Eating Meat, Raping Women

The long comment thread triggered by Gary Francione's Philosophy Bites interview degenerated in predictable ways, but did get me thinking about one of the standard abolitionist "moves".  Francione and another commenter toward the end of the thread argue that supporting "humane" animal products is like supporting "humane" rape, or supporting "humane" child molestation. I got to thinking about whether this makes any sense at all, and ... no, it doesn't.

First, some thoughts about the ethics of using animals for food. What many say, despite varying ethical orientations, is that the animal eater is guilty of causing "unnecessary harm". The phrase suggests a balance that's "off".  There's a certain harm done--H.  And there's a certain benefit to the consumer--B.  The wrongness owes to the fact that H is a serious harm, B is a trivial benefit. Bad H:B ratio, in some sense or other (there are many ways to spell that out). If you think in those terms, then you implicitly allow that the balance can be worse and it can be better.  So there are degrees of wrongness, and there also degrees of rightness.

If you think about eating animals in terms of what's "necessary" and "unnecessary", you'll probably wind up saying that some people actually ought to consume meat.  The harm, H, is relatively trivial, considering the benefit, B.  Take a poor mother who has no other good source of protein for her children but goat's milk.  The goat seems to not mind being milked and lives outdoors (low H); the children get health-saving benefits (high B).  She ought to milk that goat and feed her children.

Lots of people think this way about eating animals-- in terms of what's necessary and unnecessary, or implicitly in terms of the H:B balance. I talk about unnecessary harm in my book Animalkind. David DeGrazia talks about unnecessary harm in his excellent book Taking Animals Seriously. Any utilitarian implicitly thinks in terms of balance, though there's a lot more to utilitarianism than that, and utilitarians have a particular view of how to balance H and B. Even Francione talks in these terms, in that Philosophy Bites interview, though maybe that's just loose rhetoric for him, and not what he really has in mind (since in his writings he says animals are persons who cannot ever rightly be used as resources).

Now (getting to the point!) on the balance analysis, it clearly does make sense to encourage humane omnivorism as an improvement over indifferent omnivorism because humane omnivorism involves a better balance.  H is decreased, so the H:B ratio is improved.  So the humane omnivore has got to be morally better than the indifferent omnivore.

So ... must we go down exactly the same road and see humane rape (absurdly enough) as exactly the same sort of improvement over brutal rape?  There are some ethicists who apply the same concepts to every single moral problem.  So if the "unnecessary harm" analysis of wrongness applies to animal consumption, it has to apply to rape as well.  But there are lots of possible reasons not to go that route. Perhaps we are pluralists about ethics, so recognize that all problems don't yield to the same analysis. Perhaps we think rape is in a unique moral category. Whatever the ultimate explanation, no, I would not say rape is wrong because it's a case of "unnecessary harm."  Its wrongness is not a question of an imbalance. Forced sex is inherently wrong, and not because of an H:B ratio that's unfavorable. Or so it seems to me.

If you reject the balance analysis of the wrongness of rape, then humane rapists aren't morally analogous to humane omnivores.  Switching to humane omnivorism goes to the heart of the matter, reducing the core wrongness.  In the case of rape, it's certainly better to be more humane and worse to be more cruel (the crime of rape does come in degrees), but the "how" doesn't go to the heart of the wrongness.  You do reduce the core wrongness of eating meat by treating the animal more compassionately.  You don't reduce the core wrongness of rape by treating the victim more compassionately.

Glad we cleared that up!  This is one of those cases where an analogy looks demented on the surface, and if you think about it for a couple of hours, it still looks demented.  So you've basically thrown out those hours of your life.  But maybe making the argument here will convince a few people (I'm an optimist!) that they need to retire the humane meat/humane rape analogy.


Matthew Pianalto said...

You do reduce the core wrongness of eating meat by treating the animal more compassionately.

But that doesn't seem to follow from, e.g. a Regan-esque perspective. (Or: you're using the term "compassionately" equivocally--i.e. in a utilitarian-compatible sense when talking about animals, but in a deontological sense when talking about rape.) Unless, perhaps, the compassionate treatment means not eating the animal until it's life has reached a natural end.

Jean Kazez said...

I agree. I'm coming to that conclusion from premises I would put forward, not that everyone in animal ethics would necessarily accept. It's interesting to note, however, how often people do talk about meat-eating in terms of unnecessary harm (implying it could also be necessary and that the issue is balance). Lots of people do this. Regan never does, as I recall, but even Francione does, in that interview (as I said, I'm not sure he's serious about that sort of talk).

Aeolus said...

I agree with what I think is Matthew's point. For many animal advocates, the core wrongness of exploiting animals lies in treating them as mere instruments, by violating their fundamental interests. One doesn't have to claim that the harm inflicted by eating meat is as bad as the harm inflicted by rape in order to say that there is a parallel here.

I think that much of the mutual incomprehension between abolitionists and "humane use" advocates comes down to the fact that those on one side are deeply repelled by the notion that the lives of so many of our fellow sentient creatures are viewed essentially as resources, however well they are treated while alive, and those on the other side don't feel there is any problem. (Consider the present controversy over Bill and Lou at Green Mountain College.)

Jean Kazez said...

Yes, I'm not saying the "unnecessary harm" analysis is one every animal ethicist would buy into, but it's interesting how many people do, and even Francione does talk that way sometimes. If that's what someone really thinks, then the problem with eating animals is that there's a harm:benefit imbalance, and you can create at least a better balance by causing even just a bit less harm.

Billl and Lou...don't know about it. Google to the rescue.

Matthew Pianalto said...

Jean: I get your point. Of course, in addition to the finer details of analysis, there's a question about this sort of analogical rhetoric (and with it, "the Holocaust on your plate," and Coetzee's character Elizabeth Costello, and so forth)--that is, whether the shock value of the rhetoric is worth the fact that it's immediately going to turn some people off (provoking entrenchment, etc.).

Jean Kazez said...

I had a student who did an honors project a few years back to see how students respond to shockers like the "Holocaust on your plate" campaign. She found they appeal to people already interested in animal rights and repel people who aren't already interested.

Anonymous said...

I guess he’s using two arguments for different contexts: When he appeals to the proposition "unnecessary suffering is bad", he is trying to propose an argument for the abolition of "99% of animal use" (and for veganism) without requiring an appeal to animal rights.

If you look, however, into his argument for animal rights, it works without the appeal to unnecessary suffering and is clearly deontological – Reganesque :-) – in its nature. One of his conclusions there would precisely be, that

> [y]ou don't reduce the core wrongness of [animal exploitation – which is animal ownership –] by treating the victim more compassionately.

So I agree with you that his argument in the interview was quite unfortunate/confusing and even if it was posed accurately, his argument about the inherent immorality of the institution of animal ownership could be made just as clearly with a little less polemic.

Still, I think generally speaking restating arguments of animal ethics in an analogous inter-human context, can be quite a worthwhile and revealing thing to do.

Spencer said...
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Spencer said...

Wouldn't GF say that the “core wrongness” of animal consumption is the use of animals for relatively trivial purposes, not just the unnecessary suffering? He might not see any great reduction in the “core wrongness” via more compassionate treatment (though he does acknowledge the latter is better).

My problem with the “humane rape” analogy is that the contexts are vastly different: unlike animal consumption, we already have firm social and legal norms against rape—and so it doesn’t make sense to weaken them by expressing tolerance for “humane rape.” If rape were truly as extensive and pervasive as factory-farming, then some form of the “humane rape” idea would make sense.

Jean Kazez said...

Anonymous, Yes, I agree, I don't think GF can be serious about that "unnecessary harm" formulation. It's not consistent with his main way of discussing the wrongness of using animals as food.

Spencer, I tried to talk in terms of "unnecessary harm" in the post, not "unnecessary suffering" so as not to tie this kind of talk to any one account of "the good" and "the bad". You could think there are more relevant harms and benefits besides pain and pleasure, and still think in terms of balance/imbalance.

Your point about rape is good, and could also be made in terms of slavery. Even if it's true that forcible sex is inherently wrong, and slavery is inherently wrong--and so it's not a matter of "unnecessary harm" at all--you could still coherently support humane reforms. It wouldn't go to the core of the wrongness, but reforms could still be worth supporting. Abolitionists about slavery did (at least many of them) support keeping families together when slaves were sold, for example. They did support allowing slaves to learn to read. Likewise, people today who are abolitionists about the death penalty often simultaneously work for abolition and for more humane conditions. When persons have a voice--slaves, people on death row--I think they ask for humane reforms, not just for "abolition". Imagining what animals would want, I think you have to imagine just the same thing.

Craig Urias said...

It seems your case hinges on the distinction between "inherently wrong" and "worse H:B ratio". But what prevents someone from saying that carnivorism is inherently wrong? One could then argue along the same lines as you did.

Imagine yourself living in a cannibalistic society. You had the misfortune of being born into the "provider class", which is a euphemism for the underclass of people that are eaten. You spend your days in a cage. You listen to your captors philosophize about H:B ratios and less wrongness and whatnot, and it's it's all quite obviously rationalizations to cover their desire to eat you.

Now is this a simple anthropomorphism fallacy? Not exactly, because there is a continuous transformation between humans and chimps, between chimps and cows -- between any animal and any other animal. For example travel up the human ancestry to the common ancestor between humans and chimps, and from there travel down to chimps. It's all continuous; we only see it as discontinuous because time has severed the link. In ring species the transformation still remains today, the only difference is that the transformation takes place over distance instead of time.

Going back to you inside the cage, your position would of course be that you should not be eaten. Eating you is inherently wrong! It's not a H:B ratio analysis! And wouldn't that also apply to a Jean from 5000 years ago, a Jean from 50,000 years ago, and a Jean from 5 million years ago?

One problem with this argument is that there is some point -- say amoebas -- where it breaks down. Not only is it superlatively difficult to argue against amoeba eating, it's not even feasible to adopt that goal in practice. I don't have a good resolution to this, but I expect it would involve brains and feedback mechanisms.

Spencer said...
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Spencer said...


I think the slavery and death penalty parallels clearly demonstrate the non-absurdity of humane reforms for animals.

Which highlights another problem with GF's rape analogy: its sensationalist character discourages people from *really* imagining the relevant situation in which one could conceivably favor humane reforms for rape. Instead, when people are repulsed by the "humane rape," they are imagining the real-world--not one where rape is truly comparable to animal use.

Craig Urias said...

Isn't it clear that some forms of rape are worse than others? To take two extreme cases for effect, compare a psychopath that tortures his victim with knives, beating, etc., and a creepy stalker that sneaks into the victim's apartment, administers some anaesthetic while she is sleeping, does his thing, and quietly leaves, all without the victim ever knowing what happened. From these two extremes we may imagine intermediate cases ranging from bad to worse, for instance a creepy stalker that administers slightly less anaesthetic, and a psychopath that doesn't use knives.

If you apply H:B ratio arguments toward carnivorism, it seems that you are obliged to also apply them toward rape. I can also see taking the "inherently wrong" path instead for both carnivorism and rape. The mixture of one and the other seems harder to support.

Jean Kazez said...

Spencer, True, even if you thought carvnivorism and rape were both inherently wrong (so, no balance analysis for either), if you imagine a world where rape plays a role like animal consumption does, it starts to make sense to support humane rape. But we don't really have to go to all that trouble, since we can just shift our attention to other very entrenched practices--slavery, the death penalty.

Craig, I think the woman has got to be right to milk her goat and feed her children. That's a necessary use of the animal for food. Basic intuition, can't change it! By contrast, I don't believe it makes any sense whatever to talk about necessary rapes and unnecessary rapes. That talk just doesn't apply at all. Forcible sex is wrong period, not because the H:B balance is off. Horrible truth: it isn't actually always off. Believe it or not, I once met a woman who had been raped and didn't think it was all that bad. I don't think a man very eager to rape a woman could say it was "necessary" even in that situation, where the harm to the woman would be small. So I think the badness of rape is intrinsic to what it is. Nevertheles, that doesn't stop you making disctinctions. Rape is intrinsically bad, but you can compound the badness by adding additional elements--cruelty, violence, etc. So the deontological analysis doesn't stop you making distinctions between different cases.

Craig Urias said...

Jean, I was thinking entirely in terms of unnecessary harm that persists because it is entrenched in society. Even eating a goat -- instead of just drinking its milk -- may be necessary in circumstances where not doing so would lead to death by starvation.

Of course all rape is unnecessary. In a dystopian society where rape is pervasive, it would still be inherently wrong. And in the dystopian society in my example, where you are in a cage about to be eaten, eating you would still be inherently wrong, even though cannibalism is a common practice in that society. (Let's assume that none of the cannibals need to eat you; they only wish to do so because you're so delicious.)

If Jean-eating is inherently wrong, then from my evolutionary-continuous-transformation argument it follows that unnecessary carnivorism is inherently wrong. Suppose you were not in a cage -- suppose you were awarded a lavish lifestyle in exchange for being eaten against your will -- would that reduce the the inherent wrongness of being eaten? What about eating a Jean from 5,000 years ago, and so forth?

My rape example was confused and/or misleading due to the distinction between necessary and unnecessary. I was approaching the issue from the other direction, pointing out that everything is a continuum if we just look. The fact that carnivorism has a continuum of niceness does not impact whether or not it is inherently wrong, just as the continuum of rape does not impact the wrongness of rape. Looking at my last comment again, I disagree with myself in the last paragraph. I think inherent wrongness is orthogonal to B:H ratio discussions.

Wayne said...

Rape is one of those moral issues that to me is a universal moral wrong. It doesn't matter what the consequences are, it doesn't matter who is raping, and who is being raped, be the woman jogging in the park or Hitler. It really brings out my Kantian side.

I worry that there might be a day I come up with some clever Trolly like scenario that will show me that rape might sometimes be justifiable. But I've come to literally the end of the world, and still think that rape is wrong.

I was giving a talk about Zombies and Adoption a few weeks ago, and in it I mention that I don't think that the end of humanity would be a bad thing. Someone asked me to justify this, since it wasn't really the topic of the talk, I didn't give much argument to support that intuition. My response was, If I were the last man on earth, with the last woman on earth, would it be okay for me to rape her to ensure the survival of the human race. I said no, its clearly wrong. So the human race has no intrinsic worth that is worth more than violating the autonomy of another individual in that manner. (Incidentally, it lead to the greatest comment I ever got at a presentation in my life, where the questioner responded that I simply should have wooed her better.)

When the existence of all of humanity is at stake, and I still wouldn't rape, it seems to me that it isn't about a H:B ratio at all.

Jean Kazez said...

Craig, I'm using "inherently wrong" here as the opposite of "wrong because of H:B imbalance". So--"inherently wrong" means wrong just in its very nature, not wrong because the benefits are trivial, compared to the harm. So I don't see how you can combine these two concepts as you seem to be trying to do.

Wayne, Funny--when explaining utilitarianism and trying to be charitable, I never ever discuss rape. My example is usually lying--that's a type of behavior utilitarians deal with in a way that's fairly intuitive. It just seems like rape is a problem for utilitarians, and yes, it definitely brings out my inner Kantian.

Zombies and adoption--cool! What's that about?

I bet you discuss "28 Days Later" and the attempted rape toward the end. Right? Really interesting movie for thinking about this sort of stuff.

I think I agree with the commenter--yes, wooing is obviously the solution:-) I'm inclined to think humanity does have intrinsic worth, so it pains me to think about that "rape or end of humanity" dilemma.

Craig Urias said...

Jean, I said that inherent wrongness is orthogonal to B:H ratio discussions, so I don't understand why you think I'm combining them. Orthogonal is the opposite of combining.

It seems I haven't communicated my point at all, sorry. I am taking issue with not labeling unnecessary carnivorism as inherently wrong. I have tried to show that this is a matter of chauvinism -- if you were the one being eaten, you'd certainly think it was inherently wrong! That's why I keep mentioning the continuity of evolution and the Jeans from 5,000 years ago, 50,000 years ago, and 500,000 years ago. All of those Jeans think that being eaten is inherently wrong. It seems my argument along this line has fallen into a black hole.

To me inherent wrongness is not antipodal to B:H ratios, but orthogonal. That is, independent. If we consider something to be inherently wrong, we can still present B:H arguments to a society in which the inherent wrongness is not widely recognized.

In a crazy dystopian society where rape is commonplace, we might be forced to make such B:H arguments. While rape is never necessary and carnivorism is sometimes necessary, that does not prevent us from drawing an analogy between rape and unnecessary carnivorism.

But rape is a red herring here because it doesn't matter at all what the particular inherent wrongness happens to be. Rape is chosen for emotional appeal, and it's a source of confusion because we are asked to imagine a perverse society of rapists. If the argument can't be made by substituting rape with behavior X, then it's a poor argument.

Jean Kazez said...

Craig, I'm not following. You write--

"I said that inherent wrongness is orthogonal to B:H ratio discussions, so I don't understand why you think I'm combining them."

But it seemed to me you were combining them in earlier comments and it looks like you continue to do so in your last comment. You say--

"I am taking issue with not labeling unnecessary carnivorism as inherently wrong."

Inherently wrong" means wrong without regard to consequences. "Unnecessary carvnivorism" would be carnivorism with benefits too trivial to balance harms. So that label has everything to do with consequences.

That was my point--I just don't really follow how you're using these terms.

Craig Urias said...

Jean, I suppose you have the same kind of feeling I get when I listen to someone use the terms "energy", "momentum", and "force" almost interchangeably. It makes me wince. Thanks for your patience with my ignorance.

I had not realized that the term "unnecessary" necessarily refers to to H:B ratios. I was merely drawing a distinction between (to use another term) a free choice and a forced choice. Is it inherently wrong to kill another person? Well in the absence of some emergency (stopping someone on a shooting spree) or dilemma (the trolley car and the fat man), the answer is no, and inherently so. The reason I don't freely kill people is not due to some utilitarian weighing of options.

Is it so unusual to place a given action in completely different moral categories depending upon whether urgency or necessity play a role? It's a hybrid model: a free, unforced choice to kill is inherently wrong, however the moment a dilemma presents itself we switch gears entirely -- perhaps pull out a calculator and employ some hard-nosed utilitarianism, or whatever else.

Thus I see an absolute distinction between your goat's milk example and casual, everyday meat-eating in an affluent society. There's an external pressure in the former but not in the latter. As far as I'm concerned they are apples and oranges. That's why my objection to the analogy between rape and freely chosen carnivorism is not fundamental but technical. Ultimately they are just instances of X, where X is a freely chosen inherent wrong.

Deepak Shetty said...

You do reduce the core wrongness of eating meat by treating the animal more compassionately.
Isn't this an assumption? For many people the core wrongness is the taking of life. And you do not reduce the core wrongness of that by killing more humanely .(otherwise we would have different levels in our legal system for cold blooded human murder depending on how humanely we murdered someone)- Or am I missing something in your argument?

Jean Kazez said...
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Jean Kazez said...

The argument is throughout the post, plus in the literature I refer to. It's all the stuff about unnecessary harm and necessary harm, the H:B balance or imbalance, the mother who ought to use the goat to feed her child, etc. Of course, not everyone sees animal ethics that way, but many do--see the paragraph about my book, DeGrazia, and Singer.

Craig Urias said...

Jean, sometimes when I act deferentially out of politeness and a desire to connect, people take advantage of it. I had thought we passed at least a minimal threshold of familiarity which would prevent that problem. If you read my arguments while keeping in mind that I'm rejecting the utilitarian calculus -- as opposed to chalking them up to the less than flattering role you have ascribed to me -- then we might be able to connect.

As I said, the reason I don't go around freely killing people is not the result of a harm/benefit analysis. I don't actually think anyone works that way with regard to central personal values. I tend to view H:B ratios as concoctions to back up what we already have decided. Again, the reason you wish to not be killed and eaten is (almost) definitely not the result of H:B. All you have to do is extend that continuously (again, the evolutionary transformation) to reach the same conclusion about non-human animals. If you reject H:B for your own life, my argument is that you are compelled to reject it for pigs.

Jean Kazez said...

Craig, I dropped the ball here for reasons that had nothing to do with your comments--I simply got extremely busy. I'll try to come back to this thread in the next day or two.

Deepak Shetty said...

Only philosophers and meat eaters seem to take unnecessary harm as the core wrongness of meat eating - vegetarians/vegans , even if they use the same term , mean the killing is the main problem, so humane ways of killing don't reduce the "core wrongness".

Anonymous said...

inhumane, and humane animal products... I'm a sociopath, and what is this then?...

No but in seriousness I don't care how the animal is slaughtered. It's life has been ended, and it will soon be in my stomach, or someone else. Perhaps your referring to quality of life for the animal, and cleanliness... In which case for me it isn't a matter of humane V inhumane... It's a matter of me wanting my meat clean, healthful, and delicious. Let us admit what it really is... disgust... The thought of putting the flesh of something that has spent the majority of it's life standing in its own, and others feces is disgusting. Call it humane V inhumane if you choose, But it's nonsensical. We don't empathize with corn so why with a cow you've never met? Disgust. pink slime = disgust. Cattle standing in feces = disgust. Chickens fed steroids = disgust. We know it is unhealthy for the animal, and therefore it isn't healthy to consume the flesh. So let us not make excuses, and get to the heart of it we simply want healthful quality meat.