Since first being published in l975, this book has justifiably earned status as the Bible of the animal rights movement. It presents an unemotional yet deeply compassionate analysis of the age-old tyranny of human over non-human animals and the immense pain and suffering resulting from man's exclusion of other beings from moral consideration.
In arguing against man's refusal to recognize a moral duty towards non-humans, Singer introduces the term "speciesism", comparing the mistreatment of other species to the prejudice and double standard which other humans, most notably minorities and women, have historically experienced and fought to abolish. Like philosopher Jeremy Bentham, Singer concludes that the ability to suffer should be the determinant of inclusion in moral consideration rather than the ability to reason or use language. He advocates sentience as "the only defensible boundary of concern for the interests of others".
Although quick to acknowledge that there are many more forms of exploitation, Singer chooses to focus this book on two of the most widespread areas, scientific experimentation and the use of animals for food.
Chapter two contains graphic descriptions of the ways in which animals have been used as objects of research. It explores the ways in which much of animal research is biased, duplicative or non-applicable to human medical conditions. Singer concludes that animal experimentation must become a serious political issue if alternative methods of research are ever to replace it.
hapter three explores the staggering magnitude of animal suffering involved in satisfying the demand for meat and dairy products. Noting that the public is deliberately kept ignorant of how meat comes to be a meal, Singer describes how meat is neatly and sterilely packaged and given euphemistic names like "pork" and "beef" while factory farms are kept far out of sight of public scrutiny, perpetuating the myth that animals still live idyllic lives on sunny farms.
The most vivid examples of cruelty are found in the section on chickens, by far the most exploited creature on the planet in terms of sheer numbers. The reader learns what happens to chickens from the time they are hatched, when males are discarded and females have their beaks partially amputated and are sent to live lives of intensive confinement, until they are eventually slaughtered, either as "broilers" or as "layers" whose reproductive capacities have been exhausted. The treatment of pigs, cows and veal calves is likewise explored in disturbingly graphic detail.
After having educated the reader on the horrors behind meat and dairy production, Singer introduces the alternatives of vegetarianism/veganism. Of curiosity to me is the fact that he seems to differentiate little between the two when the former is, in effect, a healthy diet, while the latter is the embodiment of a belief system based on causing no harm to other beings. He discusses many examples of the ways in which these industries perpetuate the protein and calcium myths which keep them in business.
Chapter five explores historical attitudes toward animals which have resulted in the continuing tyranny under which they live today. The roles of cultural and religious traditions and beliefs, particularly those of Christianity, are analyzed in detail.
The last chapter of the book looks at the status of animals in today's world and offers ideas on what must be done to elevate their status from objects of property to beings with moral interests.
While not light reading, this book is interesting and understandable and offers compelling arguments for the moral necessity of granting to animals the same basic standards of consideration which we, as humans, mandate for ourselves.
Reviewed by Fran Hutcherson
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