Friday, February 19, 2010

Uncomfortably Numb

This isn't an issue that's necessarily big news or sweeping the world with controversy, but I read it and here it is. A New York Times Op-Ed piece discusses the possibility of engineering feed animals with a reduced ability to feel pain. As the author himself admits, "If we cannot avoid factory farms altogether, the least we can do is eliminate the unpleasantness of pain in the animals that must live and die on them. It would be far better than doing nothing at all." It's true. It is practically the least that can be done.

One of the fundamental philosophies behind (non-human) animal rights is that humans are not special beyond their specific abilities. That is, humans are not blessed by god, they were not created uniquely for a higher purpose and the life of a human animal is not inherently more valuable than that of a non-human animal. If there is greater value in the life of a human, then it would be because the fully-functioning human brain has a higher potential for pleasure and pain than that of a so-called lower animal. Beyond this occasionally enhanced potential for pleasure or pain, there is no reason (in my mind) to give an animal capable of pleasure or pain less consideration. Not to say that all farm animals should be given houses and furniture and fancy meals, because I don't imagine a cow or goat would appreciate those things. But I'm sure that even if the standard broiler chicken wouldn't appreciate Wi-Fi or indoor plumbing as much as I do it would still prefer not to be crammed in a cage with its beak sawn off. Even if it could be bred to not feel the pain of its amputated beak or its overstressed bones and joints the restriction of movement would still cause it mental anguish. It would live its pathetic life in fear instead of fear and pain. In a sick way, I suppose this is progress.


2 comments:

Ed said...

"If there is greater value in the life of a human, then it would be because the fully-functioning human brain has a higher potential for pleasure and pain than that of a so-called lower animal."

I may be nit picking here, but humans do not have "greater value" than non human animals. I think they may have a greater right to life (not value) because of their increased capacity to suffer and experience pleasure.


Have you read about "test tube" meat?

http://hplusmagazine.com/articles/bio/eight-ways-vitro-meat-will-change-our-lives

nathaniel wallace said...

I suppose you're right, Ed. I didn't really spend as much time constructing my phrasing as I should have.

It appears that I fell into the standard Western chauvinism by even using the term 'value' when what I meant was 'right to life.'

I really don't believe that I have greater value than a chicken, cow or dog simply because I have higher brain function, although on a personal level I do value some specific humans higher than most animals. I also value several specific dogs (mine) higher than most humans in the world. But that's just me.