Sunday, October 11, 2009

A simple question of ethics

I was astounded to see this article in the New York Times Magazine this weekend. (It's fantastic. You should go read the whole thing. Right now. I'll wait. Done? Good.) While the author is not my secret robot clone who snuck into my house and stole this article in its entirety from my computer, I got a chill reading a few paragraphs. While the phrasing may be slightly different, I swear I've tried to make these same simple assertions before.
A vegetarian diet can be rich and fully enjoyable, but I couldn’t honestly argue, as many vegetarians try to, that it is as rich as a diet that includes meat. (Those who eat chimpanzee look at the Western diet as sadly deficient of a great pleasure.) I love calamari, I love roasted chicken, I love a good steak. But I don’t love them without limit.

This isn’t animal experimentation, where you can imagine some proportionate good at the other end of the suffering. [Naturally, this is a point on which the author and I would disagree.] This is what we feel like eating. Yet taste, the crudest of our senses, has been exempted from the ethical rules that govern our other senses. Why? Why doesn’t a horny person have as strong a claim to raping an animal as a hungry one does to confining, killing and eating it? It’s easy to dismiss that question but hard to respond to it. Try to imagine any end other than taste for which it would be justifiable to do what we do to farmed animals. [Emphasis mine.]
I am typically accused of being "emotional" rather than "logical" when I point out that "because it tastes good" isn't a moral justification for behavior. And yet we all acknowledge that "because it feels good" is not an appropriate defense for assault, rape, consumption of child pornography, or stealing a cancer patient's pain meds to get high.

I probably love the taste of meat more than anyone else I know. I salivate when a Pizza Hut commercial comes on. Seriously. I do. I could spend hours fantasizing about a pepperoni pizza with a side of bacon covered in fried chicken skin. Oh. My. God. That sounds delicious. But my temporary sensory pleasure simply cannot justify the cost borne by another being. I don't think that I'm being emotional. On one hand I have "it tastes good" and on the other hand I have a industry of oppression and animals' lives and deaths of misery and terror.

In the last two years I've learned a lot more about suffering than I ever really wanted to. Chronic illness will do that to you. On the worst days, when I couldn't get out of bed, when I was afraid that I'd never be able to read again, when I thought that maybe all the neurological damage was permanent, when I thought that there was no hope and no cure and no way to ever live a productive life again...on those days I wondered if death would be the preferred option.

And yet, I know that my suffering is transitory. I have doctors and medications and people who care about me. The suffering of animals raised for food is broken only by the release of death. I have enough pain in my life. I have no desire to condemn others to hopelessness and despair. Not even if it tastes good.

No comments:

Post a Comment