TED Conversations

This conversation is closed.

If we count human on animal violence, are we living in the most violent era ever?

As an example of the decline in violence, Steven Pinker uses the fact that in the middle ages, we used to consider a burning cat to be entertainment. And yet, Steven Pinker appears not to take into account human on animal violence in his statistical analysis of violence. Otherwise, I would think that the 60 billion animals that we routinely raise and slaughter for food each year would overwhelm all the violence that we were committing in the past, even on a per capita basis, and make this the most violent era ever.

Killing a cow for food is a violent act, even if it isn't done in public like burning a cat on stage for entertainment. In the past, I don't believe that we used to consume animal foods in the same proportion as we do now. At least, from 1960 to 2000, while population doubled, the consumption of animal foods quadrupled. The animal foods that we consume are mainly a result of unseen, outsourced violence, but violence on par with cat burning.

As our technological prowess increased, we became more adept at inflicting systematic violence on animals, birds, fishes and the Earth. Climate change, environmental degradation and human ill health can all be viewed as the Earth's reactions to this violence. Therefore, it is important that we measure violence correctly so that we may respond accurately and save ourselves.


Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.

  • thumb
    Jul 9 2012: Most animals survive by eating other living animals or plants.

    We are animals, but we also have evolved to have reason, and empathy not just for our own family, tribe, species, but also for other animals. Many of us would oppose unnecessary suffering of humans and animals.

    As animals our instincts are still strong in regards to eating meat, in fact we generally eat too much if food is freely available having evolved where food is scare.

    If you are rich enough and there are non animal food options, then why not consider reducing or eliminating meat? I get this point.

    Many would support reducing suffering while the animals grow and when they are slaughtered.But I guess the animals we grow for food would not exist if we did not grow them. In the wild everything is dog eat dog. That does not excuse us perhaps.

    First step minimise suffering of creatures that can suffer humans and animals.
    I don't think this extends to stopping cats chasing birds, but just to the animals in our care.

    Its a big step, against our basic nature in some ways to forgo meat. Many of us still get a buzz out of hunting.But I recognise the ethical argument has some merit.

    I've heard it said you can judge a society by how they treat the incarcerated. Perhaps you can also tell a lot by how they treat animals.
    • Jul 9 2012: Gandhi said, "The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated." However, I do not view this as an ethical issue because ethics brings in connotations of blame-fixing, right vs. wrong, etc. Instead, this is Ethos, about defining who we are in the family of Life.

      In the Abrahamic wisdom traditions of our dominant culture, it is said that Man was created in the image of God. Then, let's act like it. Let us be as compassionate towards all Creation as we imagine God to be. In the modern era, we are able to reach that goal. For, as a species, we don't have any serious competitors except in science-fictional movies. Torturing animals and eating them should not be part of our Ethos.
      • thumb
        Jul 9 2012: I agree that animals bred for food should at least have a decent life e.g organic farms etc and not having 20 chickens in a metre square box (this is what I think you mean by torture)
        But if you want to talk about the tree of life, it is the most successful species that survives so in this angle what we're doing is fine, yet we can clearly see it's not, why is this? because it's an ethical issue and we've stepped beyond natural selection and have evolved mentally to see things such as right or wrong.
        Now the morality of Abrahamic religions are really horrible but I won't go into it, it also says somewhere in Genesis that the animals are for Adam's use i.e do what you want.
        So violence to you is basically just eating them and rearing them to be eaten.
        But this is natural, it's possibly the best invention a species could think of to ensure it's survival. See this idea of not eating animals it is just not sensible to me. They're a huge source of energy, fat and protein. As Obey says one species eats another. Now here's another interesting point, why don't we eat chimpanzee's or monkeys? Well it's because (mainly) they're humanlike, they're smart they can do things we can do, and also they don't make great livestock but that's a smaller point. The main point here is we don't eat intelligent things usually.
        I'm not sure i you've ever seen sheep or cows on a day to day basis, (I live surrounded by farms) they are the most stupid and all round useless animals I've ever seen, sheep die if they roll onto their backs for goodness sake. The only reason natural selection hasn't killed them off is because we've been breeding them and keeping them alive. They are awfully adapted for survival and we've artificially made them better.
        I've made a few very jumbled points but the main drift is, 1)it's natural to eat meat 2) let's not raise livestock in a disgraceful manner 3) you can't be violent to something that's dead.
        • Jul 10 2012: Agreed that there are passages in the Bible that can be interpreted to incite violence towards other people, animals etc., but this is the case in most such texts. It is up to us to reject such interpretations in these texts that are not compatible with compassion for all creation. I don't see any other way for all of us from different cultures and traditions to come together to solve our global, interconnected problems. Please see, e.g., Karen Armstrong's Charter for Compassion web site.
        • thumb
          Jul 11 2012: Hi Stewart, I guess there are lots of natural drives and instincts we have that we decide to moderate because we are not completely slaves to instinct. We have the ability to reason.

          For example our sex drive. We don't accept rape (usually). But it is a perfectly natural drive to have sex and to use force to achieve it in the animal world.

          I just suggest it is worth considering. Do we have to be slaves to our instinct and nature.

          I think it reasonable to assess whether eating animals is more harmful or beneficial on balance. Much more efficient use of land to grow vegetable food than plant food. Less methane. etc

          Not just animal suffering, but sustainability and other considerations.

          Agree in principle that the more we see ourselves in animals the more we care. However, Chimps are eaten. Called bush meat in Africa. Whales are eaten. I suggest the key drive is more likely that herd and other animals are just more convenient to domesticate and may provide other benefits - wool, milk etc.
    • thumb
      Jul 11 2012: Agreed not every basin instinct of ours should be followed but some have very useful, the feeling of wanting to be the best, drives competition etc, our social instincts allow us to care for each other etc.
      And you're right about the potential for the use of land to grow more vegetables and what not,but that doesn't tie to the violence Sailesh thinks there is in eating animals. I just find it odd to evolve to a state where we, at least where I'm from, are sorted food wise for many many years to come.
      Last point would you agree the chimps are killed in Africa odd of necessity for some people or for their coats for others, then you've to start questioning the morality of those who kill chimps.
    • Jul 15 2012: The way I understand Gandhi's quote is that the ability to experience the suffering of another--human or animal or other--is linked first to the awareness of that other being as a life form and second to the awareness that life is to be loved. But then again, what is love? If you're so inclined, read the book True Love by Thich Nhat Hanh. It is short and a real treasure full of wisdom that he shows you how to put into practice.

Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.