September 6, 2005
"Animal suffering similar to human slaves"
by UPC President Karen Davis
featured letter in the Chicago Sun-Times
African Americans and other groups have expressed outrage over a PETA
exhibit that compares animal slavery with human slavery. Yet not so long
ago, anyone who dared to compare black people with white people in my
neighborhood provoked similar outrage. As a 1960s civil rights activist,
I fought with my parents and others incessantly over this point.
Now, as then, I uphold these dreaded comparisons. Reduction of a
sensitive being to an object imprisoned in a world outside any moral
universe of care links the human slave to the animal slave in
laboratories, factory farms and slaughterhouses in ways that diminish
the differences between them. Instead of bickering over who’s superior
and who’s inferior, why not own up to the preventable suffering we cause
and do what we can to stop it?
Resentment of comparisons between the suffering of humans and the
suffering of animals in conditions of atrocity is not an isolated
attitude, anyway. It’s part of a broader psychology of resentment at
having one’s suffering linked with that of anyone else.
Resentment aside, it is reasonable to assume that animals in confinement
systems designed to exploit them suffer even more, in certain respects,
than do humans similarly confined, just as a child or a mentally
challenged person might experience dimensions of suffering in being
rough-handled, imprisoned, and shouted at that people capable of
conceptualizing the experience can’t conceive of.
Indeed, those who are capable of conceptualizing their own suffering may
be unable to grasp what it feels like to suffer without being able to
But even if it could be proven that chickens and other animals suffer
less than humans condemned to similar situations, this would not mean
that these animals do not suffer profoundly or justify harming them. Our
cognitive distance from animal suffering constitutes neither an argument
nor evidence as to who suffers more under horrific circumstances, humans
If we cannot imagine what it must be like for a bird or a sheep or a cow
to be placed in a situation comparable to a human being shoved in a
cattle car packed with other terrified people headed toward death; if we
cannot imagine how chickens must feel being grabbed by their legs in the
middle of the night by men who are cursing at them while pitching and
stuffing them into the crates in which they will travel to the next wave
of terror at the slaughterhouse, then perhaps we should try to imagine
ourselves placed helplessly in the hands of an overpowering
extraterrestrial species, to whom our pleas for mercy sound like nothing
more than bleats and squeals and clucks – mere "noise" to the master
race in whose "superior" minds we are "only animals."
Karen Davis, president,
United Poultry Concerns
PO Box 150 Machipongo, VA 23405
Phone: 757-678-7875 Fax: 757-678-5070 www.upc-online.org