Friday, 6 May 2011

The Disconnect of Ricky Gervais

Today, I got this in an e-mail from the League Against Cruel Sports:

Ricky Gervais, anti-bullfighting? Good man! However, something was bothering me.

"Bulls should not be used to fight for our entertainment"

"... tens of thousands of bulls are still being maimed, tortured and killed for 'entertainment' each year"

"It's crazy that our money has any part in sustaining this cruelty"

All this coming from the man who said:

"The roast dinner is the king of dinners. And the king of roast dinners is the Christmas dinner. There'll be organic, free-range roast turkey. There will be little cocktail sausages wrapped in bacon, there's no doubt about it. Roast potatoes. I will have one Brussels sprout, and eat it like a good boy. And peas. And really caramelised cooked parsnips and turnips so they're like crisps and really thick …"

This duality stikes me as somewhat perverse. One moment he is asking me to help alleviate the suffering of 'tens of thousands' of animals that are killed unnecessarily for entertainment, sport and pleasure and the next moment he's claiming that a good animal roast is the king of dinners. So it's not OK to kill an animal for sporting entertainment but it is OK to kill an animal because you enjoy chomping down on it's corpse? However, to be fair to the man he does recognise the disconnect. Sort of. He admits to a sqeamishness about animal flesh that means he is only comfortable eating food that doesn't have a close resemblance to the animal it once was. He makes exceptions for poultry and 'disguised' meats (so, sausages wrapped in bacon?) that don't look as though they could jump up and gambol around his table. One gets the impression that vegetarianism has a serious allure for him, if only he could bring himself to give up on animal flesh. So why hasn't he? It seems as though, contrary to his insistence that it is wrong to kill animals for entertainment (and one presumes that extends to other pleasures, otherwise it's a deeply arbitrary distinction), he doesn't have a problem with animals killed for the pleasure of eating them. What he does insist, apparently, is that the animals lived a good, free-range life and were killed humanely.

I'm sorry, Ricky, but there is nothing humane about animal exploitation. You can't breed, fatten and kill with kindness. Using animals for food necessitates devaluing them to commodities, to products. They are bought, traded, owned and sold with the profit of the vendor and the pleasure of the consumer in mind. It may be true that the animals don't know what their fate will be and can live a relatively 'good life' in sunlit pastures (if 'happy meat' propaganda is to be believed) but this isn't some humane idyl of happy animals and caring consumers, this is simply exploiting the fact that the animals are not aware of their coerced future to justify exploiting them in other ways. It's OK, because the animals are happy while they are alive, don't know they're going to die and will be killed quickly? I presume this kindly sentiment doesn't extend to humans. I can only imagine the shock and outrage that would be caused if some farmer stated he was using humans as commodities, to be sold as slaves and killed for food. Would this be justified as long as the people in question didn't know of their fate and felt their living conditions were adequate for their needs? What if they were just too stupid or brainwashed to realise they were not free? Or maybe it would be OK if they just didn't care about being free, preferring to stay where they would be warm and well-fed?

Whether you are comfortable with the idea of humans being compared to non-humans, the point remains that we don't grant our fellow humans basic rights and freedoms simply because they are intelligent or philosophical or able to express their preferences in a language we understand. We grant them rights, the most basic of which is not to be used as a thing or a commodity, because they are individuals who are aware of their world and able to form preferences (however basic) for what happens to them. They are someones and it doesn't matter if they are stupid, ignorant, unattractive or disliked. They are someones, not somethings and we (should) treat them as such.

Surely, surely this extends to animals as well?

Ricky, I hate bullfighting as well. I hate the idea of an animal being used as a mere thing for pleasure or entertainment. And that is why I am a vegan. It is not enough to require humane standards of care or to campaign vocally on a few instances of animal abuse that are rather divorced from our everyday lives. If you are serious about animal rights, please respect them and that means starting with the most basic right any sentient being can have - the right to be seen as a someone and not a something, an individual and not a tool, a free being and not a commodity.

Please, Ricky. Go vegan.


  1. Well humans were a commodity until very recently. Slavery in the west has only been gone for 150 years and still exists in varying forms in much of the world.

    Then we have boxing, circumcision (male and female). And we still kill, maim and torture each other on a regular basis so I don't think you can really claim we treat people much better. Animals won't be treated better until you stop man's inhumanity to man.

  2. I didn't claim that we (as a species) treat humans better than animals, although I believe that in general we do. I made a case for why those of us who do grant our fellow humans basic rights and freedoms should extend that to animals. I don't think I am making a leap when I suppose that Mr. Gervais counts among us.