Archive for January, 2007

Far Out

Angela Phillips in the Guardian thinks that radically Islamic British youths are “Rebels with a Cause”; and that, just like the hippy movement of yore, they’re understandably rebelling against the evils and discontents of western consumerism. They’ve probably been failed by society. Maybe they’re alienated and disaffected. Perhaps some of them are even sassy. All they want is peace, love, cooperation, understanding, tolerance, flowers, babies named “moonbeam”, egalitarianism, the death penalty for apostates and homosexuals, censorship, theocracy, flogging, spousal abuse, beheading, stoning, the severing of hands and so on and so on. It’s nothing to worry about. It’s all just budding exuberance and well-intentioned political idealism. Like the fucking Hitler Youth.

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Special P

The BBC have a section on animal ethics in the rather strangely juxtaposed “Religion & Ethics” part of their site. It’s a relatively unsophisticated summary of the issue with short lists of pro and contra arguments of some of the basic points. Here’s the part on self-awareness as a basis for moral status:

There is a serious difficulty with using self-awareness and the preference to stay alive as criteria for full moral status.

Young babies, people in comas, people with certain types of brain defect do not show these characteristics. And this means that these ‘marginal’ human beings deserve less moral consideration than other human beings, and even than some non-human animals.

Most people would regard this as a totally immoral idea, and would want to reject the theory that leads to this conclusion.

So far so so, but then, seemingly out of the blue, they break with the “even-handed” approach:

The easy way to solve the problem is to cheat and put human beings in an even higher moral category, and simply state that even human beings who aren’t self-aware and have no preference to go on living should be regarded as deserving full moral consideration.

This is speciesism, which, despite much criticism, is a perfectly coherent moral position to take.

Is it now? It seems odd to describe it as “cheating” in that case. Making moral distinctions on purely biological or otherwise morally irrelevant grounds seems rather arbitrary and just a touch unfair. That’s the reason why things like sexism and racism are generally considered “not on” these days. But where this issue is concerned, apparently, it’s a fine-and-dandy thing to do. That looks a little bit like special pleading if you ask me.

Spanish Foie Gras

From “The Holy Grail of Foie Gras” on the BBC:

It is the foodstuff that leaves the table divided. On one side, those who consider the fatty goose liver the ultimate delicacy.

And opposite, those whose plates are pushed aside as their thoughts turn to the practice of gavage – force-feeding geese and ducks until their liver swells to many times its normal size.

Spanish company Pateria de Sousa, in Badajoz province, is seen as more ethical because it makes its foie gras by slaughtering the birds at a time when they have naturally eaten more to create reserves for what would have been migration.

Well, that would be the lesser of some evils I suppose. But then, some of this sadly predictable stuff:

Culinary purists however say that without the force feeding, it is not foie gras. High-fat livers have been available before, but do not stand apart in taste terms and, in modern times, have not been accepted as the real thing.

I’m not really sure I understand that. Are these “purists” saying that without the force-feeding, without the cruelty, whatever this fatty-liver stuff is, it’s not “authentic”, it’s not foie gras and as a result they’ll spurn it? Do they consider the fact that foie gras production involves this abusive practise to be, in itself, one of its constitutive and alluring qualities? If that is it then that’s depressing, terribly confused and perhaps rather sick, but this is the really odd part:

[Food writer Josephine Bacon] maintains that worrying about foie gras production on a small scale is a false concern compared with intensive farming. Gavage, she maintains, is “perfectly natural”.

Ignoring, for a moment, the fact that whether it’s natural or not is entirely beside the point, just what could possibly be considered natural about force-feeding geese?

“They enjoy it, they don’t mind, they love being petted and cuddled while its being done.”

Yeah. I bet.

Vegetarian is the New Prius

I’ve long suspected, given the nature of the ethical arguments for going vegetarian, that environmental ones are, practically speaking, akin to the prophylactic I carry around with me in my wallet; that is: almost certainly superfluous. But it’s always reassuring to know you’ve got something to fall back on if needs be. Here’s “Vegetarian is the New Prius” by Kathy Freston in The Huffington Post.

Last month, the United Nations published a report on livestock and the environment with a stunning conclusion: “The livestock sector emerges as one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global.” It turns out that raising animals for food is a primary cause of land degradation, air pollution, water shortage, water pollution, loss of biodiversity, and not least of all, global warming.

PS: Happy New Year!