What It Should Really Mean To Be Libertarian (*Ahem,* Jan Narveson)

Lindsey

We all know that people have many different motivations for being veg*n, such as concern for animals and/or the environment or health reasons. But I know few who become vegan, citing political beliefs as their main motivation. So I’d like to post my friend’s reason for being vegan.

Leafy recently posted a debate between animals-as-property abolitionist Gary Francione and libertarian philosopher Jan Narveson. I was appalled at Narveson’s stance that if it is in humans’ interests (even in the trivial interests of entertainment or fashion), it is entirely morally acceptable to torture an animal in any conceivable way. To him, it’s “weird,” but we shouldn’t ever stop anyone from doing it. I presume his reasoning is that he wouldn’t want to interfere with a person’s “freedom” to torture another feeling being.

For context, my friend originally posted the following on a private forum with about twenty (non-veg*n) members.

The longer I remain vegan and think about my motivations for being so, I’ve realized that they stem from larger societal issues. This is the point where this post might start offending people, and I truly do not mean it to. Any examples I provide or situations I describe are not directly pointed at anyone, least of all anyone here. I don’t know anyone here very well (or even decently well), so this is just a statement of how I feel. (More direct disclaimer: Every thing said in this post is directly from my point of view. The topics herein contained are stated as facts. Their factness may remain debatable to some, but from my point of view, they are fact. I believe wholeheartedly that there is no such thing as objective/absolute truth so read what I say with that lens. )

I don’t much like labels, but one of the most fitting labels for me is Libertarian. While I will not completely identify myself with that political party, I agree with basically all of their tenets. To me, it all means one thing – freedom. You should be free to do whatever you want to do, however you want to do it, for as long as you want to do it so long as you don’t infringe on another’s right to do the same. Any restriction on this is an outside party/force trying to control behavior for his/her/its/their own purposes. Manipulation of a population is a heinous crime and is the antithesis of freedom. That being said, if humans are guaranteed this (and I know they aren’t but ultimately, that is what I hope for), why are animals not?

The answer to that question boils down to one simple belief. Humans are superior to animals. If one believes this, I counter with a simple, “why?” If it is because we possess greater mental capacity, I might remind you (generic you, not the reader) that the one (and practically only) advanced ability that humans have over animals is the ability to recognize “complex” patterns. Yet, I find it disheartening that this ability receives very little reward in our society. The people who make the most money are not the ones who have mastered this defining characteristic of our species, but are the ones who have mastered their physical bodies to play games. We are “superior” to animals yet our largest forms of entertainment of at the same level of the entertainment of animals. If we are that similar to animals, then perhaps a higher authority has deemed humans as a “superior” species. Regardless of one’s belief in said higher power, I personally must go back to what I said in the last paragraph – manipulation of a population is a heinous crime and is the antithesis of freedom. If this “higher power” has decreed that we are “superior” that that power is manipulating us by infusing an alien belief structure into us. While it is generally easier to remain ignorant of this lack of self-definition, I do not feel that I can accept that.

So, all of that being said, I feel that animals are neither superior nor inferior to humans. Humans are animals. In that light, the meat industry is akin to slavery in that a group of people are restricting the life of other individuals to make a significant gain from the life of that individual whereas on the other side of the coin, the individual is not allowed to live a natural life. This is a grave injustice. It is sickening to me the more I think about it. I cannot support something which betrays my most base moral code…the prevalence of justice (what can I say, I’m a Libra).

I sincerely hope that this post was not taken as a sermon. I have no right to tell you that what you feel/believe is wrong. In fact, I am a moral relativist, but that does not quell the fire of my own beliefs. There are about a billion other related topics about which I have an unyielding blaze of criticism/commentary, and I hope that I can one day discuss these things rationally with rational people such as are here. I welcome any critiques of my post/thoughts and would love to start a dia/tria/more-alogue about the subjects and any related (or non-related) ones.

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11 Responses to “What It Should Really Mean To Be Libertarian (*Ahem,* Jan Narveson)”

  • Edward Says:

    Seriously! You and Leafy are on fire!!! Keep up the amazing work! I might just retire now. :-D

  • Leafy Says:

    Thanks for posting this, Lindsey! It’s heartening to see how many people are revolted by beliefs such as Narveson’s. And certainly there are plenty of other libertarians who disagree with him about animal torture. Narveson’s only real objection is that most animals are somebody else’s property, and we have no right to damage another’s property!

    I think Narveson rejects the idea of any moral consideration for animals because he believes in contractualism: “a uniform set of rules to be imposed by everybody on everybody.” Since animals can’t comprehend human social contracts and can’t communicate with us, they can’t enter into contracts with humans. Therefore, they have no rights, not even the negative right not to be tortured. Gary Francione rejects the idea of the social contract and points out in the debate that humans who are not capable of moral agency are still part of the moral community, and nonhuman animals should be, too.

    I agree with the slavery analogy of @jordanbsanders, but unfortunately I think that people refuse to see it because they are too obsessed with their rights to “property,” to make money, and to eat the way they always have and enjoy. I fear that we’ll never see an end to animal abuse until it becomes extremely convenient and/or profitable to stop carving nonhuman animals up and selling them as food.

  • Lindsey Says:

    @Ed –
    =D
    No retirement allowed! We’d miss you too much!

    @Leafy –
    So bogus, what a weak excuse. I honestly don’t know how you can feel right about yourself while holding beliefs like that. I can understand nearly any justification that people give in order to continue to consume animal products, but I cannot understand Narveson’s.

    Great point in your last paragraph. It seems so hopeless sometimes, doesn’t it? The great majority of people won’t listen to reason or won’t take much time to really empathize with any being, which makes it entirely frustrating to live on this planet. So if people won’t take ethical action themselves, we must work to make it easy for them. Ensuring easy, cheap vegan alternatives everywhere is a start. People would have far fewer excuses to continue consuming animal products. Also, breaking the prejudices against vegan food is important too. Those are two practical solutions that I constantly envision. As I said, people are rarely ethically motivated *sigh* But they may be a bit more when it’s convenient for them.

    I should really make a blog post out of this: focus on the solution, not the problem.

    Anonymous Reply:

    I’m glad I’m not the only one frustrated with the attitude and ‘arguments’ of the average omnivore. Most of the people I’ve talked to agree that unnecessary violence is wrong, and that we don’t need to eat meat to survive, yet they just can’t resist the taste. It brings me to tears when I expose people as morally skeptical, selfish or even worse, callous.

    So you’re right that we need to focus more on the solutions: popularizing veganism, making vegan food tastier, more convenient, and cheaper; having more vegan cookbooks, restaurants, etc. I hope in vitro meat will be cheap enough to compete with real meat.

  • Anonymous Says:

    Above, Linsey says “I have no right to tell you that what you feel/believe is wrong. In fact, I am a moral relativist, but that does not quell the fire of my own beliefs.”

    I admire you passion, and I think you do have the right to tell me that my beliefs and feelings are wrong. First of all, you have the freedom of speech. Second, some beliefs are inherently immoral, for example, the belief that one should rape a child. I argue that there are objective moral truths, and one of the most important ones is that unnecessary violence is morally impermissible.

    Perhaps what you meant by “I have no right” is that you should not punish someone just for their beliefs. I agree, of course, that we have the right to think whatever we want to think. But surely we do not have the moral right to do whatever we want to do. The kind of moral relativism where every action is morally permitted is a breeding ground for violence. Not all beliefs are entitled to respect (decent regard), especially irrational and immoral beliefs.

    What do you think?

  • korshi Says:

    Just curious – how did this argument go down with the other Libertarians on the forum? I find the whole philosophy at best silly and at worst sociopathic, but I have to say Libertarians are hard to argue with from a vegan/vegetarian position. Like Narveson, most of them seem more willing to argue that genocide is okay or that carrots are sentient than acknowledge that the freedoms of non-human animals should be respected.

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