18 June 2019

Book Review: Animal Liberation by Peter Singer

This book is tough. It's tough to the point that I emerged at the end having ethical dilemmas that now make me reconsider how I live my life moving forward. So yeah, after reading this book, I have some thinking to do.

See, this book didn't come to my attention until it was recommended to me by a reader (Renan, if you're reading this, I apologise for the time it took me to finally get to this book. As you may have known, I have a long list.). It took me a year or two, but eventually I got my hands to this book. I never realised it's such a powerful book, that at the end, I cannot say I still have good arguments why I am eating meat.

Yes, this book is about animals. It tells readers about the cruelty that humans expose animals to on a regular basis, either in the context of animal experimentation in the name of science or commerce, or in the context of animal farming. I never really knew what was happening to these laboratories or farms until I read this book. Chapters 2 and 3 are definitely hard to read, and given that psychology is an academic field that is rather close to me (cognitive science, which spans psycholinguistics, my former field, after all, is very related to psychology, which has a lot to do with animal experimentation), I found myself feeling guilty by association. And yes, after reading Chapter 3, I find myself feeling that it is harder to enjoy my steak, now that I know what has happened to the animal when it was still alive.

I used to have counter-arguments. Yes, as I was reading the book, I had counter-arguments ready in the back of my head. You know, counter-arguments along the lines of me thinking that while solving animal problems is indeed a good thing, I don't rank it as high enough of a priority, and that I would rather solve human problems first. But even for that argument Singer has a response. I won't retell what his response is here, I'd let the reader read the book in case one is curious. But I must say that I lost all viable arguments against the book by the end.

I liked the fact that the book is well-indexed. Every time he has a claim, or a quote stemming from somewhere else, there is the relevant source noted at the end of the book, so in case the reader wanted to double check his sources, it would be possible. So yes, Singer isn't just pulling arguments from thin air. He has done his research quite well, and I must say I am at a loss for words on how to respond.

I used to be a vegetarian, for two years, back when I was a student in university. I only stopped because I was visiting the Czech Republic and realised that I had no options for food. Perhaps it's time to revisit that. Maybe not drastically, but slowly. I am cursorily paying attention to where my food comes, but I must say I don't do it religiously. I opt for free-range eggs, and meat coming from small local farms. But beyond that, I don't do much research on where my food comes from. Perhaps it is time to begin doing so.

I like the fact that Singer is firm, but not radical. He endorses vegetarianism, but he also realises that society has been ingrained to think that eating meat is normal, and therefore recognises that this shift in mindset would be very hard to do. Nevertheless, I am convinced that I need to do something, since I cannot read this book and simply put it down without altering some part of my routine and eating behaviour.

Overall I give this book 5 stars. It has been a challenge. It reminds me of the time when I was still a religious individual, and I first read a book arguing against the existence of God, and the arguments were very strong that it gave me an ethical dilemma and shattered my previous well-cherished beliefs. It feels like that again. I recommend this book to everyone who eats meat. And once that person has finished reading this book, I am curious to know if this person still finds eating animals a perfectly reasonable thing to do.

See my other book reviews here.

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