You wake up on a cold, damp floor, with dead bodies lying all around you. Things are still hazy, it’s dark, and you don’t know where you are. You see a light in the distance, so you make your way toward a window, but as a sliver of sunlight burns your skin, you immediately recoil.
All at once, your memories start to come rushing back. The music was pumping, you were out on the dance floor doing your thang, and suddenly all around you was screaming and pandemonium. You remember some psycho leaping toward you, grabbing you with superhuman strength, and actually biting into the side of your neck.
You should never have gone to that goth rave, that’s for damn sure, but it’s too late now. You don’t know why you aren’t dead like all the others on the floor around you, but maybe they were the lucky ones. As crazy as it all seems, you realize you’re a vampire.
So, now what? Do you:
A) Tell yourself that it’s okay for you to kill humans to feed yourself because lions kill other animals to feed themselves too.
B) Point to your vampire fangs to indicate the fact that a vampire body is designed to drink blood from necks, so that’s what you should do, and it’s not a moral issue.
C) Embrace your newfound vampire heritage, and wax poetic about the taste of freshly sucked blood from a human neck. Anyway, plants are biologically alive too. Plus, vampires are apex predators at the top of the food chain. Face it, vampires have been sucking human blood for thousands of years, and it will never ever change.
D) Agree that vampires hurting and terrorizing humans is morally wrong, but insist that the act of killing sentient beings to feed oneself is not in itself immoral. You humanely (vampirely?) use a bolt gun to knock your food out first before you bite into their neck.
E) Realize that just because you need blood to survive, it still doesn’t mean you have to kill other sentient beings to get it. You place some ads and start paying humans for blood donations. And you start funding research into synthetic blood.
Hopefully, it’s easy to see that the only moral choice here is to pick E), or something similar that doesn’t intentionally inflict harm or kill other sentient beings to feed yourself.
To put it another way, good vampires do the equivalent of going vegan. They respect the fundamental rights of other conscious sentient individuals, and seek to live and let live rather than inflict intentional harm and killing on others.
Vampires are fictional characters, of course, but sometimes fiction can allow us the distance to explore emotionally heated topics in a more rational way.
The point here is not that eating animals is being equated to drinking human blood. It’s not. The point is about our underlying thought process and argumentation. What we should see, despite the differences between the two situations, is that our arguments for eating animals are bad. Really. Really. Atrociously. Bad. So bad, we should be embarrassed as a species that so many of us continue to make them.
Our thought process seems to be thoroughly broken when it comes to other animals. Rather than seeking ways to care about others, and lessen suffering in the world, we instead endlessly rationalize the intentional infliction of exploitation, suffering, and killing, simply because we desire the taste — and deem that more important than the animal, because we consider ourselves exceptional, while other animals are considered less than us.
There are indeed differences between humans and other animals, but those differences, regardless of however exceptional we may be, shouldn’t ever move us from an ethic of justice and care to an ethic of exploitation and killing. Our argumentation for exploiting and killing animals is fundamentally flawed. Vampires are just one of many novel ways to help see that, but there are numerous other examples in fiction as well. Pretty much any superhero is an example of someone exceptional applying an ethic of justice and care for those with less power and ability than themselves, rather than arguing for a Might Makes Right ethic of exploitation and killing. The Might Makes Right bullies are the bad guys and super villains.
Perhaps one day we’ll learn in real life what we already know to be true in fiction. And no, it’s not a personal choice. Good vampires go vegan. And even more importantly, they advocate for a transition to a vegan society.
Charles Horn is the author of Meat Logic: Why Do We Eat Animals? Charles is an Emmy-nominated writer and producer with credits including Fugget About It, Robot Chicken, and Robot Chicken: Star Wars. He has a Ph.D. from Princeton University, and holds five degrees in engineering and mathematics.