Eat more blue whale?

I really enjoyed this thought-provoking Vox interview on the ethics of meat-eating and how it shaped by culture.  And, very much of it, doesn’t really have much of a rational basis (i.e., the fact that our culture is horrified by eating dogs, but does not mind at all eating pigs):

KH: Why do we eat some animals and not others?

HH: That is really interesting, and it gets to the heart of the topic that I’m interested in, which is why we love some animals and why we dislike others. Some of the reasons are just stupid. At least from an objective point of view, if you go and look at biblical rules on meat eating, they are absolutely bizarre in terms of why it’s okay to eat a cow but not okay to eat a pig. It has to do with the shape of their hooves. Why is it okay to eat one type of insect but not another type of insect? It makes no logical sense at all…

I think most of our meat choices are determined by cultural habits and things that get simply passed down from generation to generation. When I was a kid, the idea of eating raw fish would have just been hilarious, and now the idea of eating raw fish is universally accepted. In my little town in western North Carolina, a real conservative place, we have a terrific little Japanese restaurant that people flock to to eat raw fish. Why is sushi popular now when it wasn’t 40 years ago? For the most part, our food choices are governed by the same sorts of fads and fashions that govern our taste in clothing, or whether you wear your baseball hat backward or forward, or what kind of a dog you get.

KH: So it’s basically meaningless?

HH: No. And that’s the difference between deciding what animals you eat and deciding what animals you want to live with as a dog. And the reason is that meat involves killing a creature. That is the great paradox. On the one hand, we’ve evolved, I think, to be empathetic with creatures and to anthropomorphize them. So you see an animal like a puppy and you see a little bit of yourself or your kid in that puppy. But on the other hand, you see a pig — and I think little pigs are adorable — and you want at one level to empathize with the pig but on another level you want to eat that pig. The same thing is true with puppies.

Culture can overcome our natural inclination sometimes. So, for example, we find it absolutely abhorrent, the idea of eating a puppy, but in China, Korea, Southeast Asia, people commonly eat puppies. Twenty-five million puppies or older dogs are eaten each year, and they are considered delicacies. And for most of human history, it’s likely that animals were more likely to be eaten than kept as pets. So that’s why meat is so deliciously morally complicated. It is a meaningless decision on one level but, on the other, it’s very meaningful.

Yep.  The least us pork eaters can do is stop judging those who eat dogs (I’ve accomplished that much, at least).

The interview also gets into an interesting discussion of the ethical dimensions of eating different types of meat.  Honestly, I sometimes do choose chicken over pork and beef because I know it has less negative environmental impact and I figure that the chicken’s suffering is less than that of a pig or cow because the latter are much smarter.  I never considered how many individual chickens versus pigs or cows this impacts, though:

KH: A Big Mac or a chicken nugget? I mean, I suppose the Big Mac would be worse because cows seems more sentient than chickens, despite the fact that chickens are probably treated worse. I put more value on a cow’s life than a chicken’s.

HH: That’s why you’re completely wrong. You have to remember that this is the moral calculus of utilitarianism, which means basically that if you are a sentient animal, you count in the moral calculus. Well, there are 280 — and I did the math on this — there are 280 chickens in a cow. So in other words, to kill one cow, you take one life. To get the equivalent amount of animal protein, you have to kill 280 chickens. Now, by that logic, the animal of choice for animal activists to eat would be a blue whale, because there are 80,000 chicken souls to make up the soul of one blue whale. I contacted Ingrid Newkirk herself, the head of PETA, and asked her if she would agree with me on that, and she said, “Absolutely.” She said if an animal rights activist is going to eat meat, they should eat whales. Eat more whales. So that’s one of the ironies is that beef is more moral than chicken, eating a whale is more moral than eating beef.

I don’t like the use of the term “souls,” for chickens, but I’m quite comfortable saying that it’s worth killing 80,000 chickens instead of one blue whale.  280 chickens versus 1 cow… hmmm.  These are interesting and tricky moral/philosophical issues, so I think I’ll fall back on the environmental as the environmental impact for a pound of meat is pretty clear– listen to the Chik-Fil-A cows and eat more chicken.

Photo of the day

From the Telegraph’s animal photos of the week.  Is it just me, or is that the most human-looking expression you’ve seen on an owl:

A cute owl can barely hide the excitement in its eyes as it hunts for food from a tree branch. The Tengmalm's Owl - typically nocturnal and unsociable - is a rare sight because they usually avoid any human contact. However, this one's piercing yellow eyes were unperturbed by photographer Eugenijus Kavaliauskas' presence nearby. Sitting within 15 yards of the tree, experienced bird photographer Eugenijus told how it was an 'unusual stroke of luck' to see an owl of this kind so close. The 55 year old said: 'It was perched on a tree branch and was hunting smaller migrating birds.

A Tengmalm’s owl hunts for food from a perch in a tree in Silute, LithuaniaPicture: Eugenijus Kavaliauskas/Solent News

Quick hits

1) How the year you born influences your political views.

2) How always blaming mental illness for mass shootings is a cop-out.

3) The BBC ranks the 100 best American films.

4) On how schools should be working on building non-cognitive skills.

5) The new chair of the NC GOP is completely nuts.  Here he has decided to link Hillary Clinton to the KKK.

6) Great Upshot piece by Brendan Nyhan on how to use and interpret presidential election polls.  This is going to be assigned reading for multiple classes.

7) On how the Southern Drawl is fading away in Raleigh.  Safe to say my two children born in the area don’t have the slightest hint of a Southern accent.

8) Yes, the mob justice for killer of Cecil the Lion (honestly, I think it is pretty awesome that he is losing his dental practice over this) is arbitrary and severe.  As German Lopez points out, so is very much of American criminal justice.

9) We bought What Pet Should I Get last night.  Not Seuss’s greatest, but good stuff.  That said, it’s pretty clear that he never had any intention of publishing it and that makes me somewhat uncomfortable.

10) Very cool NYT multi-media feature on a rogue fishing boat and the environmentalists that hounded them for thousands of miles.

11) No standing desks for me!  But some good evidence that just a little bit of movement interrupting your sitting can make a big difference.  Between my small bladder and short-attention span at work and my whiny/demanding kids at home, I’d like to think this probably works out okay for me.

12) Not all surprising, but certainly damning is the way the police officers in Cincinnati worked together to agree to a false narrative in the Dubose shooting.

13) Your long read: NYT Magazine feature on Republican efforts to roll back the Voting Rights Act.  Sadly, North Carolina plays a starring role.

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