We may soon be able to make pain-free animals, according to New Scientist. The study they reported on finds that people not enthused by creating such creatures for scientific research, which is interesting. Robin Hanson guessed prior to seeing the article that this was because endorsing pain free animals would require thinking that farmed animals now were in more pain than wild animals, which people don’t think. However it turns out that vegetarians and animal welfare advocates were much more opposed to the idea than others in the study, so another explanation is needed.
Robert Wiblin suggested to me that vegetarians are mostly in favor of animals not being used, as well as not being hurt, so they don’t want to support pain-free use, as that is supporting use. He made this comparison:
Currently children are being sexually abused. The technology now exists to put them under anaesthetic so that they don’t experience the immediate pain of sexual abuse. Should we put children under anaesthetic to sexually abuse them?
A glance at the comments on other sites reporting the possibility of painless meat suggests vegetarians cite this along with a lot of different reasons for disapproval. And sure enough it seems mainly meat eaters who say eliminating pain would make them feel better about eating meat. The reasons vegetarians (and others) give for not liking the idea, or for not being more interested in pain-free meat, include:
- The animals would harm themselves without knowing
- Eating animals is bad for environmental or health reasons
- Killing is always wrong
- Animals have complex social lives and are sad when their family are killed, regardless of pain
- Animals are living things [?!]
- There are other forms of unpleasantness, such as psychological torture
- How can we tell they don’t feel pain?
- We will treat them worse if we think they can’t feel it, and we might be wrong
- There are better solutions, such as not eating meat
- It’s weird, freaky, disrespectful
- It’s selfish and unnecessary for humans to do this to animals
Many reasonable reasons. The fascinating thing though is that vegetarians seem to consistently oppose the idea, yet not share reasons. Three (not mutually exclusive) explanations:
- Vegetarians care more about animals in general, so care about lots of related concerns.
- Once you have an opinion, you collect a multitude of reasons to have it. When I was a vegetarian I thought meat eating was bad for the environment, bad for people who need food, bad for me, maybe even bad for animals. This means when a group of people lose one reason to hold a shared belief they all have other reasons to put forward, but not necessarily the same ones.
- There’s some single reason vegetarians are especially motivated to oppose pain-free meat, so they each look for a reason to oppose it, and come across different ones, as there are many.
I’m interested by 3 because the situation reminds me of a pattern in similar cases I have noticed before. It goes like this. Some people make personal sacrifices, supposedly toward solving problems that don’t threaten them personally. They sort recycling, buy free range eggs, buy fair trade, campaign for wealth redistribution etc. Their actions are seen as virtuous. They see those who don’t join them as uncaring and immoral. A more efficient solution to the problem is suggested. It does not require personal sacrifice. People who have not previously sacrificed support it. Those who have previously sacrificed object on grounds that it is an excuse for people to get out of making the sacrifice.
The supposed instrumental action, as the visible sign of caring, has become virtuous in its own right. Solving the problem effectively is an attack on the moral people – an attempt to undermine their dream of a future where everybody longs to be very informed on the social and environmental effects of their consumption choices or to sort their recycling really well. Some examples of this sentiment:
- A downside to recreating extinct species with cloning is that it will let people bother even less about stopping extinctions.
- A recycling system where items are automatically and efficiently sorted at the plant rather than individually in homes would be worse because then people would be ignorant about the effort it takes to recycle.
- Modern food systems lamentably make people lazy and ignorant of where their food comes from.
- Making cars efficient just lets people be lazy and drive them more, rather than using real solutions like bikes.
- The internet’s ready availability and general knowledge allows people to be ignorant and not bother learning facts.
In these cases, having solved a problem a better way should mean that efforts to solve it via personal sacrifice can be lessened. This would be a good thing if we wanted to solve the problem, and didn’t want to sacrifice. We would rejoice at progress allowing ever more ignorance and laziness on a given issue. But often we instead regret the end of an opportunity to show compassion and commitment. Especially when we were the compassionate, committed ones.
Is vegetarian opposition to preventing animal pain an example of this kind of motivation? Vegetarianism is a big personal effort, a moral issue, a cause of feelings of moral superiority, and a feature of identity which binds people together. It looks like other issues where people readily claim fear of an end to virtuous efforts. How should we distinguish between this and the other explanations?
Great thoughtful post!
Okay well lets do this on a human. Lets see if they can live pain free. They won’t know when to use the rest room till it just falls out of them, Women won’t know their in labor, won’t know if something has ruptured, broken, etc. Now you’re not only talking about Chickens which I can’t say much about cause I know nothing of them. But a cow has to lay down in order to give birth, along with buffalo, lambs, and other things us omnivors eat. Now if someone can explain the humanity of having a female of one of these creatures dying giving life to one of it’s own? I’m not a vegitarian or a vegan and to be honest I’d feel more like crap if I ate this pain free chicken, cow, calf, buffalo, lamb mutant. It’s not really a moral reasoning it’s simple humans are not gods. We have no right to control another creatures body. And I do believe it’s weird but I’m also against cloning because it’s just going to die out again anyways because it’s original habitat is gone.
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Excellent post. A sadly common fallacy in moral reasoning.
Mother Teresa dedicated her life giving comfort to the poor and the suffering. Yet she was fiercely against anaesthesia, because pain gave people the chance to “grow spiritually.” Which raises the interesting question of why she provided them any sort of support at all, thus diminishing their chances to brave evil in all its forms and so become better people.
Fortunately, every time technology conquers an evil the universe helpfully invents several new ones, so I don’t think we’re in any medium-term danger of virtue becoming obsolete and thus scarce. Transhumans will I suspect still have huge moral dilemmas, and values they cannot fully maximise against, unless of course they engineer away their own senses of morality…..
Having said all that I personally think 2 is the more predominant factor in this case. Self-righteous moral groupthink does make people resist rational solutions to their pet causes. But it would only take a few people thinking that way to generate all those other objections as rationalisations, and a few others who are genuinely motivated by them as reasons, for those memes to spread virally amongst the “vegetarian group conciousness.”
Hopefully none of the vegetarians I know would be offended at me comparing them to the Borg. For what its worth I think nearly all people reason in this fashion about nearly all their non-trivial beliefs.
We’re not primarily rational agents, we are rationalising agents.
A template for testing is given by the paper “Affect, culture and morality, or Is it wrong to eat your dog” by Haidt et al. (which doesn’t seem to be online anymore but can be requested from the first author). The researchers presented subjects with scenarios of taboo behaviour with all the rational reasons for opposing that behaviour taken out.
Hasty generalization fallacy. And also the post seems to just look for shock value. What a shame.
I am a vegan, and while I agree that I would be very irritated if people around me ate meat freely and expressed relief that they “could” now, after my years of trying to help animals the old fashioned way, I also identify with the reasons given before. I see no difference between engineering pain-free animals to eat and test on and, say, the engineering of people to unquestioningly fill certain roles in society (I am thinking of the book Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell, specifically). The way we treat animals shows no regard for their value as living beings, and yet human life is sacred even if it belongs to a criminal. Especially as more and more science emerges that shows previously unimagined intelligence in “lesser” animals, humans lose out by undervaluing the contributions that animals can make to society without being mistreated and “altered” beyond recognition.
I am a vegetarian who loosely opposes this idea because of “We will treat them worse if we think they can’t feel it, and we might be wrong” mostly. There may be other negative things besides pain, like boredom or the feeling of being constrained, which could be magnified by removing pain. I think that pain removal would be much better than the status quo, but I think we ultimately need to move to in vitro meat, and it seems easy enough that I think that all money that would have gone to creating pain-free animals should go to in vitro meat research instead. I also agree with Taylor’s points. The very idea of treating animals as our slaves is misguided.
Another vegetarian here. I don’t eat meat solely because I don’t want to participate in needless suffering. So, the pain free animals are a quandary. I think it’s an interesting step, I think it requires more data to judge. Pain is not all of suffering, although it is a lot. What’s the quality of life like for the resultant animals? My suspicion is that it would still be low, but I don’t know that.
I’m with Michael above, something like in vitro meat is really the way to go. If we want ethical meat, we need to not get it from sentient beings.
Michael and Emlyn, I would prefer to be an animal (especially a pain-free one) or a slave than to not exist, from what I know. Why should I think animals would rather be replaced by unconscious in vitro meat?
You obviously have never experienced extreme pain, suffering or slavery. Did you seriously look at that picture of those chickens? Live free or die, it is disturbing to me to see how willing we are to compromise the quality of life of other species and you, even yourself, for some semblance of existance time to come down out of that ivory tower my dear. Wild animals often chose to die rather than live captive to our amusement, we are a sick and twisted species and that should not be rationalized just because we can with our so called intelligence.
You cannot say you would rather be a slave than not exist if you currently do exist without pain. You would only rather not exist if you never existed, but having experienced good life you would prefer to exist, and have a bias towards any existence at all. Ask the same question to yourself as if your being does not exist.
This is a great post and I love how thorough you are with the different philisophical angles. Have you ever thought of interviewing someone? You seem like the kind of person who would be able to ask really good questions.
Anyway, as a person who loves animals but would not hesitate to kill one, I would think that the main reason would be the “feature of identity which binds people together.” I understand (or think I do) the empathy animal lovers feel towards an animal in distress. But having absolutely no way to communicate preferences, animals are absolute uncertanties. They could all be sadomasochists for all we know.
I would argue that when a person thinks they are feeling empathy for an animal’s pain they are really feeling a shared understanding with another animal lover’s heart break, because the heart break can be communicated intelligently.
I can’t comment on not existing.
“Why should I think animals would rather be replaced by unconscious in vitro meat?” – This is really hard to analyse. Can an animal make a choice like that? Can they choose to kill themselves?
Probably not. If they could, they’d probably also take the opportunity to say that this business of being meat animals seems like a bad deal and on balance they’d really rather not. And they’d have to go out and get jobs instead, and again the question of suffering arises :-) The point being, we’d never inflict this choice on anyone capable of making it, which kind of makes the point moot.
But even if they could choose between meat or nothingness, does that make it ok? If the slave chooses life, does that excuse the master?
Say I propose that my multinational corp. could support an extra billion people on the planet, but only if I can sell them as food for profit (after a decent bit of pain-free life and in free range conditions of course). Would that be ok? How about if the billion people agreed to it? After all, I am facilitating the coming into existence of a billion people who otherwise would not exist. Where’s my Nobel, that’s what I want to know.
Also, being nitpicky, I don’t know of any plan involving in vitro meat being swapped 1-for-1 for farm animals. You’re probably right that it would have an impact of course, that there would come to be less meat animals as a consequence.
I am interested in the pattern you notice, and think that it might be a real phenomenon. But most all of your examples seem to fall short, and I wonder if there are better ones.
* A downside to recreating extinct species with cloning is that it will let people bother even less about stopping extinctions.
Most realistically, we might be able to recreate a few species here and there, likely only high profile or particularly interesting ones, and probably at a very high cost per species. So I think the reasoning that says “the ability to resurrect one or a few species will lull people into thinking we have solved the threat of mass extinctions”.
* A recycling system where items are automatically and efficiently sorted at the plant rather than individually in homes would be worse because then people would be ignorant about the effort it takes to recycle.
I’m not sure this one makes sense at all — why would being “ignorant about the effort” be bad? There must be an underlying worry, other than general ignorance. Maybe cause people to put the wrong stuff in the recycling system?
* Modern food systems lamentably make people lazy and ignorant of where their food comes from.
I think the argument here is that modern food systems hide the costs of transporting food: subsidies for transportation, externalities involved with shipping, manufacture, etc. May not be true, but certainly a rational argument.
* Making cars efficient just lets people be lazy and drive them more, rather than using real solutions like bikes.
If the goal is to reduce gas consumption, then more efficient but more-often used cars is not a “solution”. The idea that increased fuel economy will spur increased driving, and hence may not actually reduce gas consumption, is rational. Its not clear if any increase would completely offset the new efficiency, but I’ve never seen numbers either way. Without numbers, this isn’t a fallacy, it is just an insufficiently-supported argument.
* The internet’s ready availability and general knowledge allows people to be ignorant and not bother learning facts.
Are all of the benefits of not being ignorant matched by the internet’s availability of information?
Great post! I think you are on to something, for sure. However, I do not thing this can totally explain vegetarian opposition to this plan (not that you said it did).
I am one of those vegetarians that would not exactly be opposed to this plan, it would just not change my stance on eating meat. Animal pain is just not high on my list of concerns about meat. What first prompted me to become a vegetarian were not gory pictures of slaughtered animals, but stories about the appalling labor conditions in the meat industry and the environmental impacts of industrial meat vs plant-based products.
I would rather see these efforts being directed at improving labor conditions and addressing environmental impacts. (so, I would rather eat, and have eaten in fact, a steak from free-range humanely raised cattle than a factory raised hamburger from a cow that wasn’t able to feel pain).
But like I said, as far as the phenomenon you are describing, I think there must be a level of at at play. Everybody knows a kid who studies really hard for an exam, only to be angry when the teacher decides to cancel it (or worse, give everybody an “A”!)
I am a meat eater–but the main reason why vegans and vegetarians would be opposed to pain free animals is that you would still kill them. I can see where they are coming from–killing another animal takes away some compassion/empathy from your higher self. Making the animal not feel pain and then killing it does not make the act compassionate.
Interesting post. Unfortunately, your conclusion is flawed in that you assume that vegetarians (of which I am one) would agree with you that the engineering of pain-free animals is “solving the problem.” This solves nothing.
Many of the methods of killing currently utilized (electrocution, a spike through the brain) result in very rapid deaths which may very well be painless, yet vegetarians oppose the wholesale slaughter of animals. And why? Because vegetarians oppose the production of, and slaughter of, livestock. Period.
Genetic analgesia solves nothing. Animals are still being killed. That is the opposition, not spiteful self-protection. Besides – who is it harming for vegetarians to continue to refuse animal products? Whether I choose to eat a Frankenchicken or not impacts no one but me. My opposition does not have any impact on the meat industry’s decision-making.
I didn’t mean to imply that vegetarians would believe that engineering pain free animals would ‘solve the problem’ – I agree that it does not solve most of many legitimate problems. I would merely expect them on average to be more in favor of the technology being used than others would be, as many vegetarians and animal welfare supporters are concerned about pain.
If it is true that animals lives are on net good, then refraining from eating them probably harms the animals most of all. Why would the meat industry not alter their decision-making according to whether people eat their Franken-chickens?
You’ve got a point here, but the way you are making the point is so reductive and insulting that you’ve almost invalidated it.
Let’s start with Wayne Booth’s idea that reasonable discussion is impossible if “we” have reasons for our beliefs, but “they” only have “rationalizations.”
You are clumping a wide swath of people into a “they” category here. Says you, “Vegetarians can’t POSSIBLY really have a complex set of REASONS for their beliefs and decisions. It’s really just about pain, and all this other bullshit are just excuses for them to be self righteous. Science will fix it for us.”
I call bullshit. First of all, pain and suffering are not the same thing. A life in a cage with no social interaction is suffering. Eliminating pain (which is a specific sensation) doesn’t fix everything else that’s wrong with that. Stacking animals together and bioengineering them to be machines that grow and shit isn’t good for the environment. If the animals don’t feel pain, the environment doesn’t get better.
By the way. I’m not a vegetarian. Had bacon this morning. But I think vegetarians are probably right about a lot of what they say. I’m all for a smaller, less industrialized meat industry. More expensive meat, less meat.
And who says vegetarians “suffer” from their choice not to eat meat? Most of the vegetarians I know are big time foodies. Pretty into the sensual fun part of food.
Your post says you are “interested in 3,” which is fine, but “3” doesn’t really fit this case. I have NEVER ONCE heard a vegetarian cite the pain that an animal feels as the reason they don’t eat meat. NOT ONCE. I’ve heard plenty of conversations on the subject.
Of course, we could chose to do half assed psychoanalysis on them instead of taking their ideas (which are pretty valid. . . mass produced meat is not particularly defensible as a logical societal choice) seriously.
As a sort of “think test” you post is interesting, and I’d go along with some other examples. The Mother Theresa thing somebody mentioned in the comments section (although I’d say here stance on birth control is a better example) and most post consumer recycling come to mind. The problem is that the example you picked is just. . . . wrong. The underlying premise that the reason people are vegetarians is that they are squeamish is just wrong.
How do we distinguish self righteous group think (I’m misrepresenting you, but barely) from real moral choice? It’s not really that hard. Real moral action is reflective and open minded and is concerned with outcomes and with achieving some level of social consensus. You have to care that what you are doing is going to really help, and you have to care that you aren’t going around violating people’s autonomy. And “care” is active. It doesn’t just mean “to have concern. ”
The more I think about this post, the less I think you actually have an interesting point. We all know about self righteous behavior. One litmus test is whether someone is willing to change their behavior when they learn that it doesn’t work. Absence education for example. It gets worse outcomes than other kinds of sex ed. This is easy to discover. Therefore I think we are safe in talking about “rationalizations” rather than “reasons.” I’m not sure vegetarianism fails this litmus test.
Again, I eat meat from the factory farming system myself. I can’t defend this. Just rationalize it.
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The rationale that you shouldn’t eat mean because animals should be treated with the same level of respect as human runs into a dilemma: if humans are not higher than animals, then it’s also wrong for a wolf to hunt.
I realize that there are other rationales for not eating meat, involving health and economics, but just saying.
While slightly off topic, since there seem to be lots of veggies and vegans here, I would just like to point you all to the book “The Vegetarian Myth” by Lierre Kieth. I’ve not eaten meat in 22 years, but will soon do so thanks to this book. Keith shows that the 3 pillars of vegetarianism, the moral, the political and the environmental, are flawed arguments (she was vegan for 20 years). The book shows that we cannot escape death in order to eat. Harvesting crops kills many many small animals. Nitrogen needed for soil must come from either animal products or fossil fuels. The way we factory farm crops today is killing the top soil (planet) and cannot be sustained. Thus merely being a veggie is not morally superior as being a veggie by itself helps to perpetuate the death of the planet. The key is humanely raised, grass fed animals living on poly-cultured farms in sustainable balance with nature.
The problem is not pain, but the concentration camps we set up to manufacture animals and kill them. Cows need to eat grass not government subsidized corn. The problem is our food system itself. Returning to a more localized food system based on a humane family (and not factory) farming system is the answer.
“The book shows that we cannot escape death in order to eat. Harvesting crops kills many many small animals.”
More crops are harvested to feed animals for slaughter than for eating non-animal based food. So you’re reducing the amount of animals you kill. That doesn’t mean you don’t kill any animals, but if you care about killing animals then a reduction should matter if you’re sane.
” Nitrogen needed for soil must come from either animal products or fossil fuels.”
That’s simply not true, ever hear of crop rotation. Farmers planting clover? This is a basic part of organic farming. This book sounds terrible if that’s the sort of misinformation contained within.
“I would argue that when a person thinks they are feeling empathy for an animal’s pain they are really feeling a shared understanding with another animal lover’s heart break, because the heart break can be communicated intelligently.”
I doubt this is true. If all the other humans on the planet died, would you not still empathise the suffering of other creatures? Its a hard wired emotional response.
“I see no difference between engineering pain-free animals to eat and test on and, say, the engineering of people to unquestioningly fill certain roles in society (I am thinking of the book Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell, specifically)”
So removing sentience (the ability to have sensations, such as pain) and intelligent self conscious free will, the quality we posit humans to have, are morally equivalent? Or is the argument that animals do have intelligent concious free will?
“There may be other negative things besides pain, like boredom or the feeling of being constrained, which could be magnified by removing pain. I think that pain removal would be much better than the status quo, but I think we ultimately need to move to in vitro meat”
Presumably we might learn to drug or genetically engineer animals to do remove boredom etc. as well. As a meat eater myself, I fully agree in vitro meat is the way to go – I would feel a lot more morally comfortable eating it than any of the alternatives.
“Say I propose that my multinational corp. could support an extra billion people on the planet, but only if I can sell them as food for profit (after a decent bit of pain-free life and in free range conditions of course). Would that be ok? ”
If you let them die naturally, rather than scheduling them for death at a pre-arranged time, then yes (because humans, unlike presumably other animals, can suffer angst by anticipating being executed.)
I personally wouldn’t eat the resulting meat, but I wouldn’t argue its immoral for others to do so, any more than its immoral for others to eat tripe just because I find the idea nauseating.
“I’m not sure this one makes sense at all — why would being ‘ignorant about the effort’ be bad?”
To me this seems like half the point of this post. The technological solution to a moral problem removes the need for virtuous self-sacrifice, which results in less virtue, which is bad. This is a fundamentally irrational to frame it, unless you believe (as some religions do) that the point is not removing morally bad things from the world, but giving people’s souls opportunities for moral improvement. Nonetheless people who don’t subscribe overtly to any such religion still have a habit of reasoning this way.
“I would rather see these efforts being directed at improving labor conditions and addressing environmental impacts. (so, I would rather eat, and have eaten in fact, a steak from free-range humanely raised cattle than a factory raised hamburger from a cow that wasn’t able to feel pain).”
Intensively farmed meat supports more meat eating humans per square kilometre of arable land. Far more. So it effects less of the environment, per capita at least. 6 billion humans eating meat farmed from free range cattle would have already destroyed the biosphere.
As for human labour conditions in meat production, they’re not fantastic, but they’re a hell of a lot better on the whole than those in chocolate production, textiles, mining, etc. You’d be better of boycotting confectionery, clothing, and energy rather than meat if this is genuinely your major concern.
“Interesting post. Unfortunately, your conclusion is flawed in that you assume that vegetarians (of which I am one) would agree with you that the engineering of pain-free animals is “solving the problem.” This solves nothing.”
Judging from this comment thread alone, for SOME vegetarians this idea DOES “solve the problem”, or at least partly solve the problem. It would seem people have different reasons for not eating meat, which is not surprising.
“My opposition does not have any impact on the meat industry’s decision-making.”
So, you are content for the morality of your actions to make essentially no difference to the amount of evil in the world, as you see it? I’m not saying this is at all unreasonable, it’s just many people are uncomfortable in admitting to such “consequence-free” values systems.
‘Let’s start with Wayne Booth’s idea that reasonable discussion is impossible if “we” have reasons for our beliefs, but “they” only have “rationalizations.”’
On the contrary, most of what anybody has is rationalisations, in the sense we use our reasoning faculties to justify what we believe for instinctual reasons. Part of the value of measured rational dialogue is it helps us identify the roots of our own rationalisations, and any resulting contradictions in our ideas, by holding them up to critical analysis from those with conflicting beliefs.
“I call bullshit. First of all, pain and suffering are not the same thing. A life in a cage with no social interaction is suffering. ”
What about for solitary, non-sociable animals?
Your reasoning seems to run “human suffer from being locked in a cage, animals must to.” This is undoubtedly true for certain animals (the evidence is strong pigs suffer from the way they are farmed in cages I believe) but is it true in general? If so, why?
“Stacking animals together and bioengineering them to be machines that grow and shit isn’t good for the environment.”
Why? What’s bad for the environment about the fact that there are animals are in cages? Except to the extent you can, rather arbitrarily, classify artificially bred animals as part of the environment, by virtue of being animals, and then circularly assert that caging is bad for the animals, and thus bad for the environment, I can’t see what you’re trying to argue here.
“More expensive meat, less meat.”
Well, we can agree that this would be a good thing. Its unlikely to occur though, since people seem to like meat, and are prepared to pay for it as they get richer. So it makes sense to try and be able to make meat that does not cause suffering and has no adverse effects on the environment if ultimately we really want to reduce suffering and protect the environment.
“How do we distinguish self righteous group think (I’m misrepresenting you, but barely) from real moral choice?”
The term self-righteous group think is mine, not the posters. You are definitely, not barely, misrepresenting the post by conflating it with my intentionally more provocative comment.
Many of those commenting here would do well to re-read the actual post. It does not argue that vegetarians have only one, easily addressed reason for not eating meat, or for opposing the existence of pain-free meat; it simply observes the variety of such reasons. Nor does it argue that vegetarians all or even largely fall victim to 3), only that, perhaps, some do, and it seems to be an interesting general pattern of human thinking to respond this way to possible
technological solutions to moral quandries.
I think instead we should work on altering people to be compassionate
I’m a vegetarian and I also oppose the idea of genetically modified pain-free cattle. I don’t think that I oppose the idea because I want to feel virtuous or morally superior as a vegetarian, as you affirm. First of all, I don’t feel particularly virtuous because I don’t eat meat nor is it any sacrifice on my part. I can’t give you a precise reason why I feel that genetically modifying cattle is wrong, but then again, in my opinion, moral principles are often rationalizations of gut reactions and I can’t give you precise reasons for most of my moral principles: they’re just part of me. Couldn’t it be the case that the type of person who doesn’t eat meat is also the type of person who is turned by genetically modifying cattle? Correlation is not causation, as they say.
@amos: Not necessarily. I’m a vegetarian, but I’m more than happy with the idea of genetic modification. There’s nothing inherently moral about the process that formed us, via 4 billion years of relentlessly killing every living thing, and nothing particularly sacred about the genotypes that happen to exist at this point in that continuing process.
As to your last sentence, I think you are making Katja’s point for her, or at least a broader one, that often strongly held moral positions are actually irrational preferences, in your case here based in the “ick factor”.
On a separate note, I might point out that sometimes people occur naturally who can’t feel pain, and it’s not a good existence.
Also the major symptom of Hansen’s disease (ie: Leprosy) is loss of feeling (I’m not sure if it’s just pain) in the extemities, leading to damage and amputations, and to the idea that piece fall off leper’s bodies.
In all likelihood, no sane person would choose to be modified so they could not feel pain.
Jordan, I think you’ve missed my point.
My point is that the example used in the post is a VERY bad one because most vegetarians DO NOT talk about pain as the main reason for their choice. I KNOW that the post is interested in the bigger questions about moral judgment and personal sacrifice and not in vegetarianism specifically, but really, when the example is so terrible, it kinda undermines the whole thing doesn’t it?
A more serious concern (one that vegitarians DO talk about) is that the bioengineering that goes into meat production has created space intense farming that is cruel to the animals and bad the environment. Starting to mess around with the way animals experience pain seems to be a PART of that project of factory meat, not a solution.
What might make SOME (not all) vegitarians happy would be to only have expensive free range meat that wasn’t so bioengeneered.
If you don’t know why caging animals is bad for the environment, you don’t know anything about the issue. The way we grow pigs and cows is to stack them very densly together and pump them full of protein an hormones. They are genetically engineered to be able to live that way. They shit a lot of nitrogen rich shit, which has to go somewhere. There are parts of North Carolina that are unlivable because of the fecal dust that this kind of farming produces.
This is basic stuff, and you don’t have to be squeamish about the food chain to think it sucks. If you don’t know anything about vegetarianism, you shouldn’t write about it without expecting to get your hand slapped.
As for Wayne Booth, his point is that we need to be careful about the way we talk about other people. He’s not disagreeing with you. (Nor am I, believe it or not. I just think the post makes uses a shitty example.) If we are talking about cognitive psychology or even social or political theory, then yeah, of course most of our beliefs are ultimately rationalizations of some kind. But when we start talking about people’s beliefs, we have a responsibility to “give the benefit of doubt,” at least for a time, until we know what we are talking about, or we at least have to be clear that WE are not innocent of “rationalizing” ourselves. The way this post talks about vegetarianism fails that test big time.
Actually the “Booth” test makes it tough to talk about the larger point that the post is trying to make, but its not an unresolvable problem. Just pick an example where the outcome of the self sacrifice is more clearly at odds with any real good, and where someone could clearly see that. The way Mother Theresa’s charities are run are full of such examples. The social pressure to participate in recycling is another. (Some recycling like aluminum clearly IS good for environment, but most of it is bullshit.)
Again, I eat meat, so I’m not justifying any kind of decision I’ve made.
Or does it not matter? Is the post a hypothetical test case? Pick a better one.
I came across this today without even looking. I was linked to it from Sullivan:
The reason I think the original post is so silly is that vegtitarianism is actually a very robust position morally. THAT’S WHY THERE ARE SO MANY DIFFERENT REASONS PEOPLE DO IT. There are lots of good reasons to be a vegetarian that will withstand rigorous questioning, and the idea that it has anything to do with pain is reductive.
The post argues that people don’t eat meat because they are squeamish about pain and they’ve built up a lot of other justifications for their decision. The truth seems to be that there is a movement to make food more ethical, and there are in fact lots of really good falsifiable arguments that those folks have found for their positions. Focusing on one minor argument for their beliefs is silly. And again, the “genetically engineering animals so that they won’t feel pain” solution is no solution. In fact, it’s just “doubling down” on the whole factory farm concept, which is the problem for most vegetarians in the first place. (Certainly there are some wacky animal liberation people out there too, but , I don’t think they speak for the majority.) The idea that we can find some kind of non-social animal to farm in cages and eat is silly. I don’t know of such an animal, and anyway, it’s a moot point. Pigs and cows and chickens aren’t meant to live the way that they do when we grow ’em in the factory farm system. I’m not anthropomorphizing animals either. I’m comfortable, for example, with people hunting.
I get the point the post is trying to make, but its JUST such an amazingly shitty example. I can’t think of a worse one actually. Honestly, it’s unfortunate, because the point the post is making isn’t really about vegetarianism at all, but that’s what we’re talking about.
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Hi there just wanted to give you a brief heads up and let you know a
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“Because it is devastating to my case.”
The simple answer why pain free animals would be horrible is because it would eliminate a very strong emotional argument in favor of veganism. Even if you didn’t kill the animals, a pain free existence would also impact the moral calculus of milk, butter, eggs and honey. To a vegan, eggs are wrong because chickens are miserable. Super happy chickens makes eggs a wonderful ethical choice. This is one reason some vegans, though not all, make up reasons against backyard chickens: because a beloved family pet lives a great life.
They have to throw everything and the kitchen sink at these ideas, because it undermines their goals by destroying their own motivation for having the goal in the first place. Vegans talk about health and the environment, but if all future studies showed we could prevent global warming and heart disease by hunting rabbits instead of commercial farming, they would insist that global warming and heart disease were just prices we pay for being ethical.
The people who were moved to vegetarianism by animals pain can’t face the thought of pain free animals because it turns their world view upside down.
Almost everyone in this discussion seems to assume that this reasoning is in fact near-universal among vegetarians (though perhaps this was the case much more in 2009?). To provide a contrary anecdatum, I’m close to a vegetarian (refuse to take actions which lead to increased demand for reasonably sentient animals in factory-farmed conditions) and think the creation of pain-free animals would likely be a good decision on net for exactly the reasons outlined above. In fact, I’d likely revert back to meat-eating if this were verifiably the case; I’d still have some reservations about psychological harm, but my estimation of the net quality of life of such animals would swing back to positive.
I definitely skew much further towards a happiness/suffering utilitarianism mode of reasoning than most, though, and think most vegetarians’ reasoning for being such are relatively poorly-informed or inconsistent, so I’m probably not the most representative sample.