An article from The Times, August 24 2019 -

Activists accuse school farm club of ‘speciesism’

“St Edward’s, a private school in Cheltenham, says its farm club, which includes alpacas, helps to teach its pupils about their environmental responsibilities.  The alpacas are petted by the children for half an hour each day during the school’s farm club. St Edward’s already has two of the animals - Ariel, an adult female, and a baby, called a “Cria” - and wants to add four more to its stable.  The fee-paying primary school, which also has a brood of chickens and a herd of Golden Guernsey pygmy goats, made a request to the local authority for a list of animals along the theme of the 12 Days of Christmas: including two micropigs and 12 poultry birds for egg-laying.  Teachers at the school, however, have been compared to sexists and racists by an animal rights group because they want to let pupils pet and look after alpacas.  While the school assumed that the announcement would come as happy news for its pupils, it received a rebuke from the campaign group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta) on the grounds that it was being “speciesist”. 

Peta, which campaigns against wool clothing and has previously objected to the use of goldfish in a West End production of Richard III, said that the school should be forbidden from having animals. “Like sexism, racism, and all other toxic ‘isms’, speciesism - the idea that other species are here for humans to treat as toys or props, use, and abuse - has no place in an educational institution,” a spokesman said.

“Edward’s Cheltenham should not be teaching children to view animals as objects for their amusement but rather be instructing them in what we know today about their sentience, intelligence, emotional life, and behavioural needs. Responsible parents should question the ethics of arranging for infant animals to be taken from their loving mothers and sold to the highest bidder. Peta urges Cheltenham borough council to reject the school’s animal ‘wish list’, and we’re rushing some of our humane education packs to the school. We hope that teachers and students alike will be inspired to replace lessons in insensitivity with ones in respect and kindness.”

The school, which is set in 45 acres of land, said on its website that the animals helped to educate the children.

“We encourage all our pupils to be mindful of their environmental responsibility and have respect for the world around them. Farm Club is just one of the ways in which we can help to further their understanding of the importance of environmental issues.”

The school said that children received hands-on experience of caring for animals.

“Members of the club take responsibility for a variety of tasks including cleaning out the enclosures, replenishing water and hay, and giving the animals food.”

The school, which charges £13,620 a year, has a groundsman to clean the paddock twice a day. Two parents who are vets help a professional vet to ensure the animals are in good health. The school says the project is seen by 315 families who visit the school and that hygiene standards are excellent. Its application stated that it hoped for a swift decision “so that this project thrives and supports British farm and countryside education”. ”

Thank you to the Times for bringing this to our attention.  Evidently
the Silly Season is not yet over.  We now have ‘Speciesism’ being compared to racism, sexism and fascism.  Speciesism, the doctrine hated by vegans, was described in a book called ‘Animal Liberation’ (1975) by an Australian philosopher, Peter Singer. He defined it as ‘a prejudice or bias in favour of the interests of members of one's own species and against those of members of other species.’  People. like the members of Peta, who oppose speciesism say that giving human beings greater rights than non-human animals is as arbitrary (and as morally wrong) as giving white people greater rights than non-white people. 

But there is a fundamental confusion in the Olympian pronouncements of the Animal Rights fraternity even though, or perhaps because, based on a book written by a philosopher. They assume that morality can be justified and understood as part of a carefully constructed rational framework, instead of its being simply the outcome of evolutionary pressure in which we then, for psychological reasons, try to find to find some consistency.  But although we wish to see some rational consistency to our morality,  in practise, over the millennia it hardly seems to have been a fundamental requirement when it conflicted with our needs, whether real or imaginary.  I think that we can all see that given the choice of saving either a goldfish or a child, we would not choose the goldfish.  In the case of a fire, we might well even use the contents of the goldfish bowl to try to put the fire out and so save the child.  A vegan version of the Trolley problem?

And what are we to make of the fact that the other species are not in the least aware of the supposed rights of other species? The other night, we watched a David Attenborough programme dealing with the lives of various types of primates, from Capuchin monkeys to orang-utans and, chimpanzees, our closest cousins genetically speaking. They all had in common a willingness to take whatever steps they could to obtain sources of food. They used their ingenuity to, variously, get ants out from crevices with a stick in order to eat them, find shark eggs to eat at very low tide (which occurs only once every two weeks) off the coast of South Africa, crack open nuts with stones, or indeed, use the same skill to crack open the shells of other animal species: molluscs of various sorts.  I’m not sure that lions on the Serengeti are very concerned about about their speciesist judgement when hunting Wildebeest.  Neither do I think that cats give much thought to their obvious speciest immorality when chasing mice and rats. So then, morality doesn’t seem to follow any rules, rational or otherwise, on an inter-species basis. Indeed it seems to be something which only we have thought to elevate to become a set of rules to control our behaviour.  Or is recognising such a difference in itself a species of speciesism?

The animal rights belief system is so out of kilter with reality because its proponents have a mind set which makes it virtually impossible for them to see the world as it really is.  In an essay entitled “the Hedgehog and the Fox”, to continue the animal theme, the philosopher Sir Isaiah Berlin cited a Greek saying: “the fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” He explained that ‘Foxes’ in human life take ideas from many different sources. They are relatively comfortable with some degree of confusion and ambiguity in the world.  And of course, as he says, this is how the world should appear to us, granted that we don’t really know how it works.  ‘Hedgehogs’ on the other hand see the world through a single all-embracing view of how it works. This means that they have to fit events into their mental narrative. Their belief system controls how they perceive things and how they react to events. Their beliefs are not subject to change in the light of experience, because their experiences are ignored or distorted to suit how they think things are or should be. And so their world view becomes a closed in, unshakeable truth. 

As an empathetic being, I do not like to see suffering amongst obviously sentient animals, whether humans or other species. However, only when I find Tom signing a peace agreement with Jerry shall I feel obliged to take the Animal Rights belief system rather more seriously.

Paul Buckingham

28 August 2019

Home      A Point of View     Philosophy     Who am I?      Links     Photos of Annecy