Ever since I uploaded a Penn and Teller Bullshit! episode about PETA I've been getting a swarm of comments about the morality of meat eating, what I think about it, how I justify myself etc. Not only are 500character comments very limiting, I am also getting extremely tired of repeating myself. Prompted by waking up this morning to the longest PM I've ever seen, I've decided to explain myself once and for all here. If there are follow-up questions ask them here, but please don't ask me to repeat things I have already stated.
I am using the PM in question as a model for my answer as it seems to cover the basics of coming to an opinion on the morality of the subject. To summarize the main questions that are being asked of me here, I guess they can boil down to the following:
1. How can you justify treating animals in a way that you wouldn't treat humans, when we are all related and species barriers are just an arbitrary distinction?
2. If you don't think it is morally wrong to kill an animal, why is it not morally wrong to kill a human being?
3. If you agree that animals suffer the way humans do, how can you support an industry that thrives on this suffering?
4. Since there are mentally retarded humans that have the same IQ as a cow or a pig, and you base your "OK to kill" morality on intelligence, either it is OK to kill retarded people or it is not OK to kill pigs.
If I have misinterpreted any of these points please correct me.
OK so this is what I think about the whole thing.
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, at some point. We are biologically related to every living organism on Earth, including plants and bacteria. Here, we are going to draw the line at animals that possess brains and are capable of feeling pain, for the sake of argument.
Secondly, it would be an incomplete answer without pointing out that there is a biological precedent for this opinion. Of course there is a biological precedent for giving your own species more importance than any other. It is the most natural thing that exists and there is no animal that would put the survival of an animal of a different species over one of its own. The instinct becomes even stronger when it comes to family members. While mathematically it makes sense that you should kill your sister, or mother, or son to save 10 other people, there are very few people out there that would be able to make such a choice. There is also a biological precedent for eating meat, we have evolved as omnivorous animals and as such it is a normal part of our diet. However, we have developed the neurological complexity necessary to be able to override these instincts in the pursuit of logic and morality, something that we are unique in being able to do as a species. So, given that we are smart enough to be able to figure out ways to survive without meat etc, can we still morally justify our doing so?
I responded that the thing I find to be immoral is causing animals to suffer, whether it be emotional or physical suffering, both for humans and other animals. We can agree that while humans hold first prize in being able to suffer emotionally (especially since right now we're talking about farm animals, not other more intelligent ones that are not routinely killed for food), other animals have the capacity to feel pain. That should not be done in my opinion. Great, so far we agree.
The problem that follows is the anthropomorphic idea that killing a farm animal is the same as causing it pain and suffering. I understand that the US is behind when it comes to legislation with regards to minimizing animal suffering, but in the EU and especially in Italy it is much simpler to buy meat from animals that have not suffered. First of all, EU regulations state that each farm animal be killed in a swift and clean way that does not cause them pain or fear. Cows are taken to a room and killed with a swift blow to the head delivered by an air-pressure gun which gives the exact amount of force necessary to instantly kill, removing human error that might stun the animal and cause it unnecessary pain. Pigs are walked into a chamber that contains CO2, they fall asleep and die without even knowing whats going on (this happens often enough with humans that we are sure its painless, people die in their sleep without even knowing what is happening). Chickens are killed with a swift electric current delivered to the neck, stopping their heart instantly and none of that running around with a snapped neck shit. When I drive past my favorite butchers at Testa di Lepre I can see the cows roaming around huge fields, just as nature intended. Here it is really not that hard to make sure you are buying meat that has lived a normal happy life until being killed in the most humane way possible. For this reason, I do not have a problem with buying and eating this meat. Compared with how their ancestors had it as being prey animals, being chased down (extremely scary) until exhausted and then having their throat gashed (if chased by a big cat) or being disemboweled and eating while still twitching with life (if chased by wild dogs) I'd say they have a pretty sweet deal.
OK so moving on to humans. As I said I do not agree with causing pain and suffering. If you kill a human being chances are you are causing them pain and suffering. Humans know what death is, that they are going to die, and they are often terrified of the idea. Killing a person for sadistic pleasure means by definition causing them pain and that is immoral to me. Even if you sneak up on them and smack them over the head you are still causing pain and suffering to that person's friends and family, just because it is emotional suffering it is still suffering. I also don't think you should kill any animal for no reason. 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. Well what fucking sense would that have??! Apart from the obvious point that you would be extremely hard pressed to find a person that fit that description, I would be also astounded and morally outraged at someone doing the exact same thing to a stray dog. What the fuck would you even do that for? Now surely there is some residual instinct of putting your own species above all others, but there is also one other thing that sets humans apart. Humans are unique in that, because of the fact that they know their life is finite, they have the capability of making choices. I don't mean the choice between turning left or right that might incidentally affect your lifespan, I mean they can make a conscious choice with what direction to bring their lives in, and even to end it if they like. 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. That is why I am pro-euthanasia, I feel that just because someone is not physically capable of fulfilling that choice they should not be robbed of it.
That brings us full circle to the mentally disabled. Here I find a flaw in the science of talking about people with the intelligence of pigs. First of all it is pretty much impossible to give a pig an IQ test, but even if you could I really don't think its a fair comparison. Human brains are just different from pig brains in too many ways. For example, even if a person has the "problem-solving capabilities" of a pig (only for the sake of argument at this point, I am still waiting on any citation of a mental disorder that is said to put that person's intelligence on par with a pig's), would they still have the capability of emotional suffering and distress, of forming social bonds and interacting with humans. Also there are the people around them, parents and loved ones that care for them to take into consideration. The only almost comparable situation could be someone in a vegetative or semi-vegetative state. Someone that is not capable of interacting with others, are not aware of the presence of their loved ones in a conscious way, someone with no hope of recovering the damage done to their brains. In these situations I am once again pro euthanasia if that is what the family wants.
This is my conclusion based on my moral logic. I do not think that others have to reach the same conclusion, because as I have said may times, morality is subjective. Many people morally object to my view on euthanasia, that's fine. All I ask is that your opinion be based on real facts, although I have already dealt with false facts surrounding vegetarianism here. It also irks me to be accused of having an opinion about something "just because", which I have also discussed before.
I hope I have been clear. If there is another aspect of this you want me to address, or I need to be more clear on something please let me know. Just please don't ask me to readdress something I have already stated because I wont.
Anyway, this is going to be my last post for the next four days seeing as I am taking that wonderful "immaculate conception" four day weekend and not taking my computer. If I come across one and I have something to say I might peek in before then, but if not I'll see you all on Monday