“Do you ever think it’s a bit cruel? Using them for food I mean.” Said one diner to the other as his steak arrived.  “I hear they’re quite intelligent really.”

“Humans? Intelligent?” The other scoffed. “They can’t even perceive four-dimensional space-time; they’re barely conscious. Besides, I couldn’t live without human-bacon!”

"Dibs on the rump!"

                                                        

One of the things that people tend to say when justifying their eating meat (if they’re talking to a vegetarian, say) is: ‘it’s ok to eat animals because they are less intelligent than us.’ That is, we don’t think that they are self-aware enough to qualify as persons, so it’s ok to breed them for food, so long as we don’t subject them to needless pain whilst their alive and give them a good life. There are two things to consider here: i) whether something being of a lesser intelligence than you gives you some sort of lordship over that animal; and ii) whether breeding an animal for the sole purpose of eating it is validated by giving that animal a good life.

First then, does an animals being less intelligent than us give us a right to kill them for food? (Bear in mind that I’m talking about ethically, given that we live in an age when we could easily get by without eating animals; it being natural for animals to eat other animals isn’t particularly relevant here) Presumably in the example above we want to say that it’s not ok for the aliens to harvest us, even though their intelligence and perception of reality might far surpass our own. Perhaps we want to say that we meet a certain level of intelligence: we are self aware, have a complex language and understanding of the world. The problem is, where do you set that bar? and what right do we have to set it? Could we give an argument for setting the bar high enough to allow our eating all manner of farm animals that the aliens in the saga above couldn’t give to raise the bar over and above our heads?

Second, does giving an animal a good life justify our having bred it for food? If the human race were enslaved and bred for food; fattened up and let out to pasture for most of our short lives (we’d be slaughtered young to avoid going tough); would we consider that a ‘good life?’ It certainly doesn’t sound like a good life. So why claim that animals raised for slaughter have a good life?

That’s not to say that you should all become vegetarians, I’m not trying to be preachy (I’m a meat eater myself). But perhaps we ought to be thinking about this sort of thing a lot harder; instead of ignoring it and saying ‘I just couldn’t live without bacon’ maybe we should really consider the ethical implications of the meat industry and decide whether its something we ought to play a part in.

That’s all for today, enjoy your Saturday evening!

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