When you look at the historical record, however, the evidence for that is being revised and it now appears that the majority of what our ancestors ate was plants. Even among Australian aboriginals who still live the subsistence lifestyle, the majority of what they eat is plant-based. As Robert Lawlor discusses, they were largely gatherers with a minor component of their diet involving hunting. So these kinds of smoke-screens are just faulty logic and conscious or unconscious delaying tactics. Humans don’t require eating animals.
Trying to justify our behavior by pointing to animals, or to our ancestors, is beside the point. We know now that animals are conscious; that they experience pain and suffering; that they have their own lives, cultures and communities; they are here for their own reasons that have nothing to do with their utility to us. When we act in violation of that knowledge we act unethically; we act in violation of our own stated knowledge and beliefs. Would we condone murder because someone else murders or has murdered? To say nothing of the fact that not all animals eat other animals. A large number of animals are herbivorous and all are extremely parsimonious with their use of the environment and are essentially non-violent. Jeffery Masson, a psychoanalyst, talks about this in Beasts: What Animals Can Teach Us About the Origins of Good and Evil. His book examines the non-human apex predators—the so-called terrifying carnivores like wolves, bears, orcas, sharks, and big cats—and found that they do not kill wantonly like humans, particular modern humans, do. So let’s put into effect our tremendous ability to refrain, our tremendous natural capacity to love, not hurt. We’ve got a long road to pull but let’s all start now. Just embracing plant-based food and stopping industrialized farming would bring about amazing changes. Let’s learn to live like animals again—with restraint.
The MOON: Where would farmers get their nitrogen? Animal waste returns valuable nutrients to the soil; without it, farmers have to use expensive and unsustainable petroleum-based fertilizers?
Bradshaw: Like they did for millions of years as subsistence dwellers! Subsistence, plant-based living cannot happen overnight for everyone everywhere but the small fraction of humans who use the majority of the planet’s resources can make radical change overnight. Individuals who don’t have as much flexibility can change within their means. This not only supports animal self-determination and well-being but those of human tribal, subsistence cultures – those who were annihilated by colonization and industrialization and those, such as the Guarani, who are struggling to retain their ways of life. Let’s try and help each other make these changes – today.
The MOON: Now people are talking about plants have consciousness too. How do you make the distinction between killing plants and killing animals?
Bradshaw: If someone asked me that I would ask, “How do you make the distinction between killing a human and killing another animal?” Psycho-biologically, the animals we systematically enslave and murder (“murder” is a scientifically accurate term) – hens, turkeys, pigs, sheep, etc. – are much closer to us than they are to plants. Killing isn’t easy. It takes conditioning. The military spends millions of dollars to overcome the barrier soldiers encounter when faced with killing another human being. Many people who have witnessed an animal being killed or slaughtered no longer wish to eat meat. When you witness the impact of taking a life, you tend not to be so cavalier about it any longer. People don’t usually have this response to pulling up a carrot. But there is a deeper point.
Many tribal people and spiritual traditions know that everything is an everyone and for these reasons decided not to create technology and industry that enslaves, destroys, and pollutes. Now western science agrees with subsistence ancestors.
I support initiatives that encourage respect for plants through the abolishment of monoculture, the ban of GMOs, sterile fruits and similar practices of complete manipulation and objectification of life. But this does not obviate desisting from causing suffering to other animals. Farming robs the dignity of plants and plant self-determination, but let’s not delay banning the industrialized slaughter of animals while we argue about the enslavement of plants. The point is to minimize killing and minimize domination. Live minimally, move toward subsistence, and look toward how we can each live that maximizes the abilities of others to enjoy lives of dignity and freedom. All of the cheap, mass-produced food that makes life so convenient is killing huge numbers of souls. It is not keeping us alive; it goes far beyond providing the food we need to live. This gets back to things that we can do: dramatically reduce human population growth, dramatically reduce and eliminate consumerism, and stop industrialized farming of all species. These are simple, straightforward steps to better living all round.
The MOON: Your definition of industrialized farming—the use of animals for the production of any product—goes beyond many people’s definition, which reserves the term for agricultural practices like miles of monocrops, heavy use of artificial fertilizers and pesticides, the raising of animals in cages, concentrated animal feedlots, and the like. People like Joel Salatin—a farmer who also abhors industrialized farming—believes that his form of agriculture honors the nature of the animal while it is alive. When you say we should ban industrialized agriculture, do you mean his type of farming—which is how farming has historically been practiced—as well?