Saturday, July 30, 2011

Guest Blog: On Politically Correct Meat

I think your blog on politically (and morally) correct meat is excellent and important.

It is good that scientific advance can in this instance contribute decisively to what in my view would be a politically and morally superior world while making a sound contribution to environmental preservation.

To Bentham goes the credit for first clearly coupling moral philosophy with the issue of causing pain to sentient beings. (Of course, this was the dominant view in Asian Indian civilization a thousand years before Bentham.) Bentham correctly found the crux to be in sentience, not just conscious awareness. (Tom is more convinced than I am that the lower animals are "conscious" of pain. It seems that the science is not decisive here, though it would be better to be in intellectual error than to induce horrible pain in other sentient beings. Cf. the research recently done in Ireland on the question of pain of lobsters in being boiled alive in addition to the late David Foster Wallace's famous essay on lobster pain. Lobster's do not have a developed brain with pre-frontal lobes and their spinal cord seems rudimentary. However,they are equipped with an inordinate number of tiny sensory organs over much of their bodies. These may help them in navigation and grasping and the like. But these organs could also involve a kind of pain-pleasure sensing mechanism on the avoidance-attraction model of behavior. Thus, there could be pain virtually throughout the body of the lobster, whatever may be the case in regard to crabs or crayfish or Japanese DOJO [a kind of river eel]) when being boiled alive).

What is of great importance, however, would be the overwhelming long-term environmental consequences of using "cultured meat." Given the incremental nature of greenhouse emissions and even more their consequences over time, even benefits on the scale projected by scientists in this instance would be highly significant.

There would be a cultural loss, however. "Food is culture," and the way we dine, notably with meat dishes, is so intertwined with much of high culture and even everyday life throughout the world (cf., e.g., the constant "noshing" of Thais on the street, e.g.) that the world would become less colorful and more interesting in spite of being more politically and morally correct and with a concomitant contribution to the restoration of the environment. But then head-hunting was out of favor with the British in Borneo and the Americans in the Philippines until the time came for the invasion of Borneo by Australian troops and guerrilla warfare in the Philippines so long as the heads gathered were Japanese. Cats and some bears are still boiled alive in some cuisines, as were mules in other cuisines, and this is certainly culturally unique. Yet, we condemn this nowadays, just as most of us look askance at head hunting (even though an environmental case for cannibalism has been on the agenda set forth by some radical environmentalists of advocates of "deep ecology." See This essays is by the late Australian philosopher and logician Richard Routley (later Richard Slyvan).

In conclusion, in his plea for animals, Bentham referred to efforts to mitigate the treatment of blacks in the West Indies. He was also committed to reforming the criminal law and brought the attention of the learned world to important theoretical work with practical applications being done in Italy and France in this regard. Some of his ideas concerning prison construction seem nowadays far from humane (cf. Foucault on Bentham), but partly even more so in the light of the treatment of Islamic prisoners and Private Manning by organs of the American government in more recent times. Bentham is right, however, the way we treat humans is willy-nilly intimately and intricately intercalated with how we treat animals.

Jack Clontz in the Big Mango

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