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WTF cat torture!?
December 11, 2010 2:36 AM   Subscribe

I appreciate Knigel's work on this post but it needs to go asap, this is some crazy sick shit right here, and surely by posting it we are only encouraging in the dissemination of something really unpleasant.
posted by smoke to Etiquette/Policy at 2:36 AM (127 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

Add my vote for "LA LA LA I CAN'T HEAR YOU".
posted by Joe Beese at 2:38 AM on December 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yeah, that post isn't really right for Metafilter.
posted by lizzicide at 2:38 AM on December 11, 2010


We are not richer for knowing about this.
posted by Mayor Curley at 2:40 AM on December 11, 2010


Also I think the post is problematic for a host of other reasons, too.
posted by smoke at 2:40 AM on December 11, 2010


The sleep of mods brings forth monsters. Gone when they get up I expect.
posted by Abiezer at 2:43 AM on December 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


This is like having food poisoning on Sunday morning in mid July. Timing is all.
posted by Namlit at 2:45 AM on December 11, 2010


Ok. I removed it from the front page.
posted by vacapinta at 2:50 AM on December 11, 2010 [12 favorites]


I get the feeling he's seen something on the internet he isn't dealing with very well, and doesn't know what to do with it.

I am really unsure what he thinks the post is going to accomplish.



The sleep of mods brings forth monsters.


Monsters that sit on my chest, staring at me, breathing heavily in my face. I feel really unwell.



*hugs cat*
posted by louche mustachio at 2:56 AM on December 11, 2010


Ok. I removed it from the front page.

Thanks Vacapinta.
posted by smoke at 2:59 AM on December 11, 2010


Well, I tried. I kind of expected it to fail due to lack of English sources, so I do not take it personally. I know it's a tough topic. I'm a failed vegan and I know this is a sensitive issue. I struggle to hone my raw anger into something more akin to indignation. I hope some people got some value out of it even if many did not like it. While many of the comments were insightful and raised points that I agreed with, I think that Metafilter could be a bit better without people jumping too quickly at thinking the worst of people's intentions. More questions, less accusations and assumptions.
posted by Knigel at 3:05 AM on December 11, 2010 [9 favorites]


The lack of English sources was really, really, really not the problem.
posted by louche mustachio at 3:19 AM on December 11, 2010 [7 favorites]


Louche, I understand what you have said before about the power of Metafilter; however, this is already in the Korean news. It's big enough that I feel that we can talk about it without too much fear of encouraging that individual more than they are already.
posted by Knigel at 3:28 AM on December 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Well, I guess we've all learnt a valuable lesson about something or other here and can happily move on and never talk of the matter again.
posted by Artw at 3:48 AM on December 11, 2010


Now that the FPP was closed, which I agree was a good idea for a number of reasons, I would suggest this Meta be closed as well. It will only be a continuation of the FPP, which wasn't going well, or turn in some other nasty direction. Lets not do this, it just makes us all feel bad in the end and accomplishes nothing.
posted by HuronBob at 3:49 AM on December 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


I think that Metafilter could be a bit better without people jumping too quickly at thinking the worst of people's intentions.
Only a few people did that. MetaFilter: very many users who actually don't jump to conclusions too quickly.

So some disturbed individual somewhere in the world does some nasty stuff in full internet-view, and you are reporting that, in order to spawn a discussion, to make people ask questions, raise some points of sorts, and get some value out of it. Fair enough, but what is the topic? Ban disturbed individuals? How to react to diffuse internet threats with third-party victims?

As it turns out, the discussion you kicked into motion is about "what's the point with this kind of reporting" and, more close to home, "is this appropriate for MetaFilter"? One could work this into a more general session about journalistic ethics. The question "does spreading this information serve the wrong party?" is an eternal problem in journalism, and well worth contemplating, cats or no cats. (unfortunately, amateur journalism, as discussed by amateur ethicists, isn't likely to cut any wood, while it is extremely derail-prone).

In any case, discuss we do, and I see no reason why you should be honing anything into indignation at all. Discussions are interactive. And you cannot possibly be astonished that a Saturday morning post about cat-sawing rubs a few people the wrong way!

(also: this cannot be seen as "best of the web" no matter how)
posted by Namlit at 3:55 AM on December 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think that Metafilter could be a bit better without people jumping too quickly at thinking the worst of people's intentions. More questions, less accusations and assumptions.
Well, even assuming that you are referring to your intentions rather than the subject of the thread, you've been around long enough to know better. As already pointed out, the lack of English wasn't really the problem as much as the content and the phrasing. Oh and the lack of English sources didn't help. Basically, it was crap. Get over it and better luck next time.
posted by dg at 3:59 AM on December 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


That was one strange mess of a post. Even if the subject had been completely different and innocuous, that wouldn't have changed.
posted by telstar at 5:23 AM on December 11, 2010


Knigel: were you, perhaps, hoping that the increased attention would somehow lead to this guy's capture?

If so, you actually may have come to the wrong group. Believe it or not, /4/chan is the group you want; whatever you may think of them otherwise, they take animal abuse very, VERY seriously, and will deconstruct outrageous videos or photos to within an inch of their lives to find any identifying details, and will often unearth a location and identity for the attacker. Once they do -- well, some just harrass the attacker, while others work with authorities. This Gawker thread discusses their usual pattern.

I trust you know the other things you will find on 4chan and thus trust you will weigh visiting them carefully. But they may be the group you want to reach out to about this, if what you want is assistance in stopping this. Good luck.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:33 AM on December 11, 2010 [7 favorites]


There's a useful post circling somewhere around this subject, even if Knigel didn't figure out a way to frame it. Of course, many people will just never want to see a post about cruelty to animals (as an extreme animal lover, I sympathize with such readers), just as some people don't understand why others like watching depressing movies.

Cruelty-to-animals is not just something that isolated sickos do. It's is -- and always has been -- an institutional part of most human cultures, e.g. bear bating, fox hunting.

There are two types of institutional cruelty. The most sickening kind, depending on one's outlook, is the above-board type. The type in which the goal of the activity is (at least party) to be cruel: spectator sports where the thrill (or at lest part of it) is watching animals suffer (e.g. bullfighting). I don't understand why people like to watch animals (and other people suffer), why people line up to watch public executions [warning: graphic!] and the like. But I'd be a fool if I pretended that only isolated sociopaths did this.

But there are plenty of other cases in which institutional practices generate cruelty as a byproduct, e.g. scientific research, dog racing, zoos, animal farming and those romantic horse-and-buggy rides in NYC and other cities.

Causing animals pain is deeply entrenched in our culture. Loving animals is also deeply entrenched. Like Knigel, I am a failed vegan. I am walking cognitive dissonance: for instance, I really love cows. I think they have beautiful faces. I like to pet them. I also eat them. I eat the creatures I love, knowing that many of them suffered while they were alive and suffered as they died. This is an impossible truth for me to hold in my mind most of the time. So I deal with it, as most people do, by eating my burger with a side of denial.
posted by grumblebee at 7:26 AM on December 11, 2010 [38 favorites]


Grumblebee, your post made it all worth it. Thank you.
posted by Knigel at 7:58 AM on December 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Excellent comment, grumblebee.
posted by blucevalo at 8:55 AM on December 11, 2010


There are two types of institutional cruelty. The most sickening kind, depending on one's outlook, is the above-board type. The type in which the goal of the activity is (at least party) to be cruel: spectator sports where the thrill (or at lest part of it) is watching animals suffer (e.g. bullfighting). I don't understand why people like to watch animals (and other people suffer), why people line up to watch public executions [warning: graphic!] and the like. But I'd be a fool if I pretended that only isolated sociopaths did this.

But there are plenty of other cases in which institutional practices generate cruelty as a byproduct, e.g. scientific research, dog racing, zoos, animal farming and those romantic horse-and-buggy rides in NYC and other cities.


I'm much more disturbed by that second kind of cruelty. It's harder to call out.
posted by John Cohen at 9:01 AM on December 11, 2010


Grumblebee's post made me think of two recent books I've found interesting: Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat: Why It's So Hard to Think Straight About Animals (related MeFi thread) and Eating Animals.
posted by Miko at 9:12 AM on December 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


I find my feelings about cows really useful when trying to understand slave owners in the antebellum South and other time periods. (But please understand that I'm not likening enslaved people to cows.)

It's easy to think of slave-owners as cartoon monsters and have no understanding of how they could do what they did and yet sleep at night. It's easy to assume they hated their slaves. But I bet some of them didn't. It is possible -- and common -- for a single human to contain all kinds of horrendous contradictions.
posted by grumblebee at 9:19 AM on December 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


Was he torturing the cats by pulling out their claws, circumcising them (including female circumcision), or by putting overly-hot pancakes on their heads?

Because those are topics that MetaFilter normally does well in the bizarro negative universe.
posted by UbuRoivas at 9:27 AM on December 11, 2010


I struggle to hone my raw anger into something more akin to indignation.

I appreciate the effort, but animal cruelty is one of the short list of topics that go badly here, require sensitive framing and a "what is my goal in posting this?" reflection. As others have said, the Korean sources were not the problem with that post.

As we've said in previous MeTa threads "Look at these assholes" is a very bad jumping off point for a thread. Threads where there is something terrible done to someone or something may shine a light on a larger issue that could be usefully addressed or discussed [many threads on the war go in this direction] or they could make people feel that they are standing helplessly by watching as animals or children get abused. This, in my dimestore psychology opinion, makes people feel bad and this tends to not be a great starting point for a thread discussion.

Pullquotes describing torture of people or animals or people getting raped or abused tend to make a thread go worse not better. If you're making a post thinking "People need to know every terrible detail of what happened!" it's likely you are coming from too close of an advocacy position to make a post that doesn't turn into a brawl as people show up in the thread who do not share your feelings and then people fight.

Not that fighting is the worst thing in the world, mind you, but I think you're somewhat surprised by the reception that your post got, Knigel, and I wanted to explain a few reasons why I didn't find its reception that surprising at all.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:29 AM on December 11, 2010


The lack of English sources was really, really, really not the problem.

Actually, I think it is a problem if a post has non-English sources with the OP giving us a translation in the thread. It's similar to uploading a document to scribd and linking to it, which is frowned on. In fact, it's worse than that.
posted by John Cohen at 9:51 AM on December 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


addendum to grublebees' list of institutional practices [that] generate cruelty as a byproduct : PETA's page on circuses
posted by victors at 9:59 AM on December 11, 2010


Zoos and scientific research a) do not by default (i.e. when operated ethically) produce animal cruelty, although I will admit that it can be a by-product and b) are not done entirely for entertainment as dog racing is.

Sorry, I know I shouldn't go down this road, I just really don't see research, zoos, or, for that matter, raising animals for meat, as akin to dog racing, as there are valid constructive reasons for performing the first three activities and the fourth is simply sport. I am by no means saying that animals are not treated cruelly in the former situations. At least research and zoos have more honorable intentions, even if when they fail to follow through on them. If we're going to talk about institutional cruelty, let's throw circuses and pet stores in there.
posted by maryr at 10:01 AM on December 11, 2010 [5 favorites]


I just really don't see research, zoos, or, for that matter, raising animals for meat, as akin to dog racing, as there are valid constructive reasons for performing the first three activities and the fourth is simply sport.

I think the way you see this depends on how bad you think it is for an animal to suffer. Is it as bad as when a human suffers?

My guess is you wouldn't write something like this: "I really don't see putting people on display in cages, or, for that matter, raising humans for meat, as akin to racing humans."

There was a reason -- a very good one -- for slavery in America. Slave-owners didn't keep slaves for sport. They did it for economic reasons. And we have outlawed experimenting on humans without their concept.

I am not trying to call you a hypocrite or anything. I'm just saying that to come to your views, you have to start with a given that animal suffering is not all that terrible, or at least not as close to as terrible as human suffering.

I don't think that's incorrect. I don't think it's correct or incorrect. It's a value. You have it or you don't. It's a pretty common value. As it happens, I don't have that value. Which is why it's hard for me to eat meat -- or, rather, why it's hard for me to think about the fact that I eat meat.
posted by grumblebee at 10:09 AM on December 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


apropos of nothing, a 15 year old future serial killer made news here this week when he abducted a relatives elderly dog, beat it with a hammer, set it on fire, decapitated it and stuffed the remains in a bucket. he told the little girl who watched that "it's going to heaven".
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 10:10 AM on December 11, 2010


I'm just saying that to come to your views, you have to start with a given that animal suffering is not all that terrible, or at least not as close to as terrible as human suffering.

That is a bit unfair, grumblebee. I am an omnivore that believes animal suffering is terrible. It is not an inconsistent view of animal welfare. There is such a thing as humane slaughter.

As for being a vegetarian, unless you know exactly how those vegetables came to your table, you may be indeed contributing to human suffering.
posted by vacapinta at 10:34 AM on December 11, 2010 [4 favorites]


Speaking of Korean news items, here's the Dear Leader in front of a South Korean-made TV.

(Use or possession of South Korean products is forbidden in North Korea, at least for ordinary North Koreans)
posted by needled at 10:42 AM on December 11, 2010


you may be indeed contributing to human suffering.

I contribute to human suffering, and animal too. I'm doing it right now whilst I listen to cool music on my stereo in my heated home (thanks mining and transport industries), with my Mac on my lap (thanks indentured third world labour practices), sipping coffee from South America (thanks more oppressed workers). I'll be doing it all day as I ride various buses and transit trains, do some shopping, visit friends, eat and buy food (animal products and not).

Welcome to so-called civilization. It's what we do. Blame your parents if you must but their parents also did it to them, as did theirs' and so on, and so on. This is one of those topics where the notion of original sin actually makes a lot of sense to me. That is, we may not be born already bearing a proclivity toward evil, but nurture quickly takes care of that in the form of the various customs, lifestyles, standard-operating-procedures that our culture endorses.

Life just ain't simple, not even remotely. Man, I love bacon.
posted by philip-random at 10:55 AM on December 11, 2010


That is a bit unfair, grumblebee.

What exactly did I say or implied that's unfair?

I said that if you're okay with treating animals as food/experimental subjects but not humans than you place a different value on animal life than on human life. Isn't that true?

I didn't call anyone bad or hypocritical.
posted by grumblebee at 11:08 AM on December 11, 2010


I won't deny that zoos keep animals in cages. (Of course, so do animal shelters including PETA-approved no-kill shelters.) I'm trying to say that respectable zoos form a constructive purpose aside from entertainment. Don't get me wrong, they are primarily entertainment, at least in origin. But they also form an important role in protecting and propagating endangered species as well as raising awareness of them. I am not saying it is an ideal situation. I am not saying there aren't badly or unethically run zoos. I am saying that it is not dog racing. (I do appreciate that you did not compare them to cockfighting or bullfighting.)

That said, if the proceeds from dog racing went to, say, supporting animal shelters, anti-cruelty programs, and research on canine disease, I'd consider supporting dog racing. I would still want the dogs to be treated humanely.

I do understand what you're saying - I just think you're lumping groups a little broadly. It's an extremely gray topic - and you do acknowledge that with the meat-eating. I just wanted to point out that it shades other things too.

And one last thing because it wouldn't be an internet discussion if I weren't a little snarky - "not trying to call [me] a hypocrite or anything" is pretty much calling me a hypocrite. Which I am, of course, just not to the degree you think.
posted by maryr at 11:20 AM on December 11, 2010


quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon: "apropos of nothing, a 15 year old future serial killer made news here this week when he abducted a relatives elderly dog, beat it with a hammer, set it on fire, decapitated it and stuffed the remains in a bucket. he told the little girl who watched that "it's going to heaven"."

quonsar II: WHAT THE FUCK.

After all the talk in the original post, and in this thread, about how hearing about animal cruelty upsets people, what on Earth did you think you were going to accomplish by commenting with this?

Jesus fucking Christ.
posted by tzikeh at 11:36 AM on December 11, 2010 [6 favorites]


"not trying to call [me] a hypocrite or anything" is pretty much calling me a hypocrite.

Thanks for pointing out how this can be interpreted. But I meant it literally. I brought it up ,because I knew if someone skimmed my post, it might come across as an accusation of hypocrisy.

But if you think that's what I meant, you missed my point entirely. (Or, more likely, I didn't make my point very well.) If one puts animals in a different category than humans, there's NOTHING hypocritical about treating them differently.

What I MUST do is accuse MYSELF of hypocrisy. Which I do, because I am a hypocrite. I DON'T put animals and humans in different categories (in terms of their moral right not not be treated cruelly), and yet I treat animals and humans differently. That is hypocrisy, clear and simple. No gray area.

It's an extremely gray topic - and you do acknowledge that with the meat-eating.

Sorry, I don't acknowledge any grayness, though I hear that you do, and I respect your opinion.

It's not gray: I (by proxy) torture animals in order to extract meat from them. Torturing sentient beings is cruel (via my personal ethics). Animals are, to greater and lesser degrees, sentient beings (certainly some of the ones I eat are highly intelligent and capable suffering). Therefor, I am cruel.

I would NOT be okay with, say, killing a black person and eating him. Yet I am okay -- meaning that I engage in behavior that condones and encourages it -- with killing a cow and eating it. That would not be hypocritical if I but animals and people in different ethical categories, but since I do, it is hypocritical. Animals, to me, are people. So I'm saying it's not okay to torture people. And then I'm torturing people. OBVIOUS hypocrisy. (And an "easy" way out is to not think of animals as people -- easy if you are able to do it.)

To me, it's really, really, really simple.

Solving the problem (stopping myself from doing it) is hard; admitting it is hard; not going into denial about it is hard. But, given my values, figuring out whether what I'm doing is wrong or not is really easy.

People are generally okay with a strong argument that something a human action is bad or good. What they don't like is when someone says, "What I'm doing is bad, and I know it's bad, but I'm doing it anyway, and I'm probably going to go on doing it." I recognize that. But it's simply the truth of my behavior.

And I don't judge anyone but my self. However, I do say that IF you share my values and you work through the logic, I don't see how can help coming to the same conclusions about yourself. If you don't, then you don't share my values or you're unable to work through the logic. (Of course, it's possible that my logic is flawed. If it is, someone can point it my errors. I would love to be wrong. I could then eat steak without feeling like a bad person.)
posted by grumblebee at 11:50 AM on December 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


grumblebee: I said that if you're okay with treating animals as food/experimental subjects but not humans than you place a different value on animal life than on human life. Isn't that true?

also grumblebee: I think the way you see this depends on how bad you think it is for an animal to suffer. Is it as bad as when a human suffers?

I certainly agree that anyone who thinks animal suffering is as bad as human suffering should avoid eating meat and experimenting on animals (unless there's an overwhelming need to do so). But if anything, you're understating what is implied if one condones the use of animals as food.

Meat-eating doesn't just imply that animal suffering is less bad than an equivalent amount of human suffering. Here's what it implies:
[the benefits of eating meat to human beings, including that it tastes good and provides nutrition] minus [the benefits to human beings of eating whatever food you'd eat if you didn't eat the meat, including that it also tastes good and also provides nutrition] is more important than [the badness of animal suffering caused by the production of your meat]
In other words, those who broadly approve of eating meat apparently think the extra benefit that comes from eating meat rather than non-meat foods is more important than the suffering of animals.

A corollary is that someone who opposes meat on the grounds that it entails cruelty to animals is not committed to the belief that animal suffering is just as important as human suffering. The ethical vegetarian can rely on a much less grandiose belief: that cruelty to animals, even if it's far less important than cruelty to humans, is more important than whatever net benefit humans get from meat. (Of course, the net benefits also include the negatives for humans of eating meat, such as any negative health consequences).

Another corollary is that, for the above reasons, I disagree with this other statement by grumblebee:

If one puts animals in a different category than humans, there's NOTHING hypocritical about treating them differently.
posted by John Cohen at 12:06 PM on December 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Meat-eating doesn't just imply that animal suffering is less bad than an equivalent amount of human suffering. ... those who broadly approve of eating meat apparently think the extra benefit that comes from eating meat rather than non-meat foods is more important than the suffering of animals.

This will be my last attempt to clarify. Sorry I can't do a better job:

"Those who broadly approve of eating Jews apparently think the extra benefits that come from eating them is more important than the suffering of the Jews."

ALL you have to do to make that sentence not horrible is to remove "Jews" and substitute something that is less important -- something with less personhood status.
posted by grumblebee at 12:15 PM on December 11, 2010


The point I was making above and which was misinterpreted by grumblebee is that I believe it is perfectly possible to eat animals and also be against the suffering of animals. You changed the wording from "suffering" to "value of life" in your response to me but I do not equate the two.

A less charged example is that I believe it is ok (though not mandatory) to shoot a horse suffering from a broken leg. Obviously this does not apply to humans.
posted by vacapinta at 12:15 PM on December 11, 2010


A corollary is that someone who opposes meat on the grounds that it entails cruelty to animals is not committed to the belief that animal suffering is just as important as human suffering.

Right. P implies Q does not lead to Q implies P.
posted by grumblebee at 12:16 PM on December 11, 2010


That is a bit unfair, grumblebee. I am an omnivore that believes animal suffering is terrible. It is not an inconsistent view of animal welfare. There is such a thing as humane slaughter.
I don't think the slaughtering itself is the worst suffering for the animals that are kept as meat (or dairy), and I think truly humane meat is extremely rare. Even on "idyllic" farms like the one Michael Pollan describes chickens are kept without food in a cage for 3 days before they are slaughtered. And that is a farm that is held up as wonderful, a farm that people drive long distances to because they want to buy the most humane meat they can find. See also Humane Myth. Of course I realise people will have counterexamples of small farms that are perfect, and there may be places in the world where it is truly different, but for most people humane meat is a nice idea, but not reality.
posted by davar at 12:18 PM on December 11, 2010


"Those who broadly approve of eating Jews apparently think the extra benefits that come from eating them is more important than the suffering of the Jews."

ALL you have to do to make that sentence not horrible...


You would first need to convince me that that statement is "horrible" for me to follow the rest of your argument. It seems like a straightforwardly correct descriptive statement about anyone who might approve of eating Jews, for the same reasons I think my statements about those who approve of eating animals are straightforwardly correct descriptions.
posted by John Cohen at 12:24 PM on December 11, 2010


"Failed vegan" ? Is that what we call normal eaters now? Kinda like being "almost late" is being "on time" ?
posted by odinsdream at 12:26 PM on December 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


To put it another way, grumblebee, it seems like you've glossed over the analytical point I was trying to make because you might have assumed I was expressing some kind of moral judgment that I wasn't actually making in that comment. My comment said nothing about my own moral judgment of eating animals, just as my previous comment says nothing about my own moral judgment of eating Jews.
posted by John Cohen at 12:29 PM on December 11, 2010


"Failed vegan" ? Is that what we call normal eaters now?

If they tried but failed to become vegan, then yes. That seems like an appropriate description.
posted by John Cohen at 12:30 PM on December 11, 2010


I think that is a bit inflammatory odinsdream, I am not a vegan, however I understand why some want to be, and if they are unable to then they consider themselves a failed vegan. It is not a name that applies to YOU, odinsdream, no one was talking about you, or me, or uncle Jack, they where talking about themselves.
posted by edgeways at 12:45 PM on December 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Those who broadly approve of eating Jews

I thought we weren't supposed to do that sort of thing around here.
posted by Gator at 1:19 PM on December 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Animals, to me, are people. So I'm saying it's not okay to torture people. And then I'm torturing people. OBVIOUS hypocrisy. (And an "easy" way out is to not think of animals as people -- easy if you are able to do it.)
Which is exactly what people do when thy are happy to eat cows but consider dogs to be forbidden (or any animal they would consider keeping as a pet), so you have plenty of company.
posted by dg at 2:52 PM on December 11, 2010


I think that Metafilter could be a bit better without people jumping too quickly at thinking the worst of people's intentions
posted by PugAchev at 2:56 PM on December 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Regarding framing the issue. From my understanding, one of the sure ways to get a post deleted is to editorialize; therefore, I attempted to keep myself out of the post and let the information speak for itself. Again, it was my first post, so perhaps I should have added some of my own direction. I had thought that people would see what I saw in the post and go that direction. Grumblebee, for one, did see the relevant topic.

There were many that I thought would be compelling for Metafilter.
Animal cruelty was one. Another was how Catsaw claims to be using cruel acts to actually benefit the cats. While it's pretty screwed up thinking, it is actually having a positive effect as people have become more aware of the issue and have gathered momentum that could possibly change the laws. While I do not think it is close to the ends justifying the means, I think it is important to evaluate how the means relate to the ends. Another topic was how Catsaw is using what they saw in a movie to define their acts. Monkey see monkey do.

It may have been a bad post; however, I believe that it was compelling, unique, and worthwhile to be discussed. I can accept the deletion of the post on the grounds that it could have been written better; however, I do not believe that there was nothing to talk about and no positive outcome to this discussion.

I have learned through this experience, however. I really appreciate those comments that took the time to explain themselves and weren't only one-liners communicating personal taste. Comments such as Grumblebee's, amongst others, are the ones that I spoke of that bring the debate to a higher level and have a chance to change irrational thinking. I appreciate the high standard of Metafilter even when it means my own lower quality work gets tossed--I have much more respect for the website. I will learn from this and wait for my next opportunity to post something.
posted by Knigel at 3:19 PM on December 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


By the way, what is the best way to make a post if there are no English sources?
posted by Knigel at 3:22 PM on December 11, 2010


Huh. As is often the case lately, I think the interesting discussion is something quite different, here.

I mean sure, animal cruelty is bad etc, sure, fine, whatever, but more heat than light always comes from discussions of that, and it's a well-trodden path. The argument I'd like to have (theoretically, because, yeah, Metafilter) is about this kitty-torturer taking inspiration from extremely popular movies that exist pretty much expressly to depict torture to the mass audience. (While our governments increasingly condone (and/or hide) actual torture, of course.)

That discussion's not going to happen, though, this time at least, and no great loss.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 3:23 PM on December 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


By the way, what is the best way to make a post if there are no English sources?
Make a diligent, authoritative-looking translation and identify it as yours. Point out problem spots and ambivalent meanings. Link to original content, and format in a non-confusing manner. If you can't do any of the above, do something else with your time.
posted by Namlit at 3:36 PM on December 11, 2010


"Those who broadly approve of eating Jews apparently think the extra benefits that come from eating them is more important than the suffering of the Jews."

what
posted by zarq at 4:01 PM on December 11, 2010


what

I think we just got ever so subtly Godwinned.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 5:10 PM on December 11, 2010


It wasn't subtle. I made an analogy. It got deleted. You're seeing residue. Sorry about the analogy. I forgot about the rule. I am a Jew who lost family members in the Holocaust, but I can't relate to the rule at all. I'm not saying it's a bad rule. If it's needed to keep peace, it's a good one. It's just not second-nature to me, so I fucked up.
posted by grumblebee at 5:21 PM on December 11, 2010


Of course I don't accord animals personhood. They are not persons.

Like all other large omnivorous mammals, I eat other animals and not members of my own species (except in very unusual Donner Party-like situations). Lions don't accord zebras lionhood, either.

I can honestly say that this has never caused me even a tiny qualm. When I have chosen to be a vegetarian, it was out of concern for other human beings and for the environment, not because I didn't want to eat cows. I love eating cows.

I don't think animals have rights in human society, any more than I think mice have rights in cat society. What I do think is that humans, because of our technological dominance, have different responsibilities toward other animals than those animals have toward each other.
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:29 PM on December 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


I made an analogy. It got deleted. You're seeing residue. Sorry about the analogy. I forgot about the rule.

Just to be clear, I'm not sure what rule you're referring to and you haven't had any comments deleted in months.
posted by cortex (staff) at 6:26 PM on December 11, 2010


Cortex, I think the "rule" grumblebee was talking about was Godwin's. There are three different thoughts going into that paragraph, I think.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:56 PM on December 11, 2010


you haven't had any comments deleted in months.

Really? I guess I made a mistake about that.

I was trying to make a point that if you substitute "Jews" for "animals" in a sentence like, "I'm generally against killing animals, but if the benefits outweigh the costs, it might be worth it," most people will disagree.

So, if someone thinks it's okay to kill animals in some circumstances (but never Jews in any circumstances), then that person must think that the life of Jews is worth more than the life of animals, presumably because Jews are people. That person must think a human life is worth more than an animal life (even if he does value animal lives).

I thought that comment was deleted, but maybe I missed it when I scrolled up.

And I thought it was deleted because of a rule -- a rule that we weren't allowed to use Jews in an analogy like that.
posted by grumblebee at 7:25 PM on December 11, 2010


Yeah, sorry. I went insane. THIS is the comment I thought was deleted. Clearly, it wasn't. I don't know why I didn't see it.

I think I'll quit this thread before I do any more damage.
posted by grumblebee at 7:27 PM on December 11, 2010


a rule that we weren't allowed to use Jews in an analogy like that.

Isn't it more that it's a silly analogy?

I can't think of any situation in which "I'm generally against killing Jews, but if the benefits outweigh the costs, it might be worth it" even makes sense as a possibility.

What benefits? WTF? When were there ever any benefits in killing people just because of their etholinguistic, cultural or religious identity?
posted by UbuRoivas at 7:33 PM on December 11, 2010


When were there ever any benefits in killing people just because of their etholinguistic, cultural or religious identity?

When you can then take the resources they owned and controlled up unto that point.
posted by Miko at 7:52 PM on December 11, 2010


Hm, yes, that explains just about every war ever staged, throughout all of history.
posted by UbuRoivas at 7:59 PM on December 11, 2010


There is no "you can't use Jews in analogies" rule. There's really no rule of any sort of that form. There's a general idea that, well, that sort of thing may be seen as being in really goddam questionable taste in a lot of cases so maybe think carefully about why you'd go there, what you hope to accomplish, and whether it's worth it, but that's the standing guideline for a hell of a lot of stuff that happens on the site.
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:01 PM on December 11, 2010


I was thinking about the Godwin thing the other day, and realizing that, while the Third Reich is an excellent example of a lot of things heinous-related, it's not like there is any lack of other world events which illustrate just as much human depravity. it's just that people aren't as conversant with other atrocities.

In a way, I think we could use a wider awareness of historical and contemporary atrocities, so that our vocabulary for "ways that's possible to be horrible to other human beings" was a bit larger. Strange to say, I know. But a lot of why people leap to the Nazis is that they have no other ready, widely-agreed-upon example of total amorality to bring into an argument, Wwhen there are others.

I'm not suggesting grumblebee in particular has no other examples because undoubtedly he does; but it's the 'wide agreement' part that makes it a powerful argumentative gambit. Everyone knows about the Holocaust, not everyone knows about, like, King Phillip's War or the Khmer Rouge. I have begin to realize what a disservice it is to teach the Holocaust in public education as we in the US do - as a single episode of enormous cataclysmic evil that was then handily dissipated, never having existed before and never returning again. If only that were the case, but it's not. However, it's probably the only incidence of historical atrocity still within living memory that most people cannot claim ignorance of, because of its prominence in pop culture and in education. Therefore, the over-reliance on Hitler's regime as the foremost example of human atrocity is probably more of a problem with history education in the Western world than it is of a desire to go to Defcon 1 all the time.
posted by Miko at 8:13 PM on December 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


I don't think there's a "rule" about "not making analogies about [insert group of people here, yes, often the Jews]" so much as it's just generally seen as a good idea not to go there because once you do... it's already out there.

When I see someone leap to those kind of conclusions ("Try saying that about blue people!" or whatever), I realize that they are so emotionally invested in the topic that they can't possibly discuss it rationally and are trying to up everyone else's emotional response as well. It's a pretty good gauge of that point in a discussion where you realize that you're just totally at an impasse and have nothing more to say to each other. At least for me. If someone's going to compare eating cows to eating Jews... well... I've got nothing to refute or add to that particularly avenue of discussion and I think we're all better off getting a beverage rather than continuing to talk about it.
posted by sonika at 8:46 PM on December 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


cortex: People are probably thinking of Jessamyn's advice in this thread:
If saying something about one group would cause offense or outrage if you said the same thing about the Jews - You might just have an offensive statement regardless of the target group.

Sure, and if that's the only way you can get your point across that something might be offensive, you may not be trying hard enough to make yourself understood. You can easily silence a otherwise-friendly discussion about gender by saying "That sounds like something a rapist would say" and then claim plausible denial that you wren't actually calling that person a rapist, but it's dirty pool and not a good way to get your point across. If people don't understand why these sorts of problematic statements aren't okay, there's a whole community of people here to help them understand.
posted by zamboni at 12:00 AM on December 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


"When I see someone leap to those kind of conclusions ("Try saying that about blue people!" or whatever), I realize that they are so emotionally invested in the topic that they can't possibly discuss it rationally and are trying to up everyone else's emotional response as well."

I agree that it's a mistake to use The Holocaust as an analogy, though it's very hard for me to remember, because the reasons it's a bad idea are foreign to me personally.

It's a shame, because without bringing up extremes like "The Holocaust," there are certain things you can't say -- certain ideas that are impossible to get across any other way. Of course, if getting them across THIS way just makes everyone angry, then this way doesn't work, either, which is the lesson I have to learn. Part of being an grownup is learning that there are certain ideas you just can't express -- not if you want to keep the peace. I have trouble remembering that sometimes.

But, in response to what I quoted, above, I've personally never Godwinned because I was so emotional that I couldn't discuss the topic rationally. I am certainly capable of getting that emotional, but in these cases, the opposite is true. I am actually very calm -- calm enough to spend time thinking through correspondences between two complicated events, The Holocaust and whatever else we're talking about. I am at my most analytical at times like that.

Let's say someone say that in times of crisis, it's okay to inter people based on their ethnicity. It's almost impossible to explain why this isn't okay without evoking The Holocaust or something similar. Many times, things aren't okay because of what they might lead to. If you don't bring up a historical event. If you just say, this could lead to something I'm imagining, then you're on very shaky ground. It's all in your head. But if you can say, it can lead to this thing that really happened in the 1930s, you have a basis for discussion. The person you're debating can say, "Okay, I can see how the situations are similar. However, I think this case in different from 30s German in these specific ways..."

Or what if someone brings up genetically engineering human embryos. What if they suggest it's okay to use some cutting-edge technique to make babies have blue eyes. If you're concerned about what this might lead to, how do you explain that without bringing up events from history? You can talk in hypotheticals. You can say, "Well, what if that leads to a world in which we only value people with blue eyes, and people who don't have blue eyes are persecuted," but that is "just made up." Someone could easily say, "Oh, I doubt that could ever happen." Of course it could -- and DID -- happen. But if you can't Godwin, you can't say that.

Of course, the answer is, "Well, kid, sometimes you just can't say what you want to say."

I have some ideal discussion in my mind, where people keep their emotions at bay. This doesn't happen in real life -- at least not on Metafilter.

But, again, in response to the quote at the top, my reasons for bringing up the Holocaust is to say, "I think we're in a situation now that is in danger of veering in that direction." I am NOT saying, "Oh my GOD! Another Holocaust is here NOW!" So I am open to debate. I am open to learning how I'm wrong -- how what's happening now is not likely to lead to another Holocaust. But if I don't put the idea on the table, I can't learn how I'm wrong, because there will be no wrong idea on the table to correct.

Another thing that confuses this whole issue is that there are two kinds of thinkers, which (for lack of better terms), I'll call logical thinkers and associative thinkers, though I don't mean that associative thinkers are never logical and logical thinkers are never associative. I'm talking about general trends.

I tend to be a logical thinker. By which I mean that, when I think, I tend to play by some very literal and formal symbol-manipulation rules.

Though I am a Jew who lost family members in the Holocaust, when I hear someone say, "What if we treated Jews the way we treat cows?" I don't get upset. It wouldn't even occur to me to get upset, because my mind doesn't work that way. If someone said he was upset by that statement, he'd probably have to explain to me why. I wouldn't get it at first.

To me, that statement is saying

1. We treat cows badly.
2. We treat Jews well (presumably because they are people and we believe in treating people well.)
3. But IF we treated Jews the way we treated cows, we'd be treating Jews badly.
4. If we treated Jews badly, we'd be horrible people.
5. So maybe we're horrible people for treating cows badly.

Whereas -- as far as I can tell, not being, in general, an associative thinker -- other people see cows and Jews in the same sentence and say, "Are you saying Jews are like cows? You're saying Jews are ANIMALS! That's offensive!" Or they're just getting a vague mental association with The Holocaust and thinking, "Jesus Christ! Why are you bringing that up? Just to upset people?" They're not dealing, in a literal way, with the content of the sentence and with the way the objects in it relate to each other.

I don't think associative thinkers are stupid. Without them, we wouldn't have most of the beautiful things in the world. Shakespeare was an associative thinker, and I close to worship him.

But it's tough, sometimes, when these two kinds of thinking are going on at the same time.

However, this is just a reality. I am going to have to work hard to think about the examples I use and how they might affect someone who is, to some extent, free-associating with them. That's very, very hard for me to do, since I don't free-associate myself. I can learn to spot very specific cases, such as The Holocaust, and I'll try to do better about "not going there" in the future. But this problem transcends this one case. So I wish the associative thinkers out there would learn to cut people like me a little slack. I wish they wouldn't assume the worst motivations on my part -- that I'm trying to upset people or that I'm saying Jews are like cows or whatever. I wish they cut me enough slack to assume that, however poorly, I'm just trying to explain something.
posted by grumblebee at 8:17 AM on December 12, 2010


So I deal with it, as most people do, by eating my burger with a side of denial.

Have you tried sweet potato fries? Much better.
posted by Deathalicious at 8:18 AM on December 12, 2010


Yeah, I think we have to have a scenario in which something like what Grumblebee is trying to do is a legitimate argumentation tactic. Because he's right: he's trying to find some way of illustrating that, in the main, even generally kind human beings have a level of acceptance for caging, slaughtering, and eating animals that they don't have for doing the same things to other human beings; in other words, that there's a preferential treatment of humans in which their lives are valued much more highly than those of animals. When challenged on that, it makes total sense to go to the specific and introduce a real-word example.

I am sure no one will think I'm minimizing the Holocaust when I ask why it should never under any circumstances be used as an illustrative example of what kind of thing can happen when, based only on their racial or ethnic identity, segments of the human population are identified for treatment that demonstrates less than the usual amount of value for human life. In the case of caging people, grumblebee could have used the example of Japanese internment during World War II. Is that better? Why? On the scale of cruelty, internment is less severe than genocide, but if you're only discussing the restriction of freedom, you could look to the early Third Reich for something similar, as the movements of Jews were restricted and tracked.

It seems we've gotten into a strange place where the historical events relating to the policies of Nazi Germany are treated with exceptionalism. I certainly understand that they've been lazily and ignorantly overused to compose poor arguments - believe me, I do. But why should they not be allowable in a good, respectful, and well-constructed argument that requires an example of extreme cruelty to humans, in order to draw a comparison between our level of tolerance for that cruelty as opposed to our level of tolerance for cruelty to animals?
posted by Miko at 8:46 AM on December 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


But why should they not be allowable in a good, respectful, and well-constructed argument that requires an example of extreme cruelty to humans, in order to draw a comparison between our level of tolerance for that cruelty as opposed to our level of tolerance for cruelty to animals?

Well, in some official Debate Team Rules, they SHOULD be allowable. I think its just a practical thing: if Godwinning makes people unable to discuss stuff rationally, then, fair or not, that's just what it does. That's just a fact of life. We can call it unfair or illogical or whatever (and maybe have the satisfaction of being right), but that won't make it go away.
posted by grumblebee at 9:00 AM on December 12, 2010


It seems we've gotten into a strange place where the historical events relating to the policies of Nazi Germany are treated with exceptionalism.

True. It almost seems that instead of "never forget!" we've gravitated toward "never remember!" I don't think Godwin's Law is a) an actual law, b) even an implicit law that says that any Nazi/Hitler reference is always verboten, c) something that was ever meant to stifle serious/earnest discussion, d) ever meant as much more than a joke.
posted by taz at 9:53 AM on December 12, 2010


To me, that statement is saying

1. We treat cows badly.
2. We treat Jews well (presumably because they are people and we believe in treating people well.)
3. But IF we treated Jews the way we treated cows, we'd be treating Jews badly.
4. If we treated Jews badly, we'd be horrible people.
5. So maybe we're horrible people for treating cows badly.

Whereas -- as far as I can tell, not being, in general, an associative thinker -- other people see cows and Jews in the same sentence and say, "Are you saying Jews are like cows? You're saying Jews are ANIMALS! That's offensive!" Or they're just getting a vague mental association with The Holocaust and thinking, "Jesus Christ! Why are you bringing that up? Just to upset people?" They're not dealing, in a literal way, with the content of the sentence and with the way the objects in it relate to each other.


My problem with this train of thought is that it strikes me as irrelevant. You're separating a subset of humanity and comparing the treatment of them to the treatment of cows. You did this upthread with black people as well. My response isn't so much "Jews aren't animals! That's OFFENSIVE!" as "Wow, that's missing the point."

I think I see where you're coming from by making this comparison, but all of the arguments you're making in this thread seem to be willfully denying something. Humanity doesn't live in its own vacuum anymore than any race of humanity does. All life on this planet has evolved to live together in a balance.

As human beings, we have an awareness of the suffering and pain that other living creatures have. Because of that, we have a responsibility to minimize it, to treat all living beings with respect and dignity, and to not be outright cruel. But we still need to consume other life to live ourselves. That's the way we're built. I have no cognitive dissonance about this.

Like Knigel, I am a failed vegan. I am walking cognitive dissonance: for instance, I really love cows. I think they have beautiful faces. I like to pet them. I also eat them.

The whole "failed vegan" thing makes me wonder which of these reasons it didn't work out. Was it 1) Economic/lack of resources, 2) Health problems, or 3) steak just tastes too good? Because if it is the third reason, I find your cognitive dissonance nauseating.
posted by girih knot at 10:37 AM on December 12, 2010


I think that is a bit inflammatory odinsdream, I am not a vegan, however I understand why some want to be, and if they are unable to then they consider themselves a failed vegan. It is not a name that applies to YOU, odinsdream, no one was talking about you, or me, or uncle Jack, they where talking about themselves.

Wow, inflammatory? Seriously? I was pointing out what I find to be a silly verbal construction. My mom is not a "failed non-smoker," she's a smoker. A failed vegan would either be a carnivore or a vegetarian, depending. We already have perfectly good identifiers.
posted by odinsdream at 10:49 AM on December 12, 2010


3) steak just tastes too good? Because if it is the third reason, I find your cognitive dissonance nauseating.

It's basically this one. I have vowed repeatedly to stop eating meat. I have always caved an eaten it anyway. I crave it in a way that I don't understand, and if I'm tired or emotional, I stop caring about being a good person (as I define it) and eat meat. I am nauseated by it too, and if I think about it too long, I start to hate myself. But I'd be lying if I didn't say that (a) I believe it's wrong to eat animals and (b) I eat animals.
posted by grumblebee at 10:54 AM on December 12, 2010


Part of being an grownup is learning that there are certain ideas you just can't express -- not if you want to keep the peace. I have trouble remembering that sometimes.

quoting my dad, a survivor of WW2 front line combat: "Peace is more important than victory".

or 3) steak just tastes too good? Because if it is the third reason, I find your cognitive dissonance nauseating.

or it's just honest. steak really does good. quoting a friend who's a cook: "If God hadn't wanted us to eat animals, he wouldn't have made them out of meat."

But seriously ... I do believe that humanity, as a whole, if it has a future on this planet, will evolve to a point where we no longer take pleasure (or necessity) in eating the flesh of other animals. But this won't happen overnight, and it shouldn't for all kinds of complex biological/nutritional reasons (ie: you don't just stop consuming something that has kept your bloodline alive for hundreds, maybe thousands of generations; you just don't).

And finally, for what it's worth, Heinrich Himmler was a chicken farmer before he fell in with Adolph H + the Nazi crowd.
posted by philip-random at 10:58 AM on December 12, 2010


... oh, and I'm a failed perfectionist.
posted by philip-random at 11:00 AM on December 12, 2010


or it's just honest.

Honesty can still be nauseating. The valuable thing about cognitive dissonance is that it pushes us to re-examine the way we view the world. I'm not nauseated by the fact that grumblebee eats steak, but that he refuses to reconcile it with his belief that it's Wrong to eat animals, and just kind of accepts "well, I'm doing a bad thing." It makes my head spin.
posted by girih knot at 11:14 AM on December 12, 2010


girih knot, I understand why it makes your head spin. But is it true for you that whenever you know you're doing something wrong, you're able to stop? Is not knowing what's right the only thing that separates you always doing right? And as soon as you know something is wrong, you are positive you can stop doing, and positive you'll never do it again? If so, you are either very lucky or have an iron will.

I know I am lot alone. I have talked to many, many people who have done wrong KNOWING they they were doing wrong while they were doing whatever they were doing -- and hating that fact. Isn't this (unfortunately) a core part of the human condition?

You're wrong that I "just kind of accept" what I'm doing. I struggle with it. I've actually reached a point where I rarely eat cow. I still ear a lot of chicken, and I know that's wrong. But at least I've made progress. Even if I manage to go -- pardon the pun -- cold turkey today, that won't change the fact that (according to MY ethics), I am already a mass murderer. But it will be better than continuing.

If I wrote, "You know, I realize that eating meat is wrong, and -- you know what? -- I'm going to stop doing it and never do it again," that would be a nice fairy tale. But it probably wouldn't be true.

But the fact that I "sin" -- and that I'll sin again -- doesn't mean that I'm not actively trying to stop.
posted by grumblebee at 11:43 AM on December 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think I've veered into a taboo area that people rarely think of as being one.

Let's take a simpler behavior than eating animals: lying. Most people think lying is wrong. I will also make the claim that most people lie, at least occasionally. We are able to justify some of our lies as necessary under the circumstances, but I still think, if you subtract these, most people will still be left with some lies that they knew weren't necessary -- that they knew were wrong when they uttered them.

Suppose you asked people, "Since you know that lying is wrong, are you going to completely stop telling these lies (lies that you unambiguously know are wrong) and never tell one again?" IF they were being completely honest, they'd say, "No. Probably not."

But that's the taboo.

You're allowed to say, (1) "I'm an honest person. I don't tell lies." Though some people might doubt that you're able to do this perfectly.

You're allowed to say, (2) "I used to be a liar, sometimes, but I've worked really hard to stop. And now I'm an honest person."

But you're NOT allowed to say, (3) "I sometimes tell lies, and I know it's wrong. I'll try to stop, but I'm probably going to keep doing it -- at least for a while." That really upsets people.

What's really interesting is that, unless the speaker of 2 was able to stop lying on a dime, 3 must have been true for him for a while. You're seeing the happy ending NOW. He's been able to stop lying, and we all pat him on the back. But while he was trying to stop but hadn't yet stopped, 3 accurately described him. If he'd been honest about that at the time, he would have gotten a lot of flack for it.

But I believe this state -- knowing you're doing wrong, hating it, but -- at least for now -- being unable to stop your bad behavior -- is very, very, very common: so common as to be, basically, a mundane aspect of human existence. We don't talk about it. Instead, we create a melodramatic narrative, in which there's an internal bad guy, you conquer him in one fight, and then good triumphs. But that's not usually how it works.

(Some religions have built-in ways of dealing with this: Confession. You tell everyone else that you're honest. Then, in private, you tell your priest that you tell lies. This allows you to blow off some necessary steam while keeping the myth alive.)

I don't think this taboo is a good one. I think it's unhealthy to not admit that, even when we know right from wrong, it's not always easy to follow the virtuous path.
posted by grumblebee at 12:02 PM on December 12, 2010 [4 favorites]


girih knot, I understand why it makes your head spin. But is it true for you that whenever you know you're doing something wrong, you're able to stop?

Yes. It's not because of an iron will or luck. It's because I don't hold illusions that it's possible to live in this world without some death or pain. My moral compass points to "wrong" being causing those things intentionally (i.e., torturing a cat), and not as a byproduct of something with a beneficial outcome (slaughtering a cow for food).

If I were you and had the thoughts about eating meat that you did, the cognitive dissonance would force me to examine: Why is eating meat wrong? Is slaughtering an animal a cruel act in itself, and if so, why? Does a cow feel more pain than a carrot, and how can I tell the difference? etc. And if my reasoning still turned up with "Yes, yes, this is wrong because _____" I don't think I'd have any problem not eating meat. But that's easy for me to say, because I don't have that reasoning.

This thread is making me crave a burger.

On preview: I don't tell lies either. But I don't consider things like holding back when a friend asks your opinion to be a lie: I think of lying as willfully misrepresenting yourself.
posted by girih knot at 12:10 PM on December 12, 2010


It's fine that you don't tell lies. That was just an example.

But is there ANYTHING that you repeatedly do, knowing that (by your morals) it's wrong? Or is it the case that as soon as you realize something is wrong, just having that realization is enough to get you to stop it for good?

Are you able to understand what it's like to give into temptation?
posted by grumblebee at 12:46 PM on December 12, 2010


"Is slaughtering an animal a cruel act in itself, and if so, why?"

No, it's not. Causing an animal to needlessly suffer is wrong. If you can slaughter an animal without it suffering -- and if you can give it a life without (needless) suffering before it is slaughtered -- you've done nothing cruel, according to my values.

But that's not how animal farming works in 99% of the real world.

"Does a cow feel more pain than a carrot, and how can I tell the difference?"

Of course it does. A carrot feels no pain at all, as it doesn't have a brain.

"Why is eating meat wrong?"

The phrase "Eating meat is wrong" is, for me, a shorthand. IF I farmed animals so that they had great lives, and then I slaughter them without causing them fear or pain, eating them wouldn't be wrong.

But, as I said above, that's not how real farms work, even most so-called humane farms.

According to my morals, it's wrong to cause UNNECESSARY suffering. So if I could say I NEEDED to eat meat in order to survive -- that eating meat was NECESSARY for my survival -- then causing the suffering would not be wrong. I don't think a moral system is workable if it doesn't allow people following it to survive.

However, I don't live in a hunter/gatherer society. I know many vegas. They live just fine. If I gave up meat, I would survive just fine, as they do. So meat is NOT necessary for my survival.

So when I say that, for me, eating meat is wrong, I mean it's wrong for me to eat meat when doing so is not necessary for my survival and when doing so causes animals to suffer. I don't give all those qualifications because, maybe mistakenly, I think everyone here takes them for granted. Everyone here knows I would survive fine without eating meat, and, I hope everyone knows that most farm animals suffer. So I use the shorthand "eating meat is wrong."

So, yes, eating meat -- in my case -- is wrong.
posted by grumblebee at 12:59 PM on December 12, 2010


Because he's right: he's trying to find some way of illustrating that, in the main, even generally kind human beings have a level of acceptance for caging, slaughtering, and eating animals that they don't have for doing the same things to other human beings; in other words, that there's a preferential treatment of humans in which their lives are valued much more highly than those of animals.

Yes, and it would work just as well to say "But what if they did that to people?" in this scenario rather than dragging in a subset of people, specifically a subset that's been involved in a lot of historical badness and as such tends to be a bit on the button-pushy side.

You don't need to invoke the Holocaust (or Japanese internment, or Gitmo, or any other atrocity) to say "But it's not ok to cage and torture people." That statement on its own works just fine. In discussions like this, doing so then makes the conversation about The Holocaust and not about what you were trying to discuss in the first place, as is what happened with Miko's (albeit excellent) comment.
posted by sonika at 1:44 PM on December 12, 2010


I agree with you sonika. "People" would have been smarter. It didn't occur to me, because I don't think of using the Holocaust in an analogy that isn't making a claim about the Holocaust as saying anything about the Holocaust. But others disagree.
posted by grumblebee at 1:47 PM on December 12, 2010


I believe this state -- knowing you're doing wrong, hating it, but -- at least for now -- being unable to stop your bad behavior -- is very, very, very common: so common as to be, basically, a mundane aspect of human existence.

It's been around long enough for Socrates and Aristotle to have discussed it.
posted by Lexica at 2:00 PM on December 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Of course it does. A carrot feels no pain at all, as it doesn't have a brain.

Plants have nervous systems.

But is there ANYTHING that you repeatedly do, knowing that (by your morals) it's wrong? Or is it the case that as soon as you realize something is wrong, just having that realization is enough to get you to stop it for good?

No, and no. I can't think of a single instance in my life where I've realized something I was doing was wrong, from a moral perspective, and had to stop doing it.

Are you able to understand what it's like to give into temptation?

Of course. But not about something where I have some moral stake in it. I think this is more because of a very relativistic moral standpoint than any kind of holier-than-thou implied perfection on my part. It seems we just see the world differently.

It also seems irrelevant that you pointed out that doing things you think are wrong is a common human experience, like you're trying to justify it to yourself more than anything. It doesn't change the fact that I found your earlier statements about your cognitive dissonance towards eating meat nauseating. My intent isn't to guilt trip you, here. I know habits are hard to change and we're sort of designed to think meat tastes good.
posted by girih knot at 3:02 PM on December 12, 2010


It also seems irrelevant that you pointed out that doing things you think are wrong is a common human experience, like you're trying to justify it to yourself more than anything. It doesn't change the fact that I found your earlier statements about your cognitive dissonance towards eating meat nauseating

Well, nothing can change that fact, because nothing can change history. You said you felt nauseated. I find that very easy to believe. So why would I try to change that fact, and if I wanted to change it, how would I do it?

And, as I said, I find it nauseating, too. So I'm not trying to justify anything. The way I act is despicable. There's no justifying it. It doesn't matter to me how many other people do it. And it doesn't matter whether or not you guilt-trip me about it. I already know it's a bad way to behave. (Even if you think it's a good way to behave -- even if everyone else on Earth thought that -- I wouldn't care. On this point, I am completely selfish. I can only go my MY moral compass, and that compass says I'm in the wrong.)

What I say that the way I act is common, I'm not trying to excuse the way I act. I am responding to your confusion, not to your nausea. Maybe I misunderstood and you're not actually confused. I thought that you couldn't understand why I went on doing something I had defined as wrong.

But, alas, there's no way I can explain to you why I act the way I do, because you've never continued doing something you think is morally wrong. So you can't understand someone like me.

I think this is more because of a very relativistic moral standpoint than any kind of holier-than-thou implied perfection on my part.

I don't get what you mean by a relativistic moral standpoint. I would say I have one of those, too, because I don't believe there's a universal morality. I believe that *I* am wrong to eat meat. I don't necessarily think you or anyone else is. I am wrong because eating meat conflicts with the rules of MY moral system. But my system is not your system or anyone else's system.

But you must mean something else by relativistic, because my sort of relativism doesn't make it easy to stop doing something, just because I know it's wrong. It allows each person to have his own moral rules, but it says nothing about how easy or hard it is for him to follow them.

I guess I'm still really confused about how you live you life. You never lie (other than white lies). Okay. Have you never been mean to someone who doesn't deserve it? Have you never taken more than your fair share of something? Have you never stolen anything? etc. Do you never do ANYTHING you think is wrong? Or is it that you don't think of any of that stuff I listed as wrong? It sounds like, to you, moral behavior is just a matter of knowing the rules (in whatever moral system you follow), and once you know them, behaving like a good person is always really easy. Is that right?

If you are able to walk around and think, "I am a good person. I basically never do anything wrong, except out of ignorance," I am very jealous of you! I have never felt that way. I am always aware that, though in many ways I am a very good person (loyal, loving, giving, etc.), I am also a very bad person. I can't imagine what it would be like to feel totally comfortable with my self in the way you apparently do.
posted by grumblebee at 3:32 PM on December 12, 2010


Also, I may be wrong, but it sounds like you're making the mistake of thinking "admitting to a moral lapse" = "justifying a moral lapse."

I am in NO way justifying the moral lapses I have confessed to here.
posted by grumblebee at 3:34 PM on December 12, 2010


I think if every single outragefilter post keeps getting deleted at some point somebody's outrage is gonna build up and spill over into real life and what will we do then when they're on their way to cortex's house all loaded up with diapers and duct tape WHAT WILL WE DO THEN
posted by tehloki at 5:45 PM on December 12, 2010


We'll wait for the resulting video to be uploaded, of course. What else would we do?

While I find it hard to reconcile grumblebee's self-flagellation over eating meat (but acknowledge that he is doing so over failure to meet his standards and is not suggesting that these are standards others should comply with), I really find it hard to imagine someone who has never, not even once, continued to do something they know is morally wrong. Without setting moral standards so low that anything goes (not suggesting that anyone is doing that - just speaking from my own perspective), I don't think I could live like that.
posted by dg at 6:54 PM on December 12, 2010


There's an issue with pure veganism as well, in that industrial agriculture - well, any agriculture - represents the death of countless rodents, insects, and microbes. It's completely impossible to eat without causing death - directly, in the process of cultivation and harvesting, and indirectly, in the removal/change of habitat and disruption of the otherwise normal habitat. Carrots may feel a thing or two -- they are as programmed for longterm survival as any other living organism - but mammals and other forms of animal life do, too, and you don't have to eat them to cause their misery and death. Combines grind on bone and blood.
posted by Miko at 8:36 PM on December 12, 2010


...not to mention the food miles, petroleum use, chemical impacts, packaging, shipping, lack of healthcare for farm and packaging laborers, etc. that all impact the maintenance of individual living systems.
posted by Miko at 9:19 PM on December 12, 2010


I really find it hard to imagine someone who has never, not even once, continued to do something they know is morally wrong. Without setting moral standards so low that anything goes (not suggesting that anyone is doing that - just speaking from my own perspective), I don't think I could live like that.

Yes, I feel the same way. I'd find myself thinking that someone just really knows how to rationalize their guilt if I heard they had never done anything they felt was wrong, ever.

And I think it's interesting that girlh knot feels that grumblebee's cognitive dissonance is "nauseating." I feel like he is being ruthlessly honest with himself and the consequences of what he is doing, which I admire.

While I eat meat myself, I will not touch veal or lamb because it just hurts my heart to think of calves confined to tiny pens, or lambs killed while they are still so young.

But I have never had an emotional connection with a cow, and so eat beef, and my Father, who actually used to live on a farm with chickens, is adamant that they are stupid, vicious creatures with no redeeming qualities, so I have allowed myself to not feel guilt over eating chicken, either.

Bacon, though--bacon is delicious, and I hear pigs are smart. So I feel bad about eating bacon, but I still do it.
posted by misha at 6:22 AM on December 13, 2010


they are stupid, vicious creatures with no redeeming qualities

I've found this attitude in various people almost no matter what the animal is, and I think it's just a frequent back-justification: having contempt for the animal then allows you to use it or eat it without compunction. For instance, you hear that turkeys are dumb, horses are dumb, goats are mean, ducks are mean, pigs are dirty, etc. Most animals are quite smart about being the animal that they are, and most have good qualities as well as some qualities we don't enjoy so much. They also have very individual temperaments, no matter the species. Kind of like people. Though some people may have had unpleasant or bad experiences with one kind of animal, there are many other people that really enjoy that kind of animal above all others, so it's not as though the negative qualities some people associate with certain animal species are inherent in the animal - they're a property of the person.
posted by Miko at 6:45 AM on December 13, 2010


Miko, I may be oversimplifying, but the complications you brought up don't bother me too much.

I don't care about killing insects (or carrots), because I consider them to be more like machines than sentient beings. If someone wants to convince me that a carrot -- or even a bee -- feels fear or pain in any way comparable to what a cow or even a chicken feels, they're going to have to show me some strong evidence.

Rodents bother me a bit more. But, in then end, my moral system allows me to survive, and I have to eat SOMETHING in order to do that. So, what I need to do -- in order to be a good person -- is to eat whatever I can that will allow me to survive as a healthy person and cause as little suffering as possible. If insects suffer at all, I believe they do so way less than cows.

I also suspect rodents suffer less than cows, but I'm not as sure about that. But, in the end, even if they suffer as much as cows, there's nothing I can do about it. I need to survive. To be honest, as I write this, I am upset at the idea of rodents dying so that I can live. But while I may, someday, manage to stop eating cows, I am not going to ever stop eating plants, and if that means that some rodents get killed -- and if that means that some other animals get killed, because farming plants disturbs their habitats -- then that's what's going to happen. Because we've reached my base level of selfishness.

(Interesting thought experiment: what if there was some kind of tiny creature on Earth that was as smart as humans -- and and capable of suffering -- as humans? And what if it was impossible for us to exist without killing them. Say they die if we breathe. I wonder what sort of moral system we'd develop when it comes to them.

Most people just CAN'T deal with seeing themselves as pain-causers. I'm guessing that rather then developing a system in which it's a very sad fact that we have to kill them, we'd somehow develop a system in which they are bad things that deserve to die. Which makes me wonder how much of my own moral system is conveniently -- though unconsciously -- arranged to make it fairly easy for me to be the good guy.)
posted by grumblebee at 9:35 AM on December 13, 2010


I support your point of view, grumblebee, and that's why I went into that discussion. You have to eat something, and there's harm minimization that can be done, but no one can survive without being a party to the death or suffering of other living creatures. Even if insects suffer much less than other animals (which I'm not sure we can really say; I think it starts to get into weighing concepts of self-consciousness or neural complexity or higher awareness, and there are moral systems which say that a value on life isn't dependent on those things), certainly the numbers of insects killed to help feed you or me is much much greater than the number of cows we will be directly responsible for killing within our lifetimes.

Most people just CAN'T deal with seeing themselves as pain-causers.

I agree; most people don't want to acknowledge that. What I wanted to respond to specifically is the reductive simplicity of the moral superiority argument of supporters of veganism: "I don't cause pain and suffering because I don't eat animal products." That's not possible. We all cause pain and suffering, by just living. It cannot be helped.

I'm guessing that rather then developing a system in which it's a very sad fact that we have to kill them, we'd somehow develop a system in which they are bad things that deserve to die.

The way I try to square this circle is by trying to develop the former system more within myself. A lot of societies have, in fact, developed that system: understanding that life feeds on life, and that our indvidual day will come, too, to be food for microbes or animals, they create things like ritual slaughter, kosher practices, thanksgiving rites, reincarnation narratives, and so on. In our culture, I think we do the latter or something close to it - minimize the realness or sentience or intelligence or capacity for suffering of the animals we eat, or harm in the process of eating.

I haven't thought a lot yet about the historical reasons why we really have abandoned practices that recognize the difficulties involved in transfer of life from one creature to another. It's interesting, because it wasn't that long ago at all, even in Northern Europe, when practices to do just that were commonplace. I wonder if, in part, it's produced by the divorcing of agrarianism from the daily life of most people - that is, the transfer to an urban-focused trade and exchange society as opposed to a landscape-focused cultivation and husbandry society. Food for thought.
posted by Miko at 11:00 AM on December 13, 2010


Oh, and I've said this elsewhere on MeFi, but I've observed that my friends and associates who do raise and eat their own meat animals on a small scale have by far the tenderest, most respectful, and most nuanced relationship with those animals than almost anyone else I can think of, except maybe veterinarians. Instead of 'bad things which deserve to die,' in my experience the animals for them are 'incredible gifts of nature that let me feed my family something I know is wholesome and clean,' evidence of the need for careful stewardship of resources, etc. I don't happen to know anyone who is disgusted by any of their animals or considers them bad, but I do think that if your operation is too large-scale to be able to recognize and observe individual animals, that can lead to dissociation and depersonalization, of almost the same kind doctors and nurses and aides get with patients, or wardens with incarcerated people, or soldiers with the enemy.
posted by Miko at 11:05 AM on December 13, 2010


I haven't thought a lot yet about the historical reasons why we really have abandoned practices that recognize the difficulties involved in transfer of life from one creature to another.

One possibly reason this has happened -- though almost definitely not the only reason -- is that we've become more secular. And here, I'll describe one of the side-effects being an atheist has had on me. But, first, I want to make it clear I'm NOT saying all atheists necessarily come to the same conclusions I did. I also think this is a BAD side-effect. Though most atheists disagree, I think atheism is a mixed blessing -- at least the form it takes in me.

My brand of atheism is, I think, fairly typical in the sense that I don't believe in any sort of afterlife. So it goes without saying that the cows I killed aren't somewhere in cow heaven, happy in the knowledge that they died for a purpose and that, one day, my time will come, too. And since there's no cosmic scale -- since there's just randomness and clockwork -- the fact that I will one day become food for worms doesn't "make God smile."

It may be a little bit less typical in that I don't believe in any sort of profound connectedness between individual conscious entities.

Of course, I do believe we all are on the planet together, sharing the same resources and affecting each other through our actions. And I believe that any individual MAY form a bond with another individual. But there's no sense -- to me -- in which "all men are brothers." By which I mean that there's only so far I can go in that "soul of man" direction before I hit a wall of mysticism, one that won't let my sort of atheist get to whatever comfort is on the other side.

As a consequence of that, there's no way I can do anything "for human-kind." There's no such thing as transferrable Karma. In other words, if I kill a cow, I can't make up for by saving one, three or a million other cows. It's great that I saved those cows, and it's terrible that I killed that first cow. Those are totally separate facts. They don't relate to each other, cancel each other out or mitigate each other. When I do something to one cow, I do nothing for cow-kind, because there is no cow kind. There are just individual cows that aren't somehow connected to some platonic cow-ness.

So I can't "give back" by becoming fertilizer. That act has no relation to the cows I killed, even if it's a good act. I might as well say that I mitigate the fact that I kill cows by the fact that I gave my wife a valentine's card this year. Random good acts are not connected to random bad acts. Those specific cows that I killed gain NOTHING by me becoming food for microbes, even if future cows eat grass that grew in ground made fertile by those microbes. And my "sin" -- at least my greatest one -- was killing THOSE SPECIFIC COWS. I am very glad my death will serve a useful purpose, but it would have done that whether or not I killed those cows. So it would have been better if I hadn't.

Of course, even though this is what I believe to be true, in theory I could still accept the cycle-of-life as a comforting metaphor. Except I can't. I would if I could. But I'm too allergic to mysticism to do it. (I know many wouldn't call that mysticism, but it is to me.)

I'm probably extreme in thinking the way I do. But I bet many other people at least have fleeting thoughts of this nature at some point.

Of course, the other reason why we -- most of us -- no longer feel we're part of a cycle is because we don't experience the cycle. Most of us are urbanized and very removed from nature. Other than when we run to and from the car, we're not even all that aware of seasons.
posted by grumblebee at 11:40 AM on December 13, 2010


That's a very interesting perspective. I've never thought about the idea of a "cycle of life"that describes the movement of resources in a closed system as requiring theism, and maybe they don't require it or maybe they do. It's not a position I'd ever considered, not being an athiest. Me, I do think about the experience of the world's creatures in the aggregate sometimes, and believe in the idea that there is a relationship amongst them. I see that it may never make a difference to the individual in a rational, materialistic sense, though, and certainly can't prove otherwise, so there you are, I guess.

I bet you're right about the "more secular" thing having an impact. But even that isn't an exclusive effect of atheism alone. Even religion itself is oddly more secular, in that it's become the extreme to take most practices about food seriously. I don't know a lot of people who only eat fish on Fridays any more, or who keep strictly kosher or hal'al. A few but not a lot. Religious practice even among adherents has weakened and become compartmentalized, in addition to the people who are or have become non-adherents having no practice at all.

There are some interesting theories about why human beings seem to have been selected for credulousness and the formation of belief systems. The idea of being able to make amends or have spiritual conversations of request or thanksgiving with food animals or view oneself and one's own life as part of a greater whole in dynamic equilibirum is one example of where a religious/spiritual belief, however unproveable, has great personal and social utility. It may have helped prevent abuse of the resource of animal life, regulating consumption and greed, and may have helped people deal with what seems the necessary self-loathing and hypocrisy involved in doing harm in order to eat and survive, in choosing to extend your life by consuming the lives of others.
posted by Miko at 12:12 PM on December 13, 2010


The idea of being able to make amends is VERY important to one's mental health. And, luckily, whether you're an atheist, a theist, a mystic or whatever, it's usually possible to do, even if it's not always easy.

If I cheat on my wife, and I can at least try to make amends TO HER.

But if I murder someone, I can't possibly make amends to him. Which leaves me in a bit of a mess. So, for my own mental health, if it's possible for me to do so, I will convince myself that I can use his family or society as a proxy for him. And I think, on some level, I have to imagine him somewhere, being generous enough to say, "Yes, thank you! The fact that you worked in a soup kitchen for ten years after killing me absolves you!"

As a non-spiritual (or whatever you want to call it) person, the best I can do it say, "Well, since he's dead, it doesn't matter to him whether I make up for what I did or not," but, at least for me, that doesn't work. I feel guilty about what I did. I need a way to diffuse that guilt. If I can't believe I can do it by proxy, and if the person (or animal) I wronged is impossible for me to reach, I am left with nothing. I just have to go on feeling guilty -- or try not to think about it.
posted by grumblebee at 12:36 PM on December 13, 2010


Yeah, that is quite a dilemma.
posted by Miko at 1:14 PM on December 13, 2010


grumblebee: I also suspect rodents suffer less than cows, but I'm not as sure about that.
Rodents are used for psychological experiments all the time. When people want to know what they can do to reduce stress for preterm infants, they do tests with rodents (it appears that changes in maternal care influence the long term effects of small amounts of pain after birth, for example). So at least in psychology it is accepted that rodents can suffer in the same way as humans.

Miko: Even if insects suffer much less than other animals (which I'm not sure we can really say;
So are you also unsure if it is morally wrong to throw a cat in a garbage bin, because we don't know if it actually suffers more than the fly that is also dying in there? Do you think that killing a cat for no reason is morally equivalent to killing a spider for no reason? I certainly understand that that's an argument to be made, but you're not specifically arguing against vegetarians then. The vast majority of people think there is a moral difference between hurting a cat and hurting a spider.

What I wanted to respond to specifically is the reductive simplicity of the moral superiority argument of supporters of veganism: "I don't cause pain and suffering because I don't eat animal products." That's not possible. We all cause pain and suffering, by just living. It cannot be helped.
Like most vegans I know I am not vegan because I think I don't cause pain and suffering now. Of course I cause pain and suffering, everyone does. I am vegan because I do not want to contribute to institutionalized cruelty (and I think the dairy industry is particularly horrific). I strive to reduce suffering, but I realize it will never be eliminated.

Do you think it is silly to be against concentration camps as long as so many people die in traffic? It is impossible to eliminate human suffering, so why bother at all?
posted by davar at 1:02 AM on December 14, 2010


Rodents are used for psychological experiments all the time. .... So at least in psychology it is accepted that rodents can suffer in the same way as humans.

I agree with that. I wouldn't bet all my money on it, but I suspect it's a continuum, and, if it is, that rats do suffer, but less so than cows, pigs and dogs. I'd prefer that no animal had to suffer, regardless of its place on the continuum. But if someone forced me to shoot either a pig or a rat, I'd shoot the rat.
posted by grumblebee at 4:31 AM on December 14, 2010


So are you also unsure if it is morally wrong to throw a cat in a garbage bin, because we don't know if it actually suffers more than the fly that is also dying in there? Do you think that killing a cat for no reason is morally equivalent to killing a spider for no reason?

Well, not for no reason. It's much harder to kill a cat, for instance, so the degree of effort the human would have to expend is greater and thus the motivation would have to be greater. Also, as fellow mammals we are far better tuned to recognizing and empathizing with signs of suffering in the cat, whereas we are not as well able to interpret the signals suffering of non-mammals and invertebrates.

I really don't think we can say with any degree of certainty that we can somehow quantify or weigh the suffering of any living thing. That seems beyond the realm of empirical knowledge to me.

I am vegan because I do not want to contribute to institutionalized cruelty (and I think the dairy industry is particularly horrific). I strive to reduce suffering, but I realize it will never be eliminated.

And I'm a 'conscience carnivore' because I do not want to contribute to isntitutionalized curelty, and strive to aviod doing so by not purchasing animal products from the industrial system. I strive to reduce suffering, but I realize it will never be eliminated.

Do you think it is silly to be against concentration camps as long as so many people die in traffic? It is impossible to eliminate human suffering, so why bother at all?

Of course not, although I think we're terrible at evaluating risk and damage where this kind of thing is concerned, and terrible at weighing moral effects. For instance, we have ceremonies and observances for the fewer than 3,000 people who died on 9/11, but not for the 40 or 50,000 killed in traffic accidents. The apalling extremity of concentration camps is easy for us to recognize as tragic and immoral. The appalling frequency and casualness of traffic deaths is also awful, but we are quite habituated to this risk and the decisions that create the deaths are so far removed from their effects that we don't tend to think anyone in particular is truly culpable for them.

Anyway, I was not arguing against the desire to minimize harm. That's an extreme position I haven't taken. I'm arguing against the extreme position that vegans are always in a position of moral superiority over people who are not vegan, particularly the extreme position that vegans cause less overall harm, in the aggregate. I think one would need a complete moment-by-moment, one-to-one consumption, production, and ethical-behavior analysis by some sort of independent jury to make anything like that kind of claim.
posted by Miko at 6:06 AM on December 14, 2010


I really don't think we can say with any degree of certainty that we can somehow quantify or weigh the suffering of any living thing. That seems beyond the realm of empirical knowledge to me.

I can't make a strong argument to the contrary, but I think there are reasons to believe that a cat does suffer more than a spider, in ways that, if not now, will one day be measurable and quantifiable.

There are at least two kinds of suffering, with no sharp delineation between them. There's the experience of physical pain in the body and there's one's mental associations with that pain. That latter category includes dreading pain that hasn't yet occurred but is likely to occur, worrying about what pain means ("Am I going to die?"), etc.

I believe that if you completely eliminated those associations but still felt the physical symtoms, you'd suffer much less. I guess I can't prove that. And it's probably not something that needs to be proved. It's how I define suffering. So if you define it differently, you won't agree with me.

We don't know how conscious a cat is, in terms of being able to worry about things, fear things, dread things, etc., but it's wildly improbable that such cognitive abilities don't exist only in humans. I feel confident saying that we know, for sure, that other primates have these traits, often to degrees approaching human levels. For instance, if you want to convince me that chimps don't worry, you're going to have to come up with some extraordinary evidence.

It's pretty clear that these traits -- which can lead to greater depths of suffering than "just" feeling a sensation of pain -- exist in most, if not all, mammals and certainly in cats. I suspect that domesticated animals are even more likely to be this way than many non-domesticated ones. Part of the reason that cats and humans live well together is that they are similar in this way.

But a spider can't worry about pain. It can't wonder what pain means ("Oh, shit! Do I have cancer?") If you put it on a conveyer belt that clearly, in plain sight, leads to a big stamping machine, it's not going to think, "Fuck! I'm doomed!" A cat very well might. Which, in my book, says that a cat can suffer more greatly than a spider.

One of the things that sickens me most about slaughterhouses are lines of cows leading up to the kill area. If a cow sees or hears another cow suffering, I suspect it knows something terrible is going to happen. I am glad that some slaughterhouses are arranged so this doesn't happen.

I don't think claims like "a spider can't worry about pain" are mere hypothesis. I think you'd be hard pressed to find a single neuroscientist who would disagree. Humans (and cats) -- but not insects -- have whole brain regions dedicated to this kind of cognition.

Where, to me, the discussion does get really interesting is when it veers to intelligent non-mammals. I used to assume that I was on moral high ground if I did my best to avoid making mammals suffer. I didn't worry about non mammals. But we now know that some birds are extremely intelligent. And some other creatures are, too. Crows and octopi, for instance, may be as intelligent as great apes. I doubt a creature can get that smart without being able to suffer in a way that is least somewhat analogous to human suffering.
posted by grumblebee at 6:43 AM on December 14, 2010


And while suffering is one important criteria, I'm really not sure that it's a sufficient criteria to support all moral decisions about inflicting harm.

There are at least two kinds of suffering, with no sharp delineation between them. There's the experience of physical pain in the body and there's one's mental associations with that pain. That latter category includes dreading pain that hasn't yet occurred but is likely to occur, worrying about what pain means ("Am I going to die?"), etc.

There are many, many human beings and other animals that can experience the former kind of suffering but not the latter, due to the fact that they are brain-damaged, otherwise insensible, or even infants. Recognizing their inability to feel anything more than physical pain isn't normally considered sufficient justification for placing them in a different category of treatment with regard to their lives - we don't say that it's okay to eat the comatose, for instance, or kill living infants because we have 'infantophobia,' or something similar to the way we treat spiders. So it should be clear that there are other kinds of relevant information, besides suffering, to take into account when considering the morality of an action. That information may sometimes be arbitrary, biased toward humans or mammals, and/or cultural; but decisions still take place.

Serendipitously, I was just listening to the "Morality" episode of RadioLab this morning, which discusses moral decisionmaking in people and some other primates. What it suggested to me is that we can seek rational justifications for when it isn't or is right to inflict harm or choose the lesser of two or more possible harms, but that in fact reasoning will probably never result in a perfectly comfortable approach to morality, because our morality hasn't arisen through a rational process. What the episode suggests is that morality - as in choice-making ability impacted by relative value judgements - is constrained by some aspects and biases of evolutionary history and operates within evolutionary constraints, not all of which make rational sense on a utilitarian level.

Also, I still think it's too reductive to make assumptions about the sentience or suffering capacity of animals, even inverterbrates, and even plants. Buddhists don't. Here is a very good discussion of the question of insect suffering; at the very least we know that insects can detect pain and will act to avoid it, and in some cases they can suffer from stress and dread as veterbrates do. So I'm still not ready to concede there is some acceptable point on the suffering continuum at which it becomes okay to do the harm because of a creature's perceived lack of higher-order thinking.
posted by Miko at 7:33 AM on December 14, 2010


Recognizing their inability to feel anything more than physical pain isn't normally considered sufficient justification for placing them in a different category of treatment with regard to their lives - we don't say that it's okay to eat the comatose, for instance, or kill living infants because we have 'infantophobia,' or something similar to the way we treat spiders.

Well, this might make me a pariah, but I WOULD advocate torturing a human that can't think about pain (but can still feel it) over torturing one that could both feel and think about it.

That's was a horrible sentence. I hope it's clear I'm not in favor of either. But if it was a Sophie's Choice sort of situation, to me it's an easy choice (easy intellectually -- not necessarily emotionally). It's easy because I have a strong value of the-less-suffering-the-better, and that choice would result in less suffering than the opposite choice.

Of course, the law doesn't differentiate. I'd go to jail in either case. But I'm not talking about laws. I'm talking about who I save from a burning building when I can only save one person. It's a no-brainer to me. (This also might be a more difficult problem for people who believe in souls. Luckily for me, I guess, I'm not one of them.)

What the episode suggests is that morality - as in choice-making ability impacted by relative value judgements - is constrained by some aspects and biases of evolutionary history and operates within evolutionary constraints, not all of which make rational sense on a utilitarian level.

I find that stuff fascinating, and I'm constantly reading and listening to it. (Thanks for pointing out this podcast!) But, to me, it doesn't really have any baring on this discussion. Yes, we have cognitive biases. But isn't this discussion about ignoring those? (It is for me.) For instance, I have a bias for saving kittens over saving warthogs, because kittens are cuter. But I haven't brought that up, because it's a prejudice. I purposefully try to ignore those when I do moral calculus. I am not always successful, but I try.

You know the famous trolly-car problem? As with most people, I am not comfortable pushing the guy off the bridge. But it's also extremely clear to me -- intellectually -- that that's the right decision.

In this thread, when I've claimed that I value animal life and suffering as much as I do human life and suffering, I never meant emotionally. I will feel WAY worse if I torture a human than a cat, though I'll feel terrible in either case. What I mean is that I see this as a prejudice that I can't back up with any intellectual first principles. I have no justification for valuing human life over animal life, other than "humans are my peeps." And that's a slippery slope that can lead to racism and all sorts of terrible things. I'd rather avoid it as much as possible.

Also, I still think it's too reductive to make assumptions about the sentience or suffering capacity of animals, even inverterbrates, and even plants. Buddhists don't.

I respect your open-mindedness. I, personally, can't take what Buddhist's say about this seriously, because their ideas are "tainted" by their mysticism. (Sorry to say that in such a prejudicial way. I'm just saying that, as a non-mystic, I can't connect to a philosophical system that includes things like reincarnation.) It's possible -- if you take such systems seriously and I don't -- that we have not basis for discussing this.
posted by grumblebee at 8:06 AM on December 14, 2010


Well, not for no reason. It's much harder to kill a cat, for instance, so the degree of effort the human would have to expend is greater and thus the motivation would have to be greater.
I wasn't talking about killing a cat, just throwing it in a garbage bin (like the youtube cat lady). The effort involved in that is pretty minimal, and the motivation can just be being annoyed that the cat walks in your way, or meows annoyingly.

Anyway, I was not arguing against the desire to minimize harm. That's an extreme position I haven't taken. I'm arguing against the extreme position that vegans are always in a position of moral superiority over people who are not vegan
You said that "supporters of veganism" claim to cause no suffering, but what I was trying to say is that in my experience that is not true at all. Sure, there may be some vegans who claim that, just like there are some non-vegans who say that they couldn't care less about animal suffering, but for most people, it's not that black and white. All vegans I know strive to minimize harm.

I'm arguing against the extreme position that vegans are always in a position of moral superiority over people who are not vegan, particularly the extreme position that vegans cause less overall harm, in the aggregate. I think one would need a complete moment-by-moment, one-to-one consumption, production, and ethical-behavior analysis by some sort of independent jury to make anything like that kind of claim.
I think that that could be a sort-of interesting philosphical discussion, but you could just as well argue that about many other things. For example: rape and murder are bad, but can you really say that people who do not rape or murder cause less overall harm, in the aggregate? Wouldn't you need a complete moment-by-moment ethical behavior analysis by some sort of independent jury to make anything like that kind of claim?
posted by davar at 8:07 AM on December 14, 2010


But isn't this discussion about ignoring those? (It is for me.)

I'm not sure we're talking about ignoring biases; I think bias is definitely in play, and that's the thrust of my discussion. You seem to be trying to find a rational justification for eating meat; for me, there is really no watertight rational justification -- we eat meat, basically, because it's a cultural bias (with some evolutionary tendency behind it, of course, though it's not a determinative tendency). Correct me if I'm wrong, but you seem to be conducting an exploration of possible justifications that make some kinds of meat-eating, torture, violence, or other harm to life OK, making that determination based on criteria such as relative degree of suffering. I am not sure such a reason-based justification exists or that any such criteria will be sufficient to explain moral decisions which result, essentially, from bias. We do have rules, laws, and culture to govern our choices, and though sometimes they incorporate a rational approach, they ultimately end up having to be somewhat arbitrary, because there is no clear rational logical answer to the problem that existence causes some amount of harm to other beings and no real way to undo harm done. So the biases toward humans and other 'charismatic megafauna' are perfectly normal, but what I'm saying is that they're just that - biases. There hasn't yet emerged a convincing argument that certain kinds of harm are OK while others are not.

Are some kinds of harm more OK? Yes...according to our biases. Even the question of torture you pose: would I torture someone who couldn't anticipate pain over and above someone who could anticipate pain? Well, I don't know. Aren't there some people who would say "It depends?" For instance, perhaps if the person who could anticipate the pain was a child rapist and murderer undergoing death by electric chair, while the person who couldn't feel pain was a 9-year-old child?

You know the famous trolly-car problem? As with most people, I am not comfortable pushing the guy off the bridge. But it's also extremely clear to me -- intellectually -- that that's the right decision.

That's a hard problem for me. (Please note that the formulation in your link is different from the 'push off a bridge' formulation which is in the RadioLab episode - I'm responding to the bridge scenario). If someone has to fall on the tracks and derail the train, well, why isn't it me? Posing it as a choice betweeen the guy next to me and the guys on the tracks doesn't make complete sense to me. It's really me or the guys on the tracks, isn't it - not some random third party and the guys on the tracks; so if my first thought is to preserve me and kill either one other person who's innocently standing by, or four other people, I've kind of already started down that slippery slope, haven't I? The way to minimize the most harm is to kill myself. So if harm minimization is the goal, throwing the other guy off isn't going to be the best course of action. Throwing myself off is the rationally correct choice.

I'm sorry I mentioned Buddhists and that seemed to trigger a reaction in you to tune out. I personally, am not a Buddhist, but I do take Buddhism seriously - not in that I'm willing to accept the belief system as my own, but in that I'm willing to think about its philosophical precepts. My point here is merely that Buddhism deals with this problem by recognizing that suffering is part of life, endemic to life. Its approach is also harm minimization, but at the same time, it doesn't ask people to pretend that there is a scenario in which some kinds of harm are lesser than others. All harm to life is terrible harm, but all of us will commit it and all of us will suffer from it.

For example: rape and murder are bad, but can you really say that people who do not rape or murder cause less overall harm, in the aggregate?

Actually, again, in order to be totally honest, I think I would have to say "it depends."

Wouldn't you need a complete moment-by-moment ethical behavior analysis by some sort of independent jury to make anything like that kind of claim?

Yes, I think you would, over a whole lifetime, and in context. For instance, several people in my family have murdered other people -- in war. I think that a moment-by-moment ethical behavior analysis would put those actions into a context which, when weighed with all of the other actions in their lives and considered historically, might still show lesser harm, in the aggregate, than someone else who has never directly murdered anyone. I can't say that for sure, but that's my argument - you'd have to do some really close examination to know for sure.

Please note that I don't say this to excuse rape and murder. We have legal systems to deal with rape and murder, and consequences are built into that system. In that system, we deal only with incidents of infraction and only have to show that certain conditions were met. So, for someone to be convicted of rape, they have to have been shown to have done an action that met those convictions. To me, that process is effective enough at what it aims to do, but is not sufficient to provide a total evaluation of all of their actions in their lives.
posted by Miko at 8:42 AM on December 14, 2010


You seem to be trying to find a rational justification for eating meat;

I think I've caused a major confusion, and I apologize about that. I am absolutely NOT trying to justify eating meat. I don't believe -- given my moral system -- that it can be justified. (Well, it can. But we'd need vastly more humane farming techniques. So what I mean is, given my moral system, there is no justification for eating meat given current farming techniques.)

The way to minimize the most harm is to kill myself.

Almost everyone has this thought, but it's dodging the problem. It's like if someone says, "If we have to push one person off the lifeboat, who should it be" and you say, "No one." That's not answering the question.

For whatever reason, you CAN'T kill yourself. It's either push the guy off the bridge and save all the people on the trolly (but push the guy) or everyone on the trolly dies. Within the rules of the problem, those are the only choices. To say, "I'd kill myself" is really just saying, "I'd rather not think about this problem" or "this problem isn't important to me."

You could make up some bizarre scenario: You're chained to the ground so you can't jump, but there's enough slack in the chains so that you can push the guy. Or a magic spell has been cast on you so that if you jump, you float. Whatever. I'm guessing, whether you think it's an absurd scenario or not, that your mind can grasp it. So it really comes down to whether or not you're willing to (or interested in) confronting the problem.
posted by grumblebee at 8:58 AM on December 14, 2010


I think, then, it's just a bad version of the problem, not me dodging the problem. The 'flip the switch' version gets at the dilemma much more directly - I'm just answering the version you mentioned. So, yes, I'd definitely kill the single guy. Given the constraint, I don't have much problem with that, other than the obvious trauma the situation would cause all around.
posted by Miko at 9:03 AM on December 14, 2010


Sorry, I didn't mean to post a bad version of the problem. To be honest, I liked to the Wikipedia entry without reading it. I've heard the problem for years, from all different sources, and I wrongly assumed that Wikipedia would have a sensible version of it.

Here's a good lecture on it.
posted by grumblebee at 9:31 AM on December 14, 2010


It gets constructed differently by different presenters, I think, partly because it can illustrate different points.

My other reaction to this problem is that I think that both choices - do nothing, or flip the switch - are morally defensible choices. Saving more lives in terms of sheer number is preferential to people with a utilitarian leaning, but there are reasons why someone might say "I won't do anything to alter the course of fate" and be able to defend that with complete moral consistency, or even argue situationally about who the individuals are who are on the tracks and in the trolley, respectively, and how that might impact the overall outcome of the choice in the long term.

Maybe the lecture gets at some of this; I'll listen to it now while I attempt to get some work done.
posted by Miko at 9:34 AM on December 14, 2010


there are reasons why someone might say "I won't do anything to alter the course of fate" and be able to defend that with complete moral consistency

Hmmm. I would have to see this moral framework fleshed out a bit more. If it's "I don't believe in altering fate in some specific situations," then I think it can work. It's arbitrary, but so are all ethical systems at their core.

But I don't think you can build a moral system around a general principle of not altering the course of fate, because you're GOING to alter the course of fate all the time, whether you want to or not. (As political people are fond of pointing out, not voting is voting.) Unless your moral system is based on the idea that your choices are fated. At that point, the very idea of a moral system dissolves, unless it's just a system of labeling actions as good or bad (as opposed to a choice-making system).
posted by grumblebee at 10:18 AM on December 14, 2010


It's the issue of taking intentional action, as some of the people in the video are identifying. For instance, if someone has pledged never to kill another person no matter what, this situation is the no matter what. Even though remaining passive means not preventing other deaths, if it's unconcscionable to the person to act on the intent to kill, it's simply unconscionable.
posted by Miko at 10:31 AM on December 14, 2010


... it could also arise in certain religious systems as a "God's will" argument.
posted by Miko at 10:32 AM on December 14, 2010


Examples: Predestination in Islam, in its orthodox form, and in some systems within Christianity.
posted by Miko at 10:43 AM on December 14, 2010


In those "don't alter fate," I'm confused about situations like the following. (Which is going to be absurd, because I don't have time right now to come up with a realistic version.)

Someone is forcing you to push one of two buttons. They are putting a gun to your head and making you push one. (And if you're tempted to say, "I'd just let him shoot me," please take that out of the equation. He's given you a drug that has a weird affect of making you push a button. You can choose which button, but it's impossible for you to choose to push no button.)

The red button will kill 100 people. The blue button will kill 1 person.

So this isn't a situation in which you can just choose not to intervene. You have to push a button. How would this connect to "don't alter fate." What is fate in this instance?

(Let's assume you don't know any specifics about the people, e.g. that one the the 100 people is a serial killer. They're just random people. And you have no preferences when it comes to the buttons, e.g. you don't prefer red to blue.)

Ultimately, I don't see how this is different from the trolly problem. It SEEMS different, because we tend to think of pushing the guy as taking action and not pushing him as "letting nature take its course." Whereas in my scenario, pushing either button is taking an action.

But I'm not sure why, if we're being rational, choosing to not push the guy is any more or less "letting nature take its corse" than pushing the guy. This distinction somehow removes you from nature. It allows you to think of certain actions as not being choices. When, in fact, they are choices.
posted by grumblebee at 10:53 AM on December 14, 2010


I'm not a fatalist, so I am not going to choose for myself, but attempt to provide a likely answer from them. I think the response from a "God's Will" person would be to say a prayer to let God's will be done, close their eyes, and push a button, any button, letting the deity guide their hand.

It allows you to think of certain actions as not being choices. When, in fact, they are choices.

To us, sure, but to harcore believers in predestination, they are not real choices, in that everything is foreordained, causes and effects, whatever it is you do or don't do.
posted by Miko at 11:00 AM on December 14, 2010


Actually, again, in order to be totally honest, I think I would have to say "it depends."
Then I agree with you.
posted by davar at 11:18 AM on December 14, 2010


I think the response from a "God's Will" person would be to say a prayer to let God's will be done, close their eyes, and push a button, any button, letting the deity guide their hand.

I find this utterly fascinating.

Let's say 100 "God's Will" people do exactly this. Of this number, I wonder how many of them will feel as if...

a) God is pushing or pulling their hand. In other words, as if an invisible being is literally grabbing their hand and maneuvering it towards a certain button.

b) God is giving them a hint. In other words, they have control, but they feel a slight (or not-so-slight) sensation, suggesting that they push a certain button.

c) they are totally in control, but now that they're acting as a servant of God, whatever choice they make will be His choice. Their feeling of control is an illusion.

d) they did it without any influence from God, but that's not the truth they want, so they're going to pretend like it's not true: fake it until you make it.

e) unsure -- caught between several of the above possibilities.

The other thing that fascinates me is that I can't get this to work. And I've tried it -- sort of. I've had to make an important decision, have been unable to choose, have decided, "Well, I'll let the fates decide," and have held my hand in-between the two possibilities, waiting for something to happen. (Basically, the Ouija board stance). For me, nothing happens. My hand just stays poised between the choices.

I wonder, if I "found Jesus," whether my hand would start moving in these situations (whether or not Jesus exists) or if I would just interpret the situation as "Jesus doesn't want me to choose right now."
posted by grumblebee at 11:53 AM on December 14, 2010


I think the response from a "God's Will" person would be to say a prayer to let God's will be done, close their eyes, and push a button, any button, letting the deity guide their hand.
The only way this could work would be if the person had no idea which button would result in each action - otherwise (even subconsciously), they will gravitate towards one or the other, with their 'moral compass' guiding their hand.

The concern I have with the 'trolley problem' as any sort of measure of how people will act when forced to make a decision is that I believe the overwhelming majority of people will simply refuse to decide - even if the default position is that the greater number of people will die if they take no action, they will find themselves unable to make a conscious decision to take a life and will 'choose' to kill the greater number ('choose' on the basis that not making a choice is, in fact, making a choice by its very nature).

Of course, the reason people will refuse to choose is because the suffering is happening right in front of their eyes - if the choice was to kill either one or a hundred people at a remove with no visible consequences, I think people would overwhelmingly choose the lesser number because there are no consequences for them. This is why the vast majority of people are quite happy with making animals suffer (sometimes to an extraordinary degree), as long as they don't have to participate directly in the action that leads to the suffering. People who are fully aware of the suffering animals endure in order to provide that delicious steak are, I suspect, much more likely to choose a salad instead. As a group, we choose (there's that word again) to ignore the suffering that we know has occurred in bringing us that steak because it suits us to do so and it increases the enjoyment we get from eating it.

While I don't want to derail all this, the conversation brings The Bravery of Being Out Of Range to mind. It's kind of the concept that I'm trying to get across - people are strong and brave when they don't have to face the consequences of their decisions.
posted by dg at 7:00 PM on December 14, 2010


otherwise (even subconsciously), they will gravitate towards one or the other, with their 'moral compass' guiding their hand.

It's true, but consciously, it doesn't enter into their moral justification, which, however open to critique, is at least internally morally consistent with an extreme predeterminist worldview.

I'm not saying it's truly genuine (whose reaction is? Would you not second-guess it your entire life, no matter what?) but just that, no matter which way you go, there's a legitimate moral argument for it. These things aren't that easily solved, and there are smart people throughout history who have come up with ranges of different answers and justifications. And there's no universally recognized authority to appeal to to discover which is the 'right' one.
posted by Miko at 7:35 PM on December 14, 2010


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