Tuesday, December 13, 2011

On Flogging A Dead Horse

A few days ago I alluded to a youtube user, who has now given me the permission to identify him as Andrewh313, who was peppering me with questions about the morality of meat eating, and to whom I responded in a blogpost hoping it would be the end of it. Alas, it is not, but it will be soon. I had given him the benefit of the doubt when I saw him misinterpreting my words and rehashing old arguments in saying that he probably was getting his various comment threads of arguments mixed up and not getting the full meaning of my words in the limited comments of youtube, but it seems I was wrong. He has responded to my post with another infinite PM, telling me to post it here. I will, with a few short comments and that is it. I said I would not readress this issue any more unless there was a new thread of discussion to address. Although he is still harping on the same issue, in the spirit of fairness and clarity I will post his rebuttal in its entirety, no editing, so you can see exactly what he is saying and decide for yourselves whether or not you think I should have continued further. So here it is, with my comments in red


Sorry it took me so long to respond. I read your blog, and would have posted this as a comment had there been space. I encourage you to post my last epistle and this one to your blog, if you'd like. I have been thinking of starting a blog myself, and I may do the same for your words if you have no objection.

I suppose your restatements of my points are correct if rather facile. However, the bit about intelligence is not correct. I posed that problem to you as an example of the use of Reflective Equilibrium to examine our moral premises. I did not believe that you really believed that intelligence is the deciding factor in what sentient beings on this earth may be killed and which may not. I was trying to show you that whatever moral premise you hold that protects the right of human life can and ought to be extended to animals, but more on that in a bit.

Let us look at your introductory words first, shall we?

"First of all, all of us make the distinction between things that are OK to kill and things that are not based on "intelligence", or rather neurological complexity... Here, we are going to draw the line at animals that possess brains and are capable of feeling pain, for the sake of argument."

I would not use the word "intelligence" at all. I do not feel comfortable eating plants because they are "dumb". "Neurological complexity" is, as you say, the better term. Consciousness is what I am really going at. But all's well thus far. How convenient, since "consciousness" is not a scientific concept, does not have a conclusive definition that can be agreed upon, and cannot be measured. But it we have compromised on neurological complexity, so we can continue with that

"Secondly, it would be an incomplete answer without pointing out that there is a biological precedent for this opinion.... It is the most natural thing that exists...."

Oh! How you make me cringe. I hope your readers are smart enough to realize that this is a non-argument, as I hope you realize. Although you said, "please don't ask me to readdress something I have already stated because I wont", I suppose I will. I repeat again that just because something is "natural" or has a precedent is no argument for its merits. To say otherwise is to commit Hume's Is-Ought Fallacy. How sickened would we be to hear a conservative say, "The oppression of homosexuals has a long historical precedent." or "One group of people going to war to kill and take the resources of another is a natural thing. Chimps are our closest relatives, and they do it." Thankfully, this kind of arguing is not salient in your rhetoric. I never said its natural therefore its moral. I am fully aware that things that happen in nature are not precedents of morality. However it would be asinine to deny that we are creatures who have evolved certain instincts and that some of those are still ever present in our systems. Conveniently he left out how I ackowledged this when I said "
However, we have developed the neurological complexity necessary to be able to override these instincts in the pursuit of logic and morality", but lets continue

But you do have an untruth in this paragraph: "...there is no animal that would put the survival of an animal of a different species over one of its own." It is of course well known that dogs will defend their human companions to the point of their own deaths. It is simple, Darwinian instincts of course. Wrong. Dogs have been bred for thousands of years to be extremely loyal to their owners. A wolf, an animal with "darwinian instincts" (by which I presume you mean instincts developed from natural selection) could give two shits if a human is in trouble. Even given the manipulation of dogs instincts over thousands of years by humans, you will still find yourself in a tight spot if you ask a dog to choose between its owner and its own puppies. Either way, you even quote me, I said "over one of its own (species)", not "over itself". An extremely important distinction. Dogs are social animals, like us, and it serves the species if some of its members are sacrificed. This is, as you know, why human's display the same behaviors. You may counter by saying, "Well! Animals have no understanding of death. A dog that gives its life doesn't know it's going to die. Therefore, it's not really making a conscious choice to die." This is not a point I am making in this part of the post at all. It's not about choice and choosing to die on the dogs part, its about what naturally evolved instincts will cause an animal to do, and occasionally it means sacrificing yourself for a child. Its called gene selection theory, and it is well demonstrated in the natural world.  This may be so, but your point would still be moot, because that would mean that human's are the only sentient beings that are capable of taking death into consideration when making choices. We certainly do choose to dole out a lot of it, don't we?

Now, what is this about meat produced in European factory farms? You say you are morally comfortable buying meat produced in European factory farms. Really? Do you really believe animals do not suffer in those places? Do you really trust the moral integrity of EU agribusinesses that defend scorching off the beaks of chickens with hot irons because, if they do not, the chickens will peck at each other and that would be more cruel? Do you think it is naïve of me to say that, in that case, we shouldn't be raising chickens at all? Example no. 2 of putting words in my mouth. I never said that every single animal in the whole of the EU is kept well and happy. I explained the methods of killing animals in the EU has been standardized to minimize suffering and fear. I am aware that there are battery farms in the UK, I dont live there and wouldnt buy battery farmed chicken eggs even if I did. Ive been to many farms were chickens are raised for eggs and meat and not a scorched beak in sight. I am not saying that there are not places where animals suffer in the EU, I am saying that it is not difficult to get your animal products from a place where they do not, so long as you make a conscious decision to do so. Do you think I am foolish or idealistic for being outraged that one EU member, the UK, has blocked legislative proposals such as "Cages for poultry should be large enough for a bird to be able to stretch one wing at a time" and "Any animal should at least have room to turn around freely" because these proposals were "too idealistic"?! (Cited from Peter Singer's "Animal Liberation"). Do you honestly believe that animals do not suffer in such places?

Forgive me for attacking you, my friend, but you are smart enough to know that animals do suffer in European factory farms. Forgive me for being accusatory when I say that you probably do not exclusively purchase the free-range beef Why the hell not? free-range meat tastes much better, its not filled with hormones or other crap, the animals are happier, why the hell wouldnt I buy all my animal products free-rage? Its a win-win-win that you see "roaming around huge fields, just as nature intended." (Assuming that those grass-fed cows aren't shipped to CAFOs after a certain age, as most are in America. No, they are the property of the family that owns the butchers on the same land. They own the land, kill the animals, sell them out the front of the shop) Please, my friend, do not insult my intelligence by saying that animals do not suffer in EU factory farms, because you also insult your own intelligence. For the record, the whole "my friend" thing is quite condescending and thus increasingly annoying
Now I move on to the challenge that I issued to you with my last epistle. I challenged you to tell me why you believe that it is wrong for a human to kill another human, and I told you that any moral precept you believed should be logically extended to animals. Let us see what you came up with.
So, you rest your opposition to killing humans due to the suffering it causes. Really? You make a note that even if the death is sudden and painless "you are still causing pain and suffering to that person's friends and family." I do not believe, madam, that you would have ever couched your belief that killing humans is wrong in such terms had it not been for me pressing you on the issue. I do not believe that you have spent your life believing that the physical act of killing someone is not immoral Of course it is immoral. you asked me WHY is it immoral.. I do not believe that you believe that the only reason why we should not painlessly murder another person is because it would upset his or her family.
I gave you multiple reasons why I, personally, think it is immoral. true not many ask that question but I gave you reasons, plural, why. To say that each of those reasons by itself is insufficient is silly. And really, you dont think that causing a person extreme suffering because by taking away a loved one from them immoral also? I guess we will have to agree to disagree on that one. If you don't think that the suffering of family is a factor, you should also be pro euthanasia for comatose patients even if it is not what the families want, because the only people that would suffer in that case are the person's loved ones that don't want the person to die.

You have the good sense to realize the problem with this logic:

"What if you kill a person that has no friends, no family, no acquaintances whatsoever, by sneaking up on them and smacking them over the head so they don't know whats coming, cause them no pain, just kill them."

Your answer to this shows, I think, just how little thought you have given this issue. "Well what fucking sense would that have??!" Yea, what fucking sense would it have? What fucking sense is there in murdering another human being? Why would anyone ever do that? But maybe a murder would ask you "Why not? Why shouldn't I painlessly remove a sentient being from this world if it gives me pleasure?" Our society expects you to be able to explain why it is wrong to kill another human with no pain for them or their family. You do not explain it. All you say is that "I would be also astounded and morally outraged at someone doing the exact same thing to a stray dog."No that is not "all I say" about it. I also point out we are straying into hypotheticals because a person that fits that description is an anomaly, if existing at all. I also talk about people's choice over their own lives, but you do eventually get to that, although you frame it as if it was a seperate issue. And yet you are not outraged by our systematic killing of pigs, who are smarter than dogs, and we do it merely for our own pleasure. You are not even making an argument here.
It is wrong to painlessly kill a human being for pleasure, and it is wrong to painlessly kill any sentient being for pleasure. This is your moral opinion, and I don't have a problem with it.

So, after you made this nonsense argument, you moved on to a completely different argument nope, same argument, but fine go ahead to condemn human killing. Perhaps the logic was to throw two incompatible arguments at my challenge? Maybe one would stick. Let's see:

"Humans are unique in that, because of the fact that they know their life is finite, they have the capability of making choices.... Call me crazy, but I don't like the idea of robbing a person of that choice, because I wouldn't want anyone to rob me of it either."

Ah! I applaud you for such a subtle and erudite rejoinder. Humans are the only creatures that know they will die and have the power to choose which they would prefer. It is wrong of us to deny another human the right to choose whether they would like to live or die. Because of this logic, I am sure that the profoundly retarded should have their lives protected, because they would surely want to live if they had the intelligence to make the choice Example 3 of putting words into my mouth. You're teasing all the reasons I give and asking each them to stand up seperately, on their own, to every single different circumstance that exists in this complex world of ours. Forgive me for not having such a simplistic view of morality as that, giving me a single platitude that fits all. I gave multiple reasons that can cope with multiple circumstances of death and killing, they are to be taken together as such. I am also sure that animals should be killed, because they would surely want to die if they had the intelligence to make the choice. I can't find any logical absurdity with this argument at all.

Or maybe my moral precept that suffering is wrong would be better. No sentient being should have to suffer a loss of life. No sentient being should be made to lose their conscious experience of existence, unless their lives would have nothing but pain, hence euthanasia. Maybe this is a more sensible morality. Here you go with consciousness again. How do you know a chicken has a conscious experience? You dont, it is an ongoing debate as to what that even means. Right now all you have to go on is your opinion on the subject, not fact.

On to your final words:

I repeat that I did not believe that you believed that animals should be killed because they are unintelligent, but you go on to harp on the point. "First of all it is pretty much impossible to give a pig an IQ test...." Cute of you to call it an IQ test. Condescending of you to call me cute Psychologists study the mental capacities of animals and humans. With the possible exception of art, which may be an emergent property, human brains are better only by extent. "Human brains are just different from pig brains in too many ways." Really? "For example, even if a person has the 'problem-solving capabilities' of a pig... would they still have the capability of emotional suffering and distress, of forming social bonds and interacting with humans." No. There are profoundly retarded human beings that lack this capacity. Still waiting for a citation on this. As someone who has volunteered with the mentally disabled I find it quite obtuse (at best) of you to equate the capabilities of problem solving with the capability of emotions and emotional suffering. Give me a well studied example of a mentally handicapped person that lacks the capabilities of emotional suffering, other than the one I gave that you completely glossed over, and we can discuss this further. If not stop bringing up disabled people There are human beings who are otherwise normal but have lost the mental capability to form emotional bonds. Once again you have to be a little more specific. Do you mean sociopaths? Autistic people? Each case has a unique answer with regards to what they are and are not capable of. Should we not worry about killing them? Are their lives less valuable? You do not believe this. No I dont, then again I never said I did

If you do not like my comparison with the mentally retarded, fine. Let us compare animals with the mind of a human infant. Infants have emotion, in all likelihood, but their brains are utterly inferior to a dog's, which have emotion as well. An infant cannot solve problems. An infant cannot reason. You see how you are the one constantly bringing intelligence into it. We have discussed that the capability of an animal to solve problems has nothing to do with the morality of killing them.  An infant cannot even form lasting memories or function on its own. To a newborn, the world is likely a haze of experience with each memory quickly disappearing. You know this how? No animal could live with such a brain. Bullshit again. Animals live just fine with much, much less. There are plenty of animals out there with no brains at all and they get on splendidly The frailties of the infant brain is sometimes cited by apologists of infant genital mutilation. There are people who believe that that it is ok to inflict the agony of circumcision and clitoridectomy upon the mind of a child. I believe this is a sick and monstrous belief, and I hope you do as well. Yes I do, but it has nothing to do with what we are discussing here.

If we are to be consistent with our moral actions in this world, it is clear that higher mental faculties should not be considered the deciding factor. It is wrong to deny life to any sentient being, according to you and we should be consistent on this point. I leave you now with the words of Jeremy Bentham, a man who lived in a time when it was legal and socially acceptable to own and torture another human being:

"The day has been, I am sad to say in many places it is not yet past, in which the greater part of the species, under the denomination of slaves, have been treated by the law exactly upon the same footing, as, in England for example, the inferior races of animals are still. The day may come when the rest of the animal creation may acquire those rights which never could have been witholden from them but by the hand of tyranny. The French have already discovered that the blackness of the skin is no reason a human being should be abandoned without redress to the caprice of a tormentor. It may one day come to be recognised that the number of the legs, the villosity of the skin, or the termination of the os sacrum are reasons equally insufficient for abandoning a sensitive being to the same fate. What else is it that should trace the insuperable line? Is it the faculty of reason or perhaps the faculty of discourse? But a full-grown horse or dog, is beyond comparison a more rational, as well as a more conversable animal, than an infant of a day or a week or even a month, old. But suppose the case were otherwise, what would it avail? The question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?" Yes they can suffer, but we talked about suffering and it being wrong over and over again. Enough now.

You have made it clear that your morality is not just "it is wrong to cause suffering", because that would leave the door open to killing animals while not causing them suffering. You have said " It is wrong to deny life to any sentient being". Of course the intended subtext there is "it is wrong for humans to deny life to any sentient being". Even if you have decided that other animals are sentient you still ackowledge that there is a fundemental difference between our mental faculites and that of other (in your opinion) "sentient" animals. We are the only animals that can make moral decisions or ponder the morality of doing anything.  

So that is your morality in a nutshell. Mine is more complicated, based on a more complex view of how we came about thinking about morality in the first place. You seem to possess the arrogance of those that think that there is only one opinion that can be based on solid logic and that all other opinions are based either on false evidence, false facts, bad logic or no logic at all. If you believe that it is really your problem, not mine. 

Not a single new point was brought up. No new thread of discourse, just a load of twisting words, nitpicking and repetition. This is why I am letting this dead horse lie. If someone else has something fresh to say please do, I will listen. If not, stay tuned for some drastic changes in topic :)


  1. "Do you think I am foolish or idealistic for being outraged that one EU member, the UK, has blocked legislative proposals such as "Cages for poultry should be large enough for a bird to be able to stretch one wing at a time" and "Any animal should at least have room to turn around freely" because these proposals were "too idealistic"?! (Cited from Peter Singer's "Animal Liberation")."
    yes foolish! because that isn't true- the UK were the leaders in the 'welfare' battery cages.

  2. How convenient, since "consciousness" is not a scientific concept, does not have a conclusive definition that can be agreed upon, and cannot be measured.

    And I'd like to add - why is it morally acceptable to eat fruit; killing a plant is ok for some reason?
    We eat each other, if we have to, when we have to. And we try not to get eaten, if we can. C'est la vie.

    1. Doesn't pain send the signals to the brain to begin healing, ergo, no pain no response?

      If so then yes plants definitely feel pain.


      "She said: ‘Everyone knows that plants react to light, and scientists also know that plants use volatile chemicals to communicate with each other - for instance, when danger , such as a herbivore, approaches.’

      Dr Gagliano said the research ‘opens up a new debate on the perception and action of people towards plants’ which are not objects but should perhaps be treated as ‘living beings in their own right.’"
      Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2157221/Maybe-Prince-Charles-right-British-scientists-reveal-plants-really-talk.html#ixzz2KOxW1A3D

    2. hmmm, plants do not have brains. yes they react to their surroundings but that isn't a brain. (which both your source and you imply) Bacteria react to their surroundings and they don't have brains.

      Secondly, even if plants would feel pain, who says that we should relate? The way they perceive the world, or more how they react on it, is alien to us. We could relate (as in grow sympathy, place ourselves in their shoes effectively) to most vertebra's (reptiles, birds etc), but there it would stop. I cannot percieve how a Jellyfish would see the world.

      To conclude, to answer your Question, Plants don't feel pain as we do, or any other animal for that matter. (plants vs animal I mean)

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