The Animal Lover Paradox

I love the mountains, that’s why I never go there.


Peter Singer relates the following story in his book, Animal Liberation:

Soon after I began work on this book my wife and I were invited to tea—we were living in England at the time—by a lady who had heard that I was planning to write about animals. She herself was very interested in animals, she said, and she had a friend who had already written a book about animals and would be so keen to meet us.

When we arrived our hostess’s friend was already there, and she certainly was keen to talk about animals. “I do love animals,” she began. “I have a dog and two cats, and do you know they get on together wonderfully well. Do you know Mrs. Scott? She runs a little hospital for sick pets…” and she was off.

She paused while refreshments were served, took a ham sandwich, and then asked us what pets we had. We told her we didn’t own any pets. She looked a little surprised, and took a bite of her sandwich. Our hostess, who had now finished serving the sandwiches, joined us and took up the conversation: “But you are interested in animals, aren’t you, Mr. Singer?”

We tried to explain that we were interested in the prevention of suffering and misery; that we were opposed to arbitrary discrimination; that we thought it wrong to inflict needless suffering on another being, even if that being were not a member of our own species; and that we believed animals were ruthlessly and cruelly exploited by humans, and we wanted this changed.

Otherwise, we said, we were not especially “interested in” animals. Neither of us had ever been inordinately fond of dogs, cats, or horses in the way that many people are. We didn’t “love” animals. We simply wanted them treated as the independent sentient beings that they are, and not as a means to human ends…

Singer goes on to say:

The portrayal of those who protest against cruelty to animals as sentimental, emotional “animal-lovers” has had the effect of excluding the entire issue of our treatment of nonhumans from serious political and moral discussion. It is easy to see why we do this.

If we did give the issue serious consideration, if, for instance, we looked closely at the conditions in which animals live in the modern “factory farms” that produce our meat, we might be made uncomfortable about ham sandwiches … and all those other items in our diet…

This book makes no sentimental appeals for sympathy toward “cute” animals. I am no more outraged by the slaughter of horses or dogs for meat than I am by the slaughter of pigs for this purpose.

Singer’s declaration that he and his wife are not particularly interested in animals, nor do they consider themselves to be animal lovers, might seem odd to someone who has in mind some vegan or vegetarian stereotype.

I have much greater empathy for animals than I did before becoming vegan. But mostly I just want to leave them alone to live their lives.

They need their space. So do we. Some of us more than others.

I like to see and listen to the birds in my backyard, smile at the sight of ducks down by the river, or watch grey headed flying foxes (bats) on their nightly migration in our suburban area.

Which is more difficult to understand?

  • Not treating animals as a means to our ends.
  • Treating some animals as friends, but others as food or fur.

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