Thursday, March 02, 2006
Carnivory: between sentiment and reason
Another installment of our occasional series on eating animals...

In the middle of reading Coetzee's Elizabeth Castello, in particular having just finished the two chapters: "The Lives of Animals"; these were originally given by Coetzee as a Tanner Lecture on Human Values at Princeton University in 1997.

When push comes to shove, sentiment beats reason every time, as any economist can tell you. This is why I find it impossible to rationally argue against Elizabeth Costello (vis-à-vis Coetzee?). Veal repels my sentiments, but not beef — not rational but my sentiment is what it is, I cannot justify it via reason but then I am as sure of it as I am sure of Socrates' mortality. Does there exist any consistent argument against veal that does not exclude beef at the same time? While we are at it, how rational is any argument against eating cats and dogs that do not at the same be against eating pigs? What is so fundamentally different between a cat or a dog, which I won't think of eating, and the pig which provided some of my dinner tonight, except on the level of sentiment?

There are the rational arguments for meat-eating, i.e. culture & evolutionary history, dentition, digestive tract, nutrition &c, and rational arguments against it, i.e. cultural & evolutionary history, health, ecology &c. These all seemed rather bloodless to me, in that I can't see how they can ever persuade a skeptic. Sentimental arguments, like Costello's, do not persuade either but they are the ones almost anyone can understand, and when well-put as is Costello's it is almost impossible not to sympathize. That is the power of literature and of art, which is fundamentally a sentimental power.

Back to meat eating: while a rational counter to Costello cannot be posed, I think I can pose a sentimental one. There is something so utterly pleasurable in a good bowl of beef noodles — indeed one of the chief pleasures of this life — how can there possibly be anything wrong with it?