Wednesday, August 13, 2008


Rightly or wrongly I've tried to keep a very tight focus on the topic under discussion. I spelled it out at the beginning and emphasised it throughout our (now quite long) exchange; Trevor not understanding why some people don't eat meat. In his most recent post Trevor said

I accept that factory farming has some excessive cruel practices. I would rather not associate with these, and given the easy choice wouldn't. I would even pay a premium over cruelty derived foods.


Does it leave me feeling uneasy... yes.

He also hasn't contested my claim that most animals killed for meat have not been humanely raised. So does he understand why some people don't meat as rule of thumb? Does he understand why some people would rather tell a dinner host that they're vegetarian rather than saying they'll only eat meat if the host can certify as humanely raised?

If he does, I wish he'd just say so. And if he doesn't, then considering what he has said, I give up.

If Trevor demands that vegetarians are committed to the view that it is always and everywhere wrong to eat meat. Then fine, but again I wish I had known before spending so much time on these posts because it has nothing to with what I thought we were discussing and I did make a big deal about this in my last post. But please make it clear that you understand that I am not a vegetarian in that sense and neither do the vast majority of animal rights philosophers including the founder of the animal rights movement. Peter Singer's most recent book has a focus on what kinds of meat to eat if you're gonna eat meat. I heartily recommend it to meat eaters like Trevor who worry about animal suffering.

If Trevor does understand all this but wants to continue with other animal rights related stuff then that's also cool, but I want to preemptively emphasise

  • I have incredibly little interest in convincing Trevor never to eat meat.

I am only interested in establishing that animal suffering in animal farming is morally relevant. That less is morally preferable to more. I'll also add that I'm sceptical about how much we currently know about how much suffering is involved in producing free range meat that currently makes it into the shops. I do not rule out the fact that meat may be available (now or in the future) that we can be confident beyond reasonable doubt involved acceptably minimal suffering.

Phew! Now onto Trevor's post point by point

  1. What has any of this got to do with starving or giving lots to charity? We've been discussing how much suffering we can inflict on animals, not how much effort or other resources into doing active good.
  2. Sigh. This is a response to me saying, "The logical conclusion is basically not to eat any meat that's commercially available." As I'd said earlier, I chose not to post a longer response, I was very aware of how long and boring my posts were. But at least some charitable reading is required here. There word "basically" is very carefully chose. I specifically did not say, "The logical conclusion is never to eat any meat that's commercially available." I had also expressed my view that the vast majority of commercially available meat involves significant suffering.
  3. Seriously? Didn't I say that I eat fish? In fact, in the comments to a post that Trevor commented on I say, "I also don't think it's wrong to eat flesh, even human flesh" in response, which I had assumed Trevor read.

Trevor then goes on to point out that going veggie isn't likely to have much impact. That's true! I have terribly little impact on animal suffering with my vegetarianism, I've had a little more in influencing some people on their meaty decisions. And they may have an impact on other people. Maybe Greg will have an impact on someone in discussing the subject with somebody I don't know. Maybe Oprah will go veggie after reading my blog and cause millions of people to change their habits. Maybe when vegetarians get to a certain % of the population there will be a general shift in public consciousness. How do I know?

But more fundamentally, the same reasoning applies to so many moral issues. 200 years ago, releasing a slave in America didn't have an impact on the plight of slaves in general (most would simply be picked up by another slave owner). Your vote has zero importance in an election. Reducing our carbon footprint does nothing to slow global warming. The principle of universalization is a pretty fundamental ethical idea, it even has a fancy name, the Categorical Imperative.

Trevor needs to set me straight on something else. Does he think our decisions about our carbon footprint are important? Is it worth buying a small car even if we'd like a SUV because of global warming? We discussed it recently and I got the impression that he thinks it is? So how bout what I said above? And how about the fact that one of the very best ways to reduce your footprint is to become a vegetarian? Regardless of suffering involved.

Trevor goes on

vegetarianism is also a pretty elite, top of maslow's hierarchy concern. If you are starving... you don't really care what you eat. We are a long long way from being able to feed the world on a meat free diet, let alone a diet at all.

This gets it exactly backwards. Most poor people are involuntarily vegetarian because they can't afford meat. People aspire to meat eating. It's true that it tends to be rich people who then give it up for reasons similar to mine. And remember, vegetarians are healthier than meat eaters.

Finally, Trevor "has a problem" with the inconsistency of people like me drinking cappuccinos and buying leather shoes. There are many ways to respond to this. Firstly I don't buy leather shoes, or furniture or cars with leather seats. But, most important I'm not guilty of inconsistency here. I explicitly did not defend my actions. In my very first post I say

Finally, in keeping with my battle against black and white and the desire to distinguish between different shades of gray, there is no claim about moral perfection here. I honestly believe I should be way stricter about my dairy consumption, I'm not proud of this but I also I haven't gone beyond a vague feeling that I'll try to do better in the future. Also, I'm on record as saying that morality is over rated. Even if my ethical views are correct that doesn't automatically imply a particular response. We consciously act in morally imperfect ways all the time! That's often OK but unless we think about these things, we'll never know when it's OK and when it's really not.

I think I should do better. To the extent that I don't, I believe I'm immoral.

Again this moral absolutism pops up, "If you believe that anything obtained through cruel means is unacceptable." I've tried so hard to distance myself from hard line views, it makes me want to cry to read Trevor saying stuff like this.

But, Jiminy fucking Cricket Trevor gives his own, incredibly obvious, answer to this sticky dilemma

Is it possible to live a consistent cruelty free life? Maybe not now, but maybe it is something we can work towards.

How bout working towards this by preferring less cruelty and suffering now?! How is this inconsistent or hypocritical or whatever. Must we wait until we can make one step to instant moral utopia? I could do better by not drinking properly vetted cappuccinos, but that would be better!!!!!

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