Book Review: A Plea for the Animals
A Plea for the Animals
The Moral, Philosophical, and Evolutionary Imperative to Treat All Beings with Compassion
By Matthieu Ricard
According to a statistic cited in this book, in our age of industrial breeding and fishing a staggering 60 billion land animals and a trillion marine animals are consumed for food by human beings every year. Even though many of those creatures are used and abused in miserable ways, most of us eat them with very little concern about the morality of what we’re doing. How is that possible?
In part this willed ignorance may be due to a concerted effort on the part of the breeding and slaughtering industries to conceal the brutality of much of their business, but French author Matthieu Ricard (well known for his prior work on human happiness) also points to many ways throughout history in which philosophy, religion, and inadequate science have been used to justify the portrayal of animals as dumb, soulless creatures, existing solely for human benefit.
Given his background as a longtime Buddhist monk, one might expect this book to be a spiritual treatise on compassion for all living beings. That’s only a small part of it. Ricard also draws on his expertise as a scientist (he has a PhD in molecular genetics), and he provides a remarkably far-ranging and comprehensive survey of thought and research on animals from anthropologists, ethicists, ethologists, historians, and even novelists. He confidently and capably counters the standard arguments in favor of meat-eating: that animals can’t think or feel pain; that humans are completely different creatures from the rest of the animal kingdom; that vegetarianism doesn’t provide sufficient protein; that stopping the slaughter would put people out of work. (Ricard wryly notes that professional hit men could also make the latter claim.)
The acid test of such a book, of course, is whether or not the argument is powerful enough to actually change the mind and behavior of a carnivorous reader.
This one just might.