Tuesday, February 28, 2012

On impaling civilians, owning slaves, and eating meat

One of my favorite rhetorical devices to use on those who cast moral aspersions on the actions of historical figures involves a thought experiment about the consumption of meat, or more precisely, eating animals slaughtered for the sole purpose of becoming our dinner. It doesn't seem inconceivable to me that in the future, the thought of engaging in such behavior comes to be seen as being as morally abhorrent as slavery seems to us today. Should they, and nearly everyone else they know, be at risk of being written off by posterity as perpetrators of turpitude for something that wasn't even controversial in the early 21st century society in which they lived?

That such a shift sounds somewhere between far-fetched and inconceivable to a contemporary audience, of course, is exactly the point, just as the abolition of slavery would've sounded to 2nd century Romans and their contemporaries or the idea of amnesty for the resisting residents of Jerusalem following the first crusade's successful siege of the city would've sounded to the crusaders and their contemporaries, including the saracens they put to the sword.

One reason I employ the animal eating device is because it's usually a leftist sympathetic to vegetarianism who is passing haughty judgment on people in the past, and I can't help but experience a little thrill from making people squirm. But it's plausibly grounded, too, I think, and I don't just mean because of the popularity of documentaries like Food, Inc. In vitro meat, presaged by Winston Churchill eighty years ago, could portend a future in which synthetic meats are grown by using a protein to cause muscle cells to grow into chunks of meat to such an extent that a single animal (or maybe a sacrificial Noah's ark's worth, for the sake of variety) could conceivably feed the world many times over.

See any glaring problems with this conversational approach? It's been pretty effective for me, but in real life most of the people I talk to are less knowledgeable and intelligent than I am, while in the virtual world, most people are more knowledgeable and intelligent than I am, so TAE is a great personal resource for soliciting feedback on this kind of thing!

10 comments:

Lexus Liberal said...

Most animal rights activist have an issue with the treatment and slaughter of animals. They want the meat packing industry to slaughter the animals through minimal suffering and they hate GH since it causes unnatural growth that puts strain on joints and ligaments that leads to cruel suffering.

The main argument for vegetarians is that eating red meat causes obesity, cardiovascular diseases and high blood pressure. They also hate genetically modified meat and GH since those could potentially be carcinogens.

I'm sure if animals were treated "humanly" and were raised organically, all these SWPL animal/vegetarian activists would have nothing to complain about.

Biologically speaking humans are evolved to consume both carnivorous and herbivorous, since we have the capability to digest both and our we have both canines and molars. Canines were used to hold or tear meat, while molars are needed to grind tough fibers found in green vegetables.

Steve Sailer said...

I suspect in the meantime that we'll continue to narrow down the types of animals eaten. Americans don't eat dogs or horses already. The big hurdle would be pigs. Pigs are pretty smart, but their personalities aren't as appealing to humans, and they're really tasty.

Ed Tom Kowalsky said...

LL,

I agree with most of what you say, but there are those vegetarians out there who claim meat is murder. They will not be appeased by "humane" treatment of animals and kinder, gentler slaughtering.

AE,

The only issue I have with your post is that, if we someday consume synthetic meat and no longer slaughter animals, that transition will owe as much, if not more to technology than changed mores. Hence, although many folks are uneasy will killing animals for food, we're not about to cease doing so unless the technology makes it palatable--so to speak.

Jokah Macpherson said...

I think Ed's point actually makes the analogy work better rather than worse. A lot of changes in morality only take place once technology exists to make them practical. Examples:

-Slavery was at least grudgingly accepted until combustion and automation made it not worth the cost. Why make the war prisoners row your ship when you can just stick a motor on it?
-Women's role as homemakers was accepted as a given until technology advances made it require much less labor to manage a home, freeing up time (at least in the relative sense) to enter the labor force, which simultaneously was relying less on physical strength as a result of technology, eliminating another barrier to entry.
-Relative chastity was the official moral code until effective birth control and antibiotics made all sexual lifestyles equal.

Regarding raising brainless meat: however humane it may be, it is going to be a tough sell to the anti-genetically modified food crowd. I have to admit I find it a bit icky myself and may wind up being a late adapter while I watch to see if any nutritional problems result.

Dan said...

SWPL culture means little to to American Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, or people in flyover country. The countries of the world that are rising, such as China, are just barely getting started on meat and there is nothing they will not eat, especially if it is labeled endangered. Do you think anyone can tell Africans in Africa what to eat? Vegetarianism mostly doesn't exist in Europe.

But the biggest reason I do not see Vegetarianism taking hold widely is because it ascetic and not Hedonistic. As for Sailer's example of dogs and horses, actually it looks like horses are back in! Yum! Apparently horse is big in France, and the culinary world calls France daddy.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/30/horse-meat-consumption-us_n_1120623.html

And at Fuddruckers, you can now get Buffalo, Ostrich, Boar and Elk.

http://www.fastcasual.com/article/95398/Fuddruckers-introduces-ostrich-wild-boar-burger-lineup

All of the liberal left's successes have been in pushing people toward Hedonism.

There are many examples where the left's desires for society fly against consumption and Hedonism, and they make little progress, largely because they can't help their own consumption desires:
- gas taxes
- Suburban sprawl
- SUVs

Is there one example of the left successfully pushing people toward asceticism and restraint?

Audacious Epigone said...

Jokah,

Great point. Thanks for that.

Dan,

This is qualified, but I think we can include not smoking, since cigarettes, even when tolerated by non-SWPL groups, are not encouraged by anyone to much of an extent anymore. But that's the (admittedly weak) exception that probably proves the rule.

Dan said...

The number of animals I have eaten continues to grow and I imagine my experience is similar to most urban dwellers. It is the country bumpkins with little cultural influence who are probably sticking with standard fare.

To be a stylish restaurant or hipster grocery store, you offer the novel. Urban hipsters are too spoiled to eat the same food twice. Back in the 80s, nobody in the west ate sushi for example. Ranches more and more are raising animals for meat that are not cows, pigs or chickens, the usual American staple.

I've recently have enjoyed frog legs and various new seafood, even though I am just a thirty-something mortgage-paying dad. We are all now Fear Factor contestants in restaurants, looking to prove ourselves and ubiquitous Asian restaurants are all too happy to oblige us, for a small fee.

I bet the average educated young person has eaten twice as many kinds of animals as his parents had at the same age.

Dan said...

Smoking is an interesting example. It turns out that it has a good chance of giving you a painful early death. Surely that is the main reason for the decline, no? And isn't part of hedonism avoiding pain?

Anonymous said...

Here's are some food choices, which you can order while blasting the mp3s on your iPhone:

http://www.exoticmeatsandmore.com/

Apparently it is impossible to keep up with demand for lion meat.

Locally raised of course, on the brand new lion farms that are cropping up in places like Illinois.

Kangaroos are still in stock.

It must suck to be a liberal, kind of like whack a mole.

Anonymous said...

That is soo wrong. First of all to kill something humanely is not possible. I know a lot of animal rights people. None of them want minimal suffering, they want no suffering, no murder, no torture and no captivity.

As far as evolution goes, you are well ill informed. Take those canines of yours and try to rip a cows throat out with them. Not gonna happen. Nothing about our bodies is evolved to eat meat, your organs don't even digest it properly. Look at the list of illnesses you just wrote down caused by meat. It's not even all inclusive.

Do a bit of research buddy.

Most vegetarians don't eat meat because they don't want animals to die for their table, but don't want to give up cheese.