Ten Questions You Always Wanted to Ask an Animal Rights Activist
"On the most basic level, a human's life is not worth more than an animal's life."
Photos courtesy of Casper Hilt. The sign on the left says "Let’s rethink our relationship to animals," the sign on the right says "I want to live."
This article originally appeared VICE Denmark.
Casper Hilt is a social worker and animal rights activist from Copenhagen. The 35-year-old is the founding director of the group Fremtiden er Vegansk (The Future Is Vegan), and an active member of animal rights organizations Anonymous for the Voiceless, Go Vegan, and Direct Action Everywhere.
Hilt spends most of his time organizing protests and campaigns aimed at informing the people of Denmark about the plight of animals in industrialized farming. "Animals feel things, just like you and I. They suffer every day, all over the world, for no reason whatsoever," he tells me. "People label me as an extremist or a fanatic. Either that or I’m sanctimonious and have a holier-than-thou attitude. But the only difference between me and those people is that I recognize the fact that animals suffer, due to our taste for their flesh. That's what I want people to understand."
I spoke to Hilt about whether he thinks an animal's life is worth the same as a human's, whether you can be prejudiced against a chicken, and if keeping pets is wrong.
VICE: How do you feel about slaughtering animals, but treating them humanely during their lives?
Casper Hilt: Try turning that around. If someone is killed in the prime of his or her life, the automatic response isn't, "Well, it's a good thing they died while they were young and happy."
So do you think the life of an animal is just as important as a human's life?
Honestly, there's no easy answer here—you have to factor a lot in. Is the life of a terrible person worth more than your pet dog? On the most basic level, a human's life is not worth more than an animal's life, but in the end, it's much more complicated than that.
If you could only save one, would you save the life of a chicken or a baby?
That's an impossible question to answer. I guess my heart would tell me to save the baby because it resembles me and I can relate to it. But I would do everything in my power to save both. And if I couldn't save both, it would haunt me for the rest of my life.
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Are there any people you wouldn’t save over the life of an animal?
It's a pretty unrealistic scenario, but for the sake of the argument, lets take some random animal, like a two-year-old wild boar, and a convicted serial killer. In that hypothetical situation, I would say that it's not just about who they are, but also about what they've done. And considering the boar would never wilfully harm anyone, I'd probably save the animal. But the decision would still haunt me.
In your campaigns, you talk a lot about speciesism. As a carnivore, am I a speciesist?
Speciesism means that you condone the poor treatment of other living beings simply because they belong to a different species. It's at the root of the specific kind of evil that I campaign against. It's the dominant culture and ideology, and the reason why you love and protect your dog but have no qualms about a pig having to die a gruesome death so you can eat it. From a logical standpoint, it makes no sense—it assigns animals a lower value just because they are of a different species. It's the same skewed logic as with sexism and racism, but I think speciesism predates both.
So yes, you are a speciesist, but it's probably not a conscious decision on your part. We're all raised in a society that condones the mistreatment of some animals.
In the past, you've compared eating meat to the Holocaust. Why?
I very rarely make that comparison. I want to make it extremely clear that in saying that, I am in no way comparing Jewish people to animals. I would never do that. I have, however, compared the crimes committed against Jewish people during WWII to the way pigs are treated today. I think the atrocious treatment is the same—the difference to me is that the victims look different and operate on different levels of consciousness.
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So if you consider pork production to be a form of genocide, shouldn't you be doing a lot more to end it?
I ask myself that every day. As an activist, you can easily trap yourself in a wicked spiral of self-doubt, where you keep questioning whether or not you are doing enough for the cause. One vegan can't change the world, but I am one amongst millions and we are growing in numbers by the day. Eventually, we'll change the world.
What's your opinion on keeping pets?
If the animal has been rescued from a cruel fate, then I think it's OK. But buying another individual for companionship is, in my view, no better than buying them for entertainment purposes or for food. I think it's fine to get a dog from a pound, but not from a breeder. Breeding is never in the interest of the animal.
So do you think keeping a hamster in a cage is the same as keeping a child locked up in a basement?
The short answer is yes. I think the experience is the same because both will experience emotional stress, anxiety, and grief. But humans have the cognitive ability to conceptualize freedom and hope. And as far as we know, animals don't. So I'd say being incarcerated is worse for them because it's a never-ending experience. Think about it—would you rather be locked up with or without at least the hope of being able to escape?
Have you ever killed an animal?
I often went fishing as a child. At the time, I was under the impression that fishing was just a fun hobby. But I hated the smell and the taste of fish, so I never ate any of the ones we caught. As a teenager, I realized how crazy fishing was, so I stopped.
I feel bad that I've killed and eaten animals in my life, but I feel even worse about all the milk, cheese, and eggs I consumed when I was a vegetarian. I'd rather be a pig with a short life than a dairy cow being exploited for years. But yes, I do feel remorseful and that's why I work so hard as an activist today. I feel terrible about myself when I think of all the innocent animals I have helped exploit and kill, just for the sake of my taste buds.
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