Saturday, March 5, 2011

Have your conscience and eat it, too.

Dan Cudahy of Unpopular Vegan Essays has a penetrating essay on the rationalizations people use to keep themselves ignorant of the suffering caused by their consumption of farm animals.

There’s a different type of rationalization used by people who acknowledge the misery and horror farm animals endure but are unwilling to stop consuming them. People like Michael Pollan. One of his recurring themes is how conflicted he feels about it all. Michael Pollan doesn't want the animals to suffer. He wishes there were a way he could get at their tasty flesh without having to slaughter them. This desire to eliminate their suffering lets Michael Pollan off the hook. Because as Kant said, it's the intent of the act, rather than its outcome, that determines whether or not an act is moral.

Michael Pollan gives himself big points for the forthright way he questions his consumption of meat. The honesty of his self-analysis cancels out any culpability he might feel and even allows him to vview his consumption of animal flesh as a morally praisworthy act. He offers up his sympathy to the soon-to-be slaughtered animal and manages to convince himself this somehow lessens the suffering. After all, the tortured, slaughtered animal is far better off being tortured and slaughtered by someone saddened by its suffering than someone who couldn’t care less.

You read his dismissive remarks about vegans and it becomes clear his rationalizing mind takes him a step beyond that. Not only is he morally superior to the unwashed masses unconcerned by the suffering of the animals they eat. He is also superior to the people who aren’t strong enough to endure the same moral conflict he does. He is willing to agonize and bear the burden of his hypocrisy and, ultimately, rationalize his way out of it. People who refuse to consume animal products take the easy way out. They are unwilling or unable to endure the moral conflict that Michael Pollan endures.

He credits himself for having beliefs counter to his own self-interest and for how strictly he holds himself accountable. He also gives himself a point for the moral courage it takes to be so frank about a belief which indicts not only himself, but, by extension, the animal agriculture industry and so might be frowned upon by executives with the power to cancel his lucrative speaking engagements at colleges and universities.

It's his pride in considering himself a thorn in the side of animal agriculture that explains how Michael Pollan can constantly express outrage at the way factory farms treat animals without any apparent awareness of the irony that such an unforgiving indictment is coming out of the same mouth that chews animal flesh every meal.