Saturday, April 15, 2017

Consistent Vegetarianism and the Suffering of Wild Animals

Is life in the wild worse than life on the farm?

If so, and if life on the farm is worse than no life at all, then life in the wild must be worse than no life at all. And it would seem that reducing the number of wild animals should be top priority. From the paper in the Journal of Practical Ethics:
Some consequentialists may be vegetarian because of environmental concerns, and others for non-consequentialist reasons, but these are not my main focus here.
 Instead he focuses on ethical consequentialist vegetarians. But I wonder how many of them will retreat to environmental concerns or non-consequentialist reasons when their view is criticized?
Vegetarians reduce the demand for meat, so that farmers will breed fewer animals... I will argue that if vegetarians were to apply this principle consistently, the suffering of wild animals would dominate their concerns, and would plausibly lead them to support reducing the number of wild animals, for instance through habitat destruction or sterilisation.
 This puts vegetarians in a trap. If life on the farm is worse than not getting a life at all, then surely life in the wild is worse than no life at all, because the nature is horrible (evidence that nature is horrible is the next part, but I think it's obvious). On the other hand, if no life at all is worse than life on the farm, then reducing the demand for farmed animals just keeps them out of existence.
Nature is often romanticised as a well-balanced idyll, so this may seem counter-intuitive. But extreme forms of suffering like starvation, dehydration, or being eaten alive by a predator are much more common in wild animals than farm animals. Crocodiles and hyenas disembowel their prey before killing them (Tomasik 2009). In birds, diseases like avian salmonellosis produce excruciating symptoms in the final days of life, such as depression, shivering, loss of appetite, and just before death, blindness, incoordination, staggering, tremor and convulsions
Again, this shouldn't really need evidence. Nature is nothing like Bambi, it's like animal planet.

He quotes Richard Dawkins along the same lines:
During the minute it takes me to compose this sentence, thousands of animals are being eaten alive; others are running for their lives, whimpering with fear; others are being slowly devoured from within by rasping parasites; thousands of all kinds are dying of starvation, thirst and disease.
That was a very smart quote, especially since many vegetarians are Dawkins lovers.
Some may choose to treat this outlandish conclusion as a reductio against consequentialist ethical vegetarianism (either against the idea that farm animals matter morally or against the belief that we should prevent them from coming into existence).
I always note the difference between reductio-ad-absurdum and reductio-ad-a-conclusion-I-don't-like. If you really had enough evidence to say that farm animals are better off never born, and then new evidence comes along and points out that wild animals are even worse off than that, then you follow reason where it leads: start preventing wild animals from existing!

Or on the other hand you could admit that you never had enough evidence in the first place, and then introspect on why it seemed to appealing at first. Is it social desirability bias? Maybe because you thought that cause looked good on you?