Friday, January 29, 2010

You eat cows, we eat dolphins

This was a line from a documentary I recently saw - The Cove.

As a piece of documentary film, I cannot recommend this strongly enough, though I found it impossible to watch the last 5 minutes of the film and other short parts were difficult to get through as well. The overall story is a documentary about how the last 5 minutes of the film were shot and it is fascinating.

What I am taking the time to write about, however, is just a few lines from the film. A small Japanese village (Taiji) is the source of pretty much every dolphin at all of the world's very popular sea entertainment facilities. Only a handful of dolphins are sold each year (though because of their quite high two- and five-year mortality rate in captivity, sea entertainment facilities always need a ready supply of entertainment dolphins). In addition to the handful that are captured for sale to the sea entertainment industry, approximately 35,000 dolphins are brutally slaughtered for their meat.

When interviewed, a few Japanese officials had the following to say:

1. You eat cows, we eat dolphins.

2. I have never been shown a valid reason why these creatures (the dolphins) are different from other animals

3. It is a matter of pest control (the dolphins, after all, eat some of the same fish that Japanese fishermen target for harvest and they eat a lot of them).

To me, those lines were some of the most interesting in the film. Not for the reasons the film-makers had intended, however. I am sure the film-makers thought of those lines a "crazy" (they certainly presented them in that light). To me, however, they are all true. They represent the hypocrisy of attempting to label the horrifying slaughter of these caring, intelligent creatures as a moral repugnance all the while chewing on your hamburger.

It is a very fine line saying Creature X is deserving of nothing more than a short life of torture because we savor the taste of its flesh, but Creature Y is "too smart" or "too cute" or "too loving of man" to deserve the same fate, thus we must protect it and become outraged if someone does not share that view.

If you are a person who eats meat, or dairy or eggs, you are effectively surrendering your moral authority to complain about the atrocities in kind others commit. Ultimately these things are all interconnected. A person who has lost empathy and respect for some non-human animals will not be far from losing it for all.

If you do watch The Cove and are horrified by what you see, please give that horror some thought before your next meal.

Doing some additional searching, I found this CNN clip in which O'Berry replies to this exact criticism with "Well you don't torture pigs and cows for 30 hours before you kill them." It is too bad the CNN reporter did not press this point.

-- posted by Paul Scott


Derek said...

Interesting comparison. I remember having similar thoughts about a documentary I saw years ago about bull fighting. The bull fighting apologists accused their meat eating detractors of hypocrisy. It's a fair criticism.

Len said...

There is a South Park episode that makes this same point. If you find South Park funny it is worth watching.

My road to vegetarianism started because I asked why I would eat a pig and not a dog. Same idea I think.

Administrator said...

Well, if you take your logic to its very extreme end, couldn't the same argument -- ignoring common laws - for instance, be used to justify cannabilism? or is that just bad becuase those are the same creatures as us?

Is the food chain bad? Is meat eating, though part of nature, inherently wrong. if it is not, does that make any views that don't include all meat therefore hypocritical?

Dolphin brains are extremely similar to ours. If some people think that's really cool,and that the reason we evolved further and they didn't was because we are on land and have hands and thumbs, and they don't, and that in their view its pretty crass to consume them as a matter of choice, how is that then hypocritical?

Is it hypocritical, if your neighbor ate his dog (or, a stray dog that had no home), for you or another neighbor to complain about that while themselves being a non vegetarian? Is it wrong for most people to see dogs differently, because they are considered "friends" of ours? Is this morally wrong to view dolphins the same way?

The only way it seems to put an equivalence on all potential non vegetarian consumption would be to refute the morality of any meat eating. But then is this not a refutation of the food chain itself? Being a vegetarian may be a smart or good thing, for various reasons, but is eating meat itself intrinsically wrong? (I am not addressing the separate question of the seemingly cruel conditions at least some of our meat providing animals are raised in).

And if it is wrong then why is fish eating(not mammal dolphin, but the actual fish dolphin, or any other actual fish)not? If there is a differentiation between mammals and fish, is a differentiation between animals that we feel a closer kinship to wrong? Isnt the reason cannabilism wrong, again laws aside, because we feel the closest kinship of all to those who are closest to us?

Meanwhile, you are a law professor, where is all of the outrage over a recent, radical, supreme court decision, the reasons why it is atrocious, and significantand the effort to correct it?

Administrator said...

I agree with you by the way on the pharmaceutical deal with Obama, and I also think that deal was wrong. But then, this administration has paid advocates to promote the health care plan, while referring to them as independent (referred to here as relatively minor in comparison with much bigger issues) and covered here

Also, regarding this health care bill and opposition based upon cost (as opposed, to, say, the idea that the plan only mandates what is at the root of much of the problem -- for profit middleman health insurance for routine non catastrophic or severe costs, adding most of the costs, hassles, and getting between doctors and patients routinely) how much talk was there about a Bush Administration deal several years back that amounted to a one trillion dollar plus edrug program xpenditure for "seniors" that was essentially a giveaway of taxpayer money to drug companies.

The same people fighting health care on the cost idea make complaing about miniscule multi million dollar expenditures, that are not even a drop of a drop in the bucket of what that one program pushed through congress, based upon Bush administration isrepresentation on cost estimates, wound up costing (and is costing) and adding to our federal debt.

It didn't address the health care problem, and it will have added when all is said and done, over a trillion dollars to our federal debt alone (if it has not already, have not seen latest estimates). So Obama'a deal with drug companies to get them to advertise seems particularly unsettling. additionally, if the plan is good enough that pharmaceutical companies are advertising for it, how can it be maximizing benefits for taxpayers?

In other words, any money spent by the government advertising this plan -- be it concessions to these big industries that then spend money for promotion in exchange, or directly, is money that is a waste. the plan if it is good ought to be able to be sold (or just simply passed in Congress) based on its merits, not advertising that is in fact coming out of what could be going into the plan itself to make it better.

Michael C. Dorf said...


First, a point of clarification. The post on which you're commenting was authored by Paul Scott, whereas the post you reference in your second comment--re the Obama deal with Pharma--is by me.

On the merits of Paul's post, I don't understand why you think that the "food chain" has any normative significance. Some animals have evolved in such a way that they need to eat other animals, or at least they will do so if left to their own devices. However, the consumption of animal products is not necessary for humans to lead healthy, satisfying lives. Thus, the consumption of products of other sentient beings--whether beings with cognitive capacities close to our own, like dolphins and great apes, or those with rich emotional lives but less developed frontal cortexes--is a gratuitous harm we inflict on these other beings. The fact that lions in the wild hunt antelopes does not appear to have any obvious implications for the moral choice we make when we decide whether to inflict death and suffering on cows or dolphins to satisfy cravings that could readily be satisfied by vegetable products.

And if you're wondering about plants, I suggest you read Sherry Colb's earlier post on just that point:

heathu said...

The fact there is a “food chain” does have normative significance but only for those people that can fairly claim to be a natural part of it. Last month National Geographic magazine had a fascinating article on the the Hadza people of Northern Tanzania, who are one of the last true hunter gatherers left in the world. The Hadza, in addition to eating roots and tubers, do hunt, mostly dik-diks (a type of small antelope) and warthogs. I don’t believe the Hadza have a moral obligation assimilate into western society and become vegans because of the harm they inflict on some individual dik-diks, even that harm is the ultimate harm, death. (Any vegans you there, do you believe they are morally obliged to do so? Not trying to goad anyone here, just genuinely curious.) Predation is a part of the dik-diks lives. They are exquisitely well-adapted to avoid the danger, whether it appears in the form of a Hadza or a leopard, even though some of the dik-diks will be necessary succumb.

So to address directly Administrator’s questions “Is the food chain bad? Is meat eating, though a part of nature, inherently wrong[?]” The answer would be no. The problem I have with the meat industry, though, is the same one I have with the sex industry: the fact it exists. Neither should be an industry at all. Most people find sexual relations a natural and rewarding part of their lives, but many are offended when it is commercialized and certainly don’t think it should be bought or sold outright. For those who think eating meat is a rewarding part of their lives, and is natural or normal because such a thing exists in nature, the response would be that the industry part of the meat equation, in particular the drive for profit, strips anything natural out of the meat that is produced or danger the animals face.

Paul Scott said...

"Any vegans you there, do you believe they are morally obliged to do so? Not trying to goad anyone here, just genuinely curious."

I don't think the answer is that simple. Just, by way of example, assume their tradition was not hunting dik-diks, but was instead human sacrifice. Do we have a problem with that? I think so and similarly I think I do have a problem with hunter-gather tribes on similar grounds. It is also possible, and I really have no idea, that dik-dik hunting by the Hadza is an essential part of maintaining the local ecosphere. If so, then I would have no more trouble with dik-dik hunting by the Hadza then I would antelope hunting by lions. I don't know enough about the situation to comment further, other than to say the facts you laid out alone are insufficient for me to pass judgment.

With that said, whatever the answers to the above may be, I do think any dik-dik hunting problem has got to be close to the lowest priority I can imagine. The top priority is the one you mention - industrial farming.

When the modern world has converted to a vegan diet and animal farming is banned world-wide for industrialized nations, then the issue (if any) and the dik-diks can be considered.

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