Flawed normative ethics of virtue, rules and consequences applied to domesticated companion animals
It is “morally” normative to conclude that having a pet dog is good because respectable, likable and powerful people such as doctors and presidents do it, and as a consequence of it, you can reduce stress, get exercise, form beneficial social bonds with other “pet owners” at the park and walking around your neighborhood, not to mention the economic benefits of selling pets, pet food, supplies and services, which was estimated to be seventy billion dollars in 2019. The problem with normative ethics is that it makes no appeal to moral consistency and is perpetuated by opting out of rational discourse – a justification, not based on justice but on what other people do.
A discourse about the actual costs of the domestication of non-human animals on both humans and on other non-human animals calls into question the “good” of killing one animal to feed another, who has no idea what they are eating. A closer look at the benefits to humans of our run away train of animal domestication would have to contend with the fact that nearly three quarters of all human diseases arise from domesticated animals, including: swine flue, tuberculosis, measles, smallpox, whooping cough, typhoid fever, influenza, leprosy, the cold virus and HIV.
It is “morally” normative to think that having a pet cow is not good because respectable, likable and powerful people don’t do that, there are often city and neighborhood rules against it, a cow needs a lot of space and pet cows cannot be used for dairy, meat or leather and treating a cow like a pet is imprudent because it makes meat eating pet lovers uncomfortable.
Even if we change the word “owner” to “companion animal,” would it be morally defensible for beings with the power to do so, such as Aliens, future genetic super humans or powerful AI robots, to isolate us within their environment, breed us to depend on them, and obedience train us so that we are subservient to them, control and dictate every aspect of our lives, and use us for their happiness, companionship, social and economic gain?
It is in the interest of every sentient being to be free, even domesticated dogs. If that weren’t the case and the breeding had truly taken all the “wild” out of them, we would not need all that obedience training, leashes, confinement, or see so many signs for missing pets and hear so much barking from the dog who has been left alone all day in the neighbors back yard (there is compelling evidence of loneliness and separation anxiety in domesticated animals). If everybody does something, that does not make it right or just for me to do it. Even if it is my duty to do something, that does not mean I should do it if it is cruel, unjust or unfair. The problem with normative ethics is that we are blinded by the normal. We are unable to even see that making animals conform to us is an act of privilege, aggression and an assumption that human supremacy is good.
Common virtue ethics objection: “I am being compassionate by rescuing him/her from a pound or shelter”.
The problem with this line of reasoning is that when we rescue animals such as cows or pigs, who are not normally pets, we take them to an animal sanctuary, where they can live their lives in relative freedom with their own species. By making that rescue dog a new member of our family are we perpetuating a morally inconsistent distinction between “animal companions,” and all other animals? What is it about not having been genetically manipulated through breeding for human companionship that makes non-companion animals deserve to be either: slaughtered and eaten or saved in an animal sanctuary; used for human entertainment or allowed to run free; experimented on or rescued? After rescuing humans from years in a prison camp we re-introduce them to free human society, even if it takes decades to do so and even if they never fully adjust.
I do see the apparent absurdity of making a sanctuary for Chihuahuas but they are the dog breed found most often in shelters, even with all our cruel and manipulative breeding, only a very few domesticated companion animals prefer human companionship to being with their own species. So, why should some animals who have been trained and often bred to be in circuses or as “exotic” pets or living for generations in cramped zoos be rescued to our best approximation of their natural habitat, while rescued domesticated “pet” animals are not normally afforded that option?
Why adopt one and free the other?
Nearly three quarters of all emerging and reemerging human diseases arise from the animal kingdom.
Humanities dominion over animals has unleashed a veritable Pandora’s ark of infectious diseases, most modern human infectious diseases were unknown before domestication led to a mass spillover of animal disease into human populations.
For example, tuberculosis appears to have been originally acquired through the domestication of goats, but now infects nearly one third of humanity. Meanwhile, measles and smallpox may have arisen from mutant cattle viruses. We domesticated pigs and got whooping cough. We domesticated chickens and got typhoid fever. We domesticated ducks and got influenza. Leprosy may have come from water buffalo and the cold virus from horses. How often did wild horses have the opportunity to sneeze into humanities face until they were broken and bridled? Before then, the common cold was presumably, common only to them. Once pathogens jump the species barrier, they can then transmit person to person. HIV, a virus thought to have originated from the butchering of primates in Africa for the bush meat trade, causes AIDS by weakening the immune system.
According to the CDC, Swine Flue killed 12,000 Americans.
From “Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow”
Is Homo Sapiens a superior life form or just the local bully?
With regard to other animals humans, have long since become gods. We don’t like to reflect on this too deeply, because we have not been particularly just or merciful gods.
If you watch the National Geographic Channel, go to a Disney film, or read a book of fairy tales, you might easily get the impression that planet earth is populated mainly by lions, wolves and tigers, who are an equal match for us humans. Simba the Lion King holds sway over the forest animals, Little Red Riding Hood tries to evade the Big Bad Wolf, and little Mowgli bravely confronts Shere Khan the tiger, but in reality they are no longer there. Our televisions, books, fantasies and nightmares are still full of them, but the Simbas, Shere Khans and Big Bad Wolves of our planet are disappearing. The world is populated mainly by humans and their domesticated animals.
How many wolves live today in Germany, the land of the Grimm Brothers, Little Red Riding Hood and The Big Bad Wolf? Less than a hundred, and even these are mostly Polish wolves that stole over the border in recent years. In contrast Germany is home to five million domesticated dogs.
Altogether about two hundred thousand wild wolves still roam the earth, but there are more than four hundred million domesticated dogs. The world contains forty thousand lions, compared to six hundred million house cats. Nine hundred thousand African Buffalo, versus one point five billion domesticated cows. Fifty million penguins and twenty billion chickens.
Since 1970, despite growing ecological awareness, wildlife populations have halved, not that they were prospering in 1970. In 1980 there were two billion wild birds in Europe, in 2009 only one point six billion were left. In the same year Europeans raised one point nine billion chickens for meat and eggs. At present, more than ninety percent of the large animals of the world , that is those weighing more than a few kilograms, are either humans or domesticated animals.
Yuval Noah Harari