Spencer Lo has a very readable and thorough editorial on the controversial oxen here
. Is it particularly wrong for Green Mountain College to eat these two animals, as opposed to eating two other animals? In terms of harm done, it's better than eating two factory farmed animals, and roughly the same as eating two anonymous humanely farmed animals. So not particularly
wrong. It's strange, though, to form a bond with specific animals and then turn around and eat them. Would you really want to eat a plate of Lou? Would you want to say "Lou sure is tender and tasty?" The protest against eating Bill and Lou goes beyond that, though. The protestors aren't just saying "You folks are weird!", they're saying the act of killing and eating Bill and Lou is especially wrong, compared to killing and eating other animals. It is hard to see how that could be true.
Update 11/11: HERE
To eat an animal that you have to some extent "humanized" in your mind may have the effect of undermining your instinct to protect real humans, and as such may be judged wrong as a result of reducing the overall level of mutual protection among us.
It may also traumatize people who have bought in to the false humanization, and there may be a moral argument against bringing unnecessary suffering to others even when that suffering depends also on their own misconceptions (which is why some atheists are reluctant to mock religion).
Both of these moral arguments are real (though I suspect also sufficiently weak as to often be counterbalanced by arguments going the other way), so I do think that there is a moral difference between eating Bill and Lou and eating two anonymous humanely farmed animals.
I thought about that, but really wonder if it's true. Farm kids name their prize hog, display him at the state fair, then eat him. So they humanize, then kill and eat. Does undermine their protectiveness toward full humans--i.e. other people? I kind of doubt it. Same goes for all the people who are keeping chickens in their backyards these day. They name them, get into relationships with them, and then one day make chicken soup out of them. I don't know of any evidence that this kind of humanizing plus killing and eating makes us treat other humans any worse. The thing is, even when people humanize animals, they have very rigid categories in their minds. There are "food animals" that we get to eat, no matter how much we may humanize them. Then there are non-food animals, like dogs and cats. People who eat their chickens don't seem to have any appetite whatever for their dogs and cats, let alone their children or grandmothers.
I'm not sure you have accurately characterized the position of the protestors fairly. Maybe some of them will say it is not worse to kill Bill and Lou and then eat anonymous factory farmed animals. But presenting the issue this way ignores the claims Bill and Lou have to life. It IS WRONG to kill them for their flesh. In no way is this "necessary". There is a sanctuary that has offered to put them up, at no cost to the university.
What should the university do? The university clearly should not kill these animals. They should not buy meat from factory farms in the first place. They shouldn't buy meat at all.
I think it's plausible for it to be more wrong than eating anonymous cows. If we take the relationships that we form to affect our moral duties/obligations a la ethics of care, the fact that we had a relationship with these cows are morally significant.
Lets say I'm a vet. One particularly harrowing day, two people come rushing into my office with two mortally wounded animals. One is my cat. The other is a stranger's cat. Should I attend to my cat or he stranger's cat? Now say I have a ravenous snake that needs to eat one of these cats. Should I feed my cat to the snake or the stranger's cat to the snake ( assuming that the stranger would not be any more upset than I)?
The president of Harvard University recalled, "A neighboring nuisance was the college pig-pen, where the Corporation's own porkers fought with rats for the commons garbage; for years the hideous clamor of a pig-killing was wont to disturb recitations in University [Hall]."
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