Torturing Puppies and Eating Factory-Farmed Meat: What’s the Difference?

Spencer Lo

If you needed to torture puppies in order to enjoy the taste of chocolate, would doing so be wrong? Wouldn’t doing so be obviously wrong? Most who would say ‘yes’ regularly purchase and consume factory-farmed meat, seeing no problem with the latter, and yet, the two may not be morally distinguishable. According to at least one philosopher, they are not. In a highly provocative and creative paper, Alastair Norcross makes the case that purchasing and eating factory-farmed meat is morally comparable to torturing puppies for gustatory pleasure, and meat-eaters who realize this ought to become vegetarians (or at least give up factory farmed-meat). It’s an argument worth thinking about. (Other arguments for vegetarianism can be found here and here).

Norcross begins his paper with the story of Fred, who is on trial for animal abuse (see the lecture version here). The police discovered that in Fred’s basement, 26 puppies had each been confined in small wire cages. For 26 weeks, Fred would perform a series of mutilations on them, without anesthesia, and then brutally end their lives. His defense?  He is a lover of chocolate, and torturing puppies was the only way for him to enjoy it.

Fred explains that, due to a head injury from a car accident, he could no longer have rich, chocolaty experiences. Apparently, his godiva gland had been irreparably damaged, resulting in an inability to secrete cocoamone, the hormone responsible for the experience of chocolate. Desperate for a new source of cocoamone, he learned of a recent discovery that puppies (and no other creature) can be stimulated to produce it when subjected to extreme stress and suffering. Fred then read the research, set up his own cocoamone collection lab, and after six months of intense puppy torture, he managed to produce a week’s supply worth of the chocolate-enhancing chemical. In his defense, Fred maintains that, their cuteness not withstanding, puppies are just mere animals—thus not nearly as important as human pleasure.

The point of the above fictional story is to raise the question: Is Fred’s behavior, which is clearly reprehensible, really all that morally different than the behavior of millions who purchase and consume factory-farmed meat? Norcross thinks not, and rejects several ways of distinguishing the two. Possible relevant differences include:

1)      Most consumers of factory-farmed meat do not torture or kill any animals.

2)      Most consumers are unaware of how factory-farmed animals are treated.

3)      For any individual consumer of factory-farmed meat, becoming vegetarian would not prevent animal suffering—he or she could not causally impact the agribusiness.

4)      The suffering of factory-farmed animals is merely a foreseen side-effect, not an intended means to obtaining gustatory pleasure. For Fred, puppy suffering is intended as a means to his pleasure.

5)      Factory-farmed animals are not puppies.

The attempted justification worth taking seriously, and the one I want to highlight, is (3) (for treatment on the others, see the paper, lecture or here).  According to this objection, a consumer of meat could argue as follows: Unlike Fred, I am causally impotent. Fred could easily prevent the suffering of puppies by giving up chocolate, but I cannot prevent the suffering of any factory-raised animals by giving up meat. Given the size of the agribusiness, if I stopped purchasing factory-raised meat, that would have no impact whatsoever on the industry. So, I might as well enjoy the taste of animal flesh since my actions would make no difference.

In response, one line of argument Norcross employs is to deny the claim of causal impotence: the actions of any particular meat consumer do make a difference. Suppose there are 250 million chicken eaters in the U.S, each eating on average 25 chickens per year. If a sufficiently large number of them give up chicken, the industry would be forced to respond by reducing the numbers of chickens bred and tortured. Suppose that number is 10,000—for each group of 10,000 chicken eaters who give up chicken, there will be 250,000 fewer chickens bred per year (actual numbers are unimportant). An individual’s decision to give up chicken would make a difference in two ways.

First, by giving up chicken, the individual (call him Ted) may be the next person to reach the new threshold of 10,000, thereby causing 250,000 chickens to be spared.  Ted thus has a one in ten thousand chance of saving 250,000 chickens per year.  Although the odds of preventing suffering may be tiny, they nevertheless have enormous significance given the high stakes involved. Consider Norcross’s analogy: Imagine an airline had “knowingly allowed a plane to fly for a week with non-functioning emergency exits, oxygen masks, and lifejackets.”  That would be outrageous, even though the chances of relying on those safety measures in a given week are smaller than one in ten thousand. So, the fact that Ted may be the next person to reach the threshold point matters. Second, even if Ted is not the new convert to reach the next threshold, the threshold can now be reached faster. Because of his conversion, there are less chicken eaters in front of Ted who need to give up chicken before animal suffering is reduced. His behavior, therefore, makes a difference.

Much more can be said about the arguments in Norcross’ paper (maybe in another post), but hopefully, the above summary is enough show how difficult it is to deny that torturing puppies and eating factory-farmed meat are morally equivalent.

31 Responses

  1. i like what you are saying but i would have said eating meat and eating or consuming animal products or torturing puppies,what is the difference? i don’t like making a distinction between the different ways of farming because it is all cruel and i do not want to give the impression that there is such a thing as free range humane or happy meat or animal products like SO many people believe that there is.

  2. Gary Francione has made this argument for years, see in particular his essay, “We are all Michael Vick”:

    It’s an argument I agree with, but didn’t always, probably because it *seems* counterintuitive. If one doesn’t see or actively participate in the harm, it’s difficult to feel responsible (contrast with hunting, where the hunter is, at least, taking the responsibility of killing). Francione makes the case that dog fight spectators aren’t *causing* the harm, they are just enjoying watching it, much as we enjoy the taste of meat.

    Anyway, thanks for posting this. It’s an unpopular argument, and for that reason, an important one.

  3. Hey Lorien, this isn’t to disagree with what Gary wrote in his Vick essay, but I would point out that most if not all of the spectators at a dog fight are in a sense *causing* the harm because they are gambling on the outcome.

    If no money were bet, would there be dog fights? Maybe some, put on by and for sadists, but probably a lot fewer. That point maybe fits with what Spencer says about Norcross’ “threshold” argument.

    It’s all of a piece, to me. All equally reprehensible, now that I am, gratefully, an informed consumer/citizen.

  4. The nonvegan is Fred’s moral twin. The analogy is perfectly apt. Only the tyranny of custom, as implacable as it is arbitrary, and as pervasive as insidious, obscures its force as an indictment of prevailing norms. I look forward to reading Norcross’ essay very soon. .

    I’m happy Lorien brought up Francione’s article. It’s possible that Francione’s Vick analogy usefully complements Norcross’ powerful arguments by providing another means of defeating justification 3. If we suspend Norcross’ convincing refutation of point 3 for a moment, average nonvegans who think dogfighting repugnant must still , for reasons of self-esteem, find of way of distinguishing themselves from Vick and his cohorts. The problem for nonvegans is that the defense of ‘causal impotence’ can just as easily be advanced by any one of the gamblers at a dog fight: the non-participation of one such person will not cause the fight to be cancelled and therefore will have no appreciable impact on the aggregate suffering of the dogs. Thus, 3 either absolves both the dog fighting enthusiast and the nonvegan or it fails to absolve either..

  5. I love your third sentence, Joe. Those adjectives fit “the tyranny of custom” to a T.

    I smilingly inserted the prefix “im” to one word in your first sentence!

    To your point about a nonvegan arguing that any one gambler’s absence doesn’t determine whether a dog fight goes on or not — well, a nonvegan who’s trying to justify eating flesh might *think* that, but I would dispute their contention.

    If there are 50 gamblers out of 75 spectators who routinely attend fights in a certain dog fighting ring, and if none of the gamblers shows up for a fight, I’ll “wager” that the fight doesn’t happen. Those who have prepped their (poor) dogs for this battle are NOT going to want to hold it just for the amusement of the non-gamblers, in my mind. Maybe I’m wrong; I’ve never been to a dog fight and never met anyone who has, that I know of….

    Maybe I envision “causal potence” (smile) in the Vick scenario because the number of people who go to any one fight is so much fewer than the HUGE number of carnists anywhere in America. In other words, I can picture that if only a relative handful of people decide to no longer attend and gamble on dog fights for whatever reason (scruples or fear of getting caught by the “laws”), the people who put on the fights will be out of that “entertainment” business.

    Am I missing what you’re getting at, Joe?

  6. In some cultures, cows are sacred, while in others, puppies are killed an eaten.

    Still, there are pragmatic reasons why humans, for the most part — with some exceptions — adapted some animals into household companions, kept others for food, and came to regard still others as vermin.

    Dogs are derived from wolves. Wolves have a social pack structure that is similar to the tribe, clan or family. Thus, it’s easy to see why they blended so well and bonded so strongly with us. And why our strong emotional attachment to them persists.

    Bovines are far more droll, plus, there’s not really room for one to curl up at the family hearth, and the probably don’t house train nearly as well. On top of that, their bodies bear large masses of relatively tender flesh. (I would add, I live in ranch country, and the bovines here have it a damn sight better than any of their wild counterparts ever did — both in life and in the likely manner of death.)

    So, people might wax sentimental about a dog, but not care much either way about a cow.

    Other creatures, such as rats and mice, historically raided grain stores, and also are disease vectors. So, it’s easy to see where animosity toward them came from.

    Therefore, again, as contradictory as it might seem — especially to a sanctimonious vegan — there are pragmatic reasons for much of this.

    All that said, I will reiterate a point I’ve brought up before. If everybody who ate meat had to either participate directly in — or at least witness firsthand – the killing, evisceration and butchering of an animal, I’ll wager there would be far more vegetarians.

  7. Some day the killing of animals will be seen as the murder of men, DaVinci.

  8. CQ,

    Much of the time, I seem to find nothing so hard as being intelligible. I’ll try to clarify.

    **To your point about a nonvegan arguing that any one gambler’s absence doesn’t determine whether a dog fight goes on or not — well, a nonvegan who’s trying to justify eating flesh might *think* that, but I would dispute their contention.

    The nonvegan wouldn’t make this argument. Rather, it’s a point that I would make to try to underscore the basic similarity between the nonvegan and the dog fight attendee–a similarity that extends to the tactics they may use to ward off criticism. My assumption is that the nonvenan doesn’t wish to see herself as the moral equivalent of a dogfighter, since she presumably regards the latter as intensely wicked. As soon as the nonvegan accepts that a single attendee can’t affect outcomes, and assuming that said nonvegan despises dogfighting, she loses her ability to invoke the ‘causal impotence’ defence, because it can just as easily be invoked by the dogfighter she loathes. So the nonvegan has to decide: am I willing to justify my behavior by resorting to a alibi that forces me to view gambling on dogfights as morally permissible?

    **If there are 50 gamblers out of 75 spectators who routinely attend fights in a certain dog fighting ring, and if none of the gamblers shows up for a fight,

    That’s true enough, the numbers are smaller, but I don’t think that makes a practical difference. It doesn’t matter if one drowns under 1 mm or 1 mile of water. To emphasize the underlying similarity, one could return to Fred, this time in the role of an inveterate dogfight gambler, but one with a delicate conscience. Fred wishes to be ethical, so he restrains his love of bloodsports by holding to the utilitarian principle which requires that he never increase total suffering. He follows his rule scrupulously. His waits outside the dogfighting venue every night. If a quorum of gamblers turns up, he thinks he has licence to join them because it’s a given that the fight will take place with or without him. If not, he leaves, because he doesn’t want to be the one who causes the numerically significant threshold of gamblers to be reached. The challenge to the nonvegan embedded in this scenario is the same as that outlined above, but the parallel may now be more exact: Is Fred’s conduct defensible under the ‘causal defence’ excuse? If yes, we have to recalibrate our moral compasses to allow that under such circumstances, there’s nothing too objectionable about gambling on dogfights. If no, what allows the nonvegan to seek refuge in a principle that he has himself rejected when it was invoked by someone else?

    Now it’s just possible that this line of reasoning could backfire. One could encounter a nonvegan who concludes that ‘causal impotence’ hasn’t been invalidated as a moral justification by its effect of exonerating the dogfighter, and that in consequnce, both he and Fred are pretty good fellows. But my guess is that such reactions will be few. The chances are high that most nonvegans, at least in the ‘West’, will hold firmly to the conviction that gambling on dogfighting is always inherently vicious. There are endless possible variations on this kind of thought experiment. The aim is to embody the ‘causal impotence’ perspective in situations that render it unattractive to those who may otherwise find it a handy expedient.


  9. HAL,

    The conclusion looming over your comments but never quite articulated is that the question with which Lo’s article begins must be answered with a resounding no. Wittingly or not, you confirm that there is no ethically significant difference between torturing a dog to enjoy chocolate and torturing a pig in a CAFO to enjoy ham. The difference in attitude, you correctly point out, is founded on the vapors of sentiment and social custom, both of which disperse to nothingness in the cold, bracing light of ethical reasoning. From this it follows that every honest, meat-and-secretion loving consumer of factory farm animal products must accept that she is morally indistinguishable from Fred, the dog-torturing chocolate lover. QED.

    Your description of the origins of our different attitudes to different species is accurate but irrelevant. To view origins as establishing moral status is the textbook definition of the ‘generic fallacy’. Explaining how something began doesn’t do anything to render it morally acceptable. Morality doesn’t subordinate itself to factual descriptions –how things actually are–, still less does it care about how the things that are originated; instead, it devotes itself to measuring behavior according to internally consistent and coherently formulable moral principles–how things ought to be. Everything hinges, as Emerson put it, on ‘the magic word, ought.’

  10. Joe,

    Your ideas might not suffer from any apparent internal contradiction, so much as the assumption that people should feel obligated, or even at all motivated, to extend the boundaries of human morality to include animals.

    That’s an absurd idea. I can’t buy into absurdities, no matter how eloquently or passionately they might be presented or argued.

    In the end, you’re doing that anybody with a strident view does — oversimplifying, and insisting that the world either buy into your own foregone conclusion (that moral “personhood” should extend to animals) or face your faux moral scorn.

    Much of your moral outrage here hinges upon what “torture” means.

    To me, allowing bovines to roam in fields of food, without a care in the world and without the constant threat of either being ripped apart alive by predators, starving or freezing, things that their wild counterparts must face every second — only to be quickly dispatched by a bolt thought the head at the end of it all — is hardly “torturing” them.

    Granted, modern “agri-industry” practices often make it more complicated, and miserable and messy, than that.

    Hence, I like to either hunt for my own meat (wild game is better anyway, IMO), or buy beef directly from producers I know personally, who I know gave their cows a life beyond anything a wild bovine could ever hope for in its wildest dreams.

    People today are generally far removed from nature, agriculture and — except for house pets and birds in the city park — animals.

    Hence, it’s easy to snarf down a cheeseburger at the McDonald’s in a strip mall and not think about cows.

    Which leads me again to my observation. If most people who eat meat saw where meat “comes from” (in other words, watched a deer or cow being killed, eviscerated and butchered) — they probably would not want to eat meat anymore.

    Then again, if some people saw how many birds, rodents and other “pests” are killed to make room for or protect human vegetable and grain crops, they would probably be mighty upset too. A freshly-mowed field, littered with the bodies of mangled field mice, like casualties on the Normandy beachheads, is quite a sight.

    Still, I can also say that as a matter of general practice, vegetarianism is superior to mass meat consumption. Not only in terms of animal suffering — but also in matters of public health and ecology.

  11. Joe, I now understand what you’re saying — I think!

    In my words: Nonvegans may think they are superior to dogfighting fans because they believe their purpose in “using” an innocent animal is more virtuous, They’re taking a life to nourish themselves, they say, while a dogfighter is taking pleasure in two innocent animals hurting one another and is hoping he can double his pleasure when the dog he bets on wins.

    Today, though, unlike in earlier generations, most nonvegans a.k.a. carnists know they don’t *need* flesh and dairy products to survive, to be healthy, to thrive. Thus they are merely covering for their real reason they continue to eat animals: taste. The “lust of the flesh.”

    What subjects did you major in, by the way? Rhetoric? Philosophy?

  12. HAL,

    The debate today is about factory farms, not free range animal exploitation, an examination of whose moral and empirical ravages we may leave for another day.

    Personhood/human morality: I do think animals should be treated as persons, and I do think they must be accorded rights which are analogous though not necessarily identical to human rights. I’ve set out the reasons supporting these views in an earlier debate I had with you in some detail and don’t propose to repeat them here. Note that this too is not relevant to the point at issue.

    The last time around, I’m the one who opened the door to interminable digressions from the topic of the thread. Out of respect for the site, I don’t want to do so again. We should make an effort to focus on Lo’s thesis. My view is that Lo’s argument is valid: the 2 kinds of harm outlined are equally repugnant. I’m still not sure whether you intended to agree with Lo, but as I wrote above, your first comment does nothing to undermine, and probably reinforces, Lo’s and Norcross’ equation of the 2 kinds of harm they describe.

    ‘If people could see’. I’m happy we could find some common ground. I would go a little further, and ask average nonvegans –since it’s mostly them we’re supposed to be discussing– to take a good look at the excruciating living conditions obtaining in factory farms. Arguably worse than the gruesome death visited upon the animals trapped in these satanic mills are the wretched lives to which they’re condemned, the full horror of which can only be appreciated by those who’ve seen them for themselves. Compulsory school tours by kids at or approaching th age of majority would have an incalculably salutary effect, but are, needless to say, beyond the pale of possibility.

    Animals killed in agriculture: True enough, but 2 points should be made. In the first place, consumers of animal products issuing from industrial ag cause more agricultural devastation than vegans, as it’s grossly inefficient to feed crops to animals rather than directly to people. You say much the same thing towards the end of your post, so I think this is another area where we agree. Second, a society genuinely committed to minimizing violence against nonhumans, i.e., a vegan society, would be far more motivated to find ways to reduce quite substantially, if not entirely eliminate, the harm indicental to agriculture. A society like ours, which inflcts more and worse misery on animals than any in humanity’s time on earth, isn’t likely to make any great efforts to move towards a cruelty-free apporach to land use.

    Forgive the cavil, but your last sentence, while well-meant and admirably ecumenical, would make a lot more sense if you substituted ‘vegan’ for ‘vegetarian’.

  13. CQ,

    I agree entirely with your account of the argument nonvegans are likely to use to counter Norcross’ thesis and applaud the your concision in debunking it.

    My point was a little different, but I once again fell short of intelligibility. Sometimes I don’t quite understand what I’m trying to say myself. I think I got things a little muddled, so I’ll give it another shot

    Lo correctly focuses on the third of the 5 most common ways nonvegans may seek to distance themselves from dogfighters as the only one that isn’t self-evidently preposterous. I found Norcross’ rebuttal of the causal impotence defense (‘ci’) convincing, but sought to add another possible approach. Refuting ci is doubly important because it comes up so often, even outisde the context of arguments like those of Norcross and Francione. I can summarize as follows:

    1)Nonvegans, like all humans, wish to think well of themselves.

    2)Nonvegans will often plead ‘ci’ to justify themselves, not only when they’re compared to dogfighters or dog torturers, but whenever confronted with the manifest evils of factory farming and asked to justify their consumption of animal products issuing from these hellholes. “It won’t matter what I do” is a common refrain

    3)Nonvegans mostly find dogfighting abhorrent.

    4)If challenged with Norcross’ moral equivalency argument,
    nonvegans will probably find they have an added reason to reach for ‘ci’; not only does it seem to exonerate them in general terms, but it appears to draw a sharp line between them and dogfighters .

    5)Contrary to what the nonvegan may like to believe, dogfighters, even those who gamble on dogfighting, can also have recourse to ci , and they can do so convincingly. If the logic of ci is accepted, it must therefore be conceded that someone like my Fred is morally blameless. In my view, my Fred can successfully demonstrate that he meets the definition of causal impotence. Whether or not he attends a given fight will not in any material way alter what happens to any of the dogs. Remember, he only takes part if he;s sure the fight will proceed regardless of what he does.

    5)Nonvegans therefore have a problem. Ci has failed them in accomplishing (4), i.e., differentiating them from dogfighters. As far as that goes, ci has been a disappointment. They are now faced with a further dilemma, and it’s not pretty. To uphold ci as a basis to do (2) (i.e., justify nonveganism in general, rather than comparative, terms, and continue to assert that nonveganism is essentially defensible), they must concede moral respectibility to my Fred and accept the uncomfortable notion that they and Fred, by having equal access to ci, are not morally differentiable. That amounts to sacrificing (3) (i.e., granting legitimacy to an activity they intuitively find intensely disgusting and putting themselves in the same boat, ethically speaking, as those they despise). Otherwise, to persist in their condemnation of dogfighting, they must give up (2) (ie., access to ci), in which case they are left undefended against the initial charge that nonveganism is inherently repugnant, and must also find grounds other than ci to distinguish themselves from dogfighters. In either case, the dogfighting comparison brings disquiet to nonvegans, by making it harder to do (1) i.e., sustain a favorable self-image. By having had recourse to ci, it seems to be, they have been rather dramatically hoisted on their own petard.

  14. After reading your answer three times, I understand it as well as I’m ever going to.

    I do realize the “In my words” part of my post wasn’t a summary of your points, but was rather just a (separate) point that I thought deserved being made.

    Now that I’m about as unconfused as I’m going to get, I’ll stop here. I’d still be fascinated to know, though, what kind of courses you took that led to your ability to argue points in such an involved, precise way. I’m glad I didn’t have an college subjects that approached this level of intellectual complexity: I’d have flunked them. 🙂

    Oh, may I say one thing about intellectuality — or, rather, intellectualism. I think it’s useless and even dangerous unless accompanied by an equally deep compassion for all beings.

  15. Joe,

    You are correct, insofar that if we narrow this down to “agri-industry” style factory farming — the misery can be accurately compared to dogs that are deliberately tortured or forced to fight for human entertainment and wagers.

    The problem — and this extends far beyond food production — is, we’ve reached a point where things aren’t being made or crafted, they are being mass produced.

    And in a mass-production setting, what I would consider the humane treatment of livestock is virtually impossible. It’s a far cry from the family-owned, family-operated pastoral farms and ranches I’m familiar with.

    My distinction between “vegan” and “vegetarian” is deliberate. I can recognize both the practicality and moral soundness of vegetarianism.

    Veganism, IMO, is more of an extreme ideology, and I recognize it as such — ultimately irrational

    Still, I respect the right of others to make that choice, I’m a staunch and adamant advocate of self-determination and freedom of expression – regardless of whether I, personally, agree.

  16. HAL,

    I’d like to end on a semi-conciliatory note, so won’t touch your picture of Golden Age pastoralism, at least until the subject comes up in a post, but I have to say a word about vegetarianism. It doesn’t deserve much praise. Dairy cows and egg-laying hens arguably suffer far more appallingly and far longer than many flesh animals. If that seems exaggerated, pl watch this: . In the case of dairy, the distinction vanishes, as spent dairy cows are slaughtererd for meat and their calves are either treated as an unwanted by-product –a dire condition in the meat industry– or are destined for veal crates. By any minimally logical measure, the line drawn between flesh and secretions is therefore spurious. Living by this distinction makes about as much sense as deciding that one will eat the the flesh of brown cows but not that of white cows. (To bring the parallel closer to reality, one would have to imagine a situation in which brown cows are the victims of greater cruelty.) Nor are frequently bruited concerns about health to be taken seriously: there are far too many healthy vegans. The experiment has been tried and the results have been overwhelmingly positive, as even the the American Dietetic Association has recognized by endorsing vegan diets.

    Far from being irrational, veganism looks like the only position that will stand up to scrutiny. Rather than irrational– for what could be more eminently rational than aiming for self-consistency?– a better term might have been radical. ‘Radical’ is a term often charged with scorn or fear, not least when levelled at vegans. It’s become heavily burdened with negative connotations. But radical, if one attends to its root –if one examines it radically– derives from the word ‘radix’ , which is to say, root. Radicals, properly so-called, are interested in searching for roots. They try to penetrate below sham surfaces and veneers of all kinds, whether these be woven by slavish conventionality, unimaginativeness, self-interest, cant, insensibilty or dull conformism. The truth of the matter, they realize, any matter, or at least any matter worth seriously considering, tends to be hidden from view and rarely coincides with what it pleases lovers of received wisdom to revere as common sense.

    A related observation, and one not entirely without irony, is that those who denounce others as ‘radical’ ideologues are often the purblind servants of the commonplace, which of all ideologies is perhaps the most terrible.

  17. CQ,

    Your earlier paraphrase of Francione’s dogfighting comparison succinctly captures its essence. Sorry for the misunderstanding.

    ‘Involved’ is probably a nice way of saying windy, and it’s a charge I can’t easily dodge and for which I must apologize. ‘Oh rocks! Say it in plain words!’ is the line I plaigiarize about 12 times a day in self-reproach, but to little effect..

    Couldn’t agree more with what you say about arid intellectualism. History teems with intellectual giants who have been moral pigmies and placed their gifts in the service of noxious causes. Genius often takes hideous forms. I tend to turn more and more to those have displayed not only intellectual but moral grandeur.. In both ways, the poet Shelley, champion of the oppressed and near-vegan, stands almost peerless. Together with works of soaring, imperishable beauty, he exemplified a passionate idealism from which ordinary human sordidness was all but burnt away. For me, the business of living would be awfully dreary without him.

  18. Joe,

    Your adamant stumping for veganism fails to recognize any practical alternative or spectrum of options, which is the hallmark of an irrational doctrine.

    It’s possible to reform the production of such products as eggs and dairy, to such a point that needless animal suffering could be avoided. I’ll grant you, at current levels of mass production, that might not be pragmatic right now.

    But, it’s still possible. And, given enough time and an inevitable shift of popular diet away from regular meat consumption (for both health and environmental reasons), it’s also probable.

    Also, vegetarianism eliminates the need to kill animals.

  19. HAL,

    Bizarre ‘logic’. I remind you that we are discussing how people should act in the present and what their attitide should be to foods produced on factory farms, not how they should act if currently entrenched realities change out of all recognition. Very strange that you should consider the eating of factory farm eggs/dairy permissible. I repeat, they are not necessary to maintain health and hence merely a carnal indulgence, and the production of these foods entails not only a great deal of killing but atrocious suffering. If one is to boycott foods from factory farms, it is incoherent to boycott some and not others.

  20. Hi David – “Puppies, Pigs, and People: Eating Meat and Marginal Cases”. Great find. Thank you!

    I’d just briefly like to address the comment HAL 9000 and many others have made, that goes like this: “A freshly-mowed field, littered with the bodies of mangled field mice, like casualties on the Normandy beachheads, is quite a sight.”

    First there’s the obvious point that the majority of these fields are reaped for the benefit of fattening nonhumans… Six or eight times as much as what could be harvested for human consumption. So eliminating that process by itself would greatly reduce the rodent casualties.

    Secondly, I’m not all that certain there is the kind of carnage all proclaim that it is and here’s my reasoning why… Once the roar of these harvesters and combines get in gear they scatter swiftly away from the noise – Not towards it. Most escape harm – which is why rodent control on farms is such a challenge.

    My husband used to farm thousands of acres along with grandparents and uncles. I’ve been able to ask him and his family about the supposed devastation to wild life when cropping corn, soy, and other vegetation. In the combined decades of stories there were only a few that told of injured or killed rodents and snakes… Also a story about an abandoned rabbit den… And “rescued” bunnies. (Yeah, plant farmers are pretty cool.)

    In any case, I think the “horrors” of field killings are greatly exaggerated. And those that do occur could be greatly reduced by eating the plants directly to begin with.

  21. Joe,

    There are other moral paths that are equally valid as yours. I don’t begrudge you your choices, but I also see no reason to suffer your bigoted moral certainty over things you think are foregone conclusions, but have miserably failed to prove to anybody outside an echo chamber.

    I can’t really be sure how we might better produce eggs and milk, but neither do I see any value in casting judgement over the entire practice either, simply because it might offend vegan/ARA sensibilities.

    Vegetarianism is a sound moral choice, pragmatic and most probably the wave of the future. Veganism will probably increase as well, I’m sure.

    As for “factory” style agri-industry, it’s most probably unsustainable. For reasons of ecology, public health and animal suffering.

  22. Moderator’s Note: Anyone interested in Joe’s alleged “failure” to prove” his point and HAL’s supposedly successful defense of his position should please see this thread:
    It’s quite instructive.

  23. David,

    While that exchange probably won’t convert the faithful, I honestly don’t think any objective, non-biased observer will have any trouble discerning which side of that discussion reason and clear thinking fell on.

    But, thanks for referencing it. 🙂

  24. Yes, you’ve often referenced your high regard for your reasoning abilities. But thanks for the reminder yet again.

  25. I say this with a twinkle in my eye and with NO sarcasm intended, I promise:

    HAL 9000, you are right. The cows and pigs, chickens and turkeys, sheep and goats, ducks and geese *are* objective (they have been “objectified,” turned into “objects” for human exploitation, and they “object” to that!) and they are non-biased (they don’t have any prejudices based on race or religion, gender or species), and they don’t have “any trouble discerning which side of that discussion [or the discussion right here that] reason and clear thinking fell [and fall] on.” 🙂

  26. David,
    You’re welcome.

    Although I don’t think it’s that my reasoning abilities are particularly better than anybody else’s. It’s simply that the quasi-religious doctrines of ARA are so easy to see through. And I think any discussion of the subject among reasonable people outside of echo chambers will readily prove that. I’ve continually seen ARA arguments get quickly and handily vaporized on open debate boards, frequented by people whose abilities far surpass my feeble skills.

    CQ, I don’t think the cows, pigs and chickens and other critters know or care about anything much more than what’s in front of them at any particular moment.

    The kind treatment of animals is a worthy cause. However, people and human-centered arguments will also carry more weight and take priority.

    I’m sure the problems with agri-industry are many. Having been around “the industry” my entire life, I’ve seen much of it first hand. But I’m also sure the issue isn’t nearly so black and white as the ARA ideology wants to make it out to be. I’d rather base my views and choices on a wide range of sources.

    If the stockman’s association and PETA are squaring off and trying to preach to me, reason and experience tell me the truth is probably somewhere in the middle.

  27. HAL, I will look forward to the day when one of those vaporizers whose abilities far surpass your feeble skills joins the discussion here. It will no doubt provoke a very interesting and substantive debate on the issues. In the meanwhile, I have every confidence you will continue trying your best.

  28. HAL,

    I’m not sure why you think it’s instructive to import a hypothetical future into the present.

    Let me try to break it down in the most elementary way. If someone buys the flesh of a tortured cow in a supermarket, what he’s doing is morally wrong. If someone buys the eggs of tortured hens or the milk of torutred cows in a supermarket, what he;s doing is also wrong. I hope that’s not too complicated.

  29. OMG it’s outrageous. I pity those little puppies.

  30. Comparing torturing puppies to consuming meat is simply idiotic. Its true there’s often cruelty in slaughterhouses, but those who consume meat from them usually are opposed to the cruelty, and are disturbed by it. Don’t think a single man who consumes meat would prefer the animals to suffer before getting killed, in fact i’d bet the opposite is true for most. But then again, you can tell someone is ill informed and frankly even somewhat idiotic if he uses the fictional term of “meat eater”

  31. […] philosopher Alastair Norcross’s thought experiment argues that eating factory farmed meat is morally comparable to torturing puppies for gustatory […]

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