Monday, December 24, 2007

Why I am not a vegetarian (work in progress)

After a discussion with my brother as to why I still eat (free-range) meat, I came up with the following. Criticism and arguments welcome in the commments please!

1 The most important thing in any life is to be free from pain
2 The next most important thing in any life is to have your desires satisfied
3 There is no life after death, for man, animals, plants, rocks or anything else
4 All things die.
5 A death which the individual does not forsee and is free from pain is the best death. (From 1 & 2 3.)
6 A life which is free from pain, involves the satisfaction of necessary desires and ends according to 5 is called humane. (From 1 & 2 & 3 & 5)
7 The length of the life does not matter, as long as it fulfils all conditions of 6.
8 If an animal or human is raised and dies in a humane condition, it is the best life. (From 7)
9 Animals' desires are simple and satisfiable.
10 All things considered, animals desires in the wild are satisfied less and they suffer more pain than animals' lives in humane captivity.
11 Free range farming and the use of a regulated abattoir is more humane than a life in the wild.
13 For an animal, a life on a free-range farm ended sharply in a professional abattoir is the best life.


Leo said...

That doesn't sound very Jewish to me. Have you gone rogue, Dan?

Pentadact said...

I'm not sure about 7. Isn't a long happy life preferable than a short happy one?

My justification goes along the lines of:

1. Eh.

Pudsk said...

"5 A death which the individual does not forsee and is free from pain is the best death." Not sure that the first part is true, as preparing for death, whether you believe in an afterlife or not, would be more welcome to some people (the deceased and those who know the deceased) than a sudden death, although admittedly animals probably do not have this option and I cannot think of any death that is entirely free from pain.

"7 The length of the life does not matter, as long as it fulfils all conditions of 6." The length of life cannot satisfy the conditions of '6' if the lifeholder desires either long life for the sake of it, or to achieve more things than can be done in a short life.

Points 10, 11 and 13 (tut Dan can you not even get your Triskaidekaphobia right??) seem slightly misaligned as you're saying a free-range existence is better than an entirely wild existence, but most animals consumed for food are reared under different levels of domesticity, rather than under entirely wild circumstances. I can't think of an animal for which this dilemma would occur - "Free range farming and the use of a regulated abattoir is more humane than a life in the wild."
I've never heard of a wild chicken or a factory farmed sheep, certainly.

Grill said...

Leo - yes, I went rogue years ago. Before Judaism got to me in fact.

Tom - I don't know if a longer life is happier. I need someone to justify that statement to me.

Pudsk - for most creatures, I'd argue that the final moments are spent struggling against death not welcoming it. People are different, but death is usually not pleasant for them either. In most circumstances, the quicker the better, and the less painful the better. If possible an immediate death to absolutely minimize the awareness of pain is the best way.

Regarding your qualms over 7 and hence 6, "necessary desires" is the key phrase, which refers to 9 (which should have come earlier in the pecking order perhaps.) If you believe that animals desires are simple and satisfiable short-term things such as warmth, food and progeny then 6 is fine - and 7 is too, as we've not ascribed them any desire that necessitates living beyond the moment. We could ascribe them more complex desires, but we'd have to prove that they had them - which is, for most farmed animals, gods, or anything we don't pretend to comprehend beyond what we can observe, very difficult. We could also ascribe them the desire for immortality, which the desire to life seems to amount to, a neatly unachieveable desire, but we could ascribe them any number of unachieveable desires that are not within our power to grant.

There are wild chickens; there are unkindly-farmed sheep (frozen to death, tails docked, etc). There are more humane ways of rearing all animals, and I do believe that they are a better life than the misery, starvation and cruel drawn-out deaths many wild animals suffer. These points lead on from the earlier points, but I got bored of referencing by then. I'll reintegrate this into an updated flow chart when the comments are all done.

elle said...

This is interesting. I was trying to explain to someone not too long ago that I'm not scared of being dead, I'm just scared that dying will hurt.

They couldn't see the distiction, and assumed that even if there was one, I was lying, cos everyone's scared of dying right?

They're dead now.

elle said...

I was trying to explain to someone recently that I'm not scared of being dead, I'm just scared that dying will hurt.

They couldn't see the distinction, and assumed that even if there was one, I was lying, cos everyone's scared of dying, right?

They're dead now.

elle said...

That was a useless comment.

Here's a better one. I consider myself pro-vegetable, but anti-vegetarian, for some of the reasons you listed.

Pro-vegetable cos a tendencay towards vegetarianism is healthier, and cheaper if you are only going to buy free-range meat.

Anti-vegetarian cos I like eating meat, and cos there's a natural history precedent that supports this predilection.

I don't agree that farmed but free-range is necessarily better than wild though, so when I do buy meat I often get game fropm my friendly butcher rather than supermarket meat, cos I llike the thought of the little bunnies or ducks or whatever skipping around in their natural habitat until they are shot.

Is being caught by a man with a gun better than being caught by a predator with teeth? Probably, although there's a whole mess of questions about clean kills and hunting with dogs.

grilly said...

i agree with lots of those points, but;

it kind of makes a more consistent argument to treat animals badly, because then it's ok to kill something if it's not worth anything to you, right? to be nice to something and then kill it and eat it seems backwards. it seems abhorrent to me - it just doesn't make sense like a badly formed equation. i can't see both sides of it - i can't see how it doesn't matter. hmm. i guess i'm an animist after all. i don't believe in life after death, but i can't stop associating the lovely big cow in the field with the steak on the plate.
obviously, if take a domesticated animal to one side and quietly gas it with CO, then it's almost a victimless crime. but there's just no reason to do this in the first place. meat is nutritionally redundant. the only reason to eat meat is because 'you like it'. doing something because you like it, regardless of the consequences to others isn't very nice, and is generally done by people we refer to as anti-social. psychologists would go on about

i think it's just nice to be nice to animals for it's own sake; but of course what do you do with the animals you're so kind to, if they're just around to keep you company? as you say, everything dies. so you might as well eat it. but then you have to actively kill it rather than just wait for it to die, which brings it back to raising it _to_ kill it.

and of course it's okay to euthanise animals. but raising them with the sole intention of killing and eating them is different.

the question is dan, based on that logic, would you eat the cat you've had for 15 years? if it's going to die anyway? if i know you, you would answer yes (or perhaps no because it's not very good meat, or some other specific get-out clause), in the same way as you'd say you'd eat human flesh, a statement you know you'll never have to defend.

the point we can agree on is that being cruel to living animals is wrong. ok, tautology, sorry. but you know what i mean. if we could live in a small, low impact society, subsistence farming, &c, then i can sympathise with the argument that it's ok to eat meat. i don't think i would do it myself, because it's unnecessary, but i can see the argument that it's ok under those circumstances.

but my point is, those are the lengths you have to go to for it to be ok to eat meat.we don't currently live in the world you've outlined - free-range really isn't that great, and while organic is good, the carbon footprint &c is still horrendous.

so; i think it would only be ok to rear animals for slaughter in a massively depopulated world, so that everyone can enjoy it, or to continue along our present course but actually try and make it sustainable, to do which, among other environmental practices we'd have to adopt, seriously reducing our reliance on animals, number one by not eating them. we take either one route or the other. but our present situation is unsustainable.

that is why i am a vegetarian.

laurence said...

logan's run?

given those principles would it not be most humane to simply not allow an animal life to begin with? or kill it as soon as it became happy (y'know, just to make sure it didn't feel any pain)

my biggest problem with non-vegetarianism is the meat industry. you're managing to avoid it by using words like "free-range" and "regulated" but it seems a little too idealistic for me. your principles just don't scale up

Grill said...

elle: hello! I'm not sure about the game thing - as I said, nature's "red in tooth and claw" so getting shot by a man might be better than being eaten whilst alive by a predator, dying slowly of starvation, or , but I don't think it's better than my idealistic neutral death in a licensed abattoir. Your viewpoint, I guess, should be that animals should only live in safari parks where they can live long, happy lives free from the threat of munching man or the real wild world. There aren't going to be many animals left under that viewpoint, I think.

Dov (confusingly plagiarising the name "grilly"):
"doing something because you like it, regardless of the consequences to others isn't very nice, and is generally done by people we refer to as anti-social." I've outlined how the consequences are minimized - indeed, from the viewpoint I've taken the outcome is more positive to the animal than the nasty, brutish and short life it would get in the wild, passing over idealistic bucolic visions of wild animals' pastoral paradises - and if you want to eliminate both the life in the wild and life on farms, then you end up going down a very strange anti-life route. If the consequences of farming relative to a life in the wild are positive to the animals, which is my spin, then there's a moral imperative to rear animals, assuming you want there to be animals at all. If you're going to rear them, then in our modern happiness-maximising society it has to be with a purpose and it has to be an efficient purpose, that uses as much of the thing as possible; mining slag heaps for the discarded unrefinable ores of yesteryear or sending off horses' hooves to become UHU, using every economically viable bit of everything. The meat is most efficiently eaten when they're young, so that's when they're going to die.
I'm probably never going to get the opportunity to eat human meat but, believe me, I would, as long as it was threat-free - remember another part of my life philosophy is to try everything that I can (not excepting folk-dancing - I've eaten every part of most other animals, I've tasted my own blood out of curiousity, I've not quite drank my own urine like Brian Eno, but I’m trying to be ethically consistent within my own establish set of ethics. Moreover, argue with my points, please don't call me "not very nice" and "anti-social" to justify your assumed moral superiority – I don’t believe you’ve got it and, like religious people telling me I’m going to burn in hell, it’s just liable to make me ornery. The whole carnivore - vegetarian – vegan – breatharian superiority chain needs justification and, as this post says, I don’t think it’s there.

Laurence - statements like "too idealistic for me" and "your principles just don't scale up" need justification to stand up. I understand why you might be saying them, but I want to hear your reasons so I don't misinterpret you. And so you don't get away with leaving glib, holier-than-thou comments on here - I think vegetarianism is amazingly idealistic and unjustified puritanism. Yes, this is Logan’s Run – but, to continue the analogy, the alternative to controlled dying at thirty in this case is a stone-age world where most people die before they’re ten with a lucky few living to adulthood (the wild) or a world where none are born at all, to avoid the pain of dying. If those are equal, which I don’t think they are, the balancing factor in my case is that I want flesh to eat. If they can grow it in a vat and it’s palatable, I’ll eat that; as I’ve not found anything meat-like enough, I’ll happily have things born destined, like we all are, to die. It’s Logan’s Run + Soylant Green and it’s the way we live today.

Thanks everyone for input; this first version took five minutes on Christmas Eve- with your criticisms in mind, I'm going to rewrite it and attempt to make another Spinozan structured argument, this time numbered and supported more properly. Like most people I have some moral principles I'm convinced are interconnected and cross-supporting though I don't know how - unlike most people I'm willing to recognise there's always gaps in all justifications, and happy to perform an incrementalist task of slowly filling the gaps in, so that we can address the other gaps until we reach the limits of what we're willing to question.)

laurence said...

well.. it's tricky isn't it ;]

you're saying it's ok to eat meat given the animals have a better life than if they were in the wild and are killed in a humane way (i don't agree with this, but i don't think i can argue with it either, so i wont). this might be ok for you (btw, i'm almost completely happy for someone to go hunt, kill and cook their own food), but i don't see how this could apply to everyone. the demand for meat is just too high.

and this is why i have trouble arguing against your points. they don't cover the main reasons for which i'd encourage others to be vegetarian. for me it's not just about the suffering of animals, but the damage the meat industry causes as well, which is a direct symptom of the high demand for meat. everyone who wants meat can't have free-range organic humane meat, it wouldn't work.

and what i mean by damage includes an increased risk of infections (bse/cjd, foot and mouth, etc), deforestation for cattle and feed, inefficient use of feed (for cattle instead of people), etc etc.

you want flesh to eat, but most people just want food. we can make a much more efficient use of the resources than using them for free-range meat.

hmm.. i'm not convinced that's un-glib enough, but nevermind..

Grill said...

No, that's definitely un-glib and a welcome different tack that I was surprised not to hear before! Against the environmental damage charge I have little defence except a band-waggoning one - that my stopping eating meat would have a minimal effect on the overall supply. I'll have to think about that and come back to you.

grilly said...

this article from last year seems to imply we've already hit the supply limits (for the time being anyway) of organic produce.

Anonymous said...

If we were to go by those principles then we would be nothing else but autonomous people. Kill everything and we would have everything killed, even ourselves.