14 February 2005


Many readers will not like my saying this, but there is more rationalization about meat-eating than about any other topic. I say that without the slightest exaggeration. I believe meat-eating violates most people’s moral principles, but they conspire in various ways to keep this uncomfortable fact from themselves. Why? Because they enjoy the taste of meat. That fact—taste—drives everything.

If animals matter at all, morally speaking, they win. Think about it. If animal suffering has any weight on the moral scale (i.e., if it weighs more than nothing), it outweighs your taste preferences. To hide this ugly fact, people pretend that animal suffering has no moral weight. Some people, such as RenĂ© Descartes, have gone further and denied that animals are capable of suffering. Descartes said that animals are elaborately constructed (by God) robots: bĂȘtes machines. But you don’t think that. You know that cows and pigs are subjected to horrible suffering to produce the flesh you so happily consume. Why does this suffering not matter to you? Do you live with a dog or a cat? Does your dog’s or cat’s suffering matter, morally? Why should one animal’s suffering matter morally but not another’s? Isn’t that like saying that white suffering counts for more than black suffering? The fact that you’re not inclined to eat your dog or cat, but are inclined to eat cows and pigs, doesn’t show that the suffering of cows and pigs doesn’t matter. It shows that you’re putting your own trivial interests ahead of their basic interests.

Don’t rail out at me. Don’t displace blame for your actions. Take responsibility for your actions. Live up to your moral principles, one of which, I assume, is that it’s wrong to inflict suffering on others. This means that unless there is a good moral reason to inflict suffering, it’s wrong to do so. Your taste preferences are not moral considerations. Saying that they are, or thinking that they are, is a rationalization. And even if your taste preferences have some moral weight, it is easily outweighed by animal suffering. To see this, suppose you had a taste for human flesh. How much human suffering would that justify?

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