The Dean Again

The Dean Again

“A Reply to Dean Inge’s Defence of Flesh-eating.” By the Rev. Francis Wood. The C. W. Daniel Company, 1s. (by post, 1s. 1d.).

As long ago as 1916 the Humanitarian League received from Mr. Ernest Bell, the publisher, a book by the Rev. Francis Wood, entitled “Suffering and Wrong,” which still stands on my shelf, and from which I have often quoted as showing a real and heartfelt understanding of our cause. I was therefore the more interested to see this reply to the indefatigable Dean; and I do not doubt that in view of the great reputation attained by Dean Inge with the public and the press it is good policy to answer him. I will say at the outset, however, that I think Mr. Wood overrates the actual abilities and importance of a much lauded cleric. Nothing is more attractive to the public than an unconventionality which goes far enough to give it a mild shock of surprise, but carefully stops short of disturbing its comfortable personal illusions.

Of the two chief claims made by the Dean in defence of flesh-eating the first, as Mr. Wood points out, is that all nature is a “conjugation of the verb to eat,” and with this ancient excuse he deals quite effectively, as it seems to me, in the second chapter of his booklet, “The Adequacy of a Nature Diet.” I am specially glad that he lays stress on the fact that Cannibals have the same strong desire for human flesh as the Dean’s clients for the animals; for I think that cannibalism is a subject of which we vegetarians do not make sufficient use. It ought to be “rubbed in” on every occasion. If savages can be reclaimed from man-eating, though they give precisely the same reasons for their practice as the Christian for his beef-steak, what is the sense of talking about the necessity of “eating”?

The second, and more famous, of the Dean’s oracular utterances is, of course, his argument that “if we assume that survival has a value for the brutes, no one has so great an interest in the demand for pork as the pig.” Here, while agreeing entirely with Mr. Wood in his conclusions, I cannot think that his line of reasoning is sound. I am surprised that he should accept that ancient fallacy as “most plausible” at first sight, on the ground that brief existence is better than no existence at all, and then find himself compelled to bring to bear on Dean Inge a long train of criticisms, ethical or religious, in order to confute what should be summarily dismissed as little better than nonsense. For this excuse for flesh-eating is just the same as that frequently advanced, in defence of their respective practices, by the sportsman and the vivisector, and rests on the same lack of logic. Perhaps the most noteworthy instance of it was when, in a House of Commons debate on pigeon-shooting (1883), it was argued that a “blue-rock” would prefer to live and be shot at than not to live at all, at which Mr. W. E. Forster retorted that what we have to consider is not a “blue-rock” before existence, but a “blue-rock” in existence. That is the sum of the whole matter; yet, all these years later, we have the same old absurdity left uncontradicted, or treated with a seriousness it does not deserve.

For consider. It is of course possible for one who is already existent to take what view he likes of the comparative advantages of life and non-life; but for him to impose his views on person, whether human or sub-human, who have not yet come into existence—who, in fact, are not persons at all—is childish. The Dean, whose own interest is obvious, kindly decides for the pig that bacon is an excellent thing; but unfortunately it is the pig’s opinion on that point, not the Dean’s, that is worth the consideration of those who think. The Dean was not thinking, any more than the pigeon-shooter, when he wrote that foolish remark about the pig’s interest in pork.

Incidentally I may observe that Mr. Wood does less than justice to the pig in another and less urgent matter, when he speaks of him as appearing “destitute of intelligence.” It is true that he points out how largely this is caused by mankind’s ill usage; but he seems hardly aware that by Mr. Shaler, of Harvard University, and other authorities, the pig, next to the elephant and the dog, is classed as the most intellectual of animals.

The later pages of Mr. Wood’s criticism are devoted to a consideration of the slaughtering system in light of religion, and of this there is no need for me to speak, though I feel sure that he and I would not differ much on any vital point. I greatly admire his perfect frankness; he never evades the issue or refuses to face facts. Vegetarianism, as he clearly sees, is the pivot, the central question, in man’s treatment of animals, and without that, all sentiment and talk of “kindness” is a bit vacuous and dull. I am very glad to see the dedication of this little book “to the honoured memory of Ernest Bell.”

Henry S. Salt

The Vegetarian News, September 1934, pp. 264-266