Wayne Hsiung

Published on:

January 23, 2014

False Love?

We're still quite a ways from Valentine's Day. But it's not too early to ask an important question. When we say we "love animals", what do we mean?

James McWilliams explores this question, insightfully, in a blog post this week entitled, Can You Oppose Global Warming And Eat Animals? The post delves far deeper, however, than the title suggests. Because the real question being asked is this: when we say we love animals, do we love *them* -- as fellow living breathing beings who have just as much a claim to this universe as you or I -- or do we love what they bring to *us* - as abstractions ("species") that we are ideologically committed to, as vestiges of an idyllic (and largely mythological) past, or as devices for *our* joy and wonder? 

In that answer lies the difference between environmentalism and animal liberation. 

A choice excerpt:

Is there a problem with raging over the loss of polar bears’ habitat without raging over the loss of individual polar bears? The anger we feel over dying polar bears is an anger we couch in terms of “losing a species.”  That’s safe, because it keeps the idea of a sentient being at a distance while allowing us to experience the guilty pleasure of high dudgeon. But is it the species that really tugs at our emotions? No.To lament the loss of a species is ultimately disingenuous. It’s to lament the loss of an impersonal collective  phenomenon, sort of like lamenting the loss of an obscure language.

What’s really happening here is a process of abstraction that enables enviro types to publicly demonstrate their concern for global warming and its resultant species extinctions while continuing to exploit animals to meet our selfish little palate fetishes. It allows us to weep over the loss of a species while sharpening our knives to keep eating the chops and steaks that make our lives so happy and hypocritical.