The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 77.0°F | Mostly Cloudy

Lack of suffering justifies plant exploitation

Daniel A. Gilbert professes outrage at the "deliberate torture. . . of grass. . . merely to satisfy human vanity," ["Humans must recognize that plants are people too," April 28] because he does not comprehend the nature of grass.

Gilbert's purpose is to ridicule the animal rights movement by taking it to its supposedly logical conclusion of "plants rights." His logic is strained.

Gilbert would have us argue that since plants can ethically be exploited on farms and lack human mental capacity, non-human animals that lack human mental capacity can also ethically be exploited. This is a false syllogism.

The ethical case for the exploitation of plants is not grounded entirely on the fact of human mental superiority. If it were, an equal case could be made for the exploitation of humans with lower mental functioning. Alternatively, a hypothetical mentally superior species (ETs? cyborgs?) would be equally justified in exploiting and farming humans.

Indeed, the division between animals and plants is far clearer than the one between humans and their fellow animals. This must be equally clear to both taxonomists and moralists.

The reasoned and ethical case for animal rights is based on applying exactly the same questions to the treatment of both humans and non-human animals. Most importantly, we ask: will this action cause needless suffering?

We can apply this to plants. Does uprooting and eating a carrot cause it to suffer? It does not; I feel entitled to cultivate carrots. The same argument cannot be made for cows or chickens in modern factory farms. An ethical justification for the cultivation of livestock or poultry would have to be grounded in some other argument.

A reasonable defender of "plants' rights" would argue for an end not to the harvesting of wheat, or to the cultivation of grass, but to the wholesale destruction of the rain forest.

Aside from the mass extinction of species, aside from the destruction of primates, aside from the human tribes with a distinct and besieged way of life, this human action represents bad karma of the first order because of the ravishing of the forest alone. It is telling that Gilbert overlooks it in his letter.

Julian West G->