The Grey Area

January 14, 2009

I believe that all questions have a black and white answer. So-called “Grey areas” are times when we either have an incomplete logic system, or are not fully abiding by the one we have. However hypocritical, I seem to have fallen into a grey-area. What’s the value of life? Is exploiting animals okay? Currently, I’m in favor of all the advantages brought to us by exploiting humans as well as other creatures. I think abortion is okay, and I’m okay with the death penalty. What I’m unsure of is, should our goal be to eventually wean ourselves off of the exploitation of animals? My current logic corners me into an unclear answer.

With the understanding that there is no god, and therefore anything living or nonliving must be judged as relative to everything else. The value of animal life according to humans must be decided by humans based upon out selfish best interests.

In society, we protect ourselves by not allowing humans to kill other humans, this way an individuals vulnerability goes down which makes us all better off. When it comes to animals, we typically aren’t faced with any of the same dangers that exist when someone commits murder. An animal doesn’t seek revenge, doesn’t form gangs, doesn’t start wars, people are intellectually superior (which then also means we are physically superior) without too much personal risk. Okay, so from a survival of the fittest viewpoint, animal exploitation it’s okay.

But it still doesn’t feel right. Are people reduced to be compassionate solely because we feel empathy towards other living things? If a spider had a more familiar face and If I could see it, would I then not stomp on it when it creeps across the floor?

Okay, a spider doesn’t contain the same level of intelligence that a dog does, so is the value of life measured by how intelligent something is? So what’s the value of intelligence? Intelligence means that you have the ability to learn and therefore carry out more complicated tasks. So if we want to use animals to do beneficial work for us, we could also benefit from animals by exploiting them to death.

Animals work their way they live, they work our way they die.

Our way, we get what we want.

Their way, we get more living neighbors.

We don’t need neighbors, we need what we want.

So I guess it’s okay to exploit animals, logically it looks to be okay, but it still feels like a grey area.

7 Responses to “The Grey Area”

  1. morsec0de said

    I have the solution for you.


    “I believe that all questions have a black and white answer.”

    is wrong.

    Problem solved. 🙂

  2. jasonhenle said

    How do you know it’s wrong?

  3. Ashley said

    How do you figure that every question has a black and white answer? That is SO not true! Things are subjective. It’s a different situation for a starving homeless family to kill a deer and eat it than for a wealthy hunter to kill a deer to hang its head on the mantle.

    Just like you can’t look at a piece of art and say “Is this pretty?” The answer could be yes for you and no for me. Everything is subjective.

  4. jasonhenle said

    I believe that black and white logic exists for the survival and thriving for societies. Things like preferences and tastes have no macroscopic consequences, so I’m not really talking about them. But it is fair to say that they are not black and white.

    If a homeless man kills a deer to survive, a deer still dies from unnatural means, just like a sport hunter. You could say that the desperate man traded the deers life for its meat, the wealthy man traded the deer’s life for its head. Either way the deer is dead, both men took something that previously didn’t belong to him… or did it?

    Because creatures gain their power when in context of a swarm, pack, or civilization, maybe we can say, whichever group is the most powerful owns everything underneath it, living and nonliving.

    Our technological progress either comes from life, or inadvertently kills life, or prevents life from forming. Mounting a deers head on the wall makes that extremely obvious. However, just because other forms of decoration/recreation/innovations are less obvious in their impact on life, doesn’t mean that they don’t still kill.

    Life cycles require the most powerful to consume from what’s underneath it. There’s currently nothing we cannot consume so therefore we must be on top. As long as we want to survive, we much consume from beneath us. Our only choices are what to consume. Some creatures remind us of our own mortality, and others don’t. This confusion helps us believe that some killing is right and some is wrong.

    Killing is neither right or wrong, it’s necessary. Every living thing, owns every other living thing, it’s one big fat free-for-all. So when it comes to killing animals, universal right and wrong do not apply. If it makes you happier to consume less familiar life forms that’s okay too, but it’s not any different.

  5. Aston said

    I have to agree with you wholeheartedly when you say everything is black or white. I do not believe in gray area and think that gray area is a product of inconsistent or incomplete logic.

    Like you, I do not believe that Killing is wrong or right but instead look at it, as all human endeavours, as being nothing more than an action. What’s important though is the consequence that comes out of an action – what do we expect out of taking a certain action?

    Take ‘Killing human life’ for instance. If we were to repeal all criminal penal codes in our respective countries and make murder legal then we would have nothing but mayhem and chaos which results in immense human suffering.

    If we were to maintain these laws, less people would die but human population would now grow exponentially resulting in a severe strain to the economy, environment and social life bringing about serious pollution, natural disasters and diseases which will inevitably remove humans – naturally.

    I also believe that humans are not better than any of the other species because we’re intelligent. To me Intelligence is just a trait we developed during our evolutionary course because it helped us survive. Bats can emit ultrasonic frequencies to see and dolphins have echolocation to navigate because those traits helped them survive; in those respects they are better than us.

    Animal killing and testing:

    We can use these animals to help save mankind (medically) and even fill our bellies but think about how much this will affect Nature. We will throw it out of balance, certain species will have growth spurts and certain others will dwindle and the long term ecological disequilibrium can bring harmful consequences to our survival.

    We can certainly stop testing animals, but millions may die as a result of diseases that may require animal testing and furthermore do you really want a society consisting of impersonal unemotional robots who have no compassion towards the Earth and its inhabitants?

    Personally, I prefer to leave the animals alone as much as possible and allow the viruses, bacteria and microbes to work its way into our system and wipe us off. When our natural time limit has expired, then it has and it’s time to leave!

  6. jasonhenle said

    Hey Aston, emotions are comparable to data compression. Lots of data summed up in one tight little packet, like a feeling. But also like compression, there is data loss, over-simplification of otherwise complicated situations. As long as emotions don’t employ logic, they are not necessarily the best way to calibrate your moral compass. So saying that we should chose emotions over logic (i.e. “don’t want impersonal unemotional robots”) results in subjective thining and therefore opens grey areas.

    So what is the “natural way”? Other life forms surviving and thriving? Well if they get to survive and thrive, I don’t think intelligence is a fair reason for excluding humans. Too bad for them that they didn’t evolve to be on top, they can’t help that any more then we can.

    The earth does not have, and has never had a “balance” that can be disrupted. If it had, then there would not be a reason for species to compete and therefore no reason for them to evolve.

    Bu killing animals does not feel good, it makes me sad and it sounds like it makes you sad, but our emotions don’t use proper logic, so I don’t think they serve me us well as we would like.

  7. Lex said

    Please excuse me for my bad English skills, it’s not my first language, most likely there’ll be huge mistakes, but I’ll try to be clear. That said, I beg you to forgive me for this wall of text. I promise you, this is almost relevant to the subject. : )

    First with grey areas. I think that everything is by itself, a grey area regarding to us. Reality is by itself, and therefore, doesn’t give an electron about us. By even labeling and trying to compress it in human concepts, we are letting go part of it.

    That doesn’t mean at all that our answer to everything should be grey, because our brains work with opposites. Thinking that way, every answer should be more or less like a chessboard; black white, black, if this happens then white then black, and we must be always able to change it. That’s why when you see an answer from a long distance, it seems to be grey, and also from groups of people trying to find truth.

    Think for example of an actual academy of scientists, everyone has their own opinion and the decision taking is painful, long and debated enough for common, stupid people to think they aren’t really that smart. You could say they are a chessboard themselves as a group, and when they finally produce an answer it seems to be grey. Could be obvious or very hard to understand, but somehow it makes sense to most of us (even if it doesn’t make some of us happy), because it can respond to a variety of scenarios, and still be effective in most of them. Every time you decide about something, your brain is enacting that process in a smaller scale. Your answer then should not be grey, but must SEEM grey, IF seen from a long distance. Then people start referring to you as a smart person.

    At least that goes for my own experience of life. You think longer on something, you inform yourself better, then that something has a bigger chance to work.

    Same with moral compass choices, except, they are harder because every single one involves a larger number of variables, and so we mystify the process, in the erroneous belief that nothing applies there.

    BIG mistake.
    Emotions are there for something other than to drive you madly to oblivion, they’re tools. Your primitive brain is mostly wrong about things, it’s to relative and poorly accurate at almost everything, and yet, it helped us survive for millions of years. We are not physically superior to other species except on the brain structure topic. That the brain is the coolest thing ever, I do not dare deny; but we aren’t as resistant or as fit as many things out there.

    “The capacity to obliterate the planet surface isn’t necessarily an indicator that we are in charge here” that’s what my master used to say.

    That means somehow primitive reptilian brain survived enough to evolve more complex structures out of the brutal natural selection process; so emotions are worth something, even if we can’t see what it is, yet.

    For one moment suppose that you hunt, kill, experiment, with all the animals on the area, and they all die. (Same could apply for plants) How are you supposed to get animal protein? By chemical synthesis in the lab? Even if you could, you are still an animal, without the texture of the meat in your mouth maybe your body will start to reject it, like insisting on a single vitamin supplement. So letting animals live for our mutual benefit is good. Some cultures didn’t understand this at the preindustrial age, and they simply died out. (The vikings in Iceland, for example)

    For us now it’s obvious, why?

    Ah, but you are talking about moderate exploitation, yes? That’s a different history. What we could learn from the time we simply stripped the land is that by doing it carefully, one can do it theoretically forever, instead of dying when the next epidemic, winter, natural disaster, hits us. “Carefully”, however, is a concept that varies from people to people, for some is to put bills carefully inside their wallet, so others don’t notice.

    You see, if your cattle is sick and poorly fed it may contain parasites which in turn are passed down to the population, if it’s stressed too much it may lead to cancer or weird disorders on anything that eats it, if it contains many dangerous chemicals… and so on.
    Here, what varies is “Sick”, “Stressed”, and “Dangerous”. Some eco-guys out there think that every farm animal is highly stressed no matter if they seem rather happy and lives more than in their natural environment. (I’ve seen cows very well treated here in my country) While meat producers and intermediaries don’t give a shit about how the quality of their meat is decreasing because they want more quantity.

    We have compassion for some animals already. Cute dogs and cats went very far and did many things for us, they changed forever for us, and so, we should repay their loyalty somehow, as you would with a fellow human whom you have fought with, that has shed tears for you; you do not leave behind a friend if you can help him.

    That kept the Australopithecus alive for a while, and is also what keeps us from blowing ourselves with nukes; because just before we take a difficult stupid decision we feel that hunch, the one that says “I should not be doing this”. If you let it drive your life you’ll get mad, but if you don’t hear it, you’ll end up mad and alone. I’ve seen my share of both choices, and the results aren’t pretty.

    So the proper way to use these emotions is to stop and try to think, what part of my plan could be better? What am I missing? And proceed when you ruled everything else out. Then that feeling is gone. If you’re wrong still, at least you tried and did your best to be a decent human being.

    What I think now about “how animals are useful for us”, is the same thought I have on everything else, that is, the definition is going to change with time. What today is humanitarian tomorrow may be barbaric; or even the other way around, if we go into a crisis so cruel that it can wipe us out, by all means do what is necessary to survive, and fix the problem of course. Do not harm the life tapestry more than it is necessary; and if possible, try to need less and be more efficient.

    There are farms in Europe that produce meat of very high quality, and surprisingly, in large quantities, although they are small themselves. Unsurprisingly the animals live better, and grow healthier and are better treated. Surprisingly, these farms do not require a large amount of technology, just knowledge on biology, and some experience.
    I’d like to post you some TED links but I can’t remember exactly where these talks are. Soon the whole world is going to need these strategies to survive anyway, for the population is still growing and the resources are scarce.

    So, summarizing, animal rights is as much as a grey area as human rights, that means our decisions must be taken after careful thought, and our emotions are also small indicators to stop and reflect even more about those choices. We must act anyway and have limited time to think about those issues.

    Again, the correct decision is not only the hardest to take, but also tends to be the hardest to see. So if you feel there is something wrong, don’t worry, have a cookie and give it a moment of reflection before sleeping. It should be a little clearer in the morning.

    Still “the wipe us out” thing that Aston mentions is still tempting somehow. Weird. : )

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