Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Legalize Animal Cruelty

We should legalize dogfighting. While we’re at it, we should also legalize bestiality and cockfighting, and repeal the Animal Welfare Act of 1966.

Our laws suffer from a serious inconsistency. On one hand, there are stringent prohibitions against wantonly torturing an animal: state and federal law make citizens liable for imprisonment for animal cruelty. Illinois has penalties on the books against owners who leave their dogs in hot cars or who euthanize them without a veteranarian's help. Several cities in California have made it illegal to declaw a cat.

Meanwhile, it's okay to slit a cow's throat in order to roast it and eat its flesh.

This is probably worse than Monica Lewinsky.
Why is this? I can see no moral difference between abusing a dog for sport and killing a cow for food. But let's look at the obvious candidates for a distinction:

  • "It's wrong to imposes pointless suffering on animals." Animal cruelty is certainly not pointless if it gives pleasure to the people who practice it. And dogfighters certainly get plenty of pleasure out of dogfighting; that's why they do it. It's unclear why eating meat is not just another form of this pleasure.
  • "The meat industry isn't cruel to animals." Not true. But even if it were—even if every cow and pig were raised and slaughtered comfortably and painlessly—isn't it cruel per se to kill a sentient animal against its will? That seems to be the logic behind prohibiting unsanctioned euthanasia of pets. We might say that this kind of cruelty is largely acceptable. (I, despite being a vegetarian, think it is.) But that's just as much an argument for permitting dogfighting as it is for permitting animal slaughter.
  • "Dogfighting is bad for dogfighters. It satisfies no legitimate preference and corrodes their moral integrity." I think that unless we can find a morally absolute reason for prohibiting dogfighting and other forms of cruelty, we won't get very far with virtue ethics. In any case, most people (though not me) would argue that individual virtue is out of bounds for the state's regulation.

In the absence of a distinction in morality, it's unjustifiable to make a distinction in the law. We should not treat people who torture and kill animals for food any differently than people who torture and kill them for sexual pleasure or sport. It's okay to be squeamish about animal cruelty, but squeamishness isn't enough to justify a statute. We should either permit both meat and animal cruelty or prohibit both of them.

(I do make an exception for arguments from Biblical law. I'm sympathetic to the Biblical law that restricts animal cruelty while permitting certain kinds of slaughter. But if you don't think that the moral categories of the Bible as valid without external justification, you need to found your own moral categories on reason. And I don't think there's a reasonable moral distinction between slaughter and wanton cruelty.)

I'm not arguing for prohibiting meat. I am arguing for abolishing a double standard that punishes individual citizens for acts that are no morally different from what large slaughterhouses do on a massive scale.


Harrison said...

You raise an interesting point about the double standard between the treatment of pets and animals bred for food.

I, for one, am a huge supporter of sustainable free-range farming practices, however economically infeasible they are and I do not eat veal. This is because I accept both that an animal has a right to a decent life and that I am biologically created to eat both plants and animals.

My problem with your argument lies in its extremity. I'm sure there is a reasonable way to reach a mutual agreement between both parties if the discussion lasts long enough. The finality of your statements, however, does not foster a conversation. Therefore, I ask that you reconsider the absolutism you are portraying, in an effort to reconcile the multiple perspectives at play here.


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

In response to 'appeal to nature':

"In the hierarchy of beings, the more self-guided and independent an entity is, the higher ontological rank it commands."

In response to 'appeal to moderation':

I never defined the exact middle as the answer, nor did I rule out either extreme. I asked that you reconsider the finality of your argument.

In particular, I do not believe you are appropriately accounting for the perspective of social good defined by the natural law of 'do good, avoid evil' intrinsic in every human. "Wealth acquisition and profit-making are rendered legitimate through their wider social purposes alone." This principle indicates the meat industry exists due to its greater social purpose that causes acceptance of its transgressions.

Dog fighting is an avoidable harm and thus evil, cockfighting is an avoidable harm and thus evil. To act in the interest of evil is not a moral act regardless of one's culture, and should be condemned.

You might argue that it is theoretically possible for all humans to be vegetarian and thus the meat industry is an avoidable harm and evil, but I would disagree on a practical level considering the levels of hunger that still exist in this country let alone the developing world.

I would agree that if we can substitute the meat industry with more sustainable products that it should be abolished (like corn subsidies), but I'll add one more time:

"In the hierarchy of beings, the more self-guided and independent an entity is, the higher ontological rank it commands."

So, due to the subjective nature of humans and the abundance of local moralities governed by really only one universal principle, I think there is a careful, considered, method to draft the laws as opposed to a simple one, as you suggest.

Anonymous said...



I reject your absolutism.