The Good Is the Enemy of the Consistent

djw has the internal illogic of our culture’s approach to animal cruelty dead to rights, until his second paragraph, that is:

[T]he lives of victims of various forms of animal abuse which are currently illegal (and uncontroversially so) are nowhere near as bad as the lifes of animals in modern factory farming. The law isn’t consistent on animal treatment because we as a society haven’t acheived any logically consistent consensus on how animals should be treated. To insist for consistency in the law before our social norms have reached anything approaching consistency is to put the cart before the horse. Furthermore, if one is convinced that factory farming is a wrong that should not be legally condoned, better to have them inconsistently tolerated in the law, providing a nice rhetorical opening to remind us all of the hypocricy of our toleration of factory farming.

Right; factory farming (and the subsidizing of factory farming) is substantially more immoral than cockfighting or dogfighting, but that doesn’t mean we should allow the latter. In a hypothetical society that allows murder, one shouldn’t legalize maiming just so the laws make sense. But this is just plain wrong:

On the other hand, the existing legal consensus isn’t quite as illogical as it might seem. We may not have anything approaching a social consensus that the cruel treatment of animals is always and forever wrong, but we are moving closer to a consensus that unnecessary cruelty to animals is pretty problematic. One needn’t endorse a strong or even weak version of animal rights to come to this conclusion. Whether–and how–we ought to reform the treatment of animals raised for food and dairy is an important question, but we’re not there yet.

No, the breeding and slaughter of animals for food is pretty clearly unnecessary, not to mention a strong contributor to both global warming and world hunger. Contrary to conventional omnivorous wisdom, “yummy yummy delicious” is not the same thing as “necessary”. Not to compare factory farmers to serial killers, but it’d be pretty creepy to think of Ed Gein and Jeffrey Dahmer as more moral than other killers just because they made use of the products of their crimes. The naturalistic fallacy (“but we evolved to eat meat!”) doesn’t fly either; we evolved to hunt for meat with our bare hands, too, and the only people who do that get Werner Herzog movies made about them.

Meat eating is yet another thing, like slavery, dueling, and interstate war, that needs to decline as human moral consciousness expands. I agree with djw that we’re not at the point where a ban on meat production can be implemented, but I’m more optimistic that we can take steps in that direction. We can mandate a certain-sized living area per animal in a farm. We can mandate better sanitation levels, and not just ones designed to make the animals’ meat safe for consumption. We can mandate yearly inspections that check on animal living conditions, with inspectors capable of dealing out nontrivial fines and even plant shutdowns if the facilities aren’t up to code. But most importantly, we need a non-fringe coalition that accepts that this is wrong, that the way the world feeds itself today is morally reprehensible. The public face of the animal rights movement, PETA, seems hell-bent on alienating even the most sympathetic meat-eaters, and organizations that are doing good work on this, like the Humane Society, get drowned out. If we’re going to stop factory farming, and eventually meat production altogether, that needs to change.

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