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Noam Chomsky, the renowned socialist intellectual, believes that human society will eventually transition to vegetarianism due to concern for animals. Chomsky’s academic influence is hard to overstate. According to the Chicago Tribune, in 1993 he was “the most often cited living author. Among intellectual luminaries of all eras, Chomsky placed eighth, just behind Plato and Sigmund Freud.”
Also in 1993, Chomsky made the prediction in an interview with Z Magazine co-founder Michael Albert, according to archival-website Third World Traveler:
“I don’t know if it’s a hundred years, but it seems to me if history continues–that’s not at all obvious, that it will–but if society continues to develop without catastrophe on something like the course that you can sort of see over time, I wouldn’t be in the least surprised if it moves toward vegetarianism and protection of animal rights,” Chomsky said. “In fact, what we’ve seen over the years–and it’s hard to be optimistic in the twentieth century, which is one of the worst centuries in human history in terms of atrocities and terror and so on–but still, over the years, including the twentieth century, there is a widening of the moral realm, bringing in broader and broader domains of individuals who are regarded as moral agents.”
While Chomsky said he was not personally vegetarian, he believed the issue of eating animals and vivisecting them was an important one, “Experiments are torturing animals, let’s say,” Chomsky said. “That’s what they are. So to what extent do we have a right to torture animals for our own good? I think that’s not a trivial question.”
When Albert asked Chomsky if animal advocates were politically ahead of the curve, Chomsky was noncommittal, but did not dismiss the idea. “It’s possible,” Chomsky said. “I think I’d certainly keep an open mind on that. You can understand how it could be true. It’s certainly a pretty intelligible idea to us. I think one can see the moral force to it.” Chomsky went on to trace the evolution of human attitudes toward animal suffering over past few centuries. “You don’t have to go back very far to find gratuitous torture of animals,” Chomsky said. “The Cartesians thought they had proven that humans had minds and everything else in the world was a machine. So there’s no difference between a cat and a watch, let’s say. It’s just the cat’s a little more complicated.”
Using a frustratingly limited definition of ‘gratuitous torture’ Chomsky continued to recount Cartesian speciesism. “You go back to the court in the seventeenth century, and big smart guys who studied all that stuff and thought they understood it would as a sport take Lady So-and-So’s favorite dog and kick it and beat it to death and so on and laugh, saying, this silly lady doesn’t understand the latest philosophy, which was that it was just like dropping a rock on the floor,” Chomsky said. “That’s gratuitous torture of animals. It was regarded as if we would ask a question about the torturing of a rock. You can’t do it. There’s no way to torture a rock. The moral sphere has certainly changed in that respect. Gratuitous torture of animals is no longer considered quite legitimate.”
Jon Hochschartner is a freelance writer from upstate New York. Visit his website at JonHochschartner.com.