Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Pig that wants to be Eaten

Ah... finally the book's title is uncovered. The chapter is no euphemism, it means exactly what it reads :). What if you meet a pig that wants you to eat him?

Charles has been a vegetarian all his life, for not wanting to kill or hurt animals. But he had always wondered how meat tasted, and of late he'd been craving to try and have at least one meal of meat. Of course his principles forbade him, so he stopped himself. Imagine you're in a world where animals can talk. Or perhaps Charles just happened to meet one special pig that could talk. The pig tells Charles that his/her life time's ambition is to be eaten by someone else. The pig was reared comfortably and was not ill treated in any way. As a matter of fact, the pig has been looking forward to his day at the butcher's place. Oh so crushed would be the pig's soul if no one ate him.... and Charles wondered if it's unfair to disappoint such an animal's lifetime wish....

If that's not enough, Charles comes to know of a genetically modified chicken that was born in a persistent vegetative state (PVS). The chicken was no much aware of itself than a carrot would be of itself. Eating the chicken was no different than eating a carrot. Charles argues if it's against his principles to eat such a chicken. (Source: The Restaurant at the the end of the Universe, Douglas Adams)

If Charles's principle is towards saving the animal from trauma, and nothing more, then I guess both the animals will face no trauma (the pig will go through painless execution, and both animals were not cruelly reared). If I did meet such a pig or a chicken what would I do? Well, to make matters a little more interesting (and weird) why not consider this - what if Charles meets a man who wants to be eaten? I think I've heard of such a man/case somewhere sometime in an article. Cannibalism is frowned upon, because we humans associate value and dignity to our lives even if we lose all state of awareness and get into a state of PVS. Therefore meat is not just seen as meat. So herein comes the main question -- how different do we consider animals from humans? Animals can't think as much, lack a lot of human emotion and behavior and many many more characteristics due to the current state of evolution. What then are the principles behind our principles on ethical treatment of animals?

I'm a vegetarian myself, so this puzzle is a good one for me. The reason why I don't eat meat is because I consider animals to have a certain dignity. They are living beings who can feel pain, have the right to live, and who obviously don't want to be killed. With all the vegetables and fruits around, why try to kill an animal? I also like pets, and I think all animals are alike. Why be prejudiced against salmons and chickens when I would treasure a gold fish in the tank and an adorable doggy play mate. But as I write these sentences I'm aware of all the "prejudices" within me, and I know I don't act completely true to all those statements.

If I really considered animals to have a certain dignity, then I shouldn't be using any animal product -- milk, cheese, eggs, leather, fur, silk, certain oils, gelatin etc. Although I do abstain myself from leather, fur, gelatin, animal oils, I can't say the same about the rest. For half the time I don't realize what goes inside packaged foods (which is another issue by itself) and I have NO IDEA about how the cows and chickens were treated to get all the milk and eggs.... they are probably kept in miserable conditions.

I also am aware that I wouldn't mind getting certain animals killed --- rats for one (especially if they try to pay a dear visit to my kitchen), lizards for another, cockroaches (the numerous ones I have swatted through my life...), spiders, bees and others that fit into the subset of pests. If I were cornered by a cobra, and I had a spear in my hand, I wouldn't worry about saving it. And if mice were used for cancer research, I don't complain.

So why these "prejudices"? I would take on a Utilitarian stance on this problem. The law of "greater good". If I were to form an equation of the consequences of each scenario, from two different perspectives (if the animal is spared, and the animal is used) and I weigh the outcomes in terms of the "good" generated by the two, I will be convinced if I picked the one that led to the greater good to the majority. I can therefore argue killing snakes, tigers, bees, spiders and bugs for self-defense, rats and cockroaches to ward off diseases, and using mice in experiments to help save millions from cancer. I can argue that milk and cheese provide necessary nourishment for me, which is otherwise very hard to be substituted with. If one day, chickens became endangered, then eating them will be clearly forbidden to save the ecosystem. But today, killing a cow/chicken that never did any harm to me, and will likely do no harm to me, when I can eat other things, is an unbalanced equation. But I do see loopholes... what is "good"? Can we really quantify suffering and good to balance out such equations? It's not something that can be clearly defined all the time.

Everything said and done, will I substitute humans to be used in such an equation of "greater good"? This borders on issues like euthanasia, capital punishments, wars, abortions etc. So the truth is, we do consider animals to be lesser than us and hence assume rights over them, which we probably shoudn't... but oh well it's the survival of the fittest.

The pig that wants to be eaten, will invariably be consumed by so many other people, if not by Charles; and the same holds for the chicken. So Charles is not obliged to eat the pig to save it's life-long wish. If his principle is centered only on ethical treatment of animals before execution and a painless execution, then he does not violate his principle in any way by eating the animals. But If he associated some amount of dignity to the animals, then eating them for the only "good" of satisfying his temptation and hunger violates his principle.

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