Dominion’s Challenge

 | June 8, 2009 6:00 AM

Matthew Scully doesn’t challenge us to become vegetarians.  He doesn’t challenge us to become animal rights activists.  He simply challenges us to reconsider our everyday decisions about what we eat.

Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to MercyPhilosophically, one can look at it this way.  Broadly speaking, for as long as people have engaged in moral thought, mankind has acted upon two fundamental beliefs: (a) It is morally permissible to raise and slaughter animals for our own consumption – a material good – because doing so is necessary for our survival and well-being – a moral good.  But this very claim of moral sanction attested to the belief that there was a sacrifice involved and that (b) even in livestock production we do have at least certain minimal obligations of kindness to animals – a moral good…

And the problem is just this simple.  The moral component of (a) is gone.  We have no valid claims of need anymore, only our claim to the material good of fare to which we are accustomed.  Meanwhile, in an … economy of six billion consumers … livestock animals simply cannot be raised under humane conditions.  We are left, then, with exactly one material good and one moral good, our pleasure weighed against our duty of compassion.  And these can no longer coexist.  One or the other must be abandoned…

Here’s a good question to ask yourself: Would you give up eating meat if you were persuaded that factory farming was cruel and unethical?  Hypothetically, in other words, how difficult and inconvenient would it be to act upon your own moral concerns?  Or indeed how socially embarrassing would it be, how troublesome to have to make a choice and explain and stay with it?  The next question would be whether it is, in fact, the absence of moral concerns that prevents the change, or the prospect of the difficulties and inconveniences.

Likewise, if you must have meat, regarding it as a right and necessary thing while viewing factory farming as a bad and unnecessary thing, do you … act on that distinction by buying only meats raised by humane standards?  And if not, why not?  Why is industrial farming wrong by your own standards, yet not a serious enough wrong to warrant a change in your own daily choices?  Think of the effect that this decision alone would have on modern agriculture, more millions of consumers making that one little effort every day to spare the creatures from needless misery.

Matthew Scully, Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy , pp. 315-317.

My personal response has been the following.

  1. To reduce meat consumption as much as possible.
  2. If I do eat meat to only eat humanely raised or wild meat.
  3. To not eat veal (I actually made this decision a long time ago) and to try to avoid pork and beef.
  4. When I do eat meat to choose fish or seafood.

The truth is that because of the much higher cost of humanely raised or wild meat I have to reduce my meat consumption.  Fortunately I like tofu. 🙂

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