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The Omnivore’s Dilemma

Posted by tinako on September 28, 2011

I’ve resisted reading Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma for several years now.  Friends and family know of my interest in food and food writing and are surprised when I tell them.  I explain to them that I like Michael Pollan very much when he’s writing about food in general; I admire his writing style greatly and feel that he really hits his topics with insight and intelligence.  But when he starts writing about meat, something in his brain turns off; I have always suspected that the something that shuts his brain down is his stomach.  I had read this great Atlantic Monthly review of his book, Hard to Swallow, and I didn’t want to put myself through reading his excuses and justifications.  I stick to his other books, which aren’t as meaty (here are my other writings on him).

But a few weeks ago I found my brother reading it, and again I had to answer the question.  He seemed surprised by my answer, because Pollan talks about vegetarianism in the book quite a bit, and seems to give it serious consideration and thought.  My brother suggested I take a look at chapter 17, the 30-page “Ethics of Eating Animals,” which he said seemed thoughtful and balanced, though of course there was no vegetarian comeback to his arguments.

I took that as a challenge, and decided to read the chapter to see if my sense that Pollan is illogical when it comes to animals could stand up to this direct test, and while I’m at it I’d form the counter-arguments to his.  My suspicion that his ordinary good sense breaks down under the pressure of his meat-cravings was absolutely justified.  This is going to be a long one.

In true Pollan style, he seeks out the drama of learning about vegetarian ethics, and decides to read probably the most powerful book on the subject, Peter Singer’s classic Animal Liberation, while waiting for his meal at a steakhouse.  We are on the edges of our seats: will he be able to eat the steak, or will it give him “ethical heartburn”?  I don’t believe I will be spoiling any surprise to tell you that despite his inability to counter Singer’s persuasive arguments, he decides to eat it.

Singer’s words stay with him, however, and he revisits the idea.  The first third of this chapter is devoted to explaining Singer’s argument, and I have no problem with this section.  He summarizes an argument, then comes up with a counter-argument, then gives Singer’s answer to that.

I’m not going to re-summarize his summary, and it may be difficult for you to understand Singer’s, Pollan’s, or my arguments accurately without having read either one of the books I’m discussing – Singer’s conclusion will seem outrageous until you have followed the dots he so deftly connects.  Pollan ends this first section with Singer’s argument that “the principle of equal consideration of interests demands that given the choice between performing a painful medical experiment on a severely retarded child and a normal ape, we must sacrifice the child… because the ape has a greater capacity for pain” [p.311].

I must admit that these conclusions are not my favorite parts of Singer’s work, exactly because they appear harsh and anti-philanthropist, and indeed Pollan has difficulty swallowing them.  He claims that this conclusion shows “the practical problem with the philosopher’s argument from marginal cases: It can be used to help the animals, but just as often it ends up hurting the marginal cases.  Giving up our speciesism can bring us to an ethical cliff from which we may not be prepared to jump, even when logic is pushing us to the edge” [p.310].  But Pollan has misunderstood Singer, as I feared people would.  He says Singer’s “hard utilitarianism” is advocating for using babies in painful science experiments instead of other animals.  Not at all, and the key is in Singer’s use of the phrase “given the choice.”  How about another choice, not doing painful experiments at all!  Even if you are supportive of animal experiments, surely you believe they should be painless, or at least as painless as a routine doctor’s visit to which an infant would have to submit.  Singer’s point is not that we should switch over to using disabled orphan babies, but that if we find that repulsive, according to the logical argument he outlines in his book, we should find using healthy apes more repulsive.

But Pollan recognizes that at the moment he sits in the chophouse he is not being asked to decide between chimps and babies, but between a cow and tofu, between “a lifetime of suffering for a non-human animal and the gastronomic preferences of a human being.”  Singer tells Pollan that as long as he is eating meat, he can’t be objective about it.  Pollan takes this as a challenge, and so he reluctantly goes vegetarian.

But he’s missing Singer’s point!  Singer meant that as long as someone is attached to  eating meat they are biased.  Pollan gave up meat, but not the attachment.  With such a reason for going vegetarian, to prove that it’s still stupid even when you’re doing it, we can hardly expect his biases to fall away, and we are not disappointed.  He already feels vegetarians are rude to impose their values on their dining hosts, and his new values, reluctantly worn, bring no new perspective to the situation when the tables are turned, so to speak.  He is embarrassed and saddened that his decision to not participate in suffering separates him from others and past traditions.  Pollan understands that we as a society should change when injustice becomes clear, but it makes him sad.  This sadness makes me think of the lady I just saw driving around my northern city with a confederate-flag-patterned “Rebel Girl” bumper sticker.  Ah, the yearning for the good old days, when people with her color skin could own people with a different color skin.  I agree it is sad when we are surrounded by traditions that no longer meet our values (I find the dead-turkey part of Thanksgiving very sad), but which should we let go of?  Our society has let go of lots of traditions: slavery and subjugation of women come to mind.  Clinging to traditions as though they justify otherwise unjustifiable behavior is not the way to become better people.  If people let manners stop them from standing up for what is right, if past humans had felt too embarrassed to even give a polite “no, thank you,” what would ever have changed?  What sort of world would we live in today?

Pollan also complains that vegetarianism is a lot of work in the kitchen (specifically chopping) which is ironic since in his later book In Defense of Food he tells us that not spending much time in the kitchen is a big problem.  This complaint also confused me, because vegetarians aren’t supposed to be eating more chopping-type vegetables than omnivores – the number of servings of those don’t change.  Mostly we just switch in legumes for meat.  So what is he eating more of and why?

He points out the irony that we are being asked to “acknowledge all we share with animals, and then to act toward them in a most unanimalistic way” [p. 315].  While I understand what he means on the “frontiersman” level (being omnivores hunting animals), when you get away from hunting to the average American, we’re talking about two aspects of being an animal.  What we share with animals is a capacity for suffering, a desire to live, hunger, that sort of thing.  But to call factory farms or slaughterhouses animalistic is just weird.  Animals can cause each other incredible amounts of pain, (think parasitic wasps) but this is their evolutionary instinct.  There’s nothing instinctive about livestock farms.  And as Colleen Patrick-Goudreau has said, we don’t crave meat.  We don’t start salivating when we see a squirrel run by.  Even pig barns don’t make our mouths water.  We crave fat, salt, and flavor.  Pollan goes on to say that eating meat is no more a mere gastronomic preference than sex is a recreational preference.  OK, this equates the difference between pork and tofu to the difference between sex and test tube babies.  Stretching it.

In Pollan’s fourth section, “Animal Suffering,” he explores non-human animal pain.  He says it seems certain that they feel it, but that it seems reasonable that they don’t feel it as much [p.316].  He feels this difference is due largely to language and imagination, and suggests that pain becomes suffering when we add the “distinctly human emotions” of regret, self-pity, shame, humiliation, and dread.  I’m not sure why our hang-ups should entitle us to inflict pain on other species, but let’s see where he goes with this.  He cites the example of castration, which most male mammals we eat endure (often using a penknife or bare hands, and not infrequently resulting in death) without anesthetic.  He says the same procedure would be much worse for a man because of the anticipation and aftermath.  So what??  It is clearly painful.  Isn’t that enough to warrant not doing it, or at least relieving the pain?  What difference does it make that it would allegedly hurt a man more?

Pollan says we must be careful not to project onto animals the pain that we would feel in a situation, and gives the example that cattle walking calmly towards the stunner are not feeling the same thing as a condemned prisoner walking to the electric chair.  His example suggests that slaughterhouse entrances are calm and orderly, which he knows is not always true.  I’m not sure how many cattle slaughterhouses have been redesigned by Temple Grandin to keep those animals calm, but most slaughterhouse entrances are clearly terrifying to the 10 billion animals who enter them every year.  There is absolutely no mistaking the fear and suffering.

Next Pollan discusses factory farms, and he has nothing good to say about them, and indeed I was moved by his evident emotional response to them.  But one paragraph struck me as odd.  He talks about the tension that has always existed by morals and the desire to make money.  “This is another example of the cultural contradictions of capitalism – the tendency over time for the economic impulse to erode the moral underpinnings of society.  Mercy towards the animals in our care is one such casualty” [p.318].  I would change his word “care” to “use.”  It is not care for the animals which causes the problem, it is the fact that the care is secondary to what we want out of them.  Another word for this is exploitation.  But mainly what I think of when I read this paragraph is that in the next section he seems to believe that somehow we can escape this, that we can go back to “humane” livestock farms.  He forgets that that’s where we came from, the farms of 60 years ago, and this is where we arrived.  Somehow he has the hope that this time we can avoid capitalism’s soaring success in sneaking around well-meaning regulations to provide a product people want cheaply without too much bother with externalities like pollution or suffering.

His next section is called Animal Happiness, and in it he explores humane farms.  He refutes the idea that a humane farm is still a deathcamp, and calls the holocaust analogy a “sentimental conceit.”  If humane farms that end in death are OK, then would Pollan say that the big problem with the Holocaust is that those 6 million people were poorly treated before they were executed?

He says that to call animals on a happy farm exploited slaves “is to misconstrue that whole relationship” [p.320].  He goes on to call this relationship a “bargain.”  Excuse me, but bargain means that both sides enter knowingly into an agreement.  Does he mean to suggest that the animals willingly decide that the easy life (on a good farm, anyway) is worth “one bad day?”  Or do their obvious struggles to live at the bitter end betray that, rather than a “bargain,” this is instead what we would call a “trick.”  He calls it “mutualism or symbiosis,” ironically unaware that the definition for symbiosis includes the more apt relationship called “parasitism.”  And what is mutual about a man cutting a pig’s throat?

To support the bargain theory, he gives dogs as an example of successful domestication, ignoring that we do not eat them.  He suggests that chicken preferences “revolve around not getting one’s head bitten off by a weasel” [p.321].  Yes, they want to save their necks for the knife in the upside down cone, that is definitely their preference.  Pollan acknowledges his illogic in the next paragraph (then why did you say it, Mr. Pollan?), but continues to refer to chickens “entering into a relationship,” as though it were an even-handed, fairly-negotiated contract, and not a perfect example of a self-serving abuse of power, with a very hidden clause at the end.

He takes moral credit for how farmers are able to keep farm animals alive longer than if they were in the wild.  Human babies wouldn’t last long in the wild either – these young animals have had the ability to survive in the wild bred out of them – domestic turkeys and “broiler” chickens can barely walk due to enlarged breasts from genetic tinkering.  We can’t breed these freakish animals for our own purposes, causing them much suffering right from within their own bodies, and then pat ourselves on the back for keeping them safe from starvation and other predators, all in our own interest.  The more natural a breed is, the more likely it could survive in the wild – its ancestors did.  For instance, all domestic chickens are descended from a breed of forest-dwelling birds in Vietnam that did quite well without our “bargain.”

Another point on the “eat them to save them” logic.  I want to make it clear that I am perfectly happy for the breeds we have developed for our own use to become extinct.  And if that bothers someone, then spend your money to save them, but why eat them?  We have the will to help pandas and elephants without eating them.  How altruistic is our drive to save the many breeds of chicken, and how much of that argument is really all about the barbeque?

Next Pollan brings up the uneasy feelings that vegetarians have towards wild carnivores and omnivores.  Like Pollan, I can’t agree that these animals are somehow wrong, morally degraded.  Skinner said animals were amoral (not moral or immoral), and that works for me.  It seems to me that the people Pollan quotes here, having accepted that animal suffering is worth considering and acting on, now struggle with their expanded compassion in witnessing suffering caused by others.  I must admit, when I see my cat toying with a mouse, I feel empathy for the pain the mouse is feeling, and I’m not sure what to do.  Of course my cat isn’t morally degraded, but the suffering is as real as if he were.  But how I feel about a dying mouse does not invalidate my decision to stop paying someone to kill animals so that I can have a baloney sandwich (whatever animal that is).  The fact that some animal philosophers may have gone too far in their condemnation of “nature’s evil” is irrelevant to the argument against our eating animals.

Pollan then goes into an argument about hunting which wants to compare hunting bison in the wild with hunting chickens in the coop.  I’m not going to get into anti-hunting here.  I’m opposed to it, but the arguments are more subtle and I don’t typically spend my time for the relatively few animals involved.  But again here as before, he talks about killing them to save them: “the surest way to achieve extinction of [chickens] would be to grant [them] a right to life” [p.322].  By chickens he means to say domestic breeds – the whole species would not be wiped out since they live in the wild.  As I mentioned, I am fine with domestic breeds, invented to serve our purposes, dying out.  While Pollan doesn’t say this, some anti-animal rights writers would have you believe that not eating chickens means that 9 billion birds would be left to starve.  While it is true that when milk prices fell due to the economy, many dairy cows were sent to slaughter early, it’s also true that broiler chickens live six weeks.  Six weeks.  If everyone stops eating chickens all at once, an unlikely occurrence to say the least, one generation of chickens would die a few weeks early, and then no more ever again.  I would mourn those last ones to suffer and then dance in the streets.

But I think this whole few pages is still about the idea that some vegetarians (and he hasn’t been quoting Singer here) are opposed to animals killing animals.  Hunting, whether by people or other animals, keeps prey animals, as a group, healthy.  Sometimes – animals generally do it right and humans generally do it wrong, for example by killing the largest, healthiest bucks, or by killing other predators.  But what does that have to do with hog farms or the steak he ate at that restaurant?  He talks for a few more pages about invasive species such as pigs causing damage and how killing them has upset animal rights groups.  Again, I don’t see how animal rights groups’ opinions on non-farmed animal issues affects the morals of eating meat.  This book is about what to eat and the chapter is titled “The Ethics of Eating Animals.”  Is anyone planning on eating the golden eagles he mentions?  All of this seems irrelevant.  I think he’s trying to bolster his eat them to save them argument, saying in effect: just as people are upset by the violent images of the very real suffering of individual feral pigs being killed, where the population of Pigs with a capital letter needs to be removed, therefore we need to kill individual chickens to save Chicken, even if the actual killing is troubling to us.

He concludes that this whole mess means that human morality does not fit onto nature very well.  Yes!  That’s what amoral means!  But I think his suggestion goes farther, that human behavior towards animals is to be governed by a different morality than that between people.   That is, we should define right and wrong actions towards humans differently than towards other animals.  To a limited degree, this is fair.  It is a right action to prevent wombats from voting.  In the first section, Pollan understands Singer’s argument that while it would be inappropriate and ridiculous for animals to have the same exact rights as humans (think of going to school, for instance), they should have the right of consideration, taking their needs and wants into account.  But another way of thinking about it is to just ask, why?  Why does human morality have to be different towards other animals than within our own species?  There most definitely are other ways of dealing with the feral pig problem (which we caused) than slaughtering them all; it’s just that slaughtering them is the cheapest and easiest way – we lack, not the means to be kind, but the will.  I could list options I haven’t thought out very well (such as contraception, relocation, or acceptance that our mistakes in causing the problem were not reversible without morally unacceptable intervention and that feral pigs and their consequences are the new reality) and someone else could counter with how impractical they are, but the fact remains that if these were feral humans causing a problem, we would not be slaughtering them.  We would find another way to fix or accept the mess we had made.  My point being that there is an alternative.  Call me idealistic to say that no problem from ants in the house to golden eagles invading an island justifies violence – what I’m really saying is that we don’t get a free pass on it.  When we say violence is OK in this case, something important is lost.  In Pollan’s case it’s caused him to conclude that if violence is sometimes justified, say, when there’s a big habitat problem, then it is justified when we’re merely peckish, too.

While he skirts the issue, Pollan doesn’t seem to get into a discussion of whether humans are wholly part of nature or apart from it in some way, which may explain some of the confusion here.

The next section, “The Vegan Utopia,” doesn’t start out well.  He seems to think that vegans are under the impression that they waltz through life harming no animals.  In 1979 the Vegan Society wrote a definition of veganism, popular among vegans today, which reads in part, it “denotes a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude—as far as is possible and practical—all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.”  They left out “perfect” and “never,” instead using words such as “seeks” and “possible.”  It’s a humble definition, not of superiority or “utopia,” but of trying to do the best we can.  So much for Pollan’s putting us down for field mice killed by farm combines harvesting tofu.  And Pollan is absolutely wrong when he says more animals would die due to increased cultivation of row crops.  He ignores the vast majority of crops that go to feeding animals – those crops could feed many more people if the crops were consumed directly rather than being inefficiently processed through the gut of a cow.  And how about the free animals deliberately killed because they “endanger” or compete with farmed animals, for instance the Yellowstone bison conflict?

Connecticut Corn Field

He goes on to say not all climates can support veganism.  Many places can only grow grass (but why he suggests New England as an example, which is fertile and covered with row crops, is beyond me).  It is true that there are places in the world where people live that carrots will not grow.  But Americans do not generally live in those parts of the world, and yet we eat more meat per capita than any other country except Uruguay.  There are places in the United States where crops won’t grow without irrigation or where people rely on transport to bring them a variety of fruits and vegetables (I’m thinking of Arizona, for instance), but they are already doing these things in order to have a balanced diet in a hostile environment.  When you pit the benefits of eating local or reducing water waste against all the negative environmental effects of meat and milk, veganism wins hands down.  In any case, whether someone in Siberia can grow oranges or not has no bearing on whether or not veganism is a good idea where it can be done practically, which it is where most humans live.

“To give up eating animals is to give up on these places as human habitat…” [p. 326].  I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt that he is not making this dire warning about New England, which he makes sound like the tundra, and instead assume he is thinking of deserts in Africa, for instance.  I’m definitely not going to sit here in the Northeast and dictate how people in Africa should eat, especially if they are having difficulty getting enough.  To set up the choice as though we can either eat animals or force other people to move or buy food they can’t afford to protect our own “moral tenderness,” as he suggests, is insulting to vegetarians and the hungry alike.   How about going back to look at the vegan definition above: “as far as is possible.”  In the abundance of America we don’t need to eat any meat at all.  It’s 100% optional.  Whether they have to eat meat in marginal areas, I am really not an expert, but if they have to eat it, I am not going to blame them any more than I vilify our ancestors who survived on hunting and gathering.

Pollan tracks down Singer and asks him about “humane farms,” and Singer says something I disagree with: “I agree with you [Pollan] that it is better for these animals to have lived and died than not to have lived at all.”  This argument is often made against vegetarians, and I am surprised Singer would say this.  The arguer typically concludes then that these farms are good for the animals, that we’re doing a moral thing by supporting them, kind of like adopting a puppy.  My counter argument is that, if those farms are good for the animals, if the chance to live on them is “better than not to live at all,” then we should have more of them.  Hatch a few more eggs, how can we deny the unborn the right to live, or why not double the number of farms, triple them, what would be the upper limit?  I don’t mean just replace factory farms with them, I mean more animals than that, way beyond the 10 billion we kill every year in America.  As Singer says, it will be better for any animal we provide care for to have lived, so let’s keep going, 20 billion, why not?  Or does it turn out that the number of animals we should provide a happy home for is exactly the number of animals that we would like to eat?  Hmm, when it’s exclusively our own desires that determine the number of animals we “help,” the altruism we claim begins to smell funky.  It is clearly better for animals to live on a traditional farm than a factory farm.  But those are not our only options.  How about this option?  Close down livestock operations, protect habitat, monitor wild populations for problems, but otherwise leave them alone.  When we think we’re doing the universe a favor by meddling in their lives, breeding them to suit ourselves and killing them when we feel like tasting them, we are fooling ourselves.

Unfortunately, Singer’s statement leads Pollan to conclude that Singer has made a concession: “What’s wrong with eating animals is the practice, not the principle.”  He takes this and runs on with it to say that people who care about animals should therefore abandon animal rights and focus on animal welfare instead.

Pollan next claims that even Jeremy Bentham, father of veganism, ate meat with a “happy life and merciful death.”  Pollan declares Bentham was a carnivore, and while I certainly hope Pollan is exaggerating and that Bentham was actually an omnivore, again, what individual vegans have done or believe is no more proof of veganism’s failure than the PTL network was proof there’s no God.  Bentham’s eating habits are not a logical argument.

Next Singer is again, as in his disabled orphan baby argument, said by Pollan to be pro-hunting: “[Singer:] ‘Why… is the hunter who shoots a deer for venison subject to more criticism than the person who buys a ham at the supermarket?'” [p.328].  Singer’s words say to me that if you don’t like the idea of hunting, supermarket meat is worse.  He’s not telling people to go out and hunt.  Don’t do either.  Pollan ends this section with an insult based on this misunderstanding, that “these utilitarians can also justify killing retarded orphans.  Killing just isn’t the problem that it is for other people, including me.”  Says the man eating a steak.

The last section is called “A Clean Kill.”  To his credit, Pollan expresses his concern that outsiders, including himself, are not allowed to see what happens on the kill floor of a slaughterhouse.  The designer, Temple Grandin, describes it to him, but Pollan is still not sure, and thinks it’s a good argument for the open-air slaughter of a traditional farm.  I’m going to take exception to a statement he makes about the option of watching slaughter at a farm like this.  “Few will take up such an offer,… but the very option of looking…is probably the best way to ensure that animals are killed in a manner we can abide” [p.331].  It’s that last word that bothers me.  In what way are we abiding the slaughter if we don’t take up that option, if we can’t even look at it?  If we can’t stand the distress of simply watching it, how can we say we are OK with it?  This is not the simple squeamishness of watching eye surgery, which we are probably glad exists but prefer not to watch.  I don’t think it’s slaughter’s blood or body parts that would particularly bother people.  After all, the body parts are the whole point of this exercise, aren’t they?  People happily drop them in their shopping carts and drool over them once they’re on the barbeque.  No, I would suggest that it is the distress of the killing that people would rather not see, the moment when the chicken, struggling for her life, loses the lop-sided battle.

Pollan makes a very interesting point next about how humans through history have tried to deal with the distress of killing other animals, mostly through rituals, rituals “that allowed them to look, and then to eat” [p.331].  He says our culture has lost these rituals, leaving us with the feeling we have only the choice to look away, or to give up meat.  Pollan suggests we should go back to looking, and different people will have different reactions.  He thinks the next right we need is not animal rights but the right to look, glass walls on slaughterhouses.  Many would become vegetarian, but many would switch to more humane farms.

It doesn’t seem to have occurred to Pollan that these rituals were an attempt by good people to justify doing something that they were otherwise deeply troubled by.  The answer isn’t to return to them, it’s to look under them, to see that the act of violence itself is so damaging to us that we have to come up with a way to deal with it, either by justification or through a deadening ritual, pretending the ridiculous: that the animal is participating, agreeing to die.  I would suggest that instead of just moving to better slaughterhouses, we look inside ourselves to see if all this violence is worth what it does to us, whether we’re facing it, with the slaughtering knife, or turning away, with the table knife.

In a chapter with many silly statements, he sums up with a doozy: After people begin to look and decide to buy more humane meat, “Yes, meat would get more expensive.  We’d probably eat a lot less of it, too, but maybe when we did eat animals we’d eat them with the consciousness, ceremony, and respect they deserve” [p.333].  Animals don’t even deserve to be allowed to live, but they deserve ceremony?  It strikes me that, unlike the life they supposedly don’t deserve, all three of these things share the convenience that they do not interfere with our desire to eat them.  Ceremony is cheap, and spare me the tender respect of a dinner platter.

Michael Pollan is a great writer and thinker.  Just think what he could do if he could get the meat-monkey off his back.

2 Responses to “The Omnivore’s Dilemma”

  1. Great post, and I have to admit that like you I also have enjoyed some of Pollan’s writing but avoided The Omnivore’s Dilemma. And, though I appreciate the awareness that Singer’s work has raised I do not agree with him on all points.

    “the practical problem with the philosopher’s argument from marginal cases: It can be used to help the animals, but just as often it ends up hurting the marginal cases.”

    As soon as any philosophy becomes an argument to be won or lost it loses universality. This is something we must recognize and accept as vegans. We will always encounter resistance if we attempt to change others’ morals, because that implies others’ morals are wrong. Instead of arguing, we need to attract others. Positivity and benefits will win more hearts and heads than confrontation. Flavors, health, and environment will win more hearts and heads than explosive moral judgements.

    “Our society has let go of lots of traditions: slavery and subjugation of women come to mind. Clinging to traditions as though they justify otherwise unjustifiable behavior is not the way to become better people.”

    Absolutely right. Chaining ourselves to the past is not the way to make progress, or even the way to stay current. The world is changing, and we need to evolve in order to survive.

    “In Pollan’s fourth section, “Animal Suffering,” he explores animal pain. He says it seems certain that they feel it, but that it seems reasonable that they don’t feel it as much [p.316]. He feels this difference is due largely to language and imagination, and suggests that pain becomes suffering when we add the “distinctly human emotions” of regret, self-pity, shame, humiliation, and dread.”

    Using that logic, parasitic wasps must feel perfectly justified in stinging humans. They must believe that because humans don’t express distinctly parasitic wasp emotions or speak the parasitic wasp language that humans likely have a significantly reduced capacity for pain. Parasitic wasps are surely then justified in performing painful experiments on us, or in slaughtering us for their pleasure.

    “If humane farms that end in death are OK, then would Pollan say that the big problem with the Holocaust is that those 6 million people were poorly treated before they were executed?”

    Excellent point!

    “Another point on the “eat them to save them” logic. I want to make it clear that I am perfectly happy for the breeds we have developed for our own use to become extinct.”


    “Skinner said animals were amoral (not moral or immoral), and that works for me.”

    Me too. I wonder sometimes about the human animal’s capacity for amorality; some humans can be so emotionally detached and distant that their morality can be bought and sold, while others’ morality can be controlled by someone they see on television.

    “Close down livestock operations, protect habitat, monitor wild populations for problems, but otherwise leave them alone.”

    Agreed 100%. Great post!

  2. […] King continues, “They argued that his inferior…position was good for him.”  King is referring to rationalizing segregation due to believing black people would not succeed if they set their sights too high, but we could just as well apply it to animals when we rationalize that animals won’t survive in big, bad nature, and so we must protect them by exploiting them on farms – it’s good for them! – this argument is taken directly from Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma. […]

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