Animal Rights

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New York Times film critic A.O. Scott calls Fast Food Nation "a movie as necessary and nourishing as your next meal." Health Facts and Fears Editor (and Reason contributor) Todd Seavey, by contrast, seems to consider it as dull and dispensable as your next rice cake:

The main charges against the food industry, if the film were to be taken very literally, seem to be that (1) there is fecal matter in hamburger (though little enough, it is implied, to be rendered harmless through cooking, a reasonable enough admission from what is meant to be a radical film…), (2) illegal immigrants do much of the hard manual labor involved in meat processing, (3) some of them get sexually harassed, and (4) fast food restaurants are boring and homogeneous anyway, like much of our clueless civilization….

Now, I know [director Richard] Linklater and [book author/screenwriter Eric] Schlosser have more sweeping objections to modern food production and industrial civilization, but the film almost seems to imply that if we just slowed down the cow-disassembly line of one particularly bad plant (and we do see the gory details, by the way) enough to ensure that we kept the feces out of the meat, everything would pretty much be OK, aside from the immigration, sex, and boredom issues, which aren't exactly problems exclusive to the food industry. But aesthetically, we're still left with the vague impression that things are too deeply awry for such an easy fix.

At a Hunter College screening of Fast Food Nation, Seavey not only sat through the icky slaughterhouse scenes but endured a panel discussion afterward. The least you can do is read his reaction.

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  1. I read the book not long after it came out, and I recall that it left me with a good feeling about the fast food industry. The author leaned toward legislative solutions, but pointed out that companies like McDonald’s changed their ways due to consumer pressures. Did I read it with too strong of an optimistic libertarian p.o.v.? Do I have to rummage through the basement to find and re-read it?

  2. “Linklater’s free to dream of a holistic transformation of the world in which everyone lives closer to nature and no two restaurants have the same interior decorator or plastic logo on the front — and maybe, just maybe, the people of the future will slaughter their cows in a subtly more humane fashion because of the efforts of Linklater and company, which is fine…”

    I’d say the issue of how animals are (and will be) treated on farms deserves more than this passing concession.

    So a question for Seavey (or anyone else, really) who is hostile to more regulation of food production: Absent a popular outcry or consumer demand for more ethically produced meat, do you think the government should step in and impose tougher standards on factory farms?

  3. I don’t know if there is any real concern about unethical meat production amongst libertarians. For my part, I do find that “organic” meat tends to taste better, if only because the livestock gets more exercise. This is especially true of turkey. As such types of food become more popular, it will vitiate the concerns for more ethical production. As for me, I could care less about how well the animals are treated. The animals are receiving just punishment. They are guilty, guilty of being delicious!

  4. So a question for Seavey (or anyone else, really) who is hostile to more regulation of food production: Absent a popular outcry or consumer demand for more ethically produced meat, do you think the government should step in and impose tougher standards on factory farms?

    Why should it? I mean, if there’s no popular outcry or consumer demand for “cruelty-free” slaughterhouses, then that would suggest it’s not a big issue for a solid majority of voters. Why should politicans stick their noses into issues that no one cares about (other than to fulfill their own Messianic dreams, of course)?

    Come to think of it, whose idea of “ethics” are we going to use here when it comes to killing animals? It’s a question of philosophy, not safety. The government shouldn’t be regulating the food industry in order to make vegitarians feel less guilty any more than it should be forcing them to produce Kosher foods to make Jews and Muslims feel better.

  5. Well obviously if you think animals don’t count for a damn, you don’t think anything should be done. But I think if you acknowledge that animals can feel pain and pain is bad, you should want to minimize their suffering. And I don’t see any reason libertarians should necessarily oppose conceding these things. As Robert Nozick said, “I should say that in my view the extra benefits Americans today can gain from eating animals do not justify doing it. So we shouldn’t.”

    I’m not sure what Nozick thought about government regulation of the meat industry, but clearly there are cases when the government needs to step in to defend interests that the market won’t necessarily represent. Adam Smith used the term effectual demand to talk about demand that came with the power to act. Everyone may want a Mercedes, but only people affluent enought to fork over the money are effectual demanders. When it comes to consideration of interests, I think something similar as at work. Animals, just as much as people, want to avoid unnecessary pain. But only people are effectual demanders; only they possess the currency (in this case, language, I suppose) to make their demands known and acted upon. And just as for Smith there were cases when the non-effectual demanders deserved consideration from the government (for example, education), I think this might be a case when non-effectual demanders deserve an intervention on behalf of their welfare.

  6. …there is fecal matter in hamburger (though little enough, it is implied, to be rendered harmless through cooking,…

    Interestingly enough it could also be rendered harmless by irradiation. Harmless enough, in fact, to be eaten raw.

    But the same folks who are exercised about fast food have also exploited the public’s irrational fears to keep irradiation from being approved.

  7. I’m not sure what Nozick thought about government regulation of the meat industry

    In a dream once, he told me he opposed it. He told me that even if you didn’t come to the same conclusions about animal rights as him, he still thought it would be wrong to use force to make you comply with his morality.

  8. Ashish, did you miss where I said that it may turn out to be a moot point owing to market preferences?

  9. Not to discount what happens in a slaughterhouse, BUT (and here is the part where I discount what happens in a slaughterhouse) short of falling over from old age, animals could only hope a slaughterhouse is where their carcasses get rendered. Mother nature is much worse. Death via bow and arrow or misplaced bullet can’t be too pretty either.

    I just finished inhaling a McD’s number 2 meal with a coke. Funny thing is I didn’t even taste the #2 in my #2. Must be the ketchup and onion. This does make me think though. Cruelt, Bah. Good health, Bah. There may be some shit in my burger, hmmmm.

  10. high number and Captain Holly,

    I’m going to have to agree with Ashish George. Not all “ethics” are created equally. If non-humans don’t deserve ethical consideration, even including the use of government force to prevent their undue suffering at the hands of humans, than logically any being not capable of verbally expressing its will should not deserve that consideration, including, obviously, retarded people, babies, Alzheimer’s patients, etc. The only way you could agree with the first part of my preposition and not the second is by some sort of unfalsifiable theological belief: that humans and only humans have “souls,” or something to that effect. It’s ok to believe that, but why should having a soul be the only criterium (and unprovable at that) for deserving government protection and not plain suffering, which is blatantly demostrable?

    Between the specisism and hyperconsumerism espoused by most libertarians (at least on this site), I’m almost kind of ashamed to be called one. Is there a term for non-asshole libertarians?

  11. Mother nature is much worse.

    Compared to be attacked and eaten by dogs, wolves or coyotes in the wild getting killed in a slaughterhouse is a mercy. I’ve seen the first in real life and the others in videos. Note that I did not say attacked and killed. For many animals, especially large ones, death from these predators death comes slowly and hideously.

    Even if they escape that death, for some animals death comes at the end of slow starvation after they have become too weak from age or injury or as the result of a long painful illness.

    Death via bow and arrow or misplaced bullet can’t be too pretty either.

    With proper shot placement by either method death is swift if not instant. Most hunters feel really badly if they wound game and are unable to recover it. This comes from both a concern with waste and a desire to cause no unnecessary suffering.

    As for archery, advances like the compound bow and razor sharp broadheads have eliminated most of the complaints I heard about bow hunters nearly forty years ago .

  12. “Compared to be attacked and eaten by dogs, wolves or coyotes in the wild getting killed in a slaughterhouse is a mercy. I’ve seen the first in real life and the others in videos. Note that I did not say attacked and killed. For many animals, especially large ones, death from these predators death comes slowly and hideously.

    Even if they escape that death, for some animals death comes at the end of slow starvation after they have become too weak from age or injury or as the result of a long painful illness.”

    Sorry, I call bullshit. You are only looking at the deaths, not the lives of these animals. These animals live in cramped, unsanitary conditions as long as they are on this earth, and as for their deaths, well…

    http://www.goveg.com/factoryFarming.asp

    Meanwhile, even the animals who die savage deaths in the wild have a chance to live in the open air, procreate, raise young, etc. until they meet their ends. “Some” animals may die slow, agonizing deaths of starvation, but many others lead fulfilling lives and die relatively painlessly.

  13. “many others lead fulfilling lives and die relatively painlessly.”

    They are animals, beasts. Their fulfillment is being delicious.

  14. That’s too glib to really even deserve a response, but I’ll give it one: Pigs, at least, are as smart or smarter than dogs. Imagine your dog achieving the fulfillment you joke about the same way a pig does.

  15. Dogs are an unexploited food source.

  16. There’s probably close to the same amount of fecal matter on their toothbrushes too.

    OK…I don’t really know.

  17. I don’t eat the pig.

    “That’ll do, pig.”
    *sniff*

  18. Andy,
    Does “not being against consuming” count as ‘hyperconsumerism’? I opposed the Ad Buster’s people on the other site not because I have an itch to shop ’til I drop – in fact I don’t shop much – but I just oppose the idea that consumption is bad in itself and the condescending notion that ‘other people’ are too stupid to make decisions for themselves.

    As far as animal rights go, I think there is an argument for protecting animals against undo suffering that is rarely made by libertarians. I can’t see the argument that animals deserve the *same* rights as humans, but I do see that there is something to the argument to reduce animal suffering whenever possible. Where the line should be drawn in regards to this issue, or exactly what role government should play, is something I am uncertain of here. I know many libs would disagree with me but I think the argument to ban fois gras is at least based on the minimizing suffering principle; whether a ban is the best way to go about this I haven’t decided but I am not unsympathetic to it as I at least get where it’s coming from.

  19. “Well obviously if you think animals don’t count for a damn, you don’t think anything should be done. But I think if you acknowledge that animals can feel pain and pain is bad, you should want to minimize their suffering. And I don’t see any reason libertarians should necessarily oppose conceding these things.” –Ashish George

    Only because you’re not able to understand where most libertarians are coming from. Normally libertarians aren’t black and white, even though it may seem so on the surface. I doubt that given more than 9 seconds to think about the subject most any libertarian would phrase the issue as simplisticly as pain is bad therefore anything and everything should be done to minimize it. No one wants to see any animal experience pain. But we also realize that there are varying degrees of pain and there are costs associated with trying to reduce those.

    I’m guessing the problem you’re really having is that we buy into that a lot of the process involving feedlots or the slaugherhouse these days involves much suffering. Sure, things are gory but anytime I see someone use a phrase like “factory farming” I become pretty skeptical about how much though they’re putting into what they’re saying. Farming has always been about being a factory. They’ve learned more and new technologies have enabled them to be more specialized and very productive. We still have 30 million Americans who are underfed and undernurished every day. We need our farming to become even more productive, not less. And it’s this supposedly-evil factory farming that will enable it, not organcially locally grown so we can only eat canned carrots for $5 / 5 oz. jar in the winter methods that will get us there.

  20. moctopouse,
    Does “not being against consuming” count as ‘hyperconsumerism’? I opposed the Ad Buster’s people on the other site not because I have an itch to shop ’til I drop – in fact I don’t shop much – but I just oppose the idea that consumption is bad in itself and the condescending notion that ‘other people’ are too stupid to make decisions for themselves.

    I won’t deny that the Adbusters are condescending, and they’re certainly hypocritical, but we mustn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Consumption isn’t bad by itself, but certain types of consumption have externalities that most reasonable people would agree are unacceptable. The externalities of many of these types are widely unknown, and it certainly doesn’t hurt to try to inform people of them when the market has failed to do so. One can certainly do this without being condescending, though.

    What I meant by “hyperconsumerism” was not “not being against consuming” but the mindless, excessive (by excessive I mean unbeneficial and in many cases harmful) consumption that businesses and corporations try to shove down our throats. Yes, peoples’ definitions of excessive may vary, but I only ask people to think about the consequences of their purchases, both for themselves and for other people. For instance, that SUV somebody may have bought may be cool looking, and safer (given that everyone else decided to purchase the same type of waste of metal and petroleum), and it may seem to make up for your small penis size but think about it: You’re polluting the environment more than you need to, helping to fund authoritarian states/ terrorists in the ME, among other regions, and raising the price of gas for others by helping to needlessly lower supply. All I ask is for people to consider those things, I certainly don’t advocate government action.

    We still have 30 million Americans who are underfed and undernurished every day. We need our farming to become even more productive, not less. And it’s this supposedly-evil factory farming that will enable it

    You must have some potent crack, pal. No matter how cheap farming cattle/pigs/chickens may get, meat is still more unproductive and expensive than comparable plant proteins. For one unit of cow protein that feeds one person dinner one needs to use 20 times the resources to grow the plants to feed the cow; not very efficient.

  21. The gov’t exists because we allow it to in order to protect people and their property, nothing more. Any libertarian will agree, regardless of how you feel about eating animals, whether they are yummy, or smart, cute, and defenseless, and regardless of how they are raised and slaughtered, it should be a decision for the individual, not the gov’t, right?

  22. There are laws against torturing animals, laws against dog fighting. Should that just be up to the individual? Not sure about that.

  23. If you are not sure, let me decide for you.
    People who are not sure open the door for every stripe of animal rights’ wackos. You aren’t sure about whether, say, cock-fighting should be legal, Johnny I-Love-Horses thinks horse meat should be illegal, Susie Dairy-Farms-Are-Cruel wants to ban milking cows. Once you open that door to allow the gov’t to protect animals’ “rights,” who decides where you draw the line? One man’s cruelty is another man’s dinner.

  24. Dogs are an unexploited food source.

    …in The United States.

    I worked with a Filipino last year who told me that his roommate at school had an old dog. Once it was clear that it was on its last legs, they had a floor party. Dog stew was the main course.

  25. Highnumber,
    Your over-confident and glib absolutism has convinced me that we should draw the line at torturing animals. Thanks for that.

  26. Sounds good, moctopouse.

    Now define “torture” for us.

  27. moctopouse,

    You aren’t fooling me. I did not convince you of anything.

    …I think the argument to ban fois [sic] gras is at least based on the minimizing suffering principle

    Great example of why one man’s suffering is another man’s dinner. Lots of people do find the process cruel. I know a little about it. I have read what the AVMA says about the process. You apparently have not. I’m cool with that. Don’t eat foie gras for all I care, but don’t you dare try to stop me. (I had some this weekend. Omigod! I love the stuff.)

  28. Here’s a thought: When the human mind runs out of real problems to solve, it invents new ones.

  29. Absent a popular outcry or consumer demand for more ethically produced meat, do you think the government should step in and impose tougher standards on factory farms?

    Absent a health hazard to humans, no.

  30. Absent a popular outcry or consumer demand for more ethically produced meat, do you think the government should step in and impose tougher standards on factory farms?

    Absent a health hazard to humans, no.

    It still ain’t the gov’t’s job. May I recommend some reading on basic libertarian principles?

  31. It still ain’t the gov’t’s job. May I recommend some reading on basic libertarian principles?

    Being a libertarian and a contrarian, I’ll say that the government should prohibit the sale of tainted meat. I know all the counter-arguments, and still come to that conclusion. Anyone who completely toes the party line in politics or religion has abdicated his responsibility to look at issues objectively.

  32. “If non-humans don’t deserve ethical consideration, even including the use of government force to prevent their undue suffering at the hands of humans, than logically any being not capable of verbally expressing its will should not deserve that consideration, including, obviously, retarded people, babies, Alzheimer’s patients, etc.”

    My, what a silly nonsequiter you got there.

  33. Based on the fact that Todd Seavey states in his article that “School of Rock” is Linklater’s best film, and doesn’t even mention “Dazed and Confused”, I’d say his opinion is worthless…

  34. J sub D,

    What about unpasteurized dairy? Health hazard, yes? I still want to be able to buy it. Why don’t you buy meat and dairy that carries some certification from some association of meat or dairy sellers that guarantees that it is up to the standards you are looking for? Let me take my chances if I want. It is wrong to force the rest of us into a coercive relationship with the gov’t because of your meat quirk.

  35. “People who are not sure open the door for every stripe of animal rights’ wackos….”

    This is the slippery slope argument of dogmatists. Pick another issue and insert something else for animal right’s wackos. “People who are not sure that abortion is murder will soon open the door for infanticidal maniacs to walk through…, “People who are not sure that the globe is warming will kill all life on earth before the decade is out…” etc.

    You can believe that libertarianism is about a set of strict axioms, literally interpreted and never to be broken, no matter the consequences, or you can believe that it’s a set of general guiding principles or rules of thumb that still leave you room to reason through some fuzzy areas: to what extent should externalities play in where rights begin and end? Is land ownership absolute – what then of land that blocks access to a common resource? What of the air above one’s head – where does the right to ownership stop at that? Can it be owned at all? Pollutants from cars cannot be traced back to their owners – should regulatory measures be taken if market systems have failed here? Even if animals are not granted equal rights to humans are there any principles at all that should govern how they are to be treated beyond, “I’ll do whatever the fuck I want”?

  36. This is the slippery slope argument of dogmatists. Pick another issue and insert something else for animal right’s wackos. “People who are not sure that abortion is murder will soon open the door for infanticidal maniacs to walk through…, “People who are not sure that the globe is warming will kill all life on earth before the decade is out…” etc.

    Bullshit. Absolute bullshit.

    Regarding the second paragraph, have you read anything about property rights and libertarianism, or have you just heard about it somewhere before? Read the book I left a link for above.

  37. “Bullshit. Absolute bullshit.”

    That all you got?

    “Regarding the second paragraph, have you read anything about property rights and libertarianism, or have you just heard about it somewhere before? Read the book I left a link for above.”

    I’ll see your Boaz (yes, I have read it) and raise you with an Epstein.

  38. I don’t mean to sound pissy, but I honestly believe that all those issues are addressed in Libertarianism 101 (FKA Classical Liberalism for Beginners).

    and regarding That all you got?
    That’s all that specious argument deserves.

  39. I don’t have Boaz’s book in front of me at the moment so cannot comment on whether or not he addresses all the fuzzy areas I mentioned above or other areas – does he actually say something about, in any adequate detail, how far up you have to go before the air above your head is not considered ‘yours’? Does he mention how this distance is to be arrived at and how? Does he address how tracing of pollutants from cars is to be done? Can you refer me to page numbers? I do know that Epstein addresses, and in detail, certain tensions between the individual and communal concerns where they conflict – of course, most of the time they do not conflict.

    Well, I’ll call your ‘specious argument’ and raise you with ‘the slippery slope fallacy is covered in standard critical reasoning 101.’

  40. Natural law, my boy, natural law. No page numbers are needed.

    My slippery slope was valid. Yours was fallacious.

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