Designated by most as mere commodities, an entire life, an entire world, an entire consciousness is reduced to a material thing, with a monetary value that indicates its ranking in the world of tradable things. This objectification ranks commodities according to their worth of material utility to the human species.
Financially speaking, what is the life of an animal worth to us? What is its equivalent value in a marketplace full of commodities?
In a society obsessed with monetary value over all other kinds of value, it is interesting to ask exactly what value we place upon the life of a sentient animal, including those that we have bred into existence for their meat. The answer is of course shameful and horrifying to contemplate.
In the UK, the cheap and most confined and abused chickens fetch just over £3 in the shop. The entire life, the suffering and torment of a living being is deemed to be less than half an hour of work on minimum wage. Or, by comparison it is the material equivalent of a pint, some socks or perhaps a ready meal. To have your entire worth of your life valued the same as some cheap batteries is supremely insulting and morally criminal.
Calves are valued at market at ~£200 – the life of a baby person is as materially valuable as a TV or a mid-range mobile phone – not a human being but a bovine being. Any kind of servitude, any kind of enslavement is a morally bad action – to have an awareness of life entitles you to at least certain basic rights. Unless totally unavoidable in the grandest sense, no living, conscious being deserves to be extinguished simply because it is deemed desirable or convenient by a more powerful being.
A lion killing a gazelle is unavoidable, it is nature – the lion’s actions are truly necessary to its survival. The human consumption of and harm towards animals is not necessary to our survival. Natural carnivores doing what it is vital and indispensable to their survival is the only ethically valid reason for killing another living animal. The principal ethical issue is that of our actions towards other animals – namely the unnecessary torment and killing of other animal beings.
What does reality this say to our collective conscience? It is a human travesty, a customary genocide that we are struggling to come to terms with, struggling to realise our complicity and perpetuation of this process. We drive it onwards, gradually increasingly the scale of the misery and horror decade by decade, as world population continues to grow and demand for meat continues. Hopefully the growth will slow as vegetarianism, veganism and an awareness of animal rights spreads.
The denial of a guilty mind is a large as the scale of the atrocity that it is blind to. It is abhorrent to even consider a life as a material object, of value only to the more powerful. It is our unique ability to reason to the extent that we can that is the reason why we are bound to act morally and honourably. Our cognitive abilities bind us to non-violence and peace. As potentially the most abstractly thinking being in known existence means of all species, we should be the ones who should know better. We are the all-powerful bully in the playground.
Do we really want to live in a society where the value of a life is reduced to a material good? The lesson we wrongly take from this as a society results in the moral ambiguity of current social relations to the animal kingdom – we end operating woefully inconsistent a moral position towards animals. We also end up caring to a token degree – enough for our peers not to deem us mean or uncaring, enough to assuage our guilt, but we daren’t look into it too closely, or dwell on it too deeply. For if we did, we would realise that to care about a creature’s wellbeing means that we care about its life – these two things are inseparable.
This moral ambiguity is a ludicrous position to be in – we care enough to condemn “excessive” torment or abuse, but not enough to free the slave themselves. Enslavement is a far greater moral crime – it is the slavery itself that create the other moral crimes of discomfort, pain, suffering in the first place. We care, but not enough to correct the root problem – that of slavery itself.