Animal rights vs. biblical literalism and unbridled science.

Another fundamental error of Christianity is that it has in an unnatural fashion sundered mankind from the animal world to which it essentially belongs and now considers mankind alone as of any account, regarding the animals as no more than things. This error is a consequence of creation out of nothing, after which the Creator, in the first and second chapters of Genesis, takes all the animals just as if they were things, and without so much as the recommendation of kind treatment which even a dog-seller usually adds when he parts with his dogs, hands them over to man for man to rule, that is to do with them what he likes; subsequently, in the second chapter, the Creator goes on to appoint him the first professor of zoology by commissioning him to give the animals the names they shall thenceforth bear, which is once more only a symbol of their total dependence on him, i.e their total lack of rights.

It can truly be said: Men are the devils of the earth, and the animals are the tormented souls. This is the consequence of that installation scene in the Garden of Eden. For the mob can be controlled only by force or by religion, and here Christianity leaves us shamefully in the lurch. I heard from a reliable source that a Protestant pastor, requested by an animal protection society to preach a sermon against cruelty to animals, replied that with the best will in the world he was unable to do so, because he could find no support in his religion. The man was honest, and he was right.

When I was studying at Göttingen, Blumenbach spoke to us very seriously about the horrors of vivisection and told us what a cruel and terrible thing it was; wherefore it should be resorted to only very seldom and for very important experiments which would bring immediate benefit, and even then it must be carried out as publicly as possible so that the cruel sacrifice on the altar of science should be of the maximum possible usefulness. Nowadays, on the contrary, every little medicine-man thinks he has the right to torment animals in the cruellest fashion in his torture chamber so as to decide problems whose answers have for long stood written in books into which he is too lazy and ignorant to stick his nose. – Special mention should be made of an abomination committed by Baron Ernst von Bibra at Nürnberg and, with incomprehensible naïveté, tanquam re bene gesta, [As if the thing were done well] narrated by him to the public in his Vergleichende Untersuchungen über das Gehirn des Menschen und der Wirbelthiere: he deliberately let two rabbits starve to death! – in order to undertake the totally idle and useless experiment of seeing whether starvation produces a proportional change in the chemical composition of the brain! For the ends of science – n'est-ce pas? Have these gentlemen of the scalpel and crucible no notion at all then that they are first and foremost men, and chemists only secondly? How can you sleep soundly knowing you have harmless animals under lock and key in order to starve them slowly to death? Don't you wake up screaming in the night?

It is obviously high time that the Jewish conception of nature, at any rate in regard to animals, should come to an end in Europe, and that the eternal being which, as it lives in us, also lives in every animal should be recognized as such, and as such treated with care and consideration. One must be blind, deaf and dumb, or completely chloroformed by the foetor judaicus, not to see that the animal is in essence absolutely the same thing that we are, and that the difference lies merely in the accident, the intellect, and not in the substance, which is the will.

The greatest benefit conferred by the railways is that they spare millions of draught-horses their miserable existence.

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Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860) The Horrors and Absurdities of Religion

Class struggle revisited.

In the rarified air that was pumped into the Concorde Room, there nonetheless hovered a hint of something troubling: the implicit suggestion that the three traditional airline classes represented nothing less than a tripartite division of society according to people’s genuine talents and virtues. Having abolished the caste systems of old and fought to ensure universal access to education and opportunity, it seemed that we might have built up a meritocracy that had introduced an element of true justice into the distribution of wealth as well as poverty. In the modern era, destitution could therefore be regarded as not merely pitiable but deserved. The question of why, if one was in any way talented or adept, one was still unable to earn admittance to an elegant lounge was a conundrum for all economy airline passengers to ponder in the privacy of their own minds as they perched on hard plastic chairs in the overcrowded and chaotic public waiting areas of the world’s airports.

The West once had a powerful and forgiving explanation for exclusion from any sort of lounge: for two thousand years Christianity rejected the notion, inherent in the modern meritocratic system, that virtue must inevitably usher in material success. Jesus was the highest man, the most blessed, and yet throughout his earthly life he was poor, thus by his very example ruling out any direct equation between righteousness and wealth. the Christian story emphasized that, however apparently equitable our educational and commercial infrastructures might seem, random factors and accidents would always conspire to wreck any neat alignment between hierarchies of wealth on the one hand and virtue on the other. According to St Augustine, only God himself knew what each individual was worth, and He would not reveal that assessment before the time of the Last Judgement, to the sound of thunder and the trumpets of angels – a phantasmagorical scenario for non-believers, but helpful nevertheless in reminding us to refrain from judging others on the basis of a casual look at their tax returns.

The Christian story has neither died out nor been forgotten. That it continues even now to scratch away at meritocratic explanations of privilege was made clear to me when, after a copious lunch rounded off by a piece of chocolate cake with passionfruit sorbet, an employee called Reggie described for me the complicated set of circumstance that had brought her to the brutally decorated staff area of the Concorde Room from a shantytown outside Puerto Princesa in the Philippines. Our preference for the meritocratic versus the Christian belief system will in the end determine how we decide to interpret the relative standing of a tracksuited twenty-seven-year-old entrepreneur reading the Wall Street Journal by a stone-effect fireplace while waiting to board his fight to Seattle, against that of a Filipina cleaner whose job it is to tour the bathrooms of an airline’s first-class lounge, swabbing the shower cubicles of their diverse and ever-changing colonies of international bacteria.