Let's start from a premise that temporarily sets aside the habitual justifications for the exploitation of animals. Off the top of my head, here are a few: the cynical we have always done it, the biological determinism for certain proteins or B-12 induced fear, the opportunistic and ultimately nihilistic but plants also feel pain!, the strange but animals will take over the world if we don't eat them, and many more specious arguments besides. Since violence towards animals remains both legal and socially encouraged, these arguments don't have the burden of being sound; they simply have to be in place as a psychic buffer or rationalization for those who prefer not to think any harder. Instead, for both sympathetic and hostile readers, please suspend all default settings and envision our world to be, in fact, a place where the confinement and exploitation of nonhuman animals is unavoidably unethical, ecologically catastrophic, and wholly unnecessary. What then?
This is very imaginable for those who already have an inkling that something is very wrong. For those prey to the many stigmatizations attached to nonviolent views towards animals, this will prove more difficult. But again, if not for the sake of billions of nerve-ended beings, then for the sake of this essay, please try. It would mean a world that is far more violent than you had previously thought: certain foods become veiny and cadaverous, fashionable coat trims turn into torn skin, milk becomes the liquid remainder of a mammal who mourns, eggs become artifacts from cramped, de-beaked conditions - and in general, the mass of bodies "produced" in economic efficiency become individuals who make it clear they prefer joy over pain and wish to continue living as best they can. In sum, your perceptions of violence would multiply to a frightening degree. And here's the kicker: you would come to find that almost every one else around you is somehow immune to your newfound heightened sense of violence. Like a "Twilight Zone" episode, the world is turned upside down. In what can only be a deep irony for the history of violence, you become Charlton Heston pleading for recognition in that species power reversal classic "Planet of the Apes." You're yelling about injustices, yet most everyone thinks you're crazy. It is this feeling I'd like to inspect.