Friday, May 21, 2010

They Make Comments

I had two comments from my last post on Zamir and veganism.

The first from Adam, whose arguments are timely to say the least:

It's frustrating that so many critics of veganism believe that farmed animals can only be sustained in existence through consumption by humans. Farmed animals in "traditional" agricultural systems often had multiple "uses" including labor, fertilizer, fuel, and clothing, "recycling" food scraps, eating "pests", etc. Today these animals are no longer integrated into ago-ecological systems but rather pure production units, completely alienated from their labor and "species being," as Noske (1989) notes.

It is quite concealable that farmed animals remain participants in ago-ecological communities with some minor management by humans (as is the case with stray cats) that neither involve killing them nor managing them for our consumption. Eggs can be fed to other animals or fed back to chickens and the calcium form milk is better left in a mother cow's bones. Perhaps, humans could consume these products or wear them but that wouldn't be the purpose of their existence since the provide many other ecosystem services.

Further, the whole idea of not letting farmed animals go extinct is problematic. Most birds raised for flesh today are so mutated that they can barely flourish beyond adolescents because they are so plagued by monstrous growth (the same with pigs). These, in my opinion, are not animals we ought to keep in existence. Perhaps there is a case for heritage breeds, but even many of these are modern products of eugenics.

And the market is not going to solve this problem, in my opinion. Mainly because neither animals nor food should be commodified. If farmed animals are to exist they must exist in some niche other than as mere flesh or mere "child/ornamental pet;" in other words, they ought to be community members in food systems or otherwise transition into ferals. This requires social and cultural changes, not market changes, which is exactly why IOs and NGOs promotte technoscientific "solutions" such as changing feed content and capturing methane--it's less threatening.

So even most vegans, I think, get it wrong by seeking an elimination of any "use." This is why I actually like Haraway's treatment of animals more than Francione: it's less condescending and not a projection of social atomism, acknowledging that nonhumans are fellow participants, not merely victims. Personally, I think veganism needs to be re-conceptualized as something other than abstention/privation--but I'll save this discussion for a later time :)

He then clarifies his position on Haraway in a follow-up post:

Scu, I think Haraway has rightly been criticized on her conclusion about the permissibility of animal experimentation and her insufficient analysis of training and breeding dogs, I do think her major premises are correct. Unfortunately, I think she comes to unsound conclusions due to her emphasis on the interestingness and playfulness of things rather than engaging deeply with her critics.

Then EJ wades in with his own useful take:

Wow, I hadn't heard of this Zamir character before, but now I've quickly familiarized myself with the paper you're responding to and your response to it, and it's all pretty infuriating stuff.

I think what's wrong with Zamir and with any proponent of more humane forms of animal food production is that there is something terribly naive about thinking that a system in which animals are controlled by humans (whether or not they are legally property) will ever be one in which the interests of those animals will be respected in the way that is morally required (i.e., that animals' interests will not be neglected or "traded off" for supposed benefits for humans).

There are, as I see it, many reasons for thinking that human control of animals will never meet that ethical demand. There is a pretty strong conflict of interest between the human seeking to profit from animals (that is, profit either monetarily or just in terms of goods received) and the animals themselves. As long as animals are farmed on commercial farms in a capitalist society, the pressure to push animals to produce more food to their own detriment will be insurmountable. And even if it were conceivably surmountable, what kind of draconian system of inspections and regulations would need to be in place to make sure farmers were in compliance with the array of regulations to which they would be subject?

There is also, of course, the problem that humans just don't know as much about animals as they like to think. While it might be obvious to someone like Zamir that the relationship between humans and cats is some great ideal to which we should aspire, I am less and less inclined to believe that. Having lived with two indoor/outdoor cats, it is really amazing to see the difference in behavior between cats when they're inside our quiet, static indoor environments and when they're in an environment with rustling leaves, chirping birds, squirrels, chipmunks, and a vast world of odors that we are oblivious to. So much of what we think of as signs of contentment, laziness, happiness or fatigue in house cats may just be a manifestation of crushing boredom. Or it might not. The point is I have no way to settle the matter.

As time goes on, I think that concepts of humane ownership or humane use of animals is nothing more than an ideology, a myth we tell ourselves to quiet our consciences. It seems more and more like the myth of the edification of African slaves through their exposure to christian society or the ideal of domestic, material bliss that justified making housewife the all but obligatory occupation of generations of women. While people tout the ideal of the human-dog relationship, millions of dogs are put to death every year for lack of available homes, millions of others suffer through lives of neglect or abuse, and still more are members of breeds that are predisposed to all sorts of health problems.

In sum, I just don't see much potential for ethical use, ownership or control of animals. While such a relationship might be conceivable (and even there I'm doubtful), it would be extremely difficult to achieve and probably impossible to maintain.