Cultural blindness

The following excerpt is from an article in The Times this week, Richard Dawkins: ‘When I see cattle lorries, I think of the railway wagons to Auschwitz‘.

Is this what it was like, Richard Dawkins wonders, for ordinary people in Nazi Germany? “There’s a kind of laziness if you live in a society where things are just accepted. People might have been vaguely uneasy about what was going on in Germany but also thought, ‘Oh well, everyone else is doing it’.”

What crime is it that he thinks that we, like Germans in the 1930s, are blind to? It is, perhaps, a surprising one from him: the crime of eating meat. Dawkins, 76, is not known for being a woolly, liberal, tofu-eater. He is better known for his espousal of red-in-tooth-and-claw evolutionary logic and, even more so, for his three million-selling atheist book The God Delusion. Speaking from his Victorian Gothic house in Oxford, he says that just because you don’t fear the judgment of God, doesn’t mean you don’t fear judgment.

The judgment that Dawkins fears, as he recovers from a minor stroke, is that of history. Will the 21st century’s “speciesism” one day be viewed in the same way we view the 20th century’s racism? The world’s most famous evolutionary biologist thinks so.

“We put humanity on a pedestal miles higher than the surrounding territory. A human foetus that has approximately the anatomy and brainpower of a worm is accorded more status than an adult chimpanzee,” he said. And chimpanzees have more rights than, say, cows. “When I pass one of those lorries with little slats and see fearful eyes peering out, I think of the railway wagons to Auschwitz.”

To see Richard Dawkins promoting plant-based diets in a mainstream newspaper is amazing. Veganism is no longer a fringe movement for hippies and crackpots. We now have lots heavy-weight intellectuals arguing for a meat-free diet which gives me hope for our planet.


6 thoughts on “Cultural blindness”

  1. I think you are winning the argument. We have become more and more conscious of what we eat which inevitably it seems to me leads to a reduction in meat to the point where like Dawkins it tends to be when others choose it. So I can’t class myself as a vegetarian yet there’s still time.

    1. That warms my heart to hear. I think the momentum is stemming from environmental concerns but once people stop eating meat the injustice of factory farming becomes more apparent and the speciesism is obvious. But it’s hard to see this when you’ve known nothing else, never questioned it, and everyone else is doing it. I imagine it was much the same when slavery was widespread, accepted, and justified.

  2. I don’t share the Times’ surprise.

    “He is better known for his espousal of red-in-tooth-and-claw evolutionary logic…”

    I expect Dawkins is rather unhappy about that part. He’s long made a clear distinction between describing how nature *is* and saying how society *ought* to be. Perhaps many who criticize him do so in part because they fail to understand that distinction. Similarly, those who take those views of nature as a justification for their own behaviour in society.

    1. Yes, I find that whole paragraph a bit irritating. No-one becomes a vegan because they fear judgement.

      I mentioned this article to a friend today and explained the parallel between racism and speciesism; their response was to say that other animals eat each other. It’s so tiresome to hear that. Sometimes I wonder how we ever managed to send humans to the moon.

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