What would a world without any abuse or exploitation of animals be like? Would it be a "utopia" in the sense of a perfect world? Well, since I don't believe human nature, or any nature for that matter, allows for perfection, the short answer is no. But I do believe that a complete halt to animal abuse of all kinds would lead to a dramatically better world. In fact, I think that the effects would be wide-ranging and more powerful than anything else humans could do. The short term effects would be economically devastating; just look at Great Britain. But economies recover, and there would be a multitude of other, positive results. Let me count the ways.
- Environmental. Imagine the forced breeding of cattle (especially) and other slaughter animals is stopped. Immediately, large amounts of the rainforest are saved as pasture is no longer cleared for grazing. In a few years, droughts ease as water demands from the factory farms disappear. In a few decades the number of large grazing animals falls dramatically, and the amount of methane in the air begins to fall, and topsoil's erosion slows. Natural grasses and forests begin to make a comeback. Rivers are gradually cleared of both the natural sewage and unnatural toxins created by factory farming. The planet -- and everything on it -- begins to breathe easier.
- Health. Imagine the baby boomers hitting 50 in a world where eating animal products has been taboo for their entire lives. Except for the smokers, they have little fear of cancer. Strokes and heart attacks are rare, as is obesity. Women don't worry about either menopause or osteoporosis (the former is usually trouble free and responds quickly to natural remedies; the latter is so rare most people don't know the word). Nursing homes are only half full since most people in their 70's and 80's are still healthy enough to live on their own. The money saved makes the current debates about covering prescription drugs and rising hospital costs irrelevant and thus elder poverty drops and the rest of the population is insured at lower rates. Everyone is better off physically and fiscally.
- Quality of Life. Here we need to step outside of the basic definition of veganism as one who abstains from all animal products and think in terms of ahimsa -- dynamic harmlessness. I believe that if children grew up in a world where animal abuse or exploitation was unthinkable every aspect of life would be touched and bettered. I'm not suggesting that every person would be kind, balanced, and full of love all the time (certainly I don't fit that definition!). But I do believe that people raised with a reverence for life would care about more than just themselves, their immediate family, and the next day. Instead of worrying about "Am I better off than I was 4 years ago?" (the classic campaign rhetoric), people would think "Is this society going in the right direction to protect the planet and all who live on it?" The effects of this sort of worldview, widespread, could be amazing.
People would want their community, even their world, to be made consistently better. Thus, they would champion recycling and living simply, so as to husband the resources of the planet. They would elect officials who had long-range plans about how to preserve the health of their world and give every person a decent, healthy, dignified life. There would be less violence and more rehabilitation than when there was violence (psychologists have noted that mistreatment of animals is often the first step towards human on human violence). Instead of desiring vengeance, people would feel that the society had failed the criminals in some way, and seek to help them. With less poverty, a more reverent view of all life, and a strong desire for rehabilitation, the prisons would empty and the streets would become safe.
Imagine living in a world of healthy, respected people who had a great reverence toward all life, who saw preserving the planet as the job of every person, and respect for all individuals (whatever species) as a natural attitude. Surely most of these people would be happier than most of the people alive in the current system. There would still be mean people, bad people, of course, but if the prevailing attitude was one of ahimsa, then the cynical self-centered attitude of today wouldn't stand a chance of taking over. And that's as close to a utopia as I can imagine.
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