Archive for June 2nd, 2010
Today I had the opportunity to discuss the meaning of life with St. Louis Activist Adam Shriver.
Adam mentioned that, a few months ago, he was invited to write an op-ed for the New York Times. The topic he examined was what we can do about the 100 pounds of meat the average American insists on eating every year. This situation raises moral red flags for many of us because it is rather clear that confined animals suffer painful bone and joint diseases. In his article, which he titled “Not Grass-Fed, but at Least Pain-Free,” Adam noted that mammals have two parallel pathways relating to pain:
[A] sensory pathway that registers its location, quality (sharp, dull or burning, for example) and intensity, and a so-called affective pathway that senses the pain’s unpleasantness. This second pathway appears to be associated with activation of the brain’s anterior cingulate cortex, because people who have suffered damage to this part of the brain still feel pain but no longer find it unpleasant.
This neurological situation, combined with the ability to genetically design mammals that lack proteins necessary for the perception of the sharpness of pain, presents a potential solution (or, rather, it presents a fascinating thought experiment):
If we cannot avoid factory farms altogether, the least we can do is eliminate the unpleasantness of pain in the animals that must live and die on them. It would be far better than doing nothing at all.
Adam’s tongue in cheek solution, then would be to continue to abuse the animals but to relive ourselves of moral queasiness by genetically modifying the animals so that they won’t hurt.
Adam’s article reminded me that I’ve sometimes wondered what most vegetarians would think if we could grow meat in test tubes, meat that was never connected to any sort of brain. Imagine pounds and pounds of brainless meat coming out of big vats at a factory, the raw materials being mostly grass. Before you answer, consider that I raised this topic a few years ago over lunch. A woman in attendance was adamant that if we could develop veggie burgers that tasted as good as beef burgers, it would still be immoral for a committed vegetarian to enjoy that food. A buddy and I looked on perplexed as she ranted at length. She scowled and said, “If you created a meat substitute that had the shape and texture one would experience if eating a human baby, it would be immoral to eat it!”
Now I do think it’s creepy to contemplate eating anything resembling the texture and taste of human babies (I insist that I haven’t actually tried this delicacy), but in my book, eating something that is not a human baby is not anything like eating a human baby. And consider too all of the people who play violent video games. Is “killing” the image of an innocent person somewhat immoral, even just a bit? And what about a man who fantasizes about having sex with children, or even creates his own drawings of nude children to enhance his fantasies? Assume, further that he has never solicited a real-life child. Is he immoral? And imagine this: imagine that someone at work really pissed you off. Is it immoral, even a little bit, to imagine poisoning that person the next day at work? What if this sort of fantasy actually kept you calmer and actually prevented you from being fiercely tempted from carrying out the murder?
Maybe I’m just too much enamored with thick black lines, but I believe that for something to be immoral (or criminal), one must actually do the forbidden act rather than fantasizing about or simulating doing the forbidden act.
Now, back to the eating of abused animals who couldn’t feel pain. What if I could actually choose to buy such pain-free animal-meat at the grocery story? Wouldn’t it be more moral to eat the pain-free animals than the animals who ached with joint pain? It would seem so, even if it not perfectly morally commendable.
[Full disclosure: I am a somewhat guilt ridden non-vegetarian. Most of the meat I eat is chicken or turkey, though I do eat a hamburger every few weeks.]