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Sailesh Rao

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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.

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    Jul 10 2012: Hello Sailesh,

    your question underlies a certain definition of 'violence' which I tend to define differently.

    To me, nature itself is based on the most violant principles I can imagine, as survival is based on food-chains of living creatures, which contains flora as well as fauna. In terms of beeing 'alive' there is no difference to me if a cow is eating grass for survival or if this cow is slaughtered by man for the same purpose. The grass as well as the cow has been violently separated from their 'existence' to serve as nutritious food for another species. So if this basic principle is named 'violence', than the cow was as violent as the butcher.

    It becomes difficult the moment you start to differentiate 'values' of species, which is no more than 'random' and via 'definition', as LIVE itself is distinct towards the non-living physical world by itself.

    By this I consider myself as 'violent' in eating my salat as when I am eating my steak. What makes us feel differet is only related to our empathy, any by this the salat usually short, as we have no experience what it means to be a vegitable. Yet towards LIVE there is no difference at all.

    By this empathy corrupts our value system from the beginning and therefore makes it questionable in all distinctions.

    Fishing as we know it today would probably be quite different, if fish would just have a vocal organ to scream panicky while they are suffocate to death. Not because the 'violence' would be any different, but because our empathy would be approached in a more understandable way to humans.

    What makes the difference to me in this matter is not the act of violence, as it can never be avoided, but the fact of suffering within it and the original need. The cat beeing burned to death has no need but a lot of suffereing, while a properly farmed and killed cow suffers, if at all, quickly. If we would find out, that salat suffers as much as fish and the cat, we should take care for it to remain as fair as possible.
    • Jul 10 2012: I don't share such a dark view of Nature. I believe that if ecosystems were strictly based on violence and "survival of the fittest," Life would not have endured for 4.5 billion years on Earth. I believe that it is compassion, cooperation and symbiosis which makes Life thrive.

      As far as eating salad being just as violent as eating cows, please note that deliberately raising cows requires that we feed them the equivalent of salad in very large quantities, day in and day out, for 1-2 years before the cow can be eaten. Therefore, there is far more "violence" embedded in the animal foods we eat.
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        Jul 10 2012: Compassion, cooperation and symbiosis is not contradictory to the 'survival of the fittest', as they are strategies of getting 'fitter'.

        The reason why we are increasing the "violence" embedded in the animal foods we eat is because the human race is increasing in numbers so much and got out of proportion of any natural balance of the given eco system on this planet.

        So if you count the salats we need to feet our cows which feet us may not be less if we would spare the cows and lived on salats only. So a decrease in numbers of 'violence' could only be archived in focusing on the nutritional contents of what would be more 'fair' to eat or the numbers in species which have to eat.

        As a collective, based especially on those strategies such as compassion, cooperation and symbiosis, as well as our capacity in inventing and using tools let us become the most 'fittest' of all animals yet it did not change the rules of 'survival' itself.

        So if your wish to reduce this 'violence' it implies the reduction of the human species itself. Which, in my view, has to be adressed one day.

        The balance of a given eco system is not a constant, it is constantly changing, interwoven and highly interdependent with one another. This actually can be calculated in less complex models of prey/predator relations and turned out to me chaotic in its pattern.

        But as our species evolved beyond those natural rules of balance, our impact, our inprint on the overal 'violence' had to evolve as well.

        The only 'ease of ones mind' I can picture at the moment relates to our technology only if we were able to grow or meat via genetic engineering directly and bypassing any attached 'brain' to this food within the process. Althoug the violence against a 'living organism' would not decrease this way, it would suit our concept of moral probably better than it does today.

        I do not consider this view on nature beeing 'dark' as it already contains a moral valuation in it while looking at the given facts.

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