Activists have been protesting June's notorious Yulin dog meat festival, both locally in China, and globally for some years now. This year has seen a marked increase in awareness and outrage about the event, due in part to a number of high-profile celebrities getting involved.
Public disgust at the festival has been fairly universal, and is understandable. It's difficult not to be moved by images of sad-looking dogs crammed into tiny crates and cooking pots. However, there is another aspect to this story that ought to give us pause for thought.
A growing number of commentators have been pointing out that if we object to what goes on in Yulin, we ought to consider ending our own use and slaughter of animals. As Wayne Hsiung, co-founder of Direct Action Everywhere, points out, 'we must look just as critically at our own behaviour'.
The general response to this, rather than to listen and consider whether a valid point has been made, has been a tendency to mock, malign, and misrepresent those making it. Without hesitation, people are defending their own animal use by arguing that it is purely the way in which these animals are treated that is of concern. Furthermore, people daring to make this point have frequently been accused of harming animals by detracting from the main campaign. It is a skewed kind of logic that regards people speaking up for all animals as more harmful than those refusing to end their own part in animal exploitation.
If treatment really is the core issue, why is the campaign focus ending the festival altogether, rather than improving said treatment? We're no strangers in this country to campaigns for better treatment, more measures to try and tackle the abuse that is so often inherent in exploitation, and for more "humane" slaughter. So why should the Yulin festival be any different?
Of course, there are those arguing that the problem with Yulin is that many of these animals have been stolen from their "owners", either having been pets or animals used to guard farms. What I would say to these people is that the travesty for any individual animal who is slaughtered is the same whether they are farmed for the purpose or considered family by human beings. The badness of death is not due to the value others place upon a given life, but rather that it deprives the individual of their life. Even if all of the animals killed at this festival were farmed, we would still be outraged. Even if they were to be slaughtered in a way that we might consider less violent, most of us would still be appalled. The reason for this, if we are to be totally honest with ourselves, is our collective disgust at the idea of consuming cats and dogs. We are disgusted because we view cats and dogs as companions and family members. We are disgusted, quite simply, because we value the lives of cats and dogs more than we do farmed animals. If this is not the case, why is there not the same level of outrage about similar festivals that use farmed animals, such as pigs, instead of dogs?
Whilst it is an understandable instinct to wish to protect those who we consider family members first and foremost, this instinct alone is not necessarily a good surface upon which to place our moral compass.
It makes little sense to argue that we should only respect the desire to live in those we are familiar with, or whom we consider family. If we look at some of the worst atrocities we have visited upon our own species, they have often been justified based on arbitrary lines drawn between familiarities and differences. But these familiarities and differences are not what makes a killing right or wrong. If a living, feeling, individual values their life, whether we like and favour them or not, we have a duty to respect their desire to hold onto that life.
This is perhaps never more clearly the case when our reason for wanting to end their life is as trivial as a desire to experience a momentary taste of their flesh. Or in the case of laying hens and dairy cows, when their tired bodies are no longer able to meet the demands we place upon them. We have absolutely no nutritional requirement to consume animals or any of their secretions. With this in mind, there really is no way to justify exploiting and killing animals just to satisfy our taste buds.
This is the argument we should be making to those involved in the Yulin festival. This is why it is wrong. Not because these animals happen to be members of a species we regard as friends. Not because their slaughter happens to be horrific. All slaughter is horrific. As I have said before, there really is no kind way to take the life of an individual who does not wish to die.
At the same time, this is the argument we should be listening to ourselves. There is no justice in declaring ourselves voices for the voiceless whilst ignoring the plight and cries of the individuals we personally oppress. If we cannot listen to pleas we stop harming animals in our own country, we shouldn't be at all surprised if those in Yulin will not to listen to us.