Animal Preferences

23:26 Tue 28 Aug 2007. Updated: 21:46 29 Aug 2007
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As you might have heard by now, Atlanta Falcons Quarterback and NFL superstar Michael Vick entered a guilty plea in the federal dogfighting/gambling/racketeering case against him. American public opinion, it’s safe to say, is against him. He was involved in activities that involve brutal cruelty to animals, including electrocuting to death dogs that don’t perform well enough, starving dogs to make them more aggressive in the fights, and variuos other forms of abuse.

Cruelty to animals is hardly defensible in my opinion. There are reasonable questions that can be asked regarding the fact that animal cruelty charges are punished more seriously than various crimes against humans, but that’s another topic. I’m more concerned with the amazing hypocrisy on display by a nation that consumes such quantities of industrially-produced meat.

The production of that meat (and of a lot of dairy, also) involves appalling treatment of animals on a vast scale, millions of animals living (and dying) in atrocious conditions. It’s not enough to say “well, it’s different because we love dogs” or “yeah, but we don’t care where the meat comes from and the cows were going to die anyway”. It’s still a gigantic operation that’s entirely predicated on the killing of animals, and in its current form entirely predictated on terrible abuse of those animals.

An argument can be made that Vick and his cohorts were abusing the animals for sport, for base purposes, perhaps out of sadism, and that the matter of intent distinguishes that case entirely from meat production—after all (this argument would go), there’s nothing wrong with eating animals, so that absolves the meat consumer from comparison with the killing of animals as entertainment. However, the real comparison is not between the dogfighting crowd and the meat consumer, but rather the dogfighting crowd and the meat producer. Even if there were nothing wrong with killing animals for food (a different discussion), that doesn’t mean that treating animals with terrible cruelty to increase profits is also exempt from moral comparisons with dogfighting. Entertainment cruelty is appalling, greed cruelty is just fine? That’s not very compelling as a standpoint.

No, the hypocrisy is quite clear, and wilful blindness about food production practices, nor insupportable claims about intentionality being the difference (which just leads to profit being better than entertainment somehow), nor arguments that essentially boil down to “one is okay because it’s mainstream and accepted, and the other isn’t because it isn’t”, excuse that hypocrisy.

Now, it may be true that anyone responsible for such cruelty to animals should go to prison, and that we therefore shouldn’t spare any tears for Vick, but it should be clear that punishing him, while not punishing those “captains of industry” who are equally abusive but on a much larger scale, is manifestly unjust.

The excoriation of Vick in the media tends to obscure the wider point about animal cruelty—we get the focus on the fallen celebrity, where we should be discussing how animals are treated by our society, and whether the American obsession with pets should perhaps move us towards treating all animals better.

Note: I’ve had this post in mind for a few days, but Gregg Easterbrook covered it in todays Tuesday Morning Quarterback and made quite a few points similar to mine. He even cited The Omnivore’s Dilemma, which I was also going to reference. Nevertheless, the above ideas are my own, though inevitably influenced in some way by my having read his article…

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One Response to “Animal Preferences”

  1. Helen Says:


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