How To Kill A Chicken: Thoughts on The Morality of Killing from the Barnyard.
Ever since reading Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma, I have been thinking a lot about his defense of carnivores. Although his latest book suggests a simple, somewhat vegetarian mantra (Eat food, not too much, mostly plants), Om Dil argued convincingly for meat-eaters’ rights. I had the sense that he began his argument from a desire to eat meat, instead of assessing all the data and then coming to a reasoned conclusion. Rather in the same way that George W. Bush decided to invade Iraq, then figured out a bunch of questionable reasons.
The thing that really stuck with me from that book was his mention of Peter Singer’s suggestion that in 150 years or so humans might well look upon the eating of animals in the same way that we now look upon the keeping of slaves. Its a powerful suggestion. And its easy to see how this could happen.
Alan Weisman describes in The World Without Us how humans have the dubious distinction of causing the mass extermination of species after species through their relentless hunting. Even the “traditional” tribal societies, who we often think of as being much lighter on the earth than us “White Men,” waged a relentless war against animals. About 10,000 years ago America was home to “super mammals” the like of which the Earth has not seen since: ground sloths the size of elephants; mammoths the size of several elephants; wolves that make Africa lions look like Labradors; lions as big as rhinos. Not long after the arrival of Clovis Man (considered the first human in the Americas) these animals were history, yet they continued to live on in other places where Clovis didn’t get to, for some 5000 years before dying out.
So Man has been the bane of animals’ existence since she (sic) first came down from the trees; a kind of super ape with a taste for blood. Although it seems clear that we did hunt and kill a lot, Jeffrey Masson, in his book The Face on the Plate, discusses work among anthropologists and paleo-anthropologists that suggests maybe we did not evolve to eat meat, but were actually better suited to plants. Our mouths are small compared to most carnivores, our jaws certainly not designed to rip flesh from live prey like other predators. And our teeth are grinders of plants more than slicers of flesh.