Let's face it, the implication of this blog's name is kind of cheeky. Despite my disclaimers, it still implies that there's a necessary connection between "paleo"-something and veganism. Maybe, if I had it to do over again, I'd call the blog "Evolvegan" instead, because that's closer to what I think I was driving at.
There's always been an insight floating around nebulously in my subconscious about what the study of evolution can say about animal liberation and ethical veganism. But until recently, I hadn't been able to put it in words. I left that, inadvertently, to someone else.
Someone I've exchanged a few emails with wrote a sentence that set off alarms and ignited light bulbs in my head. As soon as I read it, I thought, "Yes! Yes, that's it, exactly!" It was like my pesky camera finally snapped into focus after months of my fiddling ineffectually with it. The sentence was simple, elegant, and immediately clear to anyone who truly understands evolution:
Suffering is conserved in all vertebrates.
That's the foundational insight of this blog, boiled down to bare essentials (thanks, D, for saying it so beautifully; I hope you don't mind my borrowing it). The only thing I'd add to it is:
And so is empathy.
These two emotions -- empathy and suffering -- exist in all vertebrate animals. If they didn't, there's no way they'd exist in humans. We inherited our capacities for empathy and suffering from a long line of common ancestors, as Darwin hinted at in both The Descent of Man and The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals. Work since Darwin has only confirmed and expanded this insight.
It shouldn't surprise us, really. It should be obvious. But to a lot of people clinging to the specialness of their humanity, it's not obvious at all (speciesism is probably an inherited trait, too!). In fact, a lot of people expend their energy and bandwidth justifying their speciesism by appealing to evolution, accusing ethical vegans of not "getting it." They imply there's something un-natural about our advocacy.
But there isn't. Empathy and suffering are both conserved in vertebrates. When we act upon those two traits and seek animal liberation, we are grounded in our evolutionary kinship with other species. We have taken the fact of common descent to its fullest ethical conclusion. Others may have different interpretations of the evidence, but that does not make their interpretation any more "natural" than ours.
It is perfectly natural to feel another being's pain, and to desire an end to their suffering. It's also natural to act on those feelings, and build an ethic around them. Attaching a "paleo" to the "vegan" is simply a proclamation of this kinship-by-common-descent.
We will not exploit, enslave or eat our kin.
Oh, and what about invertebrates? Do they suffer, too? Honestly, I'm not sure, but it costs me nothing to give them the benefit of the doubt. So, I won't eat them, either.