Dialogue with non-buddhists regarding animal liberation, anti-speciesism, and veganism
This post is in reply to Glenn Wallis on the site he created Non-buddhism for the article “Sorry, Charlie! A Non-Buddhist Argument for Animal Liberation” he cross-posted on the (limited access) Buddhist site Tricycle Magazine.
In the future this will be revised to be not about Buddhism and about the bigotry, fallacy, and shortsightedness of anti-speciesism. The article and exchange with Glenn crystallized our thoughts and feelings.
Anti-speciesism is ill defined, misleading, biased towards only species deemed to be sentient, and implies and fosters exploitation and death of species not deemed sentient. Anti-speciesism is better described and more truthfully by its synonym, sentiocentrism as it only has compassion for animals deemed sentient.
Our belief is that all species are living beings and deserve respect, dignity, and compassion. We embrace anti-speciesism in its broadest and fullest sense.
Regarding Glenn’s article, we argue that any internal criticism of x-buddhism’s position regarding veganism and animal liberation must first contend with the different and ambiguous understanding of what x-buddhism means when uses the term sentient beings (jantu, bahu jana, jagat, sattva).
We contend that any sort of absolutisms regarding veganism, anti-speciesism, and animal liberation while desirable, is impossible, and the best one can attain (at our current technological capabilities) is the harm reduction model.
Because we assert that absolute cessation of harm, exploitation, and use of species for survival is impossible, and x-buddhism’s ambiguous ethical position regarding who or even what is covered by the term sentient being, any immanent of critique of x-buddhism via the lens of non-buddhism, that attempts to set in concrete ethical precepts regarding animal liberation and anti-speciesism, and supports veganism by such precepts, while it is in the right spirit, is still a product of ideologies of anthropomorphism and its more inclusive, but still elitists offspring, sentiocentrism.
Glenn’s critique is an improvement on the illogic of x-buddhist beliefs on such subjects only by degree and his prescriptions are ultimately impossible not only in practice but cannot ameliorate the psychological repression and guilt of the existential reality nature has burdened all life, what we call the ouroboros Real, where life must consume life or that which was once living to survive and thrive.
We apologize that our response was not clearer (in fairness its original intent was to garner discussion on another platform about the misleading biasedness of the term speciesism (and thus anti-speciesism), and not intended to address your critique head on).
We, as stated though, have no qualms with the spirit of your critique.
One of our frustrations is equating x-buddhism’s term sentient beings with the ethical and pollical term anti-speciesism (sentiocentrism), and likewise with (ethical) veganism to the extent anti-speciesism is considered a defense for veganism.
Our non-buddhist, and non-buddhist-academic explanation of what x-buddhism means by term sentient beings would state that it has a broad definition (fallacy of definition) from all living animate beings to only living animate conscious beings; but also in some more esoteric forms of x-buddhism even inanimate beings are considered sentient beings (the Wikipedia entry for Sentient beings cites; Getz 2004, Encyclopedia of Buddhism; Keiji (ed.) 1976, The Eastern Buddhist; Ray 2000, Indestructible Truth; Chen 2011, “Chinese Tiantai Doctrine on Insentient Things’ Buddha-Nature.” Chung-Hwa Buddhist Journal 24).
In that you bring in the terms anti-speciesism and vegan (giving the implication of an ethical argument, admittedly from a immanent position), these terms deserve to be defined, as that the first again qualifies as a fallacy of definition due to the “tradition” of being defined as pertaining to only species deemed to be sentient, not to all species as the term speciesism would seem to imply. Thus, any form of veganism based on the principles of anti-speciesism is better defined as sentiocentrism (a more accurate synonym for the mal-defined speciesism). Veganism, based on the ethical stance of what is traditionally called anti-speciesism, is elitist, in that the only species veganism vanguards for are sentient animal species. All other species are fair (fare) game for exploitation and consumption.
So, in an immanent critique of x-buddhism through the lens of non-buddhism we’d (ourselves, not you) end up with really 2 sets of theorems and ennobling truths. One we will label x1-buddhism, and the other for x2-buddhism. X1-buddhist are those that refer to sentient beings as living animals that are deemed capable of experiencing suffering, thus can logically be included in an immanent criticism of buddhism that argues for anti-speciesism or veganism. X1’s buddhism and thus anti-speciesism or veganism can be judged elitist as species not included in the sentient category are fair game for exploitation and consumption. X2-buddhist are those, who like us, embrace an (overly?) broad definition of sentient beings, one that is truly anti-speciesist, in that no species is biased against.
X1-Buddhism Theorems and Ennobling Truths
From the perspective that those x1-buddhists who embrace sentient beings as animals that are deemed to experience suffering, excluding plants and animals that are believed not to suffer, we would logically deduce these theorems and ennobling truths:
1. Animals and animal products used and consumed that are deemed sentient beings perceive and feel pain. (While “The Cambridge Declaration of Consciousness” goes a long way to reducing harm to other species is is exclusive to species deemed sentient. As consciousness is not yet fully understood, the determination of sentient beings is not (yet?) exact.
2. Only animals that are deemed sentient deserve the inalienable rights of “dignity, freedom from exploitation, and protection from unnecessary pain.” Thus implying that species not deemed sentient do not deserve dignity, they can be exploited and enslaved, and do not deserve any protection.
3. Buddhism is a rare force for compassion in the world. Subtract its compassion imperative, and Buddhism’s value as an agent of betterment is fatally compromised. More than ever, the world needs the robust, unambiguous displays of compassion that Buddhist training can offer. (Remains the same as it doesn’t infer elitist compassion)
First ennobling truth: Pain is inevitable, but you can contribute to its diminishment.
The truth itself stands unchanged as it is non-elitist and embraces the only rational and reasonable goal for conscious and aware living beings, that of harm reduction to and for all other beings. The clarification you offer that follows the truth can be seen as sentiocentrism but is logical within the context of x1-buddhism’s varied precepts.
Second ennobling truth: Craving. The root cause of [killing other sentient beings]…
Assuming your defense refers to animals deemed sentient; this can stand in our opinion albeit clarified. Though we’d like express how the idea of all of x-buddhism’s link between cravings and sentient beings could widen the set of sentient beings than that of the ethical, political, scientific, psychological definitions of anti-speciesism. We, as of yet, haven’t seen cravings used as qualifier in western political/ethical/scientific circles. That said see: X2-buddhism’s second ennobling truth.
Third ennobling truth: Cessation. That needless slaughter [of other sentient beings] will cease with the cessation of our craving for [other sentient beings]. Compare to x2-buddhism’s third ennobling truth (cessation of the idea of cessation).
Fourth ennobling truth: The Way of sentiocentric Buddhism. Stop using and consuming products of animals deemed sentient.
X2-Buddhism Theorems and Ennobling Truths
1. See 2
2. All species are deemed sentient. All species are an “an inalienable One indisputably deserving of dignity, freedom from exploitation, and protection [as far as possible following the ethics of harm reduction].
3. Buddhism is a rare force for compassion in the world. Subtract its compassion imperative and Buddhism’s value as an agent for betterment is fatally compromised. More than ever the world needs the robust, unambiguous displays of compassion that Buddhist training can offer.
First ennobling truth: [Dukkha] is inevitable.
1. Even where a species is deemed incapable of experiencing suffering, pain, or in the x-buddhist sense samsara, the very act of taking the life of another living thing, for whatever reason, significantly affects the perpetrator (Weisberg, Zipporah, “Animal Repression: Speciesism as Pathology).
2. To the extent that non-animate objects are used and or consumed for survival by species macro and micro, can, by deduction of precept 1, affect conscious, aware, and sentient beings who use or consume said non-animate objects.
3. In that consciousness is still a hard problem and that panpsychism is not yet ruled out, there is the possibility that Dukkha is as universal as any subjective experience can be.
a. While we consider ourselves to be staunch atheist (albeit as belief, not fact) and thus have in the past ignored theories of panpsychism, of recent, due to increased philosophical and scientific discussions and realization that it isn’t just new age woowoo, we have become more open to the idea.
b. We’ve even gone so far as to attempt to break any psychic barrier to experiencing panpsychism during mediation and other contemplative and mindfulness practices.
c. Absent of induced psychotropic experiences, or extreme religious contemplative practices experienced decades ago, the barrier, if there is one, has not been breached by us.
Second ennobling truth: Craving. Cravings are ubiquitous with species deemed sentient (within the biological realm evolved on earth). Killing species for survival is also ubiquitous for species deemed sentient. The only difference between humans and non-human sentient deemed species are human ethics, or more accurately, our repression of guilt, empathy, and for some, the horror of the reality we are currently burdened with (and the list of overt, subconscious, and unconscious, feelings can be extended depending on individual makeups and psyches).
1. It is known that sentient deemed animals crave sustenance and sex.
2. It is not known if non-sentient species experience cravings regarding sustenance and sex.
a. The AEO has “a high degree of certainty vertebrates including human beings and invertebrates such as cephalopods (such as octopuses and squids), since they satisfy the criteria for sentience.” (What beings are conscious) (Braithwaite, V. A. (2010) Do fish feel pain?, Oxford: Oxford University Press.)
b. The AEO acknowledges that it “is a controversial issue whether animals such as insects, arachnids and other arthropods are sentient,” citing V. B. Wigglesworth (1980, “Do insects feel pain?”).
c. The Animal Ethics organization (AEO) claims plants do not have experience: the response to external stimuli is not sentience.
3. The nature of consciousness is not known but it remains that all ethics based on consciousness, sentience, or even cravings, is biased inferring that species that lack the aforementioned characteristics are ripe for exploitation, abuse, and consumption.
4. Thus, cravings persist regardless of whether we are human or non-human sentient deemed species.
5. From an x2-buddhist perspective, cravings are ubiquitous, and our extension of rights and compassion to all species makes it impossible to objectively choose which species to exploit for our survival. Empathically, of course, it easier to kill species we think are not sentient, or use the products species we believe are less sentient, or we believe are not sentient.
a. The harm reduction model is a method usually applied to drug and alcohol addictions, irrepressible biological and physical cravings.
Third ennobling truth: Cessation is at this time impossible and the best that can be done is harm reduction. The existential reality is that evolution has designed all species to either survive by consuming living or what was once living, or to prefer consuming living or what was once living. Humans and most species must consume living or once was living to survive. Plants, for example, do not have to consume organic matter to survive, but they do prefer it. Different plants have different preferences to the organic-ness of soil.
Rather than cessation, striving for harm reduction is the only reasonable objective at this time. For those who cannot tolerate harming anything, given knowledge of the impossibility of cessation can either actively work towards creating ex nihilo “everything the body needs” or make the other more dramatic choice.
Fourth ennobling truth: Harm reduction is The Way, and the best any being can do within the known circumstances.
For sentient beings with self-reflective awareness The Way is anything but simple.
Ephemeral Gnoselph Prat Discuss...