Thursday, August 25, 2011

Happy Stories and Ugly Reality

-- Posted by Neil H. Buchanan

Both of my posts last week were concerned with the depictions in popular culture of important social issues. On Thursday, I discussed the negative and inaccurate depictions of vegans in movies and television, while Friday's post described the disturbing tendency of movies and TV shows to portray prostitution as a non-problematic "profession," ignoring or winking at the coercion and violence (or the threat thereof) that is almost surely the reality for prostitutes (especially the child slaves of sex traffickers) around the world.

The discussions on the comment boards for the two posts were interesting and instructive. In response to my concern about the negative depictions of vegans, Professors Dorf, Colb, and other readers argued convincingly that being ridiculed is actually a good sign, because it means that we have become influential enough to be worth singling out for ridicule. That is not a guarantee of ultimate success, but I do find their suggestion more than plausible (and, needless to say, comforting).

In response to Friday's post, a reader suggested that positive depictions of prostitute's lives are understandable efforts on the part of the creators of TV shows and movies to use material that fits with the theme of the shows/movies. We cannot expect a comedy like "The Guard" to deal with the kind of gritty reality that we saw in "The Whistleblower," and "The Guard" and "Fargo" used moments of genuine happiness in prostitute's lives to advance the story. While that explanation is very plausible, it raises a larger question that I want to explore further here, and that ties the two posts together in a somewhat unexpected way.

The sub-title of last Thursday's post, "The French, the Amish, and Vegans," captured the idea that some jokes are off-limits, whereas other jokes (and the choices of whom to make the butts of jokes) are socially acceptable. For example, I recently saw a light romantic comedy from 1936, "The Bride Walks Out," starring Barbara Stanwyck, in which there are four -- FOUR! -- separate jokes about wife beating. For good measure, one character also refers to "getting my shirts back from the Ch--ks" rather than "picking up the dry cleaning." Viewers of this year's re-release of "Breakfast at Tiffany's" saw the spectacle of Mickey Rooney in one of the most insulting depictions of an East Asian person on film. ("Breakfast at Tiffany's" is also relevant because Holly Golightly is a prostitute, but the movie goes to great lengths to downplay that fact -- so much so that many viewers think of her as simply a happy-go-lucky party girl.)

Today, of course, such depictions are either absent from TV and movies, or are handled with irony or disdain. Other topics never were, and never will be, the subject for broad comedy. The most obvious of these is the Holocaust, with even the most successful attempts at humor (Seinfeld's episode about "Schindler's List" being a prime example) ultimately not working very well, if at all. Even though people living through the Holocaust surely experienced moments of genuine happiness and even gaiety (I say "surely" because humans seem to have an uncanny knack to make the best of a bad situation, to laugh in the face of death, and to put even the worst horrors out of their minds temporarily), there is good reason that a movie like "The Guard" does not come along and show a bunch of Holocaust survivors as comic relief.

The question, then, is why it is unacceptable to, say, release a movie showing happy slaves in the South in 1855, whereas it is acceptable to treat prostitution as a source of light comedy. One possible answer, I think, lies in my comment in Friday's post about people's caricatured view of prostitution as a simple economic transaction without coercion: buyer wants service, offers price to seller of service, transaction occurs, service is provided, no problem. By imagining that the prostitutes on "Two and a Half Men" are highly-paid, treated well, and voluntarily enter into transactions for sex, viewers can enjoy the joke and not worry about the underlying reality.

Which, strangely enough, brings us back to veganism and animal rights. One of the most common experiences among vegans is being confronted by someone who wants to argue that vegans are not morally superior to non-vegans. (This generally happens not after a vegan says, "I'm morally superior to you," but when a vegan says something like, "I can't eat that, because I'm a vegan," or "Can I have that without the bacon?") The philosophical arguments about veganism have been discussed at length elsewhere (including on this blog a few years back), and it will serve no purpose to revisit them here. What is relevant, however, is the common argumentative move by which an anti-vegan describes a way to produce meat or other animal products that is arguably not cruel. "Would you eat veal from a calf that died of sudden-infant death syndrome?" "If there were a way to kill animals exactly at the point that they were going to die anyway, isn't the moral problem solved?" "It is possible to milk cows in a way that does not require that the male offspring are killed, and with the cows being treated humanely, right?"

While even these arguments are ultimately unavailing, the common theme that makes them relevant to this blog post is the replacement of reality with an alternative reality that makes the consumers of animal products somehow feel that they are not being immoral. They claim to be moral, however, by saying that since it would be possible to create an animal food product in a (supposedly) non-cruel way, then it is acceptable to eat and use all animal products, no matter how those products are actually produced. (As noted, these non-cruel alternatives are a myth, so that the "happy meat" movement is also off base, even if people limit themselves solely to non-factory farmed products.)

Similarly, the depictions of "sex workers" in movies and TV allow the viewer to imagine that the exploited people are not being exploited at all. If we can imagine a person choosing to be a prostitute without coercion, and enjoying it, then we can pretend that all prostitutes are happy and uncoerced.

But why stop at "happy hookers"? The basic logic here is that any morally problematic situation can be cleansed by telling ourselves a story about how that situation could have been the result of truly free choice. If that works so well, then how would such perverse logic not extend to rape? We can always imagine that two people (even the rapist and his victim, in a different reality) might have met under the right circumstances, fallen in love, and decided to have sex as an expression of that love. Why let reality divert us from that beautiful story?

That last example, of course, shows just how ridiculous it is to rely on the alternative-reality story to justify ugly reality -- and to justify audiences' comfort in seeing depictions of the alternative reality in place of the ugliness. Some ugliness is not allowed to be scrubbed. Imagine the women in "The Help" (a new release about African-American women in 1950's-era Mississippi, working essentially as indentured servants for middle-class white families) being depicted as absolutely happy with their lot in life. Movies made during that era, in fact, did precisely that, often showing shoe-shine men and other stereotypes shuffling their way through life as happy as could be. American audiences today would broadly reject such "artistic choices," in ways that we do not yet reject happy depictions of prostitution, animal exploitation, and other horrific realities.

I do not know how or when certain topics cross the line, becoming ineligible for cleaned-up Hollywood treatments of life's ugly realities. At some point, one hopes, we will no longer nod and wink about the ugly realities discussed here. Until then, it is at least important to notice what American society has not yet rejected.


Paul Scott said...

If you consume illegal drugs, chance are very good that some torture, murder and exploitation of minors accompanies that consumption. In that case, however, we can say with nearly complete certainty that those "ugly realities" are the direct result of the legal status of the product being consumed.

With prostitution, there is probably more to it that merely its legal status and there would probably be some remaining exploitation and violence and other "ugly realit[ies]" if its legal status was changed. The closest example is the pornography industry which in spite of being a legal and somewhat regulated (and I would suggest that greater regulation would go a long way to curing some of the ugly reality) has some exploitation, including that of children, still connected to the industry at large.

My feeling is that it is very likely that in my lifetime (though probably near its end - assuming I fail to become an immortal technological being) I will see legalized and regulated narcotics and prostitution here in the US.

There is nothing you could do to take the torture, killing and exploitation of animals out of animal agriculture. You could (and people are working on) replace that exploitation by replacing the source of meat - moving from sentient vectors to petri dishes.

Ugly realities in the current expression or not, the actual products or transaction in, for example, prostitution or narcotics, are not filled with moral implication. It is not a fantasy to imagine a world where these products are freely available and largely free from the ugly realities you cite. The same can never be true of farmed animals.

Neil H. Buchanan said...

My thanks to Paul Scott for drawing out some of the important differences among the issues that I discussed. Any analogy will break down at some point, and it is good to think about the limits of my analogies in this post.

My big take-away from Paul Scott's comment is that the "happy stories" version of consuming animal products cannot possibly be expanded in a way that would allow people to consume animal products at anything like a mass-consumption level. That is, the "elderly sheep drops dead at your doorstep" story and its variants could, at most, allow the average person in the world to consume animal products once or twice a year. (Some of us wouldn't even do that, of course.)

I'm probably more worried about the "sex industries" than others, but even I will confess that (especially with a change in underlying sexual hang-ups) it is at least possible to imagine mass consumption of commercially-provided sexual gratification, without ugly hidden effects. Drugs are an easy call.

My larger point, however, was to note the commonality among people who claim that moral possibilities excuse immoral realities -- in sex and in animal exploitation, especially. It's all a big cop-out, and it harms millions of people and billions of animals every year.

Sam Rickless said...

I hate to wade back into the philosophical arguments about veganism, but I can't help it. It strikes me as just a bit too easy to criticize what is clearly a poor and surely not-well-thought-out "first" response on the part of defensive non-vegans: the claim that moral possibilities excuse moral realities. Surely you are right, Neil, that this claim is false. But non-vegans have a better argument than this, it seems to me. I'll try to be brief. Current farming methods result in the predictable killing of animals in the fields. Combine harvesters crush and slice small animals that get in their way, trucks that transport fruits and vegetables produce a significant amount of "roadkill", and so on. Sherry has rightly pointed out that those deaths are not intended. But the deaths *are* foreseen, avoidable (one could use simpler farming and distribution methods), and caused by those who make it possible for us to purchase fruits and vegetables at our local grocery stores. So the same argument that is used to establish the wrongness of purchasing animal products from those who purchase it from those who wrongfully kill animals also establishes the wrongness of purchasing fruits and vegetables from those who purchase them from those who wrongfully kill animals. Of course, it is true that many fewer animals are killed by those who are involved in the mass production and distribution of fruits and vegetables than are killed by those who are involved in the mass production and distribution of animal products. But this does not seem relevant to me, given that there are alternative (if extremely inconvenient) non-harm-involving ways of obtaining food. Perhaps all this shows is that only vegans who grow their own food or purchase it from local farms that only harvest harmlessly by hand and transport the produce harmlessly commit no wrong. But this is surely a non-trivial result. Besides, it is difficult for me to think of any purchase I make that does not involve me in the support of some company that regularly commits wrongful acts (exploitation, environmental destruction, pollution). This is simply the result of economies of scale, mass production, and globalization. In short: the best argument available to non-vegans is not that purchasing animal products is not wrong in this world because there is a possible world in which animal products are obtained in a non-wrongful way: it's that purchasing animal products in this world is no more wrong than purchasing (most) fruits and vegetables in this world.

For the rest, I certainly agree with you that we should not be winking at the coercion and violence that is the reality for the overwhelming majority of prostitutes, just as we should not be winking at the coercion and violence that is the reality of slavery, domestic abuse, and genocide. Point well taken.

Michael C. Dorf said...

Here are a three quick thoughts in response to Sam. I'll mostly use examples that involve harm to humans. (And then I'll read but not respond to any further replies because I'm swamped for the next few days.)

1) Your reasoning seems to make the best the enemy of the good. Let's say I have a choice of purchasing two different bags of coffee of roughly equal quality. Coffee 1 is fair trade and shade grown. Coffee 2 is grown on a plantation that was clear-cut from rain forest and harvested by slave labor. Both coffee 1 and coffee 2 were shipped to my local store by truck, using fossil fuels, and the driver of the truck has sub-optimal health insurance. As a result, purchasing coffee 1 is not a harmless act. Still, wouldn't we want to say that purchasing coffee 1 causes substantially LESS harm than purchasing coffee 2? If so, then I don't see why the fact that a vegan lifestyle causes harm to animals (including humans) is a reason to avoid such a lifestyle, when the likely alternatives are worse.

2)I take it therefore that the point of your intervention is really more about attitudes than ethics. People who are not themselves Jain saints should not act holier than thou. I agree entirely. Nobody should act holier than thou. I don't read Neil to disagree.

3) The distinction between causing harm intentionally and causing harm foreseeably is deeply embedded in law and ethics. One example from the international law of war: It's a war crime to intentionally kill civilians; it's permissible to foreseeably kill civilians as unintended "collateral damage" if there are legitimate military targets and the force is proportional. This distinction is also important in the criminal law and in many areas of tort law. I would also say it corresponds to our moral intuitions.

So bottom line as I see it: I have an obligation to avoid intentional killing entirely (except in self-defense or the equivalent) and an obligation to minimize foreseeable but unintentional killing. What "minimize" entails will differ for different people.

Sherry F. Colb said...

Neil, this is a wonderful post, extremely insightful and important. People do seem to have a tendency to assume that if they can imagine a scenario in which all is well, then everything really is okay. And your application of the idea to prostitution, animal rights and veganism, etc., was inspired and compelling. We're like children in that sense. On the question of collateral damage and its minimization, I highly recommend a fascinating book I read recently called "Comfortably Unaware." It is about the impact of consuming animal products on the planet, and the facts are quite startling. (Interestingly, for example, consuming "grass-fed" slaughtered animals actually creates even more greenhouse gases and uses up even more of our dwindling supply of clean water than eating the conventionally tortured variety, because it takes longer for the grass-fed animal to develop sufficient muscle mass to qualify for slaughter (3 years as opposed to 2, typically). Collateral consequences are yet another good reason to stop eating them. And once we do, I imagine that more farmers will find ways of growing crops that reduce the death of small animals (and we can then buy from those farmers).

Neil H. Buchanan said...

My thanks to Sam Rickless, Michael Dorf, and especially Sherry Colb for their supportive and helpful comments. I have a thought or two on Sam Rickless's central argument:

(1) You might be right that the argument I make here is "too easy," in that no serious person could believe the opposite. If so, then there are a lot of non-serious people out there, including people who are taken quite seriously. The most extensive dust-up on this blog, for example, involved an anti-vegan argument that proceeded from the assumption that there are ways to kill animals that are completely cruelty-free, and then concluded that there is no good argument for veganism.

While one could say, "Well, that was just arguendo," the ultimate argument was that vegans are morally deficient because -- after we set aside the actual harm that comes from real-world animal torture and death -- vegans are wrong to ascribe moral worth to animals' consciousness. In other words, vegans are morally deplorable, if we assume away the most obvious moral outrages that vegan diets help to prevent.

The "possibilities, not realities" approach is much more ubiquitous than one might think. It also comes cloaked in varying disguises. It is not, however, merely the province of off-the-cuff, sloppy responses.

(2) Perhaps I'm simply repeating Michael Dorf's response regarding the perfect being the enemy of the good, but I feel compelled to respond to the question of harms to animals caused by factory fruit and vegetable farming. I thought I was on the same wavelength as Sam Rickless, who seemed to be making an empirical argument (or raising an empirical possibility) that a vegan diet under certain conditions could increase net suffering. The following, however, lost me:

"Of course, it is true that many fewer animals are killed by those who are involved in the mass production and distribution of fruits and vegetables than are killed by those who are involved in the mass production and distribution of animal products. But this does not seem relevant to me, given that there are alternative (if extremely inconvenient) non-harm-involving ways of obtaining food."

It seems entirely relevant to me whether aggregate harm is greater in Situation A as opposed to Situation B, even if Situation C is better than both. Surely, we would not say that any non-zero harm justifies any total amount of harm. Vegans, to my knowledge, never claim to have done everything humanly possible to minimize suffering in the world. We do, however, claim that we are doing more than we did when we were non-vegans. Life is a process of improvement, not perfection.

By the way, regarding the possibility that maybe the underlying issue is about vegan's being holier-than-thou, everyone knows that some of that attitide will exist in any group that is committed to a shared moral vision. I don't condone it, even as I wonder whether I have done it myself. When I said in this post that non-vegans get angry and defensive even about statements like "Can I get this without bacon?" I meant it. Even talking about a choice not to eat meat can be met with a fierce you're-not-holier-than-me rant.

Neil H. Buchanan said...

Just to be clear, when I said in my previous comment that I was "on the same wavelength" regarding the possibility that a vegan diet could increase net suffering, I meant only to say that I understand that it is numerically possible that non-animal farming could create more net death than animal farming.

This possibility, however, is an example of the type of reasoning that I describe in my Friday post (which is now up, as I write this comment), regarding numerical possibilities not being the same thing as empirically plausible arguments.

Both Sam Rickless and I agree that the suffering of animals due to fruit and vegetable farming is nowhere near the suffering due to direct animal exploitation. We apparently disagree about whether that matters. I think it matters, even if there are other things that we could be doing to reduce suffering still more.

Sam Rickless said...

Thanks to all of you for your comments. Here are some thoughts in reply (divided into two posts).

@ Mike

(1) I guess I'm still trying to figure out the principle behind the moral imperative of veganism. Some of Sherry's posts in the past made me think that the principle is a close cousin of the doctrine of doing and allowing, namely that causing harm to others is impermissible if there is a harmless, even if more inconvenient, alternative that yields the same (or a similar) result. By this principle, assuming that purchasing animal products causes harm and that there are alternative ways to address human needs for food, shelter, and clothing that do not involve animal products, it follows that purchasing animal products is impermissible. But then, as I argued in my previous post, the same principle entails that purchasing fruits and vegetables from most grocery stores is also impermissible. Do you accept this reasoning? If so, then you should reject the principle. But then we need another principle to justify the moral imperative of veganism.

You say that you don't see why the fact that a vegan lifestyle causes harm to animals is a reason to avoid such a lifestyle, when the likely alternatives are worse. I'm not sure what you mean by "likely alternatives", but it seems to me fairly clear that it is *possible*, even if very inconvenient, to live without purchasing fruits and vegetables from grocery stores. One could, as a former grad student friend of mine once did, move to a farm and grow one's own food. One could purchase fruits and vegetables only from local farms. So if one is doing harm by purchasing fruits and vegetables from grocery stores (because those items are mass harvested by machines and transported by machines, in ways that harm animals), and there are alternatives to doing so that yield a similar result, then why isn't that a good moral reason to avoid purchasing fruits and vegetables from grocery stores? If it is, then veganism (as usually practised) is an immoral lifestyle, even if it is not (according to the relevant principle) *as* bad as the typical non-vegan lifestyle.

Consider the Two Coffees example, which is useful. You say that purchasing Coffee 1 is not a harmless act. But then why do it? You don't need coffee to survive, I presume. And even if you did need it to survive, does that excuse doing harm to others? I imagine that you don't think that it's permissible for you to kill an innocent person to save yourself. (Example: The only way to stop a runaway trolley that is about to crush you is to throw a bomb at it, a bomb that will kill an innocent bystander. I hope you agree with me that it is impermissible to throw the bomb.) So if you really think that buying Coffee 1 causes harm to others, then, it seems to me, you shouldn't do it. (It's no excuse to say that it's much better to purchase Coffee 1 than it is to purchase Coffee 2. That's a bit like saying that it's much better to harm one child than it is to harm five children.)

But here's the thing: I don't think that veganism is an immoral lifestyle at all. And given that I think that it is indeed wrong to cause harm when there are non-harmful alternatives that yield similar results, that suggests to me that veganism (the one that involves purchasing fruits and vegetables from grocery stores) does not cause harm. Actually, I think (on independent grounds) that it doesn't. Vegans who purchase fruits and vegetables from those who purchase them from those who harvest them and transport them using machines that harm animals do not cause harm to those animals (or to future animals). The causation relation is far more robust than this.

Sam Rickless said...


(2) My discussion was about ethics, not attitudes. I am not saying that vegans should not act holier than thou. Of course, I agree that no-one should act holier than thou, but that is not my point. See (1) above.

(3) I completely agree that the distinction between intending harm and merely foreseeing harm is deeply embedded in morality. (Indeed, I have just co-written a paper arguing as much.) But I don't see how this is relevant to our discussion. Consider the case of collateral damage in war. It is indeed sometimes permissible to cause collateral damage in war. But wartime circumstances are special. We are assuming that the war is just, that there is no less harmful way to defeat the unjust enemy, and that the consequences of defeat would be horrible. The corresponding claims cannot be made in the veganism debate. In particular, there are (ex hypothesi) less harmful ways of procuring food than by purchasing the food from grocery stores; and the consequences of not purchasing food from grocery stores would not be horrible (one would simply be reduced to growing one's own food or purchasing it from local farmers). Just as it would be impermissible to cause collateral damage in war if there were a way to defeat the enemy without causing such damage and/or if the consequences of defeat were not horrible, so, it would seem (assuming that typical veganism causes foreseen but unintended harm to animals), it would be impermissible to purchase fruits and vegetables from grocery stores.

@ Neil: I will grant you that you've heard the argument that you criticize often enough that you think it worth criticizing. That's fine with me. I agree with you that it's a bad argument, and, moreover, that it's both interesting and worthwhile to point that out.

It's important, I think, whether you think (i) that purchasing animal products harms animals or (ii) that refusing to purchase animal products helps animals (by reducing suffering in the aggregate). If you accept (i), then I think you are mistaken (see comments addressed to Mike above), and I also think that you are open to the objection I raised earlier, which is that purchasing fruits and vegetables from grocery stores also harms animals. If you accept (ii), then I'm still not sure I agree, but I don't think it matters whether I do. For even if I agree, it doesn't follow that veganism is morally *required* and non-veganism morally *impermissible*. All that follows is that veganism is beneficent, and it may well be that such beneficence is supererogatory, as much beneficence is. Example: It would cause more good for me to devote the time that I have just devoted to replying to your posts to helping at my local soup kitchen instead. But it doesn't follow that I am doing something morally wrong in replying to your posts. Similarly, even if I agree that veganism helps animals, it doesn't follow that veganism is morally required.

Michael C. Dorf said...

[I said that I wouldn't reply to any furhter points here, but Sam specifically asked what I think, so I'll weigh in (and then bow out). Sam, please note that these are my own numbers; they don't correspond to yours.]

1) I believe that consuming animal products causes harm to animals--the ones that will be harmed and killed due to the small but non-trivial contribution of my demand. It is not that failure to consume such products helps animals, any more than my refraining from killing my human neighbor helps him. Sam, I know you disagree about causation, but I find your argument unpersuasive (just as you find mine unpersuasive).

2) So I have a moral duty not to consume animal products, but I would qualify that by adding the conditional "if I can do so without inordinate difficulty." That qualifier is, at least for me, stronger than it is for humans. For example, if a mosquito is biting my arm, and I can't just shoo it away, I'll slap at it and probably kill it, even though I would not think to use deadly force against a human who was merely pinching me.

3) Now this qualifier means that different people will have different perceptions about what counts as "inordinate difficulty." Most people believe that it would be very difficult to become vegan, but, having once believed this myself, I now think that they're simply mistaken. I believe that going vegan does not lead to inordinate difficulty. On the contrary, it has many benefits.

4) Perhaps the same is true about purchasing fruits and vegetables harvested in the way you describe. I generally buy local organic fruits and vegetables, but not invariably. Given my skill set, I think it would be very difficult for me to grow my own fruits and vegetables. To the extent that I am mistaken about this, I am causing harm without justification, which I regret.

5) Part of the "inordinate difficulty" calculation takes into account what sorts of pleasures that are not necessary for survival are legitimate to pursue despite the fact that their pursuit will cause harm. I gave the example of coffee but I might have given any number of others. Here's one: Driving. Let's put aside environmental issues and focus just on accidents. When you drive, you impose a risk on your fellow humans (putting aside animals) that you will injure or even kill some of them. Each decision to drive is therefore a decision to risk people's lives. For any given trip, if you could walk, even though it would take a very long time and would leave you tired, do you have a moral obligation to walk rather than drive? I think the answer is usually "no," because for most people, walking would often be inordinately difficult.

Bottom line: I think that avoiding harm may be supererogatory when the harm can only be avoided at great cost. I have discovered that becoming a vegan is not a great cost but a great benefit, so I feel a moral obligation to be one--although by this point I don't think of it as anything other than how I want to live. To the extent that I "proselytize" for veganism, I avoid making philosophical arguments in favor of simply telling people how positive an experience veganism has been for me.

Sam Rickless said...

Thanks for your comments, Mike. They help me to see the principle that guides your decision to be a vegan. What interests me, of course, is whether the principle is true, and, of course, whether it entails that becoming a vegan is morally required. (I don't take you or your fellow vegan bloggers to be proselytizing.)

The principle, I take it, is this: One has a moral duty not to cause harm if (and only if?) one can avoid causing harm without inordinate difficulty. As you see it, because one can avoid causing harm to animals by not purchasing animal products and one can do so without inordinate difficulty, one has a moral duty not to purchase animal products. However, because one can't avoid purchasing non-locally-grown fruits and vegetables without inordinate difficulty, one does not have a moral duty to avoid purchasing non-locally-grown fruits and vegetables.

This is an interesting principle, and it may be that something in the vicinity is true, but I think the principle is false. The problem has to do with "inordinate difficulty". I take it that this has to do with the kind of cost that avoiding a certain kind of action would impose on one. It costs one a great deal in terms of time and effort to walk instead of driving, to grow one's own fruits and vegetables (if one has a black thumb) instead of purchasing them at the grocery store. But consider. It would cost me my *life* to avoid harming the bystander who is standing next to the runaway train that I need to bomb in order to save my life. It follows that it would be inordinately difficult for me to avoid throwing the bomb. Yet throwing the bomb is impermissible. The "only if" part of the biconditional principle is therefore false.

Now consider the "if" part of the biconditional. Imagine that I am a bomber pilot in a just war, that the only way to defeat the enemy is by dropping bombs on its weapons caches, but that I know that I will kill some innocent civilians if I do so. It looks permissible for me to drop the bombs and thereby kill innocent civilians. But it is not inordinately difficult for me to avoid dropping the bombs. So the "if" part of the biconditional principle is false too.

I think that it makes more sense to treat the concept of inordinate difficulty as relevant to the duty to help rather than to the duty not to harm. But even with respect to helping, I don't think that morality *requires* us to provide assistance to others whenever it would not be inordinately difficult for us to do so. In many of these cases, our helping is supererogatory. I think one could make a good case for the view that the refusal to purchase animal products helps many animals (while the refusal to purchase fruits and vegetables from grocery stores helps many fewer animals). On this basis, one could argue that keeping to a vegan lifestyle does some good (and that many people keeping to such a lifestyle would do a great deal of good). I'll go with you this far. Where I differ with you, I think, is over whether helping animals in this way is a moral duty. You think it is, I think it's not. Maybe you are ultimately more attracted to consequentialism than I am. That would certainly be one way to explain the difference in our judgments.