Living a cruelty-free life.

I understand that living a “cruelty-free life” is among the top reasons for people to choose a vegan or even a vegetarian lifestyle (discounting medical or health reasons, which I don’t think makes it that high on the list, anyways).

A phrase often heard in those kinds of conversations is that of “a life taken”. A very noble ideal if you start from the assumption that all life is equal and that humans have no special standing among other animals.

My question is, when do those lives taken stop counting? Even assuming “organic” vegetables, there has to be a lot of worms, insects and critters killed during the harvest of veggies. Do those count?

I would imagine that it is impossible to live a life anywhere near normal without killing some (many) animals with our many activities. Just showering sends countless acari to their watery graves. Once you graduate to driving a car, or wearing clothes, killing animals is simply unavoidable. Is anyone making an effort to limit damage in those areas?

Do plant lives count? Plants killed in the process of food production? (I do not know that there are any, please educate me in this regard). Bacteria, viruses, fungi? (why or why not?)

Please, let us not turn this thread into a platform to take cheap shots at your unfavourite diet fad, philosophy, organization, etc. Yes, there are some nutjobs out there who embrace this, just as there are nutjobs embracing any idea. I want to hear from people who rationally believe in veganism or vegetarianism for moral reasons.

Is a cruelty/killing-free (CKF) lifestyle possible at all? Is veganism (as a diet) enough of an effort in pro of a CKF lifestyle?

It’s also a good ideal if you start from the assumption that, while human lives might be more valuable than other lives, it is possible for other lives to have intrinsic value to those that live them. That’s the place I’m starting from (or, rather, end up at).

For me, it’s not your genetic makeup that determines whether your life has intrinsic value: it’s your capacity to appreciate that life. The extent to which you feel pleasure and pain, have desires and fears, have a concept of yourself that lasts over time, have intentions, and have a sense of self-interest all figure into my very fuzzy equation about the degree to which I respect your life, in addition to whether you’re human. Indeed the humanness part of the equation may be the one that influences me most, but it seems the least rational part of the equation to me.

Jainists do, but few others do. One thing that many vegetarians ignore is the number of animals killed in the process of producing even organic crops. I think you could make a good case that fewer mammals are killed per calorie if you hunt for your food than if you eat farmed veggies and grains.

For me, no. See my list of criteria above. Jainists do count them, to the best of my knowledge.

From my perspective, a completely cruelty-free lifestyle is impossible, and I recognize that everyone, including myself, causes death and suffering in the course of our everyday lives. I try to cut down on the amount I cause, but I recognize that I’m not minimizing it, because minimizing it would be uncomfortable and inconvenient. We all make compromises.


From Encyclopedia Mythica:

“The mandrake or mandragora has, in folklore and superstition, always been regarded as a plant with special powers. This idea is based on the shape of the root which is forked and roughly resembles the human figure. It was supposed to grow under the feet of a hanged man and could only be pulled from the ground after performing the necessary rituals. It was advisable to put wax in the ears before one attempted to do this: the mandrake would scream when pulled free and this could cause deafness.”

Sounds like cruelty to me.
Of course I am not one to talk, as I use a propane torch to control weeds.

Fair enough. They don’t have to be equal to be worth saving.

Should I understand this to mean that say, a starfish is worth less than a dog as its “psychology” is less complicated? Is there a cutoff for “ok to eat”? or “ok to kill in self-defense”, or “ok to kill for my comfort”?

are we talking number of lives? pound per pound? number of lives weighted by their self-awareness? A cow is one death to feed many, a plant could be a hundred animal deaths to get one tomato. But then you have to add all those “microdeaths” to the cow, as well.

Fair enough. You cut down to the point where the burden of the changes overcomes the burden of the “damage” caused.

Does this thinking carry over to other aspects of your life other than diet? Silk? Fur? Cosmetics? Ivory?

epa, tocayo

I don’t feel that any life has intrinsic value solely because it is alive. So, for me, “because it is alive” is not adequate motivation towards much at all.

I also think that it is not a realistic expectation to be able to live each day without killing multiple organisms, directly or indirectly.

Most absolutes in life are hard bordering on impossible to attain. So, rather than throwing out all goals, we do as as Left Hand of Dorkness says, and satisfy ourselves with achieving a middle ground that satisfies each of us. (Of course, we all love it when one person uses their middle ground as a platform from which to throw insults and condemnation at others).

For me, absolutely a starfish is worth less than a dog. I don’t know what Jainists think. The cutoff for “ok to kill in self-defense” doesn’t really exist: there’s nothing that’s NOT okay to kill in self-defense (barring really weird hypotheticals). For “okay to eat,” the cutoff becomes higher as the lack of alternative foods becomes higher. For “okay to kill for comfort,” it’s only “okay” if the entity in question doesn’t experience any of the items on the list above. Mind you, I might do it anyway, but it’s a compromise in cases like eating salmon. Eating wild-gathered dandelion greens? No compromise is involved.

For me, it’s the last one.

I try. I’ve finally started buying leather, after many years of not doing so. Silk isn’t a big issue for me, because I don’t weight silkworms very heavily. Fur and ivory are right out. But it’s all a series of compromises.

Agreed in some ways: folks who pretend to be pure are really obnoxious. But in other ways, I expect people to be active in preventing what they see as unacceptable compromises. Such activism has improved conditions for animals in slaughterhouses, has led to the outlawing of dogfighting, and has led to a revolution in the care given stray animals by local governments. These, in my opinion, are all good outcomes of people who may have been perceived as “throwing condemnation at others.”


Care to elaborate on this in the context of the OP? Is that something along the lines of what LHoD posted about life having a value based on their ability to enjoy such life?

I very much agree with that. I am starting to have second thoughts about having linked cruelty and killing. Killing is unavoidable, cruelty is not.

That is probably true of everybody about every topic. I would like to hear about the specific thoughts of people who chose vegan or vegetarian lifestyles for moral reasons and how they juggle this matter.

I am not sure what motivates this comment, but here is hoping it won’t come to that.

IANAvege-anything, but I’ve known a couple (non-nutjobs) who had moral grounds for their choices. They mostly tried to minimize the “damage” they caused, realizing that it can’t be eliminated entirely. Pretty similar to what LHOD says.

I’ve also known a few that were primarily opposed to factory meat production. They would eat home-grown animals (assuming they knew that the animals were well treated and killed humanely) and wild game. They acknowledged that predation and meat-eating are a basic fact of life. They simply believe that our current methods (e.g., factory reared animals, feedlots, slaughterhouses, etc.) are cruel and refuse to subsidize them. This was before the advent of easily obtainable organic, range-fed, etc., meat and eggs. I’d suspect their reaction to those would depend on the circumstances of the individual producer.

I think most people who live by non-cruelty principles would say that there’s a plainly visible categorical difference between animals eaten for meat vs. insects and other pests. A cow can use it face, body, and voice to express emotions that humans can understand, such as pain, sadness, and attraction. A potato bug cannot.

As much as I can appreciate the differences in complexity between the nervous system of insects and mammals, I believe there is a little danger of anthropomorphization here. Bugs are just as capable of pain and attraction as any other animal. As for sadness, I guess that would depend on how you define sadness. I am sure that most bugs must have some sort of response to an expectation of pleasure that is not met. That they don’t have moving eyebrows doesn’t mean that they are not capable of those reactions.

I feel more comfortable with a position as outlined by redtail23, A wild animal cleanly killed for food is ok while hundreds of them packed in factory-farm are not. At least there is no ranking of the value of the life of different species.

Some species we consider “lower” are very sophisticated in their range of responses to stimuli. Octopi and cuttlefish are notoriously intelligent. Ditto for several insects. I do not know if anyone has bothered to rank them vs vertebrates. Several species of fish and birds strike me as particularly incurious and poor in their responses to stimuli. Yet I do not think there is anyone out there who would casually kill a pigeon but would avoid stepping on an insect.

Are there any objective way to measure the ability of animals to “appreciate” their lives?

Nothing against people making personal decisions about what they are comfortable doing, of course, I just have a hard time seeing those as moral choices.

It’s easier to see if you get away from the idea of objective morality. Moral choices are aesthetic choices. We’re just reluctant to admit that.

How many potato bugs to a chicken? How many starfish to a dog? I am not trying to nitpick you to death but there is bound to be a point where those start mattering.

Modern agricultural practices (which I believe are mostly necessary to maintain our population levels), affect the lives of (kill) many animals, from insects to mammals. When does the death of all those outweigh the life of the cow that was spared to feed us?

And the end of slavery, universal voting rights and minimum wage. In the end, you need to fight for what you believe and that is bound to mean stepping on some toes.

We do not live as islands where we make strictly personal decision that affects us only and nobody else.

I like to believe, though, that all these advances are not the steamrolling of an advancing voting majority but the product of the application of some reasoning to a problem that led to a change of policy.

In the end, we all have drawn a line that separates the acceptable from the inadmissible. Killing microscopic insects is universally ok (even if only because we don’t have the tools to prevent it or even perceive it), killing people is not.

In between those two extremes, there is people at every level. Some will happily eat a cow but not a dog, some will eat a fish but not a cow, some only plants, some only naturally fallen fruits.

I hesitate to bring in a parallel from another area, but it is not different from the abortion debate. Nobody defends a potential life before the parents have sex, and nobody advocates the parental right to kill a baby after birth. Everybody has drawn a line somewhere in between.

The problem is when those lines start becoming law. Legislating how many pigs to a pen, for example, is a decision that affects all on the values of some. Is there any kind of objective principles that stand behind these sort of regulations? Or is it just voters whim?

A few vegans I know consider veganism as part of reducing their carbon footprint. This may be tied to the idea of living a cruelty free lifestyle, as it is a tacit acknowledgement that what an individual does affects all other living things, and is, similar to what redtail23 says, it’s a way to do less damage, while still participating in society.

Sorry if this is too much of a departure from the OP’s question. I don’t participate much in GD threads.

By this rationale, would severely retarded humans have less intrinsic value? How about moderately retarded ones? Or how about autistics, some of whom are cognitively gifted, but display an extremely limited range of emotional responses? Or is there a magic dividing line between even the most rudimentary, limited of humans and the most gifted, emotionally complex animal?

This debate is massively complicated by the fact that our moral decisions take place in a very messy world. It would be utterly impossible to come to moral conclusions about these decisions and then live up to them perfectly (unless your moral conclusion is “it’s okay to eat anything under any circumstances”).

For instance, it is much better for your carbon footprint to eat a local, organic, free-range meat-based diet than a vegan one that depends on nuts (which have to be imported to temperate regions, burning tons of fossil fuel) and processed soy products (which also are often imported).

As another example, production of plant-based food often results in the death of mammals, whether it’s because they get mown down by farm equipment, or because their habitat is cleared to make a field, or because the grain truck hits a deer on the way to the factory.

Unless we can know all the details about all the food we eat, there will inevitably be compromises and contradictions.

I am seeing a Google ad for Terminix.

That pretty much says it all.

I’ve never seen any scientific evidence that cows, pigs, chickens and fish are self-aware. I don’t understand how a life can have “intrinsic value to the one that lives it” if that one isn’t self-aware.

On the other hand, the beef industry is intrinsically valuable to my income and lifestyle, so I’ll continue to eat meat and urge others to do so as well. In moderation, of course.


That would be me.

An excellent point. If reducing your carbon footprint is your main aim, of course.

And this is my main concern. As most vegetarian websites will tell you, you only have to learn about a product once, so it is ok to take your time.

I am honestly trying to “live a better life” and doing my research to see what makes sense and what doesn’t in my effort to be more responsible towards my environment (social, political, ecological, etc).

When it comes to mice vs cows, I think my vote for “more valuable life” (if there were such a thing) would have to go to the mouse. They are part of the natural environment, they are smarter, cuter, warmer. And so many more in numbers!

We would have to do the math to see if cattle uses land more efficiently than agriculture (taking into account that cows also need food that needs to be planted at their respective cost in damage to other lives, of course).

A nice point to which I hadn’t been paying much attention. In the end each person will reach their own balance between carbon footprint, ecological damage, social impact, geopolitical cost, animal cruelty, etc.