September 25, 2007

Plants Feel Pain: The Psychopath Test

Posted in debate, veganism at 3:27 pm by nevavegan

I was apparently born loving plants. My parents said I had a green thumb from about age two. I loved to garden. I loved to start my seedlings for vegetables and flowers in flats every February, an activity I shared with my dad.

There are pictures of me as a baby grinning stupidly over flowers in the garden, and as a young child sitting on my Dad’s shoulders showing off a sunflower I grew. Although my home is more animal sanctuary than designers’ showcase, much of my art which decorates the place and any objects like bed spreads, etc that I’ve brought in are green, reflecting my love of verdant plant life.

I love plants. I don’t know what kinds of consciousness if any plants have, but I’ve read that they react to noxious stimuli by growing in other directions or producing chemicals that deter pests. They’re pretty amazing really.

So I don’t think I’d like the idea of someone needless torturing plants and people cutting down trees upsets me.

Still, there is the omnivore argument that vegans focus too much on alleviating animal suffering and this is wrong because “plants feel pain too.”

I’m not sure that we can necessarily draw the conclusion that what plants feel is really close to the kind of pain vertebrate and maybe even invertebrate animals experience. Many plants have developed symbiotic relationships with the animals who eat them. For example, anyone who has ever tried to garden without doing any pruning knows that this is not always to the benefit of the plant. Further, animals serve a reproductive function for plants when they eat the fruits and berries and later distribute the seeds through their droppings into new prime areas to grow.

Secondly, if one is actually concerned about plant exploitation, then we use more plants when we feed them first to animals, and later eat the flesh of the animals.

Still I have the following question for the “plants feel pain” crowd, and I urge a secondary usage of this as a psychopath test.

If you were running at full tilt down a narrow path and realized when it’s too late to stop that a tiny helpless kitten and a very nice potted plant were both directly in your path and you could not avoid stepping on one or the other (and lets assume at your weight and rate of speed the impact would be fatal to both), which do you step on and which do you avoid? I see only one reasonable answer to such an annoying hypothetical question.

Still, should you ask this question and get any of the following answers, please consider avoiding that person in the future.
*”I’d step on the kitten because the potted plant would get my brand new shoes dirty.”
*”I’d step on the kitten because she would make a funny sound.”
*”I’d step on the kitten because she’s weak and helpless and doesn’t deserve to live.”
*”I’d step on the kitten because she’s stray and helpless and what kind of life would she have anyway.”
Or
*”I’d step on the kitten because I want to take the plant home with me and put it in my apartment.”

None of those answers is acceptable obviously. But in this scenario, hopefully your “plants feel pain” antagonist must admit placing a higher value on animals. And if so, how does he justify not acting on that in terms of his diet?