Thursday, March 7, 2013

A Personal Note Regarding Choices and Suffering

This is only my personal opinion, not necessarily the position of Vegan Outreach or anyone associated with VO.

Recently, our good friend Brian posted an excerpt from "Letter to a Young Matt" to Facebook, and there has been a bit of pushback from a few quarters. Specifically, to this portion:

"Of course, if these billions of [food] animals lived happy, healthy lives and had quick, painless deaths, then our goal of reducing as much suffering as possible would lead us [to work] elsewhere."

This seems to have been taken by some as a tacit endorsement of "humane" animal exploitation (along with other disagreements and semantic / philosophical debates).

What this comment actually is, though, is a recognition that there is a lot of suffering in the world, and we each have limited resources to bring to bear against this suffering.

As explained in "Letter," earlier in my life, I didn't understand that suffering was irreducibly bad -- full stop. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately), I'm unable to convey this point to many people; luckily, mostly other people haven't suffered to the point where they wished they would die.

Knowing what I now know about suffering, my personal goal is to use my life's choices such that the world will have less suffering in it than if I made different choices.

This is not to say that I don't care about justice, or that I am indifferent to exploitation.

It isn't that I care about a chicken more than an innocent person imprisoned; I don’t have a greater affinity for a pig than a child starving in Africa.

What I do with my finite life is the result of a simple calculation: lessen the amount of suffering in the world as much as possible. 

If I were to spend my time advocating for the victim of tribal violence, or a mutilated woman in a sexist country, or a macaque in a lab, or an elephant maimed by poachers, or a dog in a shelter, I could potentially reduce the horribly heartbreaking and utterly compelling suffering these individuals experience.

But -- and here is another lesson it took me years to recognize -- when I choose to do one thing, I'm choosing not to do another.

And if, at this point in history, I worked on an issue other than farmed animal advocacy, the net result would be more suffering in the world.

If agribusiness wasn't inflicting such intense suffering on so many farmed animals, then I would be compelled to work on a different, tractable issue that was creating more suffering. Otherwise, there would be more net suffering in the world.

I realize this is not how most people make their choices; nearly everyone cares most about what is closest to them -- genetically, geographically, or visibly. And most of the rest have a pet project, based on personal affinity for a specific cause or species.

That is why it is absolutely and utterly urgent the rest of us focus our choices -- our limited time and resources -- on reducing suffering as much as possible.

For more details, please see A Meaningful Life.