Dr. Will Tuttle

Dr. Will Tuttle

Posted December 25, 2011

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The Five Universal Taboos

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Built-in Fairness Meters

The more biologists and psychologists delve into understanding innate behavioral drives, the more they find that we humans seem to be hard-wired to be highly sensitive to fairness in social interactions. Interestingly, this universal taboo against unfairness in human relationships is also found throughout the nonhuman animal realm as well, especially in mammals and birds. It seems that the better we get to know animals, and ourselves, the more we realize that equity, justice, and fairness are not just intellectual concepts or noble ideals, but are actually embedded in the psycho-social fabric of consciousness that manifests as human and animal life on this planet.

The great liberation movements are examples, with, for instance, many 18th- and early 19th-century British people devoting their lives to ending the enslavement of African people—people they neither knew personally, and who were of a different race. Despite these factors, the blatant unfairness of the slave trade drove them to action. There have been many more examples we can all think of since then. The burgeoning Occupy Wall Street movement is one of the contemporary manifestations of our essential sense of repugnance and outrage when witnessing flagrant unfairness.

Our sense of fairness results from our intuition of our interconnectedness with other human beings, and of our basic equality with each other. While it is violently repressed in our culture in many ways through the exclusivist and competitive official stories pervading our media and our religious, economic, educational, and governmental institutions, this fundamental sense of fairness and justice continually reasserts itself and easily extends to our relationships with nonhuman animals as well. The vast majority (around 95 – 98%) of people polled in the U.S., for example, agree that people who engage in self-serving cruel treatment of animals should be held accountable for their actions, and face social consequences for this behavior.

Universally-Recognized Taboos

In light of all this it is not surprising that all cultures in the world recognize certain behavioral taboos. Anyone engaging in these forbidden and unfair actions toward other people in the community faces consequences for doing so. There seem to be five universal taboos:

  1. Not physically harming or killing others.
  2. Not stealing from others.
  3. Not harming others through sexual misconduct.
  4. Not deceiving others.
  5. Not forcing others to ingest drugs, alcohol, or toxic substances.

It’s obvious that we human beings have created elaborate legal, ethical, religious, and social structures to protect us from these unfair and harmful actions, and to discourage and punish those who knowingly commit these kinds of actions. Authentic spiritual teachings encourage compassion and fairness, and these are the foundation of social justice and harmonious living at the interpersonal level, and at the global level as well.

Fairness to Animals

The ironic, devastating, and indisputable fact, though, is that we engage in all five of these universal taboos relentlessly and flagrantly when it comes to animals we want to exploit for food, clothing, and other purposes. They are obviously capable of suffering and are as sentient as we are, and in many cases much more so, and furthermore they lack the capacity for discursive thought that we have that can insulate us from suffering and help us make sense of it. They are often driven into insanity by the extreme abuses they are forced to endure in the cruel, toxic, and hyperconfining environments we force them into.

First, they are physically harmed in countless ways, with routine unanaesthetized mutilations like castration, dehorning, debeaking, tail docking, ear notching, teeth clipping, nose bashing, as well as electroshock prodding and clubbing. They are all murdered also, typically in terrifying, painful ways—millions die daily for food by bleeding to death, hanging upside down in shackles—a nightmare of extreme violence and cruelty. Second, everything is stolen from them—their babies, their time, their milk, eggs, purposes, and freedom, and their bodies and their lives. Third, they are subjected to painful and perverse sexual abuse, including repeated raping of female animals in order to produce profitable offspring and masturbation of male animals—milking them for sperm to be used in the raping sperm guns—as well as well-documented sexual abuse by frustrated and hard-hearted workers in farms and slaughter-plants. Fourth, they are deceived by lures hiding barbed hooks, and reassuring curved tunnels that end in the terror and pain of the killing knife. Fifth, they are forced to endure injections of countless drugs whose application is not in their interests, but only in the interests of their exploiters. Antibiotics, steroids, chemicals, various hormones, and other drugs are administered to fatten them, boost milk and egg output, alter moods, and in other ways make them more profitable.

These billions of “food” animals have done nothing to us to merit such gratuitous violence from us. The same is true for animals abused and killed for clothing and other products, and for entertainment, scientific research, and other uses. It is true for the wild animals destroyed both directly through trapping, poisoning, and shooting, and indirectly through habitat loss, both of which are caused primarily by animal agriculture’s demand for massive areas of deforestation and land enslaved exclusively to grazing animals and growing feedstock for its confined animals. (In addition to the unfairness meted out to these animals is the inherent unfairness to starving and malnourished people, to slaughterhouse and factory farm workers doing the soul-deadening dirty work for the rest of us, and to future generations and everyone inheriting the ecological, economic, and cultural devastation wrought by animal agriculture.)

How can we as a society expect that our efforts for social justice for ourselves can be realized while we are acting so heartlessly, unfairly, and violently toward those whose vulnerable lives we hold in our hands? How can we respect each other’s interests, when we don’t respect the interests of billions of animals (and other humans), knowing that their interests are as important to them as our interests are to us?

Our massive and ongoing violation of the five universal taboos reduces our efforts for peace, justice, and freedom to mere hypocrisy and irony. Until we treat the animals of this Earth with fairness, and respect them as we wish to be respected, we will obviously continue to reap the seeds we sow daily by the tens of millions.

And Now the Good News!

Each and every one of us can say no to the industrial killing machine, and do the best we can to awaken from the program, understand what’s happening, and embrace a vegan lifestyle that treats others with fairness and respect. As we do this, and encourage others to do the same, we create the foundation for justice, harmony, abundance, and meaningfulness in our human world. We live on a beautiful Earth that can easily feed and support all of us celebrating our lives with joy, but only if we do it with fairness and respect for everyone. It all starts on our plates.


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The human fairness meter has been out of balance for a long time! Gradually tho, more & more people are awakening to compassion.

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