Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Dogfighting is not Factory Farming

On a few blogs that I read on a regular basis, there's a meme floating around that there is a moral equivalence between factory farming and dogfighting that subjects Vick-haters to charges of hypocrisy. Here's Scott Lemieux exemplifying this viewpoint:

...since I consume the products of factory-farmed meat, I'm not sure that selective moral outrage at Michael Vick is particularly justifiable.

There are, I think, some colorable substantive distinctions; in particular, Vick's actions (not just the dogfighting but the additional torture-killing of the dogs) represents a sadism for its own sake that factory farming doesn't, and hence it's reasonable for the law to treat them differently. But is this distinction enough to justify significant federal jail time for Vick in a country where factory farming is not only legal but subsidized? Seems like a hard case to make.

This is silly. There is a world of difference between factory farming and dogfighting, and I think Lemieux-and others-are guilty of overthinking the problem.

For one, dogfighting involves entertainment, whereas factory farming involves food. Any moral decision that implicates what we eat on a daily basis-in other words, what is an essential requirement for life-is going to have to meet a very different test than one that involves the gratuitous infliction of cruelty upon animals for mere entertainment. For one, there's a relatively low cost to banning dogfighting; a few mouth-breathers lose the kicks they get out of watching dogs wound and kill each other. Banning factory farming is another matter entirely; restrictions on what and how we eat, implemented in short order, would significantly raise the cost of food and lower the amount of food available. As a result, arguments for banning or curtailing factory farming must meet a higher standard to find success.

Secondly, I remain convinced that most Americans don't know what goes into putting food on their plates, whether it's plant or animal. I'm sure a lot of people-when they put their minds to it-realize that millions of animals must be killed a year to ensure our cheap supply of meat, but how many Americans have read a book or watched a documentary that details the horrors of factory farms? That might be due to apathy, but it probably also has something to do with ad campaigns that sell us cheap and convenient food, ignoring the cost to animals and the cost to our health. So, nobody knows much of anything about pigs and cows and chickens and whatnot, except for what they see on Saturday morning cartoons.

But everybody knows someone who owns a dog, or they own a dog themselves. They are quite familiar with the family dog as a pet, friend and companion, and while Americans may not balk at inflicting casual or unintentional cruelties on their furry friends, they do know that pumping dogs up to go to war with each other is wrong. The story of Michael Vick touches a nerve among so many Americans because so many Americans themselves have a dog at home, and can never imagine doing the things to their dog(s) that Michael Vick did to his.

Factory farming is horrible. But so is dogfighting. But dogfighting is already illegal in all 50 states to one degree or another. In other words, we as a society have already made up our mind what we think of dogfighting, whereas the jury is still out on factory farming and other abuses of animals (inhumane types of animal experimentation for example) that strike closer to our vital interests. Being outraged by dogfighting, but not yet by factory farming, is an entirely normal and moral responsible. If anything, the argument that this sort of thinking is hypocritical is dangerous and counter-productive, as it's proponents appear to be arguing that since we permit factory farming, why should we let ourselves get all upset about mere dogfighting? Or by extension, any version of animal cruelty in general? And worse, posts like Lemiuex's leave one with the impression that the writer is trying to concoct a post hoc justification for eating factory farmed animals day in and day out; their superiority in avoiding moral hypocrisy allows them to rise above the condemnations that they themselves lodge against those who deplore dogfighting but eat at McDonalds nonetheless. And in the meantime, legitimate efforts to strengthen anti-dogfighting laws, or even broaden the discussion into the legitimacy of other uses of animals by us, go completely undiscussed.


Anonymous said...

Your argument is the silly one.

Torture is torture regardless of the mindset of the torturer.

Eating meat is not essential to life.

One can produce vastly more non meat food than meat food per acre of farmland.

It's not as though the restrictions can't be imposed gradually.

"Being outraged by dogfighting, but not yet by factory farming, is an entirely normal and moral responsible." To not be offended by factory farming is morally responsible?

"Factory farming is horrible. But so is dogfighting."
Or dogfighting is horrible. But so is Factory farming.

Willful ignorance is no excuse.

Xanthippas said...

I'm not sure you followed the gist of my post. My concern was that rhetorically linking dogfighting with factory farming gives the impression that we should be less concerned about dog fighting, not more concerned about factory farming. Click on the "animal rights" tag below this post and you'll see that I probably share an opinion of factor farming that's remarkably similar to yours.