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I Think What?

July 29th, 2009 · 27 Comments

Look, I don’t expect Mark Krikorian to champion the moral worth of non-human animals—hell, getting him to evince some concern for non-Caucasians would be a miracle—but this is unusually silly:

Just so you know, I think we do eat too much meat, and salt, sugar, and fat, because our species evolved to crave these once rare elements of our diet which are now abundant. But vegetarianism and veganism are not only not virtuous, they’re immoral, based as they are on the principle that animals are morally equivalent to humans. Likewise, meat probably should cost more than it does, but not because we need a global-warming tax on it but because animals, while lacking “rights,” are not inanimate objects we can use with impunity as industrial inputs — and their humane treatment will almost certainly raise the price of hamburgers.

I know very many vegetarians and vegans. I do not think a single one of them—possibly excepting PETA’s Bruce Friedrich, and I’m not even sure about him—holds the view that “animals are morally equivalent to humans.”  File this under what is fast becoming one of my chief pet peeves: People who purport to specialize in political commentary and show no sign of having even the vaguest idea what people with different views actually believe. (Must I think Radovan Karadzic and my first grade teacher are morally equivalent if I’m not terribly sanguine about barbecuing either of them?)  You’d think the view Krikorian himself endorses would be quite sufficient to get one there: If you think animals are at least deserving of humane treatment, then given an actually existing meat industry that manifestly falls well short of that, might you not decide it’s better not to support it at all?  More so if you’re not quite as dismissive as Krikorian is of the secondary environmental harms.

Update: Bruce Friedrich chimes in via comments to assure us that he does not, in fact, subscribe to the thesis of moral equivalence between humans and other animals. Let me go out on a limb and suggest that if PETA’s spokesman finds your proposed foundational principle for vegetarianism and veganism implausibly extreme, you may be experiencing a knowing-what-you’re-talking-about deficit.

Tags: Moral Philosophy


       

 

27 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Rachel // Jul 29, 2009 at 6:14 pm

    There are also plenty of things even most traditional omnivores manage to avoid consuming without making any moral claims at all, surprisingly.

  • 2 sidereal // Jul 29, 2009 at 8:18 pm

    I refuse to salt snails because I think melting them is a bit gruesome when there are less violent forms of snail control (like appetite blocking bait).

    Clearly, I therefore think snails are morally equivalent to human beings. QED, ipso facto, Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet.

  • 3 Bruce Friedrich // Jul 29, 2009 at 9:29 pm

    I don’t think that animals are the moral equivalent of human beings; I’m Roman Catholic and accept my Church’s (and the Bible’s) teachings re: our (human’s) special status. But I think that means that we should do what we can to limit our support for cruelty, to make choices that are as kind as possible as often as possible. I agree with you that this moral equivalency nonsense is a straw man that allows those who toss it out there to avoid the hard work of really analyzing honestly humanity’s horrid treatment of other animals, who do share with humans five basic physiological senses, the same basic ingredients (flesh, blood, bone), and an awful lot of our other capacities (including emotional, psychological, etc.).

  • 4 Daniel Koffler // Jul 30, 2009 at 10:07 am

    Now here’s something interesting: Yesterday, Krikorian put up another Corner post explaining why, in re: Tom Tancredo’s description of La Raza as ‘a Latino KKK without the hoods or the nooses’, ‘there’s more to the comparison’ of La Raza to than people might realize.’

    Just how much more there is depends on whether one agrees with Krikorian that La Raza’s official statements to the effect that the name is a misleading cognate and should not be interpreted as expressing a racial concept just goes to show how insidiously they are covering up the racist ideology motivating their agenda.

    The argument for this reading, incidentally, is a nice object lesson in the pitfalls of reckless literal translations of the idioms of one language into another. That, for example is how ‘la Raza Cosmica’ somehow becomes (after a stopover in Munich, I assume), Aztlanian for ‘Master Race.’

    I dunno, it probably makes sense to people who follow immigration issues more closely than I do.

    Anyway, the real treat in the post is saved for the link at the bottom. It seems Krikorian tried out a gimmick a few years ago of (poorly) translating the full name of the NCLR into German: ‘der Nationalrat das Volk [sic, s/b: "des Volkes"] ‘.

    Cute, sure, but does it support Krikorian’s thesis that there couldn’t possibly be two distinct meanings to the word ‘Raza’? Well, how soon do you think we can expect to see him let those awful people at Volkswagen know he’s on to them.

  • 5 Julian Sanchez // Jul 30, 2009 at 10:58 am

    Well, if nothing else, “the Race” would be an awfully strange way to describe a multiracial ethnic group defined primarily by language.

  • 6 sherifffruitfly // Jul 30, 2009 at 2:39 pm

    Since I’ve never seen the alleged “reasonable” vegetarians utter word 1 contra the whacko vegetarians, I assume you’re all whacko, and that the claim of the existence of “reasonable” vegetarians is just a marketing lie.

  • 7 Matt D // Jul 30, 2009 at 3:06 pm

    Since I’ve never seen the alleged “reasonable” vegetarians utter word 1 contra the whacko vegetarians, I assume you’re all whacko, and that the claim of the existence of “reasonable” vegetarians is just a marketing lie.

    Well, I’ll venture a guess that you’ve never bothered looking. Indeed, I’m pretty sure you’re one of those people who is only interested in making bad faith arguments and whose only knowledge of the topic comes from other similarly-minded folks. I fully expect your participation in this thread to conclude with a snide “I’m going to go eat a nice juicy steak now.” So, you know, don’t even bother–we’ve heard it all before.

  • 8 Mark // Jul 30, 2009 at 3:16 pm

    Why do I get the sense that sherifffruitfly doesn’t spend a whole lot of time socializing with vegetarians or soliciting their opinions on ethical questions?

    Fun game: Switch out the word “vegetarian” with “Muslim” and his post could have been cribbed from any number of Glenn Beck’s broadcasts.

  • 9 Sean // Jul 30, 2009 at 3:26 pm

    My wife’s a veggie, and the vast majority of my friends are either veggies or vegans, and I can tell you that in my (albeit limited) experience, most of those people who are veggies for animal rights reasons think it’s not only worse to kill an animal than a human, but they’ve expressed a number of times how worthless humans are and how much better off the planet would be if everyone was dead (surely leaving themselves out of the equation). As a result I’ve come to see most veggie and vegan beliefs as silly at best and hypocritical at worst. All of the veggies I know drive cars, buy clothes and computers and everything else made in sweatshops, buy soda from soda companies that own fast food companies that kill animals, etc. That said, I do think a vegetarian diet is obviously better for you, better for the animals, and better for the environment. I just have a hard time swallowing (no pun intended) the fetishization and politicization of food when there’s no way that most people can follow their strongly stated values through to their logical extreme. It should be said that most of my friends are crusty punks, and they tend to be really nihilistic, but there are a lot of them.

  • 10 Matt D // Jul 30, 2009 at 3:32 pm

    You’d think the view Krikorian himself endorses would be quite sufficient to get one there: If you think animals are at least deserving of humane treatment, then given an actually existing meat industry that manifestly falls well short of that, might you not decide it’s better not to support it at all?

    Likewise, you might conclude that humane treatment precludes the existence of a meat industry.

    I guess Krikorian’s view is that to express these sentiments in terms of rights is to unjustly confer some status to animals (I’m assuming Krikorian believes that rights are something only humans have, ergo to grant animals rights is to make them human), but in a more practical sense that just seems like splitting hairs–animals “deserving” humane treatment isn’t much different from animals having a “right” to humane treatment. I’d guess his purpose in making so much of that slight difference is just to distance himself from the left-leaning animal rights movement.

  • 11 Amy // Jul 30, 2009 at 3:35 pm

    Sean: I’ve been a vegetarian for 20 years, and I can assure you that I care very deeply about the survival (and thriving) of human beings. You need new friends. Possibly a new wife.

  • 12 Matt D // Jul 30, 2009 at 3:50 pm

    My wife’s a veggie, and the vast majority of my friends are either veggies or vegans, and I can tell you that in my (albeit limited) experience, most of those people who are veggies for animal rights reasons think it’s not only worse to kill an animal than a human, but they’ve expressed a number of times how worthless humans are and how much better off the planet would be if everyone was dead (surely leaving themselves out of the equation).

    Well, I’m a vegetarian and also know a decent number of them and I can’t say many of them hold those beliefs. And in any case, I can’t see how it matters–thinking the world would be better off if we were all dead doesn’t go hand-in-hand with being troubled by the meat industry or by the consumption/mistreatment of animals in general.

    As a result I’ve come to see most veggie and vegan beliefs as silly at best and hypocritical at worst. All of the veggies I know drive cars, buy clothes and computers and everything else made in sweatshops, buy soda from soda companies that own fast food companies that kill animals, etc.

    So? What, you expect a handful of people to radically alter the foundations of the most powerful society on earth? Or, I guess, it would be better if their beliefs and actions were completely in line with the status quo? It’s better to do nothing than to do something short of everything and thus appear a hypocrite?

    That said, I do think a vegetarian diet is obviously better for you, better for the animals, and better for the environment.

    And, what, no vegetarians believe this? Or they’re just “silly” for some other reasons?

    I just have a hard time swallowing (no pun intended) the fetishization and politicization of food when there’s no way that most people can follow their strongly stated values through to their logical extreme.

    Yeah, well, nobody does. I’d love to know which of your values you follow through to their logical extremes.

  • 13 Julian Sanchez // Jul 30, 2009 at 3:54 pm

    Seconding Amy—a large proportion of my friends are vegetarians, and I’ve never heard any of them utter anything so silly. Which is one reason you probably won’t hear me “utter one word” against whacko vegetarians: While apparently they exist somewhere out there, I mostly encounter them in the fevered imaginations of people who like to pass the time grumbling about dirty hippies. I don’t devote alot of space to distancing myself from libertarian anarchists either, because, well, why would I? They’re pretty marginal, there aren’t that many of them, and I’m not excessively worried about getting mistaken for one.

  • 14 joey // Jul 30, 2009 at 4:00 pm

    I’ve been a vegetarian since 1972, for lots of reasons: I think it’s healthier, less expensive, better for our planet and kinder to animals. I don’t think animals are morally equivalent to humans. However, I don’t eat brussels sprouts because I know they are morally superior to humans.

  • 15 Devil's Advocate // Jul 30, 2009 at 4:20 pm

    Why are our priorities for animals so different than they are for humans? I don’t speak of a moral equivalency, but that for some reason killing an animal seems to be considered morally neutral by most, while actively inflicting pain on them is a moral evil. Yet, while there are certainly fates worse than death, there are few crimes we would put above killing a person. Why the difference in priorities?

    I think this comes through most clearly in Michael Vick’s excoriation. What he did put chills through my spine, but as someone who ate a hamburger for lunch today I’m not one who can throw stones about mistreatment of animals.

  • 16 Julian Sanchez // Jul 30, 2009 at 5:24 pm

    DA-
    This is actually one of the important differences I see between animals and humans. It’s about as close as you’re going to get to a moral “brute fact,” I think, that suffering is bad, having more of it in the world is bad, and contributing to there being more of it is perhaps even worse still. To explain why it’s wrong to painlessly kill someone, though, I think you actually need to tell a somewhat more complicated story, because (by stipulation) the experience itself isn’t obviously intrinsically awful. The story you tell has to do, not with these sort of brute values and disvalues of physical pleasure and pain, but with people’s reflective preferences, desires, life projects, and so on. Insofar as that’s a harder story to tell about non-human animals, it may be that painless killing is there not so wrong as the infliction of suffering.

  • 17 Sean // Jul 30, 2009 at 6:16 pm

    @ Amy and Matt D-

    My point was that there are indeed people who believe that there is not only a moral equivalence between killing an animal and killing a human, but who believe it is worse to kill an animal than a human. I know it to be a fact because I personally know many people who believe this (not including my wife, incidentally). Whether all the vegetarians you’ve ever met have never said anything so silly is irrelevant. Pick up a copy of any PC punk magazine (MRR, Profane Existance, etc.) or album (Crass, Dystopia, etc.) and you will find these sentiments. I admit misspoke when I said that I find most veggie and vegan beliefs silly and/or hypocritical. I was commenting on the beliefs of the people I know personally and through this music scene, and not some larger movement, of which I really know nothing. Anyway, as I said, I think the diet is really a good idea.

    “So? What, you expect a handful of people to radically alter the foundations of the most powerful society on earth? Or, I guess, it would be better if their beliefs and actions were completely in line with the status quo? It’s better to do nothing than to do something short of everything and thus appear a hypocrite?”

    I expect people who wear their politics on their sleeves to do more than just buy soy-rizo for their tacos and lecture people when they aren’t willing to give up things that are just as destructive, if not more, for the sake of convenience. That, or stop wearing what they eat as a badge of honor and a sign of virtue. but again, I think a vegetarian diet is a GOOD IDEA.

    As for which of my values I follow through to their logical extremes, I’ll give you one. I value art and music, and so I’m a working artist and musician with a huge portfolio, and I help other artists and musicians out as much as I can when I can. Does that help?

  • 18 Rixaeton // Jul 30, 2009 at 6:21 pm

    Having been veg for 15 years now, I can say quite happily that eating animals is not necessary for survial. So why do people still insist on eating meat? To my thinking, it is because they enjoy, or have a preference for, the texture and the taste of it. As there are substitutes that replicate the texture and taste (esp from Asian countries) then there is no rational reason for killing animals, unless it is just for fun. This seems unfair really (and a bit unhinged), as we would not like the same done to us. It all comes down to choices – what we choose to eat, and what cost that choice has. In the meat case, there are three parties involved; the farmer that raises the animal, the consumer that purchases the meat, and the animal. It seems that the party that has the most to lose in this transaction has the least say in it.

  • 19 sidereal // Jul 30, 2009 at 8:53 pm

    That, or stop wearing what they eat as a badge of honor and a sign of virtue

    And we’ve finally mined out the gold.
    What underlies this argument, every time it is had, is the same resentment.

    “Sure, vegetarians have some pretty compelling argument on the FACTS, but they feel moral about it and therefore they think I’m less moral and therefore they think they’re better than me.”

    Cultural resentment, over and over again. It’s the animating force behind 90% of our politics. And it’s fucking juvenile. Get over it.

  • 20 Eric // Jul 30, 2009 at 8:56 pm

    >>”Whether all the vegetarians you’ve ever met >>have never said anything so silly is irrelevant. >>Pick up a copy of any PC punk magazine
    >>(MRR, Profane Existance, etc.) or album
    >>(Crass, Dystopia, etc.) and you will find these >>sentiments.”

    That’s similar to someone from Focus on the Family trying to characterize gay men as if there’s a huge subset of them that are determined to get infected with HIV. They’ll point out that can go to just about any gay personals website and find a profile from a guy who says he’s looking for condomless sex, and that he doesn’t care about the HIV status of his partners.

    But the fact remains that people like that represent an absolutely tiny percentage of gay men – less than 1 percent, I’m sure. Likewise, you’d have to search pretty hard among the vegetarian/vegan community to find someone who thinks that eating steak is morally no different from eating human flesh. If you actually know some of those people, that’s unfortunate – but the idea that they’re everywhere, and sane vegetarians are obligated to denounce them every chance they get, is ridiculous.

    And I think it should be clear from this thread that most vegetarians/vegans, if actually confronted with someone like that, would be eager to denounce them.

  • 21 Sean // Jul 30, 2009 at 9:59 pm

    @ Sidereal and Eric-

    A: I didn’t denounce all vegetarians and vegans. I explicitly said I was talking about the subset of people I know and people in a certain scene who are vocally vegetarian/ vegan for what they consider moral reasons. My point, which I’ve made twice now, is that saying those people and their attitudes DON’T EXIST is factually incorrect. They not only exist, they exist in large numbers.

    B: What cultural resentment? My wife is a veggie. Most of my good friends are veggies. I hardly ever eat meat myself. I made it quite clear that I was talking about a relatively small number of people, and I was specifically pointing out that saying “I don’t know a single veggie who thinks animals are morally equivalent to humans” may prove you don’t know anyone who thinks that, but it doesn’t prove they don’t exist.

  • 22 Dept. of straw men (and other animals) « A Thinking Reed // Jul 31, 2009 at 12:49 pm

    [...] 31, 2009 by Lee Not that it will dissuade anyone, but Julian Sanchez points out the obvious: I know very many vegetarians and vegans. I do not think a single one of them..holds [...]

  • 23 You Are What You Eat And What You Are Is A Salad With Bacon Bits « Around The Sphere // Aug 1, 2009 at 2:07 pm

    [...] Julian Sanchez: I know very many vegetarians and vegans. I do not think a single one of them—possibly excepting PETA’s Bruce Friedrich, and I’m not even sure about him—holds the view that “animals are morally equivalent to humans.”  File this under what is fast becoming one of my chief pet peeves: People who purport to specialize in political commentary and show no sign of having even the vaguest idea what people with different views actually believe. (Must I think Radovan Karadzic and my first grade teacher are morally equivalent if I’m not terribly sanguine about barbecuing either of them?)  You’d think the view Krikorian himself endorses would be quite sufficient to get one there: If you think animals are at least deserving of humane treatment, then given an actually existing meat industry that manifestly falls well short of that, might you not decide it’s better not to support it at all?  More so if you’re not quite as dismissive as Krikorian is of the secondary environmental harms. [...]

  • 24 Elaine Vigneault // Aug 1, 2009 at 2:34 pm

    I think the entire notion of “moral equivalency ” is absurd for either humans or nonhuman animals. All moral questions are contextual; it’s NEVER so simple as the concept of “equal” makes it seem.

    But I KNOW that eating animal products is not only extremely cruel, it’s also bad for the planet and terrible for human health.

    So go vegan, already, people!
    PLEASE. It’s the least you can do.

  • 25 James Joyner // Aug 3, 2009 at 9:05 am

    I’m a bit late to this but methinks this post operates from a false premise: That Krikorian actually believes that’s what the other side thinks or, indeed, much cares. Most of what passes for political commentary these days thinks nothing of constructing straw men and then demolishing them before cheering crowds.

    And I loves me some meat.

  • 26 Symbolic Belief // Aug 3, 2009 at 6:11 pm

    [...] some role in defining the holder’s self-conception. In a post from last week, a commenter pointed out that there really are vegetarians and vegans, especially in certain punk scenes, who purport to [...]

  • 27 Anthony // Dec 12, 2010 at 2:18 am

    @JS,

    I don’t think that the moral equivalence of non-human animals and humans is totally out-there in the world of contemporary moral philosophy – Peter Singer’s work is an example that comes to mind. If I remember correctly, he has argued for the moral equivalence of very young humans and various non-human animals.

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