In the recent week a controversial commercial has been aired by the PETA organisation. In seeking to push the rights of fish it compares a fish on a chopping block to a woman facing domestic violence, an elderly lady being mugged and different children screaming at the violence they are witnessing. Its catch phrase is “some screams can’t be heard”. The commercial has sparked outcry, especially from organisations seeking to bring an end to domestic violence.
Tonight on the Channel 10 program The Project, a representative from PETA defended the commercial as a deliberately shocking yet much needed protest against violence to fish. Her point was that every day we treat fish in a way that we would never treat humans and it was about time that it ended. The interesting aspect of the interview was that the panel interviewing her seemed to think it was an unfair comparison, yet they could provide no good reason why it was an unfair comparison.
Why the controversy?
Why does this commercial make us feel uncomfortable? Primarily it is because it has highlighted a confusion we face in Sydney about where to place value upon living creatures. Should a fish have the same value as our grandmother?
The PETA organisation would suggest yes. However the twist in this tale is that this recent commercial has made a crucial mistake which distances it from the very philosophy PETA is based upon.
Peter Singer has written much about our need to revalue our natural world. The compass Singer uses to navigate this question of value is based upon giving equality to all sentient beings. A sentient being is any being that can feel pain and pleasure. Since animals (such as fish) can feel pain we should treat them with the same equality we give to humans. For a long time Singer has given a philosophical spine to PETA and was the basis of their campaign some years ago against using animal fur in fashion.
However one of the nuances of Singers view is that there are different levels of suffering due to the individuals awareness of what is actually going on. He wrote; “Humans have much greater awareness of what is happening to them, and this makes their suffering worse. You cannot equate the suffering of, say, a person dying from cancer, and a laboratory mouse undergoing the same fate.”
I wonder if he would also say you cannot equate the suffering of woman being beaten by her husband to a sea bass on a chopping block?
PETA failed to follow its underlinging philosophy in order to give some punch to their message. This simplifying is irresponsible. This failure may also answer the controversy.
And yet when I consider whether a fish should have the same value as my grandmother a problem still lingers.
To be continued……………….