Shouldn’t We Also Prevent Wild Animals From Suffering?

Shouldn’t We Also Prevent Wild Animals From Suffering?

Q: “If you think we should prevent farm animals from suffering then shouldn’t we also prevent wild animals from suffering? Should vegans try to prevent as much death as possible, even suffering that comes about naturally?”

A: First, it’s important to remember that the vast majority of animal suffering and death is a result of the “food” industry. And in its current state few people would call animal agribusiness “natural.” It’s terribly and unnecessarily cruel to animals, it’s destructive to the environment, and it’s even harming human health.

So someone concerned about animal suffering rightly focuses most of his or her energy on choosing and promoting compassionate plant-based diets. That’s the simplest and most effective way to refrain from harming animals. Luckily, it’s easy to choose vegan meals instead of animal-based meals. And it’s getting easier every day!

I’d posit there’s a bright line differentiating “abstaining from harming” versus “helping.” For example, most people abstain from harming human children. They don’t abuse them but they may not go out of their way to help them. And that’s socially and morally acceptable.

To use a recent new story as an example, it’s acceptable to ignore a crying toddler on a plane. One needn’t help his mother soothe him. But slapping him and calling him a racial slur is unacceptable. See the difference between ‘not harming’ vs ‘helping’?

When it comes to farmed animals we can easily choose to refrain from harming them. We can choose not to slap them or call them names (much worse usually happens on modern “farms”) and we can refrain from harming them simply by leave their dead bodies or their secretions off our plates.

Likewise, it’s easy to refrain from hunting. We needn’t be the direct cause of animal suffering, tame or wild. However, we can stop at ‘not harming.’ We needn’t necessarily help wild animals.

Venturing into the realm of ‘helping’ can be complicated and have unintended consquences. We needn’t, for example, stop wild animals from hunting other wild animals. It’s OK for us to merely ‘not harm’ the animals ourselves. The more important thing is that we avoid harming causing harm. Go vegan.

8 Responses to Shouldn’t We Also Prevent Wild Animals From Suffering?

  1. > there’s a bright line differentiating “abstaining from harming” versus “helping.

    Why is that so? (Or why should it be so?) From the perspective of the suffering being it is utterly irrelevant whether s_he suffers because somone acted or because someone didn’t act.

    Your example with the crying toddler isn’t convincing either. In fact, if you think it through, it dis-proves your point, because (I hope) we all agree, that we should intervene, when a child isn’t adequately cared for or even abused.

    My own view would be, that the question of “wild” animals is a relevant moral issue. However, this shouldn’t be our focuss for 3 pragmatic reasons:

    If we want to see a paradigmatic shift in human-nonhuman animal relations we first need to challange the instrumentalizing view people have on nonhuman animals. For as long as there is no such shift, I don’t see, why people would care about wild animal suffering.
    Domesticated animals are closer to us. Generally speaking, we can have a greater impact on things close to us.
    The point you mentioned: We must think through the possibility of “unintended consquences”.

    Obviously one can always think of cases where non of the arguments above holds, yet this would be a rather limited domain of possible activities.

  2. Hi tom, I think you misunderstand the example with the toddler. He wasn’t being neglected or abused on the airplane. He was just crying because he was uncomfortable due to the air pressure changes during landing. There’s not much anyone can do to stop that discomfort, but it will soon be over and the kiddo will stop crying. Sure, someone could intervene and suggest to the mom that she give the toddler something to drink so he would swallow and it would relieve some pressure but there’s no moral duty to do that. And chances are the mom did try that already.

  3. > There’s not much anyone can do to stop that discomfort, but it will soon be over and the kiddo will stop crying

    But that’s not how suffering in nature (at least the one in question here) is like, is it? If you want a proper analogy you need to considder cases of existential suffering or death.

  4. Actually, when animals hunt other animals, they do tend to do it quickly and efficiently.

    Regardless, the point is that humans don’t necessarily have a moral duty to rescue, only a moral duty to refrain from harming. Rescue is above and beyond.

    In other words, go vegan. THEN start doing animal rescue if you wish. But don’t use the fact that some ‘animals hunt other animals’ as an excuse to justify what’s going on in modern animal agriculture.

  5. You are certainly right that wild animal suffering shouldn’t prevent persons from taking up vegan diets.

    On the other hand I think we should take wild animal suffering very seriously as animal rights advocates. The extent of wild animal suffering is probably beyond contemplation. The reasons for thinking so are documented well here: http://www.utilitarian-essays.com/suffering-nature.html

    So my when people ask me “should we prevent wild animals from suffering”, I would say yes. We should do so if it is feasible and can be done without significant cost to ourselves. We should prevent all unnecessary nonhuman and human suffering if we can!

    The question of course then is can we prevent wild animal suffering? And in some cases it looks like we can, but it most cases it appears to me more research has to be done.

  6. the beginning solution to the horrors and barbaric cruelty of factory farming is quite simple. go vegan.

  7. The reasons for thinking so are documented well here:

    Yo caleb. nothing personal but that essay is nothing more than a collection of half-truths, unqualified opinionating and thinly disguised speciesist doublethink.

    for example here are figures interpolated from the USDAs own statistics.
    http://farmusa.org/statistics11.html

    and according to this webpage over 63 billion animals are killed alone for food in the united states.
    http://animaldeathcount.webnode.com/

    very sobering statistics. so i take issue with the opening statement in your utilitarian flavored essay that makes the brash and unsourced assumption that more animals exist in the wild than are raised on factory farms and barbarically killed in slaughterhouses here in north america. that seems to be the main point of the essay, besides the illogical assumptions and wrongheaded conclusions.

  8. Surely it should be pretty obvious to people that there are more animals in the wild than there are in factory farms. Especially since we have to consider the oceans as well. There are orders of magnitude more wild animals.

    If I was the one who was suffering I would not consider it relevant if it was caused by another human or if it was ‘natural’, I would just want it to end. It’s only fair to use those same standards when assessing if we should help other beings.

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