So what comes after Singer? Well, I've been digging into the animal side of things first, rather than the charitable giving one. Don't ask me why. The whole shebang is, frankly, confusing. As I said before, if Singer is right on these things, then I'm not sure what's been going on in my head for the first half of my life.
So, first priority after finishing Animal Liberation was to find a decent rebuttal. It hasn't been easy. The best I've found so far is Michael Leahy's, Against Liberation: Putting animals in perspective, but by "best" I don't mean "good". Compared with Singer, it's a difficult and unconvincing read. Now it's true that "Animal Liberation" was targeted at a general readership whereas Against Liberation is ostensibly more for the academic (for example it's the sort of book that would use words like "ostensibly"). Still, it's not much of a match. Ignoring style, the arguments quickly get to matters of "rights" versus "interests", and other such subtleties. There's nothing wrong with those things but for me personally they miss the point. Nothing that Singer has argued has made me believe that animals should be allowed to vote, or to have a fair trial -- those being the kinds of things we humans typically defend using the notion of a "right". Nor are his arguments based on the states of minds of animals, or their possession or lack of consciousness. Singer's argument is simple -- we shouldn't stick electric probes up an animal's arse for the same reason we shouldn't stick them up the arse of a passing Norwegian. Sticking electric probes up either's arse causes suffering.
And that is the fundamental challenge and weakness of all of the anti-Singer positions I've seen so far. Across the board it seems clear that the arguments supporting those positions (arguments as to why it's OK to treat animals as cruelly as we do) would be just as valid after replacing the word "animals" with "black persons" or "persons called Gloria" or "teenage Americans". In other words, none of those arguments do anything to undermine one of the central pillars of the animal liberation position -- that mistreatment of animals is "species-ist".
So, failing so far to find decent counter arguments to those of Singer, I turned to see if perhaps he was just a lone voice. Nope. First I took in Michael Pollan's, The Omnivore's Dilemma. Less animal welfare and more "be careful what you shove in your face" even it finds problems with the North American methods of farming. And then there was Jonathan Safran Foer's Eating Animals. It's a much rougher ride and takes you to places you'd probably rather not go before having a steak dinner (or drinking a glass of milk for that matter).
But it turns out that was kids' stuff compared with what I was about to encounter. Stumbling around YouTube, I came across a snippet of an interview of Ellen DeGeneres by Katy Couric.
In the video, DeGeneres talks about how she "forced [herself] to watch a documentary called Earthlings...". So, only slightly perturbed by her reference to forcing herself, I found it on Youtube, but quickly decided to buy a copy to watch on my iPad.
It was fairly late in the day when I started watching it -- I'm a light sleeper and sometimes am awake well past midnight. Now to know me is to know I'm not remotely squeamish, but I quickly began to get a taste of what Ellen was on about and I decided, squeamish or not, it would be better done at a time when I wasn't trying to sleep.
So I picked up the story earlier this evening. In fact it was while I was eating my (veggie) dinner. As it went on, I was glad for those veggies because there was no doubt in my mind what Ellen had meant. In fact I had to stop at one point. I don't want to equate the human Nazi holocaust with factory farming of non-human animals, but I don't think I've experienced such gut wrenching images since I watched Schindler's List.
After a breather, I started it again from where I'd stopped, and managed to push through to the end.
I'm not suggesting you watch the full movie or even the trailer. You may not be ready. Until a few months ago, I doubt I was. But Singer has wielded a pick axe on some ossified parts of my world view and I can't stop digging and churning until I've figured some things out. If you do decide to watch Earthlings, brace yourself. Unless you're a hunter, or butcher, or in some other way somewhat desensitized to animals being killed (and maybe even if you are), it's harrowing. I'd show some shots from it here, but I know that would have little or no effect on anyone's logical position. And I don't blame anyone for that. They would have had little or no effect on mine too, pre-Singer.
But instead, let me show you the effect it had on me as I watched, now with Singer's "Animal Liberation" ringing in my ears. Yes I had to coordinate the shots a little, but what you're seeing in my face is utterly genuine. I didn't have to make it up. Now if it looks, especially in the last few, like there are tears in my eyes, well sorry there weren't. I've simply, on purpose, caught my fat meat-fed face mid-grimace :-) So although I'm not crying, make no mistake that the grimaces are anything but real.
Here then, is me watching "Earthlings".
Another maniac chuckles as he shocks a pig
Blood gushes out from the slit throat of a conscious cow
A little piglet has fallen through the floor of the pen and is drowning in shit and piss
The cow whose throat was slit is still alive despite its entrails now being hauled out in front of it
Cows struggling wildly as their horns get lopped off with bolt cutters
A sow squeals and writhes as a group of laughing "farm" workers club her to death. The screams are woeful.
And then finally:
A live fox is literally skinned alive for its fur. The fully conscious, unstunned animal is held dangling by its feet, head down, and the entire skin is ripped slowly downwards and off in one piece. The raw red underskin is exposed. The animal twitches and shudders. If Singer is right, if Descartes is wrong, the poor beast's agony must be simply indescribable
Towards the end of the interview snippet (3:50), Couric asks DeGeneres if she has seen another documentary, FOOD, Inc. Ellen's response is undramatic but with the slightest hint of "are you joking?" in her tone. FOOD, Inc. is like a Disney movie compared with Earthlings", she replies. And although I haven't watched FOOD, Inc., I suspect Ellen is right.