The word murder generally applies to people killing other people. 99.9 percent of all violent deaths to human beings are wrought by other human beings. The individual human being we look at in the mirror every morning is cooperative, caring, and kind. As a species however, our propensity and capacity to cooperate as a group to go after other groups is nothing short of monstrous. The fossil record indicates that this has apparently been true for many thousands of years now.

Using the word "murder" to describe the act of a human killing a non-human does not sit well with me. It is a special word that shocks and should be reserved for when one human deliberately takes the life of another. The use of it by animal rights activists to describe the killing of a farm animal is demeaning people. It puts farm animals on the same level as my children. Using that term in such a manner may be counterproductive.

It also isn’t used when one animal “murders” another, for food, out of anger, or just for fun. Animals kill each other for all of those reasons.

Can you murder a chicken? One of my daughter’s roosters was just “murdered” for fun by our neighbor’s Australian shepherd. When she came home from school and heard the sad news, her voice broke as memories washed over her. She raised this chicken from an egg. She stopped short of crying, although it would have been fine, even healthy, if she had. Her voice broke again when she read his eulogy as we buried him in our (ever-growing) pet cemetery.

I will admit, I am just glad it wasn’t Bumblebee. That death is going to hurt a lot more, but she will deal with it because I have taught my children that death is a part of life, which does not in any way diminish how much we both enjoy her pets.

I have always taught my daughters not to get too attached to their pets because these pets are going to die — all of them. They don’t have human life spans. I cried over my share of pet deaths as a child. I recall watching the late Steve Irwin cry inconsolably on camera over the death of an alligator he had grown up with, and another time over the death of his dog. In my opinion, strong attachments are best reserved for other people in your life. The guy with the dog in the pickup truck may not be the optimal relationship. People have a natural tendency to create emotional attachments to people, places, and things. My youngest daughter still relishes the touch and smell of the ratty remnants of her beloved baby blanket. I suspect those remnants will one day go to college in one form or another.

Pets do not worry about their future, any more than baby blanket remnants do. They do not create religions to deflect the fear and anxiety created by the knowledge that their demise is inevitable. Animals don’t have the computing power to see that far into the future. One downside to our level of intellect is that no other creature has the capacity to mentally suffer like humans can. Mental illness, depression, anxiety are all suffered on a uniquely human scale.

You will note that the recent discussions of animal rights here on Gristmill immediately spilled over into discussions of veganism. Veganism and animal rights are much more closely related than animal rights and environmentalism. I would describe the relationship like this: environmentalism — vegetarianism — veganism — animal rights. Veganism is the direct link to animal rights.

Veganism is a step beyond vegetarianism. As such, you could call it a more extreme version of it. My oldest daughter’s closest childhood friend (her two movies) was raised vegan. We know the family well and like them a great deal. They are not vegan to save the planet. They are vegan out of respect for animals, to enhance their own personal health, and to be a part of the vegan community (it is their thing; that is their monkey troop). They don’t eat dairy or wear shoes made of leather out of respect for the animal. The preservation of nature has nothing (or at least very little) to do with their decision to live this lifestyle. That is not to be generalized to all who have decided to go vegan. It just demonstrates that veganism is not necessarily strongly connected to environmentalism.

You will also note that words like belief, conversion, convert, and morality have started to fly. Veganism has too many of the trappings of religion for my tastes. It is also hierarchical. That holier than though aspect was expressed in this Simpsons’ episode:

Lisa: Oh, the earth is the best! That’s why I’m a vegetarian.
Jesse: Heh. Well, that’s a start.
Lisa: Uh, well, I was thinking of going vegan.
Jesse: I’m a level 5 vegan — I won’t eat anything that casts a shadow.

My family eats very little meat. Another way to put meat eating into perspective is to realize that one beef cow supplies enough beef annually for seven average beef-eating Americans. From a hunter-gatherer perspective, the idea that just one animal that size supplies seven 140-pound, upright-walking omnivores for a year is extremely efficient.

Once again, it comes down to the huge numbers of human beings this planet is groaning to support. My drinking of a few cups of brown tainted liquid in the morning is destroying jungles and bird migrations. Moderate your consumption of meat and rest easy; we are no more going to convince 6 billion people to forgo the pleasure of eating meat when it’s available, or sweets for that matter, than we are of having sex. You will note that we haven’t stopped having sex. We have just found ways to decouple it from baby making in most instances.

We need to find ways to decouple meat consumption from ecological destruction. And of course moderation in meat eating is a good thing, for lots of reasons, and convincing others of that is already a big part of the solution. The average American eats about twenty pounds less beef than they did a decade of so ago.