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Meat-Eating and Michael Vick

Militant Vegetarianism is troubling.

While there is no denying that vegetarianism is a healthy choice – consuming vegetables and fruits is a good thing – what it accomplishes is nothing that an increased intake of fruits and vegetables and decreased intake of red meats would accomplish.  The diet then, is something that should be taken for other reasons – primarily moral or political.  Morally, people often choose vegetarianism due to the fact they care about animals and don’t want them to die simply to produce food.  Politically, it can protest the disagreeable parts of the meatpacking industry (whether treatment of animals, treatment of humans, etc.)  Vegetarianism isn’t so much a diet choice as it is a statement, and I kind of take issue to that.

Vegetarianism is something that I tried for a while.  I am not currently practicing it, though my diet rarely contains much meat anyway.  I don’t like the taste of some meats, and it isn’t something I particularly crave, so I prefer lighter foods.  It’s a personal choice and says nothing about how I feel about animals (I adore them), or the meatpacking industry (I don’t take very much issue with it currently.)  If change is to be made in how we as a country/species/etc. view animals and view meat-eating it needs to be done for good reason and not just because animals are “like us.”  They are like us biologically in many ways, but in many ways they also are not – and they are NOT neurologically identical to us or even close.

The reason for this post is that recently I heard someone comparing meat-eaters to Michael Vick.  When someone buys and consumes meat, they are ordering the death of a creature to sustain them.  Similarly, Michael Vick killed dogs knowingly and with intent.  I disagree with this comparison, and I disagree with it for several reasons.  Yes, both situations involve the death of an animal; one involves the intentional slaughter for entertainment, the other the intentional slaughter for nourishment: there is a difference.

Slaughterhouses have to conform to high standards of care for the animals that they process.  McDonalds, for instance, buys beef from slaughterhouses that conform for a 98% humane standard.  If any place is found to fall below that high standard, they are given a week to fix the problem before going on once more.  Raise the bar any higher, and you are going to be putting a lot of people out of work and running into even more issues.

The animals at slaughterhouses, in spite of the PETA videos, are often treated extremely well.  Highly stressed animals are not going to be healthy, and healthy animals produce a good deal more meat than unhealthy ones.  It is poor business practice to brutally abuse creatures that are later going to be processed into meat that has to meet standards of care.  A single bruise on a cow can ruin the meat in that area.  The last thing slaughterhouses want to do is lose money.

Meanwhile, dog fighting rings are very different.  These places mutilate their animals (they commonly dock tails and slice the lips off of their dogs so as to create a permanently aggressive display to avoid the dog from being social.)  The dogs tend to be kept malnourished to a certain extent so as to produce even more territorial behavior in the sight of food – compare this to the very well-fed cattle.

Dog-fighting is just that – dogs fighting.  The cattle are kept social, they are kept happy.  The dogs are kept solitary until released to kill and cannibalize the other dogs.  In Vick’s case, the dogs that were losing were finally killed via hanging – a slow suffocating death.  Compare this to the shots that kill the cattle, a painless and quick death unless messed up.. and too many mess ups and the place goes out of business.  In dog-fighting, that isn’t the case at all.

Meat-eaters are in no way condoning the death of animals for entertainment.  They are condoning the humane slaughter so as to nourish themselves.  It’s a dietary choice, and a dietary choice that unfairly receives too much criticism.  Us meat-eaters, we are not brutal murderers and sociopaths.  We are just people doing what we need to to stay healthy, more often than not, and in the meantime are keeping thousands upon thousands of people employed.  Stop comparing us to the real monsters, and crack down a bit more on them.

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A Response to Elizabeth Spelke

Elizabeth Spelke, in her contribution to John Brockman’s book What We Believe But Cannot Prove: Today’s Leading Thinkers on Science in the Age of Certainty draws several conclusions about the future of humanity based off of her current observations in the neurological fields.  The conclusion that she draws from her observations is threefold: Firstly, that all people fundamentally hold the same practical values; Secondly, the concept that we all differ fundamentally in the values we hold is wrong; thirdly, that we all possess the ability to change our perspective if it is proven to be unreasonable.  These three concepts build on top of one another and lend her to her fourth idea that all misconceptions will be overcome in the face of reasonable discussion.  Although I would greatly love to see this come to light, I would like to respectfully disagree on the grounds that history has shown that human nature is more likely to lend itself towards the easy solution instead of the morally correct one.

The first point that Elizabeth Spelke raises is the belief that, like the biological similarities we all share, so we share a similar value system.  On this point I would have to agree with her in the very broadest sense of a ‘shared system.’  Marc Hauser, in his book Moral Minds, proposed that we all have an innate sense of morality – essentially the Golden Rule – and that unless we are severely demented (i.e. sociopathic) we adhered to this rule.  I would agree that this is the case in the most basic of terms.  However, to say that we all want the same things and go about them in a reasonable manner would be a naïve assumption to make.  Although primary needs can said to be requires (i.e. food, water, sleep) secondary needs and values are greatly diverse (i.e. freedom, human rights, whether religion is meant to be preached or exclusivist.)  In addition to this, it can be argued that even the primary needs are subverted by some (anorexics believe they do not need food, insomniacs and some PTSD victims subvert sleep, etc.)  On these we differ, and the view of Classical Liberalism that Spelke beleives is self-evident to all then is in question.

Spelke’s second point, that the notion that all groups differ profoundly, is in a form a reiteration of her previous point.  Classical liberalism essentially states that we live in the best of possible worlds.  Instead of each country and person looking to benefit themselves the most (classical realism) liberalism states that we seek to benefit everyone.  This philosophy only works if everyone else is practicing it.  If one person is looking to get the most power and someone else is trying to benefit everyone the person practicing peace is going to be an easy target for the person seeking power.  Moral high ground means very little when a person is being subjugated for the sake of another’s benefit.  Essentially, it would be dangerous to adapt this stance if everyone else is not adapting it.

Spelke’s third point, that of the most wonderful ability of our cognition being the ability to adapt our ideas and stances is something that I do agree with.  My caveat to this is merely that debate seems to be overtaking dialogue.  By this, I mean to say that people are often just arguing for the sake of show rather than the sake of gaining a deeper knowledge of themself and/or others.  In diaologues, one is seeking to discover the truth and possibly have their minds changed, while in debate they are simply seeking to share their mind.  The internet, although it allows for wonderful conversations, it also allows for a way to get a wide audience to hear your ideas and for you to reasser them through debate disguised as dialogue.  This is a true danger and one often unexamined.

Spelke speaks of a “race between science and intergroup conflicts” that will determine the future sustainability of our planet.  I would like to switch her phrasing a bit here and say that it is rather a race between intelligence and ignorance.  Science is incredible, but I feel that it fails to encompass the concept of reasonability in the way that it is tossed about in common parlance. (Come on, Intelligent Design is referred to as a science in common usage..)  I would not go so far as to call religious people ignorant, but I would go so far as to say that a relativism is called for.  The ability to be relative is the ability to respect other people’s beliefs without jumping to the conclusions that have proven so dangerous for our continued peace.