The Catholic Thing
Dr. Singer’s Immodest Proposal Print E-mail
By George J. Marlin   
Tuesday, 24 November 2009

In an October 26, 2009 op-ed in the New York Daily News, Princeton University professor of bioethics, Peter Singer, applauded New York’s nanny-state measures (i.e., abolition of trans fats in restaurants, high cigarette taxes, and similar fashionable causes) but complained that government policy makers were ignoring what he referred to as “the cow in the room.”

To stop people who are meat eaters from killing fellow animals, the planet, and themselves, Singer calls on state and local governments to impose a “50 percent tax on the retail value of all meat.” Such action, he believes, will not only diminish meat consumption, improve the lives of cows, pigs, and chickens, lower health insurance premiums, and bring down the price of grain and soybeans; it would be “a highly effective way of reducing our greenhouse gas emissions and avoiding catastrophic climate change.”

One should not dismiss Dr. Singer’s tax plan as a satirical Jonathan Swift-like Modest Proposal – he is quite serious. Singer, who believes in the equality of all sentient life forms, finds man to be an appalling beast because he kills and eats the flesh of his equals – cows, pigs and chickens. (About non-human animals who eat other animals sometimes including us, the professor seems to have far less to say.) In an 1986 essay titled “All Animals are Equal,” Singer contends that the last remaining discrimination is speciesism, which holds that one species is superior to another. Singer demanded “that we extend to other species the basic principle of equality that most of us recognize should be extended to all members of our own species.” In fact, Singer demotes some humans by insisting that the pig has more consciousness and therefore is entitled to more rights than fetuses or sick people.

Singer’s ability to make these arguments may be traced back to seventeenth-century reductionism, which measures everything in the universe quantitatively. Hence, man is not a person, he is only another thing.

By strictly restricting science to mean various versions of materialism, physicists, political scientists, economists, and psychologists must treat man and beast alike, as machines differing only in degree of complexity. Thanks to such “scientific” reductionism, psychology especially is no longer the study of man as a spiritual being possessing body and soul, but is merely biology, the study of cells. Biology is then reduced to the study of organic chemistry. Chemistry is reduced to the study of physics in which, finally, man is an organism in which atoms swirl and quanta pop in and out of existence aimlessly.

Since all living matter, human and not, is reduced to a cell or chemical compound, the mechanists conclude that there is no difference between man and brute; that empirical evidence alone constitutes the knowledge of the phenomenon called man; that there is no “objective” existence of mind, consciousness, and the soul; that human freedom is illusion; that there is no human nature which is not malleable to techniques of design, development, and control.

Accepting these notions, Singer concludes that because man and beast both suffer, they are therefore equal. There is no sanctity of life, only quality of life. In the journal Pediatrics, Singer wrote in 1983, “if we compare a severely defective human infant with a nonhuman animal, a dog or a pig for example, we often find the nonhuman to have superior capacities. . . . If we can put aside the obsolete and erroneous notion of the sanctity of all human life, we may start to look at human life as it really is: the quality of life that each human being has or can achieve.” Arguing that man is substantially different than the cow because he is created in the image of God is, according to Singer, merely a fine phrase that is “the last resource of those who have run out of argument.” This mentality permits Singer to conclude that there is no significant difference between human slavery and cattle ranching.

For Singer, abortion, infanticide and euthanasia should be mandatory in order to relieve society of those beings whose quality of life are not perfect – be they pre-born, young, or old. For instance, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Cruzan v. Director, Missouri Department of Health (1990) that artificially supplied foods and liquids could be terminated because they are nothing more than “life-support systems,” the jubilant Singer wrote, “The lives of such patients are of no benefit to them, and so doctors may lawfully stop feeding them to end their lives. With this decision the law has ended its unthinking commitment to the preservation of human life that is a mere biological existence. . . . In doing so they have shifted the boundary between what is and what is not murder. . . . Now, conduct intended to end life is lawful.”

Today, to impose his Weltanschauung, Singer calls for taxing meat eaters; tomorrow he’ll call for oppressive taxes on the incomes of people who are under the illusion that it is only humane to care for the sick and the elderly.

George J. Marlin is the author of The American Catholic Voter: Two Hundred Years of Political Impact.

(c) 2009 The Catholic Thing. All right reserved. For reprint rights write to: info at thecatholicthing dot org

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Comments (9)Add Comment
Defending Life
written by Ars Artium, November 25, 2009
We can hope that Dr. Singer's comparison between human slavery and cattle ranching will reveal the horror at the base of his thinking. I am, though, of the opinion that God's making us stewards of all creation has every possibility of meaning that we are to care for animals, not overbreed and eat them. It is something to consider.
written by Liz, November 25, 2009
Mr. Singer is merely taking up space. This guy actually makes a living by being absurd - people encourage him by paying him a salary! And we all wonder why the world is in the state it is. I understand that all are entitled to their opinions but it seems the more outlandish one becomes the more "in demand" the absurdity becomes. Why even give Singer the time of day?
The New Ethics?
written by Willie, November 25, 2009
Dr. Singers's immodest proposal should come as no shock for those who are familiar with Peter Singer. He is no champion of sanctity of life. He is an advocate of exterminating defective infants, denies flood and hydration to compromised elderly and advocates allowing one to kill their infant up to one month of age for no particular reason. This man has a following ! It is no surprise that he wants to tax meat eaters. It should be no surprise in the future to be taxed for having a defective child
Animal vs. man
written by Joseph, November 25, 2009
Bishop Sheen wrote, "No pig ever had ulcers, and not even the most erotic rooster has had a mother complex." Why stop at cows, pigs and chickens? Why not extend equality to plants and tax broccoli eaters?

George, rather than take the professor's arguments seriously, consider this little but grist for a good satirist. When my dog can quote Shakespeare, I may pay more attention.

Man's God-given dominion over animals indeed implies the responsibility of stewardship as Ars Artium urges.
My Flesh is Real Meat
written by debby, November 25, 2009
The likes of Singer reveal the lies of their god-the enemy of The Way, The Truth, The Life! Jesus did not say "My Flesh is real veggie." To be a Vegan by choice-not Faith-is ok. However to stray from The Truth invites all sorts of vile poison to creep in, blend in, mingle, like mist on the moor, bringing a slow death. People die, animals live. Declaring Truth is labled a violent act against general society. But then again, He came to bring a sword.
p.s.Jesus ate meat-fish, lamb, sparrows
Taking Singer seriously
written by Tristian, November 25, 2009
Singer stays in business because too many of his opponents are unwilling or unable to respond to what he actually says. Singer is a utilitarian--his conclusions depend on the capacities of animals to suffer, not reductionism. He can dismiss the idea that we owe anything to plants by noting they aren't sentient, and his demands for equal consideration for animals do not entail that they should be treated in the same ways as humans. People are easily persuaded by Singer--you need to do better.
As judgmental as Yahweh?
written by Jacob the Jew, November 25, 2009
The Catholic Thing's elitist intellectuals are at it again! Now baby murder Barack is preferable to Sarah Palin thanks to the incredibly sophisticated wisdom of the writers at The Catholic Thing (don't worry they know how much more sophisticated they are than you or me or their favorite sparring partners--elitist leftists!). A wisdom that imparts the most important universal truth for any American Catholic: baby murder is always wrong, unless being hip and open minded is at stake! (Palin uncool)
One word for Jacob--Huh?
written by Kevin in Texas, November 26, 2009
Really there's nothing more to ask. I tried to read your post a few times, but couldn't make heads or tails of it no matter what "spin" I tried to imagine you putting on it. Is it too much to ask that 1) commenters write posts that make sense in standard English, and 2) that the posts have at least a passing relevance to a given column?
written by dbw, December 01, 2009
Trying to address such meretricious persiflage that's oozing its way out of the more expensive (as opposed to better) universities like slime from salted slugs, is like trying to reason with toads. One cannot blame such unfortunate nincompoops as Singer, alas, for the world is crawling with his ilk, but one can fault his employer, Princeton, which apparently is so desperate for publicity that it gives voice to such unfortunate individuals, who lack morals, common sense, insight, and humanity.

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