Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Meat Sandwich?

I've always been turned off by the hysterics that seem to dominate the debate over animal liberation, but perhaps that's because I can't fully grasp the moral complexity of the issue.

To me, it's pretty simple. I don't value animals in anything like the same way that I value humans, and I don't think that animal life carries any significant moral weight. Thus, I'm against giving animals considerable legal protections. And while I can understand the impulse to try to limit animal suffering--by enacting basic animal cruelty statutes, for example--I don't get the attempts to preserve animal life.

Having said that, I realize that values are subjective, and that animal rights advocates will actively try to prevent me from eating meat. This is fine, as long as it's done within the confines of the law--by lobbying for greater restrictions on meat products, promoting discussion, and staging public relations campaigns with scantily clad pornstars. Obviously, I will oppose and mock all of these efforts, while I slowly develop heart disease and die from eating too much red meat.

In general, animal rights organizations focus their arguments around animal suffering rather than sanctity of life issues, but the slaughter of animals is what seems to cause the most controversy. This, I think, is why we'll never be able to reach any sort of compromise on this issue. Clearly, animal liberation groups would still oppose killing animals if it could be done without causing suffering. If we slaughtered chickens with pentobarbital or if we could magically remove a cow's nociceptors, it wouldn't make any difference to animal rights campaigners. It would still be "wrong."

So, what's the real issue here? As much as animal rights advocates would love to find some objective standards to cling to, it seems to me that this is always going to be a question of personal morality. If logic played a factor here, it may be worth debating. But how can we adjudicate between competing value systems?

As an old professor of mine once said--when you start framing an issue in moral terms, you might as well take it off the table.


J. Biggs said...

But almost all political issues are framed in terms of moral concerns. And almost everyone thinks they DO have an objective moral justification for their positions (granted by God, or Nature, or something comparable), otherwise they wouldn't fight tooth and nail for their convictions.

I think you're dodging the real issue, which is: How can we really say anything is right or wrong in the first place? Here, I would argue that your position doesn't even attempt to provide a consistent moral framework - "killing creatures I value is wrong, killing creatures I don't is fine." At least the animals rights people have a consistent position: taking life is wrong, unless you're killing to save lives.

Yes, that position is based on subjective reasoning. But that's all we really have to go on. You haven't provided any compelling reason why their position is inferior to yours, despite its greater consistency. In fact, you seem to be saying personal morals don't serve any useless function, in which case, why argue any position?

mikhailbakunin said...

1) I think you put your finger on one of the big problems with congressional politics--every issue is framed as a moral issue, so we don't see the kind of compromise and interest-balancing that we really need from lawmakers.

On the issue of health care, for example, EVERYONE wants Americans to have access to high-quality health care. We disagree on which approach to take. Some say that a single-payer system would provide basic care to everyone, while others contend that this kind of system would destroy American health care innovation. These are practical concerns, not moral concerns.

2) I don't think the animal liberation position is inferior. I think the issue is subjective. (Animal rights advocates would argue otherwise.)

3) Personal values do become public values when they're written into law. Most issues AREN'T moral issues, however. The point is that there's no objective standard by which to judge issues like abortion or animal rights. Logic doesn't inform these beliefs. But logic CAN certainly inform your position on, say, gas prices.

4) I don't see why the animal rights position in any more consistent. They value only sentient life. I value only human life.