Emilio Horner is a political science senior and Mustang News columnist. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the viewpoints and editorial coverage of Mustang News.
An insane man runs screaming down the meat aisle at your local grocery store. A normal man doesn’t bat an eye as he reads about drone strikes in Yemen, while sipping his daily fair trade coffee. This column, as always, is not here to talk about Trump or Bernie (bless his soul), or whether Hillary does have hot sauce in her bag. It exists to ask the big questions. What does it mean to be human? Who counts as human? Whose lives count as lives worth mourning?
Part of being human in a Judeo-Christian cultural context like ours is being socialized into believing that life has an inherent grand purpose, and that we operate in a world of good versus evil in which good will win out. I think this is nonsense.
A lot of people will tell you this is nonsense and identify as atheists, while still secretly living their lives based off Judeo-Christian principles. This is because the values are deeply ingrained in our society and because religion is comforting. Essentially, religion tells us that human lives are special.
But do all dogs go to heaven? Another part of being human, is not being a nonhuman, or more simply put, an animal. Just as it’s impossible to conceive a cooked carrot without understanding a raw carrot, one cannot understand what it means to be human without understanding what it means to not be a human. Furthermore, part of believing that human lives are special is believing that we are different than animals. This means that we as a society choose to value the things that make us different from animals more so than the things that make us similar. If we value the similarities, then we aren’t viewing ourselves as special. Specialty comes from uniqueness.
What makes humans different and unique from animals is capitalism, rationalism and technological innovation; unsurprisingly these are the things that Western society values the most. What makes humans similar to them is that we are all corporal and vulnerable beings who are born and will die. In creating human exceptionalism, we forget that we are all vulnerable. Vulnerability of others is something not respected, and it should be.
Having a category of life that is not human, and therefore not valuable, allows us to be able to “dehumanize” other people. For example, when ISIS beheaded American journalist James Foley in 2014 that was a life that was worth grieving because that was a life that was considered human. On the other hand, the Iraq Body Count project estimates that there have been 155,932-174,355 civilian deaths in Iraq as of March 2016. Why is it that we live in a society in which I would be considered crazy if I was seen crying about another dead Iraqi civilian every day on the bus ride to school? Notions of masculinity and emotional displays aside, it is because we as a society don’t view those lives as mournable because we don’t view them as human.
The solution to this problem is that we should eliminate the category of life that is not valuable, mournable or vulnerable, essentially the category of life that is not human. Essentially this means that if we don’t want people to be dehumanized, we should change what it means to be a nonhuman or an animal. We should respect the dignity and value of animal life. This means that we should reject all animal testing, stop using animal furs and pelts and most importantly stop eating meat. This is the only way for us to realize that life in general is valuable and fragile.
Obviously, this column respects the class privilege of being a vegetarian or vegan and understands in food deserts it becomes impossible to purchase affordable, nutritious and healthy food. I also understand certain allergies, cultural practices and eating disorders make being a vegetarian or vegan difficult. Still, the principle remains that many people continue to eat meat and disrespect animals.
Re-conceptualizing animals will force society to value loss, vulnerability and grief, near universal characteristics of living. Vulnerability and loss follow from being constituted as bodies. People mourn when they accept that by the loss they feel, they will be changed forever. Mourning has a mysterious element to it. Since “you” constitutes “I,” a loss is partially a loss of the self. Accepting this and understanding grief and suffering is necessary toward developing the ethical responsibility to reduce suffering worldwide.
When a man walks down a supermarket aisle filled with dead carcasses, then that should be something to scream about. That should be terrifying, because it is. Meanwhile, anyone who is not disturbed by our continued illegal and unconstitutional drone strikes in Yemen, killing civilians, should be considered a psychopath.