Thursday, September 30, 2010

Meat and Reasons

After rattling off several practical-consequentialist reasons against vegetarianism, Paul Sagar reels off some more reasons to stop worrying and eat some meat:
For people like me, the “clean hands”/“not in my name”/“I don’t want to be a beneficiary of nasty processes” type thoughts simply don’t have decisive motivational purchase. Other thoughts carry more weight. Like knowing that life as a vegetarian is considerably more difficult than one as an omnivore [Reason A]. Or believing that being the beneficiary of a process which would go on regardless of whether or not one abstained is no particularly bad thing [Reason B]. Or even just liking the taste of meat more than worrying (with somewhat pointless futility) about how it arrived on one’s plate [Reason C].

Accordingly, because I don’t feel that my personal integrity is compromised by meat-consumption, there’s simply no reason that I should give it up. Indeed, because my giving-up meat would have no consequences for any animals’ lives, even if I think killing animals (or making them suffer) is wrong, it doesn’t follow that I must go vegetarian.
It's difficult to determine what Sagar means by "integrity" in light of reasons he goes on to give.

Reason A is flatly false and weirdly misplaced. In the developed world, it is not difficult to keep a vegetarian diet. It can be inconvenient now and then, but it rarely rises even to that. Moreover, ease is not the same as right, nor is difficult the same as wrong.

As to Reason B, the belief that meat-eating will continue no matter what individuals do, this is only an educated guess about a future state of affairs, not a moral argument for or against anything. If Sagar looked ahead and saw a world of ten billion vegetarians, or ten billion newly-discovered planets peopled with ten billion vegetarians apiece, that too would say nothing about the right-or-wrong status of eating meat.

Reason C is just a straightforward concession that the enjoyment of meat matters more than the moral reasons offered against it, and here we arrive at what he means by "integrity" (or so I gather): he means only to say that the suffering of animals behind the production of meat does not bother him, or if it does, it's not enough to affect how he acts. He is not ambivalent about it, and whatever else is true, this strikes me as an honest stance.

In the spirit of honesty, I will admit that animal suffering doesn't trouble me very much either -- I can list off several morality-inflected concerns that reliably keep me awake at night, and the happenings at the nearest factory farm are not frequent visitors to the list. That said, I do care about it -- I do think the pain that farm animals feel is comparable with the pain I know, and that their experience of it more or less matches my experience of it -- and these concerns help to keep me vegetarian. I also keep to this diet for the benefit of my health.

Less concretely but perhaps more importantly, I practice it as a form of observance -- meat and the system by which we attain it is an unnecessary ugliness in the world, one among far too many, and I find value in consciously abstaining from it, whatever its attractions. That's integrity for me.

(via Normblog)

1 comment:

Laura said...

Well, animal suffering troubles me quite a lot and that's enough to keep me from eating them. It's one small effort I can make, and the benefits to me and to the planet (and of course, to the animal) have been written about extensively, making it that much more palatable.