When I think about the debate surrounding the ethics of eating meat, I think one thing only, why is it so hard for meat eaters to admit that killing animals (to eat their flesh) is unethical? Truly, there is no sound ethical argument in favor of slaughtering animals for their meat, be they sentient or not (it is as unethical to slaughter a pig as it is a fish).
The simplest way to put it is that slaughter is a socially permissible ethical transgression. Societal permission does not make it ethical, it makes it acceptable, non-punishable. Slavery was for centuries socially permissible, in spite of the fact that there was always a minority standing firmly against it. Did that make it any less unethical? I doubt anyone (today, a time when it is socially unpermissible) would say yes.
As a pig farmer, I live an unethical life, shrouded in the justificatory trappings of social acceptance. There is more, even, than acceptance. There is celebration because of the way I farm the pigs. Because I give the pigs lives that are as close to natural as is possible in an unnatural system, I am honorable, I am just, I am humane. While all the while behind the shroud, I am a slaveholder and a murderer. Looking head on, you can’t see it. You have to look askance, just like a pig does when it knows you are up to no good.
Out of the corner of your eye, in the blurry periphery of your vision, something dark, and even evil, lurks. It is the truth: meat is indeed murder. Someday we will know this and accept this as well and as much as we know and accept the evil of slavery, but until that day, I am and will remain a paragon of animal welfare. Pigs on my farm are as piggy as pigness, they are Plato’s pig, the ideal form of the pig. They root, they lounge, they narf, they eat, they forage, they sleep, they wallow, they bask, they run, they play, and they die unconsciously, without pain or suffering. I suffer their death more than they.
The grapple of ethics hooks us and we begin to struggle when we look askance. Do, please, look askance; see through the blurry shroud of the false legitimacy of the bucolic alternative to factory farming, an alternative that is but another obfuscating layer of the justificatory shroud. Look askance and see who and what I am. Look askance and see who and what the animals are. Look askance and see what is on your plate. Look askance and see that society acceptably says yes, Ethics universally, unequivocally, and I believe undeniably says no.
What I do is wrong. I know it in my bones, even if I can’t yet act on it. Someday it must stop. Somehow we need to become the sort of beings who can see what we are doing when we look head on, the sort of beings who don’t weave dark, damning shrouds to sustain, with acceptance and celebration, the grossly unethical, solely for shallow sensual pleasure. Deeper, much deeper, we have an obligation to eat otherwise.
It might take incalculable generations of being hooked by and grappling with the ethics of slaughter to get there, but we really do need to get there, because again, what I am doing, what we are doing, is wrong.