[Paleopsych] TLS: Juliet Clutton-Brock: Factory farm ethics

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Juliet Clutton-Brock: Factory farm ethics
The Times Literary Supplement, 5.11.9

    The past and future of human-animal relationships
    Richard W. Bulliet
    256pp. | Columbia University Press. $27.50; distributed in the UK by
    Wiley. £18. | 0 231 13076 7

    The second wave
    Peter Singer, editor
    248pp. | Oxford: Blackwell £50 (paperback, £9.99). US $59.95
    (paperback, $21.95). | 1 4051 1940 3

    Robert Garner
    189pp. | Oxford: Polity. £55 (paperback, 315.99). US $59.95
    (paperback, $24.95). | 0 7456 3078 2

    In Hunters, Herders, and Hamburgers, Richard W. Bulliet divides the
    history of human-animal relations into four eras: separation, the time
    when he presumes that humans or pre-human hominids became self-aware
    as a species; predomestic, the period of hunter-gathering; domestic,
    lasting from the Neolithic until, say, 1900, when around 40 per cent
    of US citizens lived on farms and were self-sufficient on their land;
    post-domestic, our present age of mass production when only about 2
    per cent of US citizens live on farms. These divisions are used by
    Bulliet as a basis for his hypothesis that the changing patterns of
    how humans perceive animals, both wild and domestic, are a reflection
    of the development of societies over time. However, the divisions
    might have been easier to understand if domestic had been named the
    "age of the home farm" and post-domestic the "age of the factory
    In Bulliet's view, domestic societies lived close to the land, and
    people took for granted the killing of farm animals and had few moral
    qualms about consuming animal products. In early domestic societies,
    the sacrificial killing of animals was common practice, while later,
    in Europe, blood sports such as bear- and bull-
    baiting were immensely popular. In post-domestic societies, there has
    been a great change, and with the divorce from the realities of
    keeping, breeding and killing livestock, people experience feelings of
    guilt, shame and disgust when they think about the industrial
    processes to which domestic animals are subjected. In future, as
    urbanism spreads, post-domestic people will be separated increasingly
    from live animals and they will gain their only experiences of them
    from print and from the electronic media.
    Bulliet has an impressive knowledge of archaeozoology and the history
    of human relationships with animals, and he ranges over a great
    diversity of topics from current theories about the process of
    domestication in the prehistoric period to the modern creation of pet
    cemeteries and pet-loss counselling. The difficulty for the reader is
    that a plethora of anecdotes and legends areis cited and they are
    described with such exuberance, and often at considerable length, so
    it is difficult to follow the trend of the author's many ideas.
    Richard Bulliet is more concerned with human attitudes and behaviour
    in relation to animals than he
    is with how to prevent cruelty to animals, but he does recognize the
    urgent, worldwide need to remedy the appalling standards of animal
    welfare that predominate in our post-domestic (factory farm) age.
    Public objection to cruelty to farm animals has only gathered momentum
    in the past half-century, but it has had a long history in science and
    medical research, dating from anger against the philosophical
    pronouncements of René
    Descartes (1596-1650) and early experiments that were carried out on
    live animals. These raised horrified comments such as that of Dr
    Johnson, who wrote in 1758: "Among the inferiour professors of medical
    knowledge, is a race of wretches, whose lives are only varied by
    varieties of cruelty; whose favourite amusement is to nail dogs to
    tables and open them alive".
    The explosion of interest in science, during the nineteenth century,
    of necessity led to a great increase in experiments on live animals,
    before anaesthetics were in widespread use. From 1875, as a result of
    sustained opposition by the public, an anti-vivisection bill was put
    before Parliament, which was debated and then led to a Royal
    Commission, on which T. H. Huxley served as Counsel for Science.
    Arguments waged to and fro, very much as they have in the past twenty
    years, with this comment being made by Huxley in a letter to Darwin on
    January 22, 1875: "If physiological experimentation is put down by
    law, hunting, fishing, and shooting, against which a much better case
    can be made out, will soon follow".
    It was to be more than a hundred years before debate on this topic was
    renewed with such vigour, and it may be claimed that Peter Singer has
    been one of its chief protagonists. The first edition of In Defence of
    Animals was published in 1985 and contained a large number of short
    essays by a diversity of authors, from a lawyer to academic
    philosophers to political lobbyists, and its aim, as stated by Singer,
    itsthe book'sits editor, was to provide a platform for the new
    animal-liberation movement. It certainly succeeded, as was shown by
    the majorcoup that was recently achieved, when the flotation of
    Huntingdon Life Sciences as a company on the New York Stock Exchange
    was postponed forty-five minutes before trading began. The new edition
    has a larger and more attractive format, American spelling, and only
    one unchanged essay. The final chapter is boldly named "Ten Points for
    Activists"; it is a revision by Singer of the chapter in the first
    edition, by the late Henry Spira, named "Fighting To Win", and gives
    measured advice to those who wish to campaign for animals. As their
    long-running battle against Huntingdon Life Sciences shows, activists
    are still more concerned with the fate of animals in scientific and
    medical establishments than they are with the welfare of farm animals.
    There are historical as well as economic and political reasons for
    this, but not biological ones, for the iniquities and cruelties of the
    factory farm far outnumber those of medical research, as cogently
    described in several harrowing essays both in In Defense
    of Animals and in Robert Garner's new book, Animal Ethics.
    Garner succeeds in presenting a clearly written and eminently readable
    account of present thinking on the moral status of animals, and
    whether those mammals that have cognitive abilities approaching those
    of humans, such as the great apes, should be regarded as full persons.
    The concept of personhood is outlined both by Garner and in Peter
    Singer's collection. Both books discuss whether full personhood is
    morally significant and what it means for the treatment of those with
    and without it. Garner asks, if animals are considered to be moral
    agents, whether humans are then morally obliged to intervene to
    protect animals when they are attacked by other animals, for example
    when a wolf attacks a sheep. A recent letter in the Independent
    (September 2, 2005) from D. J. Walker pointed to the political
    implications of this: "I wonder if the resettlement of the grey wolf
    to control the red deer and roe deer populations in Scotland might
    contravene the law against hunting with dogs. Are wild packs
    specifically exempted, or are their activities not regarded in law as
    cruel?". On the other side of the personhood discussion, it could be
    argued that it is justified for humans to exploit animals because
    animals exploit each other: nature is red in tooth and claw, and as
    humans are part of nature, they are entitled to behave in this way
    too. This argument that humans are part of nature has been used to
    contend (for example, by Stephen Budiansky in The Covenant of the
    Wild, 1992) that the enfolding of wild animals such as wolves, sheep
    and horses into human societies andwith their subsequent
    domestication, was a natural process from which the species benefited
    by their great increase in numbers. This can be easily turned into the
    facile mantra that these animals chose domestication and therefore it
    is all right for humans to exploit them. In 1776, Dr Johnson pondered
    on this:
    "There is much talk of misery which we cause to the brute creation;
    but they are recompensed by existence. If they were not useful to man,
    and therefore protected by him, they would not be nearly so numerous .
    . . . But the question is, whether the animals who endure such
    sufferings of various kinds, for the service and entertainment of man,
    would accept of existence upon the terms on which they have it."

    It is clear that by awarding moral status or indeed equal rights to
    animals and humans, the contortions in thinking would be boundless,
    but even without this the moral maze is probably intractable. To give
    one crucial example, mentioned by Robert Garner, in Britain to keep a
    bird in a cage where it cannot spread its wings is illegal under the
    1911 Protection of Animals Act; but this is precisely what is allowed
    for poultry in battery cages. Sadly, it is unlikely that even the best
    efforts of those responsible for finalizing the forthcoming Animal
    Welfare Bill will be able to do much to alleviate the horrors of the
    factory farm.

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