Dead kids, dead animals, and other such jollity

Here's another post that was about to be a comment on a Reddit thread that no bugger'd read because the thread is five whole hours old.

The thread is about this picture of some Chinese doctors (disrespectfully translated versions here and here) bowing in respect to the body of a terribly young organ donor. She donated pretty much everything, and was only eight years old.

Needless to say, the Reddit conversation immediately wandered as far and fast from the topic as it could, thanks to someone noting the similarity between the doctors' respect for the dead girl and a hunter-gatherer's respect for the animal he's just managed to kill.

(Put like that, it sounds as if it's about half an inch away from turning into 4chan dead-baby jokes. The thread isn't actually like that. Well, no non-deleted comments with a score above minus 50 seem to be, anyway.)

This comment in particular pressed one of my personal Talk Buttons, so now that I've spent a couple of hundred words explaining the background, here's my Canned Rant on the subject of carnivores who never see an animal killed:

I don't think it's bad that people don't see where their meat comes from any more, but I think everybody who eats meat should at least visit an abattoir once. Not watch a documentary, visit one, so you get the full experience - sights, sounds and definitely smells. The smell of blood cooking on the steam pipes, the smell of various useful components of animals that people aren't going to eat, the smell of the hair being burned off the hog bellies by a guy with one of the safest, and least interesting, jobs in the whole awful place...

Talk about your "life leaving the eyes..."; how about seeing a pig screaming, thrashing around, managing to get its back feet off the hook and then flapping on the concrete floor, still fettered but no longer hung, as the blood fountains out of its throat and its dog-level brain may actually realise it's now every bit as fucked as it thought it was going to be if it got shoved up that ramp with all the rest...

(Sheep and cows don't seem to have any idea what's coming, thanks partly to clever feed-ramp design. Pigs figure that shit out, though, and do NOT want to go into the building. Perhaps that problem's been cracked now with even more animal-psychology; I saw all this, including the unexpected Porcine Murder Show, on a school trip more than 25 years ago.)

I still eat ham and bacon. But only occasionally.

(I also don't know whether it was normal, back then, for slaughterhouses here in Australia to hang up very-much-conscious pigs and cut their throats, without stunning them first. The usual reason for hanging and bleeding conscious animals is to comply with kashrut and/or halal rules, but obviously there's no such thing as kosher pork, so that couldn't have been it. If an animal's stunned or brained before being bled, then this sort of drama's only ever going to happen, with or without an audience of rather alarmed Agricultural High School kids, if the stunner-guy manages to miss.)

21 Responses to “Dead kids, dead animals, and other such jollity”

  1. Lord Booga Says:

    I don't think people realise what happens in the wild - carnivores don't gently euthanise their prey, and ensure it drifts off painlessly, you're a lucky prey item if you're actually dead when they start to eat you, I think! (or in some cases, you're lucky if you're dead before they FINISH eating you).

    Nature is a harsh mistress, and I can't imagine the animals we butcher would suffer any better a fate in the wild.

    That being said, I don't endorse keeping animals in horrendous conditions while they ARE still alive (eg, battery farming)

  2. MikeLip Says:

    I thought about ignoring this one, but hey. Why do something silly like that?

    Anyway, our commenter is right about nature not being a particularly gentle bitch. I guess a question to ask ourselves is why should we bother to be much better? If you've seen some of the more gruesome nature shows you've seen animals struggling uselessly for their lives as they are eaten alive by various land carnivores, or pulled under to drown by crocs, etc.

    Or you could come at it another way - why NOT be better than that? We have the brains to do better, and a moral sense. Granted, that moral sense only came along when we sot so disconnected that we think meat comes in styrofoam trays with plastic wrap over the top. But it seems reasonable that, since we seem intent on eating meat (red meat here, thanks) and there is at this point only one source for that, then getting it to the table ought to be as humane as possible. And I'm sorry, but that includes kosher rules. Maybe it's time to look at that again.

    I guess it comes to this - do you think people are inherently better than animals? If so, then maybe we ought to apply our supposedly developed moral sense to how we treat them. If we are not better than animals (a side PETA seems to take, since they want them treated equally to people) then maybe, and counter (or in line with - take your pick) to PETA logic, it doesn't matter how we treat them. Personally I'm on the side of better treatment because my thought is that since we have the brains we have the responsibility.

  3. dan Says:

    The "nature is red in tooth and claw, therefore why shouldn't we be too?" argument is a really, really bad one. You can tell, because it's exactly the arugument that is invariably attributed to those of us who believe evolution is real, by people who think Belief In Evolution Equals Being A Nazi.

    Yes, the universe is uncaring. And yet, people care.

    Belief in gravity does not require you to remain silent when you see a piano about to fall on someone.

  4. MikeLip Says:

    And yet, for a long time, we didn't. The cute little doe-eyed critters were just a source of protein. In other words, our outlook was quite similar to every other meat eating animal.

    I'm not disagreeing with you, if you will note how I closed my little essay. I suppose the point of it was this - why do we care? Where did this come from? I find it an interesting question, no less so since I find my self nauseated by how animals are often treated. And yet I hunt, and have no problems doing so. I shoot, the animal is down, dinner is served. Well, there are a few steps in between there but you get the idea. Some of my hunter friends justify this by saying this is a good thing. The animal was taken from it's natural habitat where it could roam free and happy. These are often the same ones who cried watching Bambi. I don't think they realize that these cute critters often die miserable deaths due to starvation or sickness, or are pulled down by something toothy. I tend to regard it as neutral.

    I am not going to be found arguing against meat production. I *will* argue for humane methods due to my mind set that says animals should not be allowed to suffer. But again that standpoint is a recent concept and we are unique in having it. So why do we? Don't point me to religious reasons - if THAT were true, that lion on National Geographic would administer morphine or something before eating the eland alive since surely he/she/it would not want animals to suffer regardless of who is eating them. My question goes to why do we care, not do we - we obviously do.

  5. Hammer Says:

    If the doctors want to show respect for the remains of a child and her gift to others that seems a kind and generous thing to do....that's an interesting thread Dan.
    Animals....I killed and ate rabbits as a kid.
    The rabbits get distressed and squeal if you don't kill them with a clean head or chest shot and that bothered me. So I was motivated to get good at killing them.
    I never saw a problem with killing and eating something, I still don't. Just do it cleanly. That is respectful.

  6. Lord Booga Says:

    Just because we are 'above' or 'better' or more 'moral' (which are pretty subjective and possibly not comparable) than animals, it doesn't ignore our basic biological build, in that we are omnivores, and eat pretty much everything.

    If you consider us above the animals somehow, then sure, we should avoid unnecessary suffering until the point of death, if you don't, then it doesn't matter. I suppose there are lot of things in life if you took the cold calculatiing approach to them, would be pretty unpleasant for most people, the same thing works with animals.

    I suppose the mechanism that makes us a successful species (co-operation/empathy), combined with the tendency to anthromorphise things gives us the odd (and possibly unique) ability to feel compassion/care/empathy for things that aren't our species.

  7. Fallingwater Says:

    I don't think it's bad that people don't see where their meat comes from any more, but I think everybody who eats meat should at least visit an abattoir once. Not watch a documentary, visit one, so you get the full experience

    I don't see why.

    I know most things about meat production are not pleasant. But I enjoy meat, and I don't want to experience something that'll make me enjoy it less. Especially since even if I do, and suddenly (and very unrealistically) decide to become a vegetarian, it won't really make a smidgen of a difference to the whole problem on the grand scheme of things.

    I would rather people were made more aware of the agricultural sacrifices that must be made to overfeed humanity with meat, so as to push them into enacting a more balanced diet that wouldn't overstress the planet so damn much. The fact that some people react with surprise when they learn that you don't need meat intake every day makes me facepalm loudly.

  8. Jambe Says:

    Helluva topic, Dan.

    Do you recall the recent story about conveniently patty-shaped lab-grown beef tissue? Interesting to consider the implications of that, innit? Could a vegetarian eat such material? I imagine a full-blown vegan couldn't, but...

    Also, at what quality and cost does it become the ethical alternative to slaughtered meat? Imagine a cost/quality line chart plotting IVB (in vitro beef) and RB (real beef).

    People would pick one or the other at various points, right? Some would say, "okay, IVB tastes 80% as good as RB and is five times pricier, but I don't want animals killed for my use so I'll eat IVB very infrequently". Other people would say "I'll never eat IVB until its quality meets RB's". Still others would say, "I don't condone heathen techno-beef!"

    Actually, people have already decried techno-beef. What a world.

    • TwoHedWlf Says:

      Here people are stuck in a loop of
      "Dairy/farming is destroying the environment and must be stopped!"
      "Techno-beef/milk alternatives are evil because GE etc."

      Then of course there's the whole dairy/beef/sheep etc are critical for the economy, goto step 1.

      I've lost track of where I was going with this.

  9. SnappyCrunch Says:

    If I were dictator of the world, among the ill-advised things I would decree would be a meat-eating license system. I think that there's not a terrible amount of difference between our pets and our food, and that people perhaps eat far too much meat as a direct result of not viewing their meat as something that used to be running around. Thus, every so often, people would be required (if they wanted to keep eating meat) to go to a farm or slaughterhouse and personally kill an animal, watch it's life drain away, then dress it or watch it get dressed, and maybe take some cuts home with you. The idea is to make meat a conscious choice rather than a course to be served with every meal by rote.

    I suspect meat-eating would fall out of fashion, suddenly being seen as amoral, and I honestly couldn't tell you if I would be among the abstainers or the licensed.

    • TwoHedWlf Says:

      Hmm, yeah it's an interesting question. What would happen if everyone was required to kill and butcher any animal they wanted to eat? Not practical for food safety reasons, but maybe if you had to kill and assist a trained butcher. A single cow would probably last the average person/family for like a year so it would probably be chickens, pigs, etc that it would be more frequent for.

      I'm kind of inclined to think it might make people a bit MORE bloodthirsty. Become more used to literally killing, unlike the "Video games and TV make people murderers" thing. But then, I'm comparing to, for example, people on hunting messageboards who I'm sure are more inclined to be on the "Look an animal! KILL IT WOOOO!" end of the spectrum before they get into the hobby.

      • dmanuel Says:

        Hunting is, for the vast majority of hunters, simple math.

        A rather nice round of .308 costs 50 cents. 50 cents plus a couple of hours in the early morning nets you six months worth of venison. Or 'roo down these parts.

        • TwoHedWlf Says:

          I wish a nice round of .308 was 50 cents. Here it's about $1.50 US to about $2.40. :( Reloading makes it cheaper, obviously. Add another $1500 for a midrange gun and scope it gets expensive really quick.

          Though, US rimfire boards(Or all rimfire in fact) seem to be the worst for the kill everything that moves mentality rather than NZ game hunting.

  10. griffinme Says:

    This has an interesting take on it. I thought it was fascinating that people that do this eat meat, but less of it.

    I grew up in farm country. The farmer kids learned at an early age to either not name their animals or how to deal with what was going to happen eventually to their pet calf. At an early age they learned about the economics of the business. "I spent $XXX on feed and Dad gave me the baby. I will sell him for $ZZZ. Now he eats $GG in feed each week. Keeping him around because he is cute is costing me money not including the work of cleaning, hauling etc. It doesn't take too long before you realize he needs to go."

    • Mayhem Says:

      Yeah, the tradition back home was no one ever slaughtered their pet lamb, even if it got too big, because lets face it, it was a family pet.
      The Johnson lamb from down the road on the other hand was a menace and a half, and deserved to be in the freezer.

      Which meant Christmas tended to start a few weeks earlier with a grand farewell of the pets, and a surreptitious round of pass-the-parcel to make sure no one ended up with their own sheep :)

  11. setbit Says:

    Yes, the universe is uncaring. And yet, people care.

    That's the core of the issue, I think, for this and many other ethical topics. It's also something that theists and non-theists ought to agree upon.

    We are each self aware, and we all make choices that we know have consequences for ourselves and others. So either a) humans are created in God's image or b) humans are the closest thing to a "God" that there will ever be. Either view implies that we are something other than just "part of nature". Justifying any behavior based on what animals do is equivalent to saying that our own self-awareness doesn't matter. At that point, you might as well just embrace nihilism.

    So to say, "I enjoy meat, and I don't want to experience something that'll make me enjoy it less," is uncomfortably close to saying, "I find my humanity inconvenient, so I have chosen to avoid it in this instance."

    For myself, I don't see an ethical problem with animal products, but I have a big problem with inflicting pain on the animals we use, especially when, as Temple Grandin and others have shown, it doesn't take all that much to minimize the trauma in the slaughtering process.

    • jani Says:

      Sorry SetBit,
      You are using the logical fallacy of a 'false dichotomy' there.

      If humans were not "created in 'God's' image"(a), it does not logically follow that the only other option is that "humans are the closest thing to a "God" that there will ever be" (b).

      Thus your argument is complete garbage unless you can show that I am wrong when I say that:
      b does not contain all not(a)

    • setbit Says:

      b does not contain all not(a)

      You might be right, jani, but I believe you are mistaken about where the burden of proof lies.

      As you correctly noted, my post makes the implicit assertion that there are no entities not in a and also not in b, that is, not a and not b is the empty set. You assert the contrary, that the set is not empty, and that my argument is therefore a false dichotomy.

      In demanding that I prove the non-existence of the set in question, you are asking something that neither I nor anyone else can ever do. No matter how completely I explain why various entities are not members of the set as I conceive it (e.g. I include sentient aliens in my use of the word "human", and any being without moral agency cannot be described as "God", etc.) I still haven't gotten any closer to proving that the set in question is empty.

      However, all you have to do, jani, is give one example of something that is a member of the set -- a coherent view of human agency where neither a nor bis true -- and you've proven your point. It doesn't even need to be a view that you agree with; it just needs to have internal logical consistency. If my argument really is "complete garbage", then that shouldn't be too difficult to do.

      More likely, I think, is that you misunderstand all that I am taking for granted in the phrase, "created in God's image". In that case, your counterexample would still be a useful contribution to the discussion, because it would help clarify the concept of human agency, and how it applies to the ethics of eating meat.

      • jani Says:

        No SetBit, you are the one postulating the existence of the empty set, that set being the set of things which are more 'godlike' than humans, in your proposition B.

        • jani Says:

          hmm... don't respond to posts without reading the response... that doesn't make any sense at all from me. My excuse is waking up at 4 in the morning.

          You have assumed a definition of 'God' which makes your argument true. Thus you have begged the question.

  12. JRH Says:

    I think that an important aspect of empathy is that our personal self-esteem and respect are fundamentally affected by how we view our own ethical actions. Thus, we hurt ourselves when we violate codes of conduct we really believe in. I had a shrink who phrased it crudely, "There's no right or wrong, there's just different ways we hurt ourselves"

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