I wonder whether impoverished individuals ought to be permitted to share sex? That is, when the poor copulate, they become pregnant, birthing more children into poverty. It is a curious fact that the poor have more children than the wealthy. Of course, the wealthy can afford birth control – but the poor could abstain. But poor women are also more likely to be forced into sex (are they?)
Suppose the poor could do some things to decrease the number of babies they produce. Should they? That is, do they have a moral obligation to prevent their potential children from suffering? Or: is life worth it anyway? Is it better to have lived a short brutal life than to not have lived at all? Finally, should we, those outside the circumstance, have any authority over the decisions of the poor?
I think many Americans imagine they would rather not have been born than to have been born into abject poverty. I find this appallingly conceited. Much of this distress imagined toward the poor is empathy gone awry. It is a snobbery which intends to dictate to however many generations preceded the industrial revolution that they should have rather laid down and died than to have persevered. It places an arbitrary measure of quality of life above the value of life itself. It plays god.
Imagining for a moment that animals ought to enjoy a similar degree of dignity as humans, so as not to beg the question, how ought the above analysis to bear on humane treatment of animals.
Animals have one quality which Andrew’s post illustrates poignantly. That is, they tend to kill one another. In fact, most animal extinction over the course of natural history has not been due to human influence, but due to the micro-evolutionary process of survival of the fittest. Most animals go extinct because they are killed and eaten by other animals. That there ever was a magical equilibrium in all of nature before the advent of man where all populations of all species were in perfect symbiosis with one another implicitly dashes the concepts both of macro and micro evolution. Also, the historical record does not support such an idea.
This is the idea which is behind most discussions regarding human interaction with animals, however. To find a position which can negotiate around this error we must make a grand assumption, one which is supported by scripture: Humans are the stewards of creation.
Farmers, game and fish wardens, pet owners, and environmental and agricultural economists understand this very well. Unless an animal is cared for by humans there is no guarantee that it will survive.
Is the chicken threatened with extinction? Is the cow, the dog, or the camel? Of the four I am most inclined to be concerned about the camel. This is because the usefulness of the camel to humans is diminishing while the others are thriving. If I had to pick a second most likely to die off, I’d choose the large dog, but that is far, far off. (A related question which may provoke debate is whether humans are in danger of extinction. The popular response since Malthus is yes. The evidence does not support such a claim.)
Again, only those animals which humans care for and have a use for enjoy a guarantee of long-run survival. There is an important caveat to this claim: Such animals must be capable of being owned. Whales were nearing extinction (supposedly) because no one owned them, so they were being harvested in unsustainable quantities. The Maryland Blue Crab is suffering a similar fate. (Flexible prices may work to prevent the total extinction of such species, as the difficulty and cost of harvesting forces prices up which decreases the demand for them.) An ardent hyper-creationist might even claim that the dinosaurs became extinct because humans had either too little use for them, or too much trouble domesticating them!
So, the best way to insure the survival of a species is to:
1. Make it useful to humans.
2. Make it capable of being owned.
Why the ownership clause? Suppose there is a cow in the field. No one owns the cow. No one owns the field. In this case anyone can walk onto the field, slay the cow, and grill some steaks. But if the cow and the field which the cow grazes on are owned by someone, they can then manage the cow. They can make plans to breed the cow and make more cows, harvesting just as many as he needs for food, or, supposing he has much success in raising livestock, he can trade surplus cows for clothes amongst his friends.
Let us return now to the cow’s feelings. How should we imagine the cow views life and existence? Should we suppose she would rather be free to roam about the fields, exposed to disease, predators, the elements, uncultivated forage, and the eventual extinction of her species due to predation whether human or animal? Or should we rather suppose she might prefer to dwell within fences, free from random predation, enjoying free health care, shelter from the elements, and the finest grains, all under the understanding that her death is imminent.
Which do humans choose?
Let us make the choice more bleak.
Let us consider a chicken, laid by a caged hen, incubated under artificial light, caged, beak clipped, fed hormone enhanced feed, kept indoors under crowded concentration-camp conditions, forced to lay enormous quantities of eggs, more than nature? ever intended, then butchered at the end, various parts being allocated to their most profitable uses.
Does this chicken commit suicide? Would you under such circumstances? Should you?
Recall the poverty-stricken parents. Should they be allowed to have children?
How dare we even presume to ask the question!
If you would prefer to never have been born, having been born would you then commit suicide? If you can answer yes to this question, then you probably should not eat meat.
Otherwise, let your conscious be clean regarding the eating of meat, and the human ownership of animals.
Does this justify torture of animals? I don’t understand the question. Torture is cruelty which generates pleasure for the torturer, or which helps him achieve some end unattached to the tortured agent.
The conditions under which domesticated animals are kept are primarily for their own good, until they are harvested. If they were not allowed, then many of these animals would cease to exist at all, because it would not be worthwhile to husband them.