Justifying Slavery

A catechist that a chief wanted to sell because “he taught doctrines that the ancients did not know about”, Les Baloïs (Haut-Oubanghi area, 150 km north of Liranga towards Impfondo, Congo), 1905, photograph by Father Leray, second series of postcards published by Father Augouard (before 1912)

How would you have felt about slavery if you lived 200 years ago?

Defending slavery today is completely immoral, but it’s wide practice and enormous benefits made it easy to defend for thousands of years.

Today we can feel good about having made an important social transition in human civilization.  We don’t enslave humans anymore.  It’s crazy to think we did.

This leaves me with a burning question: is there a modern equivalent?  Is there a practice future generations will find atrocious, yet is widely popular today?

I believe there is; another group being exploited through complete control. I believe that the way we treat animal life is a modern example of slavery.

Chickens sold near Qianheyan Mosque in Xin Xi Lu (New Western Street) in Linxia City.

We raise animals how we see fit, and use them for our own advantage with a minimal concern for their interests.  We abuse and eat them with little regard for their desire to live long, happy lives. This is most certainly modern slavery, and I’d like to make a case that just like human slavery, it needs to come to an end.

You may disagree.

You may think animal slavery is okay.  That killing animals to eat is okay.  That forcing them to give us their byproducts is okay.  You probably note their delicious taste and nutrient density as solid justification.

You’d be in good company.  Most people on the planet eat animals. It’s understandable that to most, enslaving animals is normal.

More than 200 years ago arguments were made to justify the enslavement of other human beings.  Below are some of those justifications. I hope you see what I do: a connection between human rights then, and animal rights today.

Argument 1: Slaves are good for nothing else

Then, it was said that people with dark skin were lower creatures, living in a less civilized manor, and could not contribute to a modern, civilized society.

Today, we justify treating animals as nothing more than tasty food.  That’s why industrial meat producers fatten and slaughter trillions of animals in the United States every year.  Most of the crops we grow are for animals so we can kill and eat them.


Yet many today feel that factory farming is wrong: that we should care about the lives of animals a little more.  I bet you agree with me on this.  Documentaries like Forks over Knives have opened our collective eyes to an industry that treats animals like parts on a factory line.  We can do better because deep down, we care about how those animals feel.

Argument 2: Slavery is okay because It’s in the Bible

Then, the long history of slavery in all human civilizations was a sufficient reason to continue it’s practice.  Traditions of this magnitude are rarely challenged.

Today, we look back and see a long history of meat eating in every culture know to history.  Meat eating is so engrained in our culture that it’s tied to our sense of masculinity, dominance, and culinary privilege.


Yet many today are aware of our obesity and health crisis, calling our eating habits into question.  At the core of every scientific recommendation for human diets is the consumption of plants, with limits for everything else.  Today, meat eating is on a decline because of a collective desire to eat better.  A vegan diet is healthy and great way to conserve resources.

Argument 3: Slaves are treated well

Then, slave owners touted the humaneness of their operation, citing that slaves had a better life with a roof over their head, good food every day, and a life of purpose (serving us).

Today, product labels like “grass fed,” “organic,” “pasture fed,” “cage-less,” and “antibiotic-free” demonstrate that we do our best to ensure that our animals are comfortable.


Yet even when an animal lives a completely free, natural life, and is killed, it’s harm that had no purpose but our own pleasure.  We need less pleasure killing today.  We need behaviors that help us live sustainably with the life around us.  Animals don’t want to die, sparing them shows empathy and kindness.

Argument 4: Trade/economic implications

Then, much of a country’s economy was tied to slavery, from colossal construction projects to domestic help.

Today the meat and dairy industries are giant, with deep connections into our government and private wealth. We grew up believing we needed milk calcium to strengthen our bones and meat protein to fuel our growing bodies.


Yet health claims for animal products are largely false.  While we enjoy arguing over what constitutes a healthy diet, one thing can’t be overlooked: people want to eat less animal products.  A recent backlash against the US Egg Board shows an economic and political shift away from an animal economy.  As the animal slavery industry declines, the vegan food industry will grow, making healthy, delicious, and indulgent vegan food easy to purchase.

Argument 6: Africans enslaved each other, so…

Then, slavery was seen as a natural, acceptable way of life.

Today, we understand that we are animals, and see our consumption of meat as acceptable since some animals eat animals.


Yet we are no longer in the circle of life.   It’s not the Paleolithic era anymore,  and we’re not in survival mode.  We buy our food in stores and eat in comfy chairs with convenient utensils.  Animals are no longer needed to sustain our way of life.  Rather, our insistence on dominating life has brought the planet to the brink of catastrophe.

It’s right, and it’s healthy.  The World Health Organization recommends a Vegan diet for everyone on the planet. We don’t need to eat animals.

Let’s stop enslaving animals.


It took a long time to wipe out human slavery.  It started small.  Anti-slavery Stoics from ancient Greece argued that all humans were equal, offering our first recorded condemnation of slavery.  Ages later out of the European enlightenment came an organized abolitionism movement, securing early wins in France and spreading around the world within a few generations.

Something similar is happening today from a rapidly growing Vegan community.  I believe our next big social advancement will be animal rights for three important reasons:

1 – It’s about wisdom.  We don’t need to eat animals to have delicious, indulgent, and healthy food.  We waste resources in an industry of animal slavery largely because of horribly inaccurate and selfish beliefs about our diet.  We don’t need to eat animals to live long, healthy lives.

2 – It’s about respect.  We treat our resources like a child treats their toys: carelessly. If you think humanity needs to grow up and start being careful with our resources, here’s a way you can take a stand: don’t contribute to the enslavement of animals for our pleasure.

3 – It’s about our planet.  The animal products industry contributes one third of global greenhouse gas emissions.  Oceans are being depleted of fish.  And rain forests are being cleared to grow more animal feed.  This is about sustainability.  We want future generations to know how to take care of the planet.

I’m proud of the social progress we have made as a race. That’s why I’m encouraging you to think about animal rights as yet another stop on our long, contentious road to that wonderful future where we all live in peace on this planet.

Stand up for what you know is right.  Let’s eat healthier, treat animals with respect, and show that it’s possible for humans to live on this planet for many generations to come.

By Steve Evans from Citizen of the World (Iowa Pig Uploaded by russavia)

3 thoughts on “Justifying Slavery

  1. If someone taking 100% of your pay is considered slavery, at what point does it not become slavery anymore? taxation at 40%, 60%, 80%
    Today we have millions enslaved by political masters who care little to none about their sheep, and yet the sheep continue to espouse the glory of the political machine. This is a kin to your example Jason of foodstock slavery, though you appatently do see the parallels in human society.?

    • Great point. Slavery is certainly not as black and white as I must portray it in this very brief article. However, I’d bet that those who value animals lives are not those “espousing the glory of the political machine”. When we care for the life around us, we also care for the people around us.

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