Some time ago, I took a course in the English department—Literature, Animals, and Society—that had us read the works of Alice Walker, Roald Dahl, Alice Munro, and others. While literature was emphasized, the main focus actually laid more on animals and humanity. The readings explored large ideas: animal rights, gender identity, feminism, Freud, sexualization of animals, and such. The course also dealt with more immediate issues, such as stray animals, pounds, and conservation of wildlife in Taiwan. The overarching theme was a simple question: how do we interact with animals? The answer, however, is a convoluted clutter of contradictions and emotions.
The following summer, my professor recommended a follow-up reading, Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat by Hal Herzog. The book further reinforces the notion that we, the human species, are really inconsistent in our feelings toward other animals. Two examples from the book come to mind. The first is a variation on the well-known freight train problem from ethics—there is a freight train heading towards five unaware people, and the only way to save them is to push a stranger in front of the train; is it morally right to sacrifice the life of one individual for five? Whatever one’s answers may be to these questions, the opposite position can be argued. In Herzog’s variation, however, instead of five persons, the freight train is headed toward five chimpanzees, and to save them, one has to push one stranger chimpanzee. For most, the previous moral gray is removed, and it becomes entirely justifiable. The difference in these hypotheticals is that with animals, we treat them as mere objects—it is just a numbers game. However simple that explanation may be, our hypocrisy is revealed if we introduce intimate pet animals. Animals, thusly it seems, occupy an ethically confused space.
The second example is rooted in husbandry and cockfighting. Most cockfights are to the death; roosters with knives of gaffs tied to their claws attack each other in a bloody mess. (Knives or gaffs are used to make kills quicker and definitive.) Winners, if not disabled, continue to fight until they cannot anymore. On the surface, one is clearly a more humane practice. Yet, gamecock trainers make a convincing case for themselves. Gamecocks are treated like kings in the months leading up to their final five minutes. They run freely in large open spaces, are fed the best balanced meals, and, as one trainer admits, are raised with love. The same could rarely be said for poultry farming, where chickens often develop health and immobility issues from being strapped in place, overfeeding, and poor sanitation. One practice is illegal in many places; the other, we accept. One we consider as life; the other, we relegate to food, although both are chickens.
Silver Spoon exposes the odd aspects of our internal categorization of animals. In the main arc, Hachiken faces a similar dilemma—at Yezo Agricultural High School, he raises a cute piglet, which he emotionally bonds with at first sight, even while knowing its eventual fate as food. At the end of the season, Hachiken not only accepts that fate, but prepares and eats the piglet himself. Here, Hachiken has stood before a very real moral crossroad and makes the choice that, in an analogous case, many would condemn. We abhor those who eat kittens because they are beloved pets. In Hachiken’s case, the line between food and pet is blurred, but the sentiment remains the same. Porkchop feels more like a pet than a food; the piglet even has a name, albeit a name that reminds of its raison d’être. Then, is it morally wrong of Hachiken to eat someone he has raised and loved, however empathetically he justifies it? If not, then is it hypocritical of us to disapprove eating kittens?
Well, not exactly.
True, feelings and disgust do carry some moral weight. However, the disgust felt from the “eating of loved ones” (as opposed to death or killing) has little rational basis. The act of eating is not inherently bad. Yet, when we associate that action with certain things, it just seems deplorable. In this context, Silver Spoon continues to highlight the ethical quandaries involved with animals. Hachiken is not detestable nor are we hypocrites. We are all simply inconsistent.
Immanuel Kant, on our moral obligations to animals, holds the position that how we interact with animals reflects our own humanity. This resonates with what we see in Hachiken, Silver Spoon, and our own lives—we can be so illogical and emotional and also, most importantly, humane when it comes to animals, just as we can be with most everything.
And that is just fine.
- Recommended readings:
“Why Did the Balinese Chicken Cross the Road?” by Alice Walker
“Pig” by Roald Dahl
“Boys and Girls” by Alice Munro
- The term “animal” will be used to refer to non-human animals.
Great post =D Animal welfare is another big interest of mine besides anime/animation, so I’ve read a lot of literature and seen a lot of documentaries on the subject. Took a couple of courses at my university too. I actually wrote a very similar post about Silver Spoon and how it depicts the human-animal relationship. You can read it here if you’re interested: http://animeyume.com/blog/2014/04/11/reflections-on-silver-spoon-and-the-use-of-animals-in-agriculture/
The main idea you bring up here is true – that our relationship with animals is inconsistent. That it’s morally okay to eat a pig but not a dog, even though a pig can be just as intelligent an animal as a dog. Hardcore animal activists, vegans, and the like want to imagine a world where that inconsistency is gone and humans treat all sentient beings the same. It’s a nice idea and I admire such altruistic people who can live their lives without eating meat or partaking in anything that even indirectly promotes cruelty. But I can’t imagine it ever becoming more than niche thing. But even if people can’t be totally pure when it comes to dealing with animals, compared to how they were viewed and treated years ago, things are certainly improving, so that’s a great thing.
Things are improving, slower than many would like, but they are, and that is great. Also, I’m think that this sort of inconsistency is fine, at least for now. If we can lessen suffering of a group, then that is good.
I always find it puzzling the way humans treat animals. Such awareness are raised up on some occasions, aiming to stop, or perhaps to lessen down the cruelty, yet, we still consume meat like chicken, beef and pork. Yet, why does it seem somehow morally wrong to consume a cat or a dog? You’re right in saying that humans in a sense, are just inconsistent beings – it’s easy to detect contradictions from some of their views, and this is just one of them.
It is puzzling, but I think that sort of contradiction in how we label things is fine. I’m not sure if we really need to feel the same way about all animals. Further, just because we treat some animals better is certainly no reason to dismiss ethical issues surrounding animal welfare. In short, inconsistencies exist, but do not render ethics obsolete.
Reblogged this on compass on my field trip.
“Meat comes from the grocery store. That’s all I need to know.” as one city friend from college told me. I grew up in a farming area and hunted game animals. We had…different world views I could say. Not that I hadn’t as a kid read things ranging from Charlotte’s Web to Animal Farm to The Jungle. I started but didn’t finish Silver Spoons. I didn’t think it was bad, but I guessed where it was going and for some reason I decided I just didn’t want to follow it.
Of course, an alternative is always a little green cracker called Soylent Green…
I think there’s one more alternative: to lessen the suffering of animals bred for food. It’s not necessarily about not eating meat all. That’s one thing I liked Silver Spoon—its exploration of how we get our meat.
The way we treat animals is full of contradictions, love as pet, kill as vermin or eat every single human does these things to different animals based on its own judgment whats right or wrong.
I love pets like cats and dogs, I really like the idea of interacting between species and it works best to some degree, with these animals we can communicate, I have a dog, while I don’t understand what she is barking, I can read her needs and reactions and so can the dog. Other animals we western people eat have the same ability to communicate or at least interact, still its common sense to eat cows, pigs and other four legged animals.
Our meat industry is so perverted that I actually feel bad for eating any, I still do because it tastes good. I try to pay more money for this stuff in hope that they were raised better, I bet it’s just a pretty illusion, though 😦 I already eat eat no things from the ocean, for one reason I dislike the smell of fish, but I also can’t agree on the large scale fishing methods. In the end I want that livestock can live properly till the day it becomes food, such pictures of suffering animals are totally unacceptable for me.
Ah cockfight for a second I thought about something different . Oh crap… my dirty mind totally lead me astray there (ﾟ´Д｀ﾟ)ﾟ lol.
I’m with you on the delicious tastes of meat. I enjoy my steaks and chicken and pork and seafood to ever give all that up. I advocate for the humane treatment of livestock, but I don’t think people should feel obliged to pay more for it (e.g. free range or such). Morality should not be for the privileged and the rich, and if we were to advocate everyone to buy more expensive but humanely treated foods, that is the type of class discrimination we are advocating for. Some sort of reform is in order, but I’m not sure exactly what that would look like.
p.s. I had a chuckle on your thoughts about “cockfighting”. Dirty minds~
Ahhhh, animals in literature are a topic near and dear to my writer’s heart. Animals are “other” which is why when we emphasize with them and project human characteristics onto them, we run into the moral quandary of redefining animals as self as opposed to other. We use animals as a way of defining what is “not human”. Funnily enough, this process of identifying what is not self actually is a negative means of defining what is “self.”
Indeed, it’s so often to see people talk about animals as the opposite of human.
It’s a very interesting article.
However, the justification for Hachiken is very simple: he didn’t want the pig to die at first but, since it wasn’t actually its pig but the school’s pig, he had no choice to obey orders and leave the pig.
So, when the pig has been killed, the only thing you can do to say that you loved that pig is that you can eat it in order to appreciate even more its existence.
I hope you’ll understand what I said XD I’m not English, sorry >_<
Justification for Hachiken is easily understood, but as a reflection of our society’s treatment of animals and the assigned roles of animals, this story may be more complex. For example, was the pig at any point a pet? Or was it always livestock?
Hiya! I’m looking for Anime and Manga bloggers and found your blog. I could not find your email address, could you kindly shoot me an email: [email removed] — It is regarding writing about Manga/Anime type of offer. This is not spam by the way. Thank you!
Thank you for the interest, but I’m not looking to write regularly on manga/anime for another blog for now. Best~