The Golden Rule. Treat others how you’d like to be treated. Almost every culture in the world has a version similar to this and the only real variation is in the definition of who the ‘others’ are. In most primitive cultures, ‘others’ didn’t include the tribe over the mountain but, as we have formed larger and more inclusive societies, we are extending the boundaries of who qualifies as an ‘other’.
Most people reading this will likely have a boundary that now includes all humans. Some may extend this boundary to other animals capable of suffering to various degrees. Everyone I’ve met agrees that The Golden Rule is a good rule to live by but there are a large range of interpretations as to who the ‘others’ are.
A question I have is, should chimps and orangutans belong to this group we call ‘others’? What about other animals such as cows and sheep? Should we treat them as we would like to be treated? If not, why not?
This is a touchy topic and one I’ve given a bit of thought to over the last few years in examining whether I ought to become a vegetarian. In short, I still eat meat. I’ve decided that my boundary for ‘others’ is largely dependent on the issue of suffering. This is a fuzzy line however and roughly translates to an unwillingness to eat the meat of animals who, in killing them, has caused unnecessary suffering to either them or to others. I’ve found that there is no easy answer and that much of this is because we expect to be able to draw nice, clear-cut lines in what is (as is usually the case in matters like this) essentially a gradient. And I’ve found that it’s a good idea not to even try to draw too distinct a line and to be prepared to shift it regularly depending on the many factors that can apply (i.e. I would kill and eat a chimp if I were starving to death and had no other option but wouldn’t dream of it in my current status.)
In my current status I don’t like animal experimentation that causes suffering. I prefer to eat chickens that have had freedom to roam. I don’t mind eating sheep and cows so long as they are treated well. I don’t want to encourage cramped pig pens so avoid pork unless it’s free range. Chimps, orangutans, elephants, whales and dolphins (to name but a few) are very much in my group of ‘others’ and I would see the hunting and killing of one as causing similar suffering to killing a human.
Roughly, where is your boundary and why?