Moral Intuitions Quiz: Lobotomized Meat

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It’s only a conceptual chicken. For now.

Via the Daily Dish, André Ford, a student in the architecture department at the Royal College of Art came up with a kind of grotesque final project for a class focusing on “how a dense and vertical architecture can bring back food production and consumption in the city.” Ford designed an apparatus that would give a whole new definition to the phrase “factory-farmed meat.”  He proposed that chickens bound for the pot on industrial farms be lobotomized early in life.

By removing the cerebral cortex of the chicken, its sensory perceptions are removed. It can be produced in a denser condition while remaining alive, and oblivious.  The feet will also be removed so the body of the chicken can be packed together in a dense volume.

Food, water and air are delivered via an arterial network and excreta is removed in the same manner. Around 1000 chickens will be packed into each ‘leaf’, which forms part of a moving, productive system.

Most of my friends reacted with disgust when I shared the story, and I’m still trying to decide if that’s the right reaction.  Here’s where I stand: if it’s a given that we’re going to raise animals in unpleasant conditions, better to kill them early and just keep their bodies going artificially until we make use of them.  Though it seems preferable to not raise animals in conditions where they’d be better off brain-dead in the first place.

This is how the non-lobotomized chickens live

I don’t think the grotesqueness of Ford’s idea is sufficient to disqualify it.  My suspicion is that we’re reluctant to switch to a new, unpleasant system — even if it’s better than the status quo — because to choose to switch would imply a kind of assent.  We imagine that not overthrowing the old way is equivalent to remaining neutral, but a choice to maintain the current norms is still a choice.  Animals shouldn’t be tormented so that we can imagine our hands are clean.

If you want to reject Ford’s idea, I think you need to believe that it is meaningfully worse than the current system on industrial farms.  I can imagine a couple ways of making that argument.  The first point for the status quo is that, because we know the animals are capable of pain, we might be spurred to minimize that suffering.  Lobotomizing the animal frees us from that cognitive dissonance and probably locks us into the new system indefinitely.

But I’m really skeptical about the strategy of heightening the contradictions by making everything even worse.  The brutality of factory farming isn’t exactly a secret, but most people make their peace with their meals.  (I’ve been vegetarian since I was five, but this is because I’m a picky eater; I never had to take a moral stand on the issue).

I can also imagine arguing that, especially in my virtue ethics framework, it’s bad to be in the habit of turning off the sensory capacities of other living beings.  I certainly think this is an important point, but I’m not sure how much better it is to be in the habit of tormenting those beings in the first place.  Changing them from sensing animals to unperceiving ones seems less troubling when I remember our ultimate goal is to change them from live animals into dead ones.

I’d be quite interested in your instincts and explanations in the comment thread.  It’d be helpful if you’d give a sentence or two about your general approach to ethics (or metaphysical allegiances) so we know what framework you’re working in.  I’m still trying to thrash this one out.

Oh, and bonus question: if you disapprove of Ford’s idea, do you also disapprove of lab-grown meat — no animal involved?  I’m trying to pin down whether people are objecting to the ethics of lobotomizing chickens or the aesthetics of mechanized meat production.

About Leah Libresco

Leah Anthony Libresco graduated from Yale in 2011. She works as an Editorial Assistant at The American Conservative by day, and by night writes for Patheos about theology, philosophy, and math at www.patheos.com/blogs/unequallyyoked. She was received into the Catholic Church in November 2012."

  • Jess

    I think your sense about the inertia of the status quo is right; but I also think this is sort of a gross idea, because it rests on the belief that being completely numb to everything is better than suffering, which is a sort of disturbing thing to believe (especially if it gets extended to humans).

  • http://ninomania.blogspot.com David Wagner

    The extend-to-humans alarm is exactly what went off for me, intuition-wise.

    One has to decide whether animals have “rights” or not. (To me it seems untenable and even coldblooded to affirm that they do while denying that human beings do at all gestational ages, but obviously that’s a separate debate.)

    Those proposing lobotomy as a solution to the problem of inhumane farming (did I just say inHUMANe?) are assuming that rights depend on subject perceptions by the asserted rights-holder. If that’s true, then rights can literally be surgically removed. Given that there are already ethicists justifying no-kidding, outside-the-womb, well-after-birth infanticide, for the benefit of the parents or society and not even on a pretense of benefit to the child, the procedure would get extended to humans sooner rather than later.

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1452504/Infanticide-is-justifiable-in-some-cases-says-ethics-professor.html

    http://www.bioedge.org/index.php/bioethics/bioethics_article/9950

  • Sweet Tea

    When we can pasture chickens healthily, keep the animals happy and do our best to make their lives a joy both for us and them, and then kill them swiftly and humanely, why preserve the horrible factory farm system? Yes, it makes meat more expensive; do we really need cheap meat though? It cheapens life for the byproducts of death to be easily obtainable.

    As for this proposal, I believe life must be respected and thus made as optimal as possible. I think lobotomy emphasizes our lack of respect more than mere abuse, and that it’s a sign that we know it’s unethical to abuse animals in this way. Thus, doing something disrespectful (lobotomy) to appease our sense of unethicality without turning away from unethicality is worse than inadvertently being unethical.

  • http://last-conformer.net/ Gilbert

    Side issues first:
    - This isn’t a realistic technology. It’s interesting as a thought experiment, but it’s not a question we actually must deal with.
    - As for my metaphysical allegiances some regular readers may already have a slight suspicion of me being Catholic. :)
    - Lab-grown meat would be awesome. If/when it can be done at prices competitive with the methods we know now the change to lab-growing would be morally obligatory for most situations. (Obviously there would have to be exceptions for religions more picky about food than mine, for breeding &c.)
    - Vegetarianism doesn’t free from factory farming. Milk & eggs come from the same system. To a lesser extent this is true even for vegans who use modern electronics, because e.g. no copper is produced without use of animal products.

    On the actual question:
    - What David Wagner said.
    - Actually I’m less grossed out about the lobotomy than about the “arterial network” and electrical muscle stimulation. This changes the self-contained chicken into a machine part. I think dechickenification might count as a worse thing to do to a chicken then most other ways of maltreatment. You might say this is already partially true in the present factory-farming system but this proposal would go a lot further on that axis.
    - That said, I’m not quite sure. My intuition says no but I can imagine saying yes after some more thought.

    • leahlibresco

      I know this is a fuzzy distinction, but is there a point at which de-Xing X (where X is a living being) stops squicking you out? We have a lot less revulsion it seems to killing X outright than failing to preserve its X-ness.

      How do you feel about genemod organisms? Or their low-tech cousins, carefully bred domesticated animals?

      • http://last-conformer.net/ Gilbert

        Right now the question is indeed too fuzzy for me to offer a hard and fast rule on it. I’m not saying none exists, but right now I don’t know it, or at least not consciously.

        But I can think of some heuristics:

        - There is more leeway in making new animals than in changing existing ones. For example breeding goose with bigger livers seems OK, gavage not so much. Likewise, breeding pigs with more ribs is OK within reason (it’s not within reason if the pig needs painkillers because of back problems) but achieving the same result surgically would be out. So I think there is a difference between de-Xing X and creating Y.

        - But that doesn’t mean that everything goes as soon as we make a new individual animal. For example, I disapprove of dog breeds that can get pregnant but can’t give birth except by c-section. Animals artificially dependent on some drug (think Ketracel-White) would go into the same direction, though that could be a borderline case if the drug was mixed into their ordinary food. In such cases I think the problem is that what we have is still an X, just an X with biological features frustrating X-ness. Having a bigger liver isn’t a violation of what it is to be a goose but having four legs would be.

        - I would feel even more flexible about creating a completely new species. This doesn’t mean anything goes though. For example a species permanently in pain without an exterior reason wouldn’t be OK. But suffering wouldn’t be the only restriction. For example, animals born or hatched without a cerebral cortex and with metabolic ports don’t seem much different from the lobotomized chicken. They still would be animals biologically frustrated in their animality. On the other hand I wouldn’t fundamentally object to the creation of the egg-laying wool-milk-sow (“eierlegende Wollmilchsau”) German has as an ironic idiom for an impossibly perfect design.

        - Of course how much I care has a lot to do with how similar the living thing is to a human being. Hydroponics doesn’t disturb me, though it is basically doing to a plant what the lobotomization plan would do to a chicken. But then that’s a question of moral status rather then of what constitutes damage. When lying in the sun in summer I might pluck out grass to play with because I find it hard to keep my hands still. I don’t think anyone would object to that. But if I plucked a live chicken for the same reason you would rightly consider me a psychopath.

  • http://whatloveteaches.blogspot.com/ Slow Learner

    I have a reaction of revulsion to this; on the other hand I am all in favour of factory-grown meat.

    I think the factor which bothers me is that the proposal is for an intrusive medical procedure which seems to be aimed primarily not at the chicken, nor even at human needs [which justify spaying/neutering of pets], but at assuaging human moral discomfort.
    Anyone who is uncomfortable with factory farming should either buy only free range or go vegetarian; lobotomising the chicken doesn’t really help much.

  • keddaw

    Moral error theorist, pragmatic libertarian, denier of natural rights and supernatural rights who is completely in favour of lab-grown meat. Right that’s me, now on to your question.

    This is a fantastic system. I’d rather we could engineer the chickens, or GM the eggs, such that the brain would never grow past a life support stage, but I’d much rather have a chicken spared a factory farm in this way than keep its ‘dignity’ and suffer for the rest of its life – think of it as the nearest thing to chicken euthanasia. It is a great stop gap between the massive suffering of animals currently in the factory system and the removal of animals entirely as we go veggie and/or lab-grown.

    Some of the problems of us all going veggie are pointed out here: http://kazez.blogspot.com/2012/02/universal-veganism.html

  • http://technologeekery.blogspot.com Hendy

    This is really interesting! Some points to make:

    – I wonder if we feel bad because there’s something in us that thinks nature should be left alone. Thus, it’s revolting to “tinker” with things. But we already tinker with “nature’s plan” all the time — artificial limbs, surgery, life support, etc.

    – There’s something odd about the gut repulsion reaction, due to the fact that these are animals we’re using as means to an end anyway. I don’t have the answer, but I’m wrestling with the difference between allowing a chicken to free range around, presumably in a happy state, and being mechanically raised, presumably in no-state. Is it because there’s happiness and a “normal” life prior to death that one is superior? Or because we think “happiness x time alive” is the measure of acceptability?

    – Similarly, with respect to rights, what if one could know that the pain induced by the lobotomy was less than the pain at death? Which is the greater harm? And how much do we value the consciousness of a chicken? It seems that “rights” are typically assessed with respect to pain and suffering; now it seems that we’re elevating consciousness. How does one compare conscious/aware happiness and non-awareness?

    – We’re humans thinking about another animal. Whenever these arguments come up, it seems that we worry, perhaps unnecessarily, about suddenly waking up in a state in which we do this to humans. But we already agree on not using humans as means to an end; yet we do already use animals as a means to an end.

    – Lastly, and similar to Leah’s question about lab-grown meat, if we identified a gene such that chickens were born with no brains or feed, would you object to raising those chickens mechanically?

    Please don’t take the above as a stance. I’m trying to sort out the issues and get my head around why it feels wrong and whether those feelings are aligned with reality.

  • deiseach

    I’m not even going to touch the moral argument here, rather I’ll go with the practical one: there is no way that food production (whatever about consumption) will be brought back in the city – where it never was in the first place – no matter how dense and vertical the architecture.

    If these intensive battery farms ever do get built in any city, it will be on the outskirts, in the zones where industrial processes used to take place. Anyone who has ever been in smelling distance of intensive chicken or pig rearing will recognise the problem: slurry. Disposing of the “excreta” into the town main sewerage system is one thing (and will need a lot of expensive treatment before it can just be dumped down the pipes), but getting people to tolerate the stench is another.

    Which is why it will either be left safely in the rural areas, or imposed on the poorer neighbourhoods where “shut up and be thankful for a job” is the attitude. I really don’t see chicken farming replacing four-star restaurants as the new revitalise the city centre craze.

    • http://www.smidoz.wordpress.com Smidoz

      I’m with you on the stink side, but on disposal, I disagree. Expensive treatment wouldn’t be the best option, the methane production is really high off chicken and pig manure, this would provide at least some energy towards running these kind of plants. They would still have to be in industrial parts of the city, as you pointed out.

      Another thing I am battling with on the practicality side is the cost of performing millions of lobotomies, in what is otherwise a reasonably cost effective industry.

  • deiseach

    Okay, I’m Irish, so I have to quote poetry (it’s a constitutional requirement, else my citizenship will be revoked).

    Seamus Heaney

    The Early Purges

    I was six when I first saw kittens drown.
    Don Taggart pitched them, ‘the scraggy wee shits’,
    Into a bucket; a frail metal sound,

    Soft paws scraping like mad. But their tiny din
    Was soon soused. They were slung on the snout
    Of the pump and the water pumped in.

    ‘Sure isn’t it better for them now?’ Dan said.
    Like wet gloves they bobbed and shone till he sluiced
    Them out on the dunghill, glossy and dead.

    Suddenly frightened, for days I sadly hung
    Round the yard, watching the three sogged remains
    Turn mealy and crisp as old summer dung

    Until I forgot them. But the fear came back
    When Dan trapped big rats, snared rabbits, shot crows
    Or, with a sickening tug, pulled old hens’ necks.

    Still, living displaces false sentiments
    And now, when shrill pups are prodded to drown,
    I just shrug, ‘Bloody pups’. It makes sense:

    ‘Prevention of cruelty’ talk cuts ice in town
    Where they consider death unnatural
    But on well-run farms pests have to be kept down.

    (So, in best Leaving Certificate English Paper II examination question style, what do you think the poet is saying here?)

    • peeps

      I think the poet is describing the slow slide down to the gray areas of indifference.

  • Quid est veritas

    I don’t know. I think that lab-grown meat would be fine (i.e. growing chicken livers using liver cells), if it could be done. But lobotomized animals? It is unnatural, as the current factory farm system also seems to be. My gut reaction is that it’s wrong, but I’d need to do research to tell you why.

    • keddaw

      It’s wrong because you have a healthy animal and intentionally damage/(effectively) kill it. But if the alternative is to make it suffer for the rest of its life then it’s a mercy and we should embrace it as infinitely better than the status quo and, if so enervated, continue to push for the correct solution.

      e.g. I am against life imprisonment, however, I am more against the death penalty so would campaign for all death sentences to be altered to life sentences.

      • keddaw

        enervated? Seriously? You’d think it’s after midnight! (It is.)

        Please alter that to energised/invigorated/motivated…

        • leahlibresco

          I blame J.K. Rowling for your error. Making Enervate the counterspell to Stupefy has permanently muddled my grasp on its meaning.

  • L.Long

    The ‘hitchhiker’s Guide’ had a better idea.
    Raise the animals intelligence to the point that it can think for itself and then it can tell you that it would love to have you eat it and would enjoy serving you a quarter leg.
    At least then the anti-meat people can argue about it as the ‘food’ just said it would love to be eaten.

  • Jake

    As much as I’d like to see a Chicken Matrix, I think purely on the basis of how pissed off chickens will be when they finally reach sentience, this seems like a non-starter.

    In all seriousness, I think the question comes down to one that I’m not sure anyone can answer- what does ‘ Lobotomized’ mean for the individual (or chicken) being lobotomized? If it is essentially equivalent to death, then all we’re doing here is killing the chickens young and then executing the lab grown meat scenario. Or rather, we’re using nature as the incubator of our lab grown meat until such a time as our technology can support it. On the other hand, if it’s not the same as death, then I have to imagine its much, much worse than death.

    I share a similar reaction of revulsion with most at this idea. It does seem like there is some “sanctity of life” line that we’re crossing here. Particularly if you believe that humans are fundamentally no different (just more intelligent, more self-aware, etc.) than other creatures, this seems like a dangerous action to take.

    It also strikes me as wrong to pretend we’re doing this for the good of the chicken. We’re doing this for the economic advantages afforded by being able to fit more chicken-ish things into a smaller area. Any time we start painting over economics with a moral brush, I get nervous. I think it would be a different discussion (and I may have a different reaction) if someone were to suggest lobotomizing chickens in the current factory farming system for humane reasons.

    Finally, I find equating “Lobotomizing” with “Humane” a dangerous precedent. Certainly most people today wouldn’t dream of applying this to humans, but with overcrowded prisons and shrinking state budgets? Uh oh… I may have just slipped into “Minority Report” mode. Time for me to leave.

  • http://moralmindfield.wordpress.com Brian Green

    All right Catholic natural law / virtue ethics guy here, admittedly this is my opinion, though I do not think I am out of the mainstream.

    What I think might be provoking the moral gut response to lobotomized chickens is this: “That’s not what chickens are for!”

    Chickens are supposed to walk around green fields and scratch for bugs, not get stuffed into crates, whether lobotomized or not. Chickens have an in-built natural telos. We might interrupt that by eating them, but they ought to at least get to pursue it as normally as possible before we step in.

    “If you want to reject Ford’s idea, I think you need to believe that it is meaningfully worse than the current system on industrial farms.”

    “Worse” depends on which ethical method you are using. You apply utilitarianism, which might make it seem better (no suffering), though you spin it the other way. Virtue ethics would find lobotomization to be worse than current factory farming because it only further institutionalizes vice (the vices of gluttory, greed, instrumentalization of life, etc.) and worse than that, tries to assuage one’s conscience by making it seem like maybe it’s justifiable because pain is removed from the moral calculus. It’s just a further step in the wrong direction.

    “better to kill them early and just keep their bodies going artificially until we make use of them.”

    Leah, you are such a dualist! As if lobotomization killed it and its body just grew nice and plump while dead. :) And if you are talking brain dead, why bother to remove the brain? One could just cut all the sensory nerves instead, like the “skopsies” in Alfred Bester’s novel _The Stars My Destination_ (a must-read by the way).

    “Oh, and bonus question: if you disapprove of Ford’s idea, do you also disapprove of lab-grown meat — no animal involved? ”

    Lab grown meat is morally fine (assuming it is safe, etc.), it has no “for-ness” except as food. It is an artifact, not a natural living creature, therefore there is no intrinsic teleology to violate.

    Now the real interesting question is where the dividing line between “artifact” and “chicken” might be found. I think it is before lab meat (artifact) and after lobotomization (still a chicken), but exactly where? That’s interesting.

  • Touchstone

    Virtue ethics would find lobotomization to be worse than current factory farming because it only further institutionalizes vice (the vices of gluttory, greed, instrumentalization of life, etc.) and worse than that, tries to assuage one’s conscience by making it seem like maybe it’s justifiable because pain is removed from the moral calculus. It’s just a further step in the wrong direction.

    Serious question:

    Do you (all else equal) prefer a world in which someone inadvertently and non-maliciously kills someone else to a world in which a murderer believes he has successfully committed a murder but fails? That would seem to follow.

    I understand that current moral “compromises” can lead to great wrong in the future. But that’s a consequentialist argument, and one utilitarians accept (indeed, the primary argument of Mill’s Utilitarianism is that a utilitarian should be strongly principled, largely for this reason).

    I’m also not a utilitarian (nor is Leah, nor are all or most consequentialists—most have a more complicated theory of human/animal flourishing and/or The Good). I believe that there is some independent value to right thought and feeling itself, independent of effects it has on others.

    But if you take that reasoning that to an extreme, you get absurdities, like preferring non-malicious harm to malicious non-harm. The greatest evil of slavery weren’t the evil thoughts of slave owners (though they were an evil), it was in the suffering of the slaves. Presumably, Catholics think the prime evil of abortion is in the death of a human person, not the impact of the abortion on the mind of the mother (though they do consider that an evil).

    As for the chickens, I actually reject the premise that this legitimizes harm. On the contrary, most people who learn about factory farming continue to eat factory farmed meat, and find a way to rationalize the cruelty. Taking steps, however small, to mitigate that cruelty as an implicit recognition that the cruelty itself is wrong and that further reduction, if possible, is to be preferred. You may still reject the lobotomizing the chickens on more truly teleological grounds (“lobotomy is even less natural than torture”), but I don’t think there’s as strong a “future-action-consequentialism” case to be made as you think.

    TL;DR: “future-action-consequentialism” ≠ “virtue ethics.”

    • http://moralmindfield.wordpress.com Brian Green

      Hi Touchstone,

      “Do you (all else equal) prefer a world in which someone inadvertently and non-maliciously kills someone else to a world in which a murderer believes he has successfully committed a murder but fails? That would seem to follow.”

      Yes, I do prefer that world, though it is obviously still not optimal. The accidental killer (provided it is truly an accident and not negligence, etc.) is not a dangerous person. The malicious non-killer is dangerous and likely to repeat. The legal system agrees with this too (and the legal system exists as a compendium codified common-sense with regards to practical morals). It’s not absurd at all, it’s common sense. Your “all else equal” qualification makes the situation itself absurd, as though actions are separable from the people committing them. Ethics has to be for the real world, not a fantasy one (and what you proposed with “all else equal” is vastly more fantastical than factories full of lobotomized chickens).

      If you prefer the alternative, then we should release attempted murderers from jail right, because they’re not actually killers, and instead jail those who kill accidentally? Now that’s absurd. (Though the Mopan Maya of Central America do act this way – intentions matter not, only consequences. “Absurdity” requires a cultural context.)

      For your slavery and abortion examples you can clarify intentions and consequences this way. Both/either can be bad or good; for an act to be objectively good, both must be good. For an act to be bad it only takes one. One way to be right, three ways to be wrong. GI + GC = good act, GI + BC = bad act, BI + GC = bad act, BI + BC = bad act. This is straight from Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics.

      It’s the same with math: you have to get the right answer for the right reason, that’s why you show your work (that and for partial credit!).

      • Touchstone

        RE: “all else equal”: I should’ve been clearer. I meant that you were to assume that (because he was locked up, for example) the murderer never killed again and the unintentional killer never caused any more accidental deaths. I don’t think that’s particularly abstracted from reality. Indeed, far be it from me to divorce ethics from the real world.

        RE: the law. My point in the first post is actually illustrated by your paragraphs about the law, which essentially make consequentialist arguments for why “intent to murder” is bad. I’m interested in something slightly different: how much you’re prepared to weigh PURE INTENTIONS against consequences (including the future act consequences of intentions). I ask this because I disagree with you about the future-act-consequences of lobotomizing chickens; I think it is more likely to lead to the end of factory farming than the current system is.

        RE: GI + BC, etc,: I think it’s clear from “I believe that there is some independent value to right thought and feeling itself, independent of effects it has on others” that I basically agree with your intention/consequence “math.”

        Conclusion: Yet I still don’t see how any amount of guilt at the suffering of chickens that would be lost with lobotomization (and, as I said, I actually think people might be prevented from sticking their heads in the sand and feel guiltier) could be enough to outweigh the prevented suffering itself.

        Similarly, I think that in the antebellum South a slaveowner who had moral qualms about slavery but didn’t have the financial means to free his slaves still had a moral imperative to treat them better than other slaveowners did, even though this good treatment actually reinforced other slaveowners’ arguments in favor of maintaining the institution of slavery (I’m aware that this analysis is ahistorical, but any moral system that isn’t strongly relativist—including Catholic natural law theory—has to be prepared to posit obligations that, in some places and cultures, went almost universally unfulfilled).

        • Katie

          What’s the relevant analogue for lacking the financial means to free your slaves? It seems to me that anyone who has genuine qualms about eating factory-farmed meat, or meat in general, has already stopped doing so. It’s not like you need means to do that. Am I missing something?

          • Touchstone

            That was just to make sure manumission wasn’t an option in the moral dilemma.

          • Katie

            Right, but that’s the thing: you needed to add an external constraint to make the moral argument work. There is no such external constraint on people who eat factory-farmed meat, so insofar as they have a moral imperative to prevent suffering, they have a moral imperative to stop eating (factory-farmed) meat in the first place.

            Like, I see why you might think that lobotomizing the chickens might be an improvement over the current state of affairs, but who would opt for lobotomized meat? People who care enough about animal suffering to want to spare the chickens a horrible life but not enough to skip factory farming or even killing animals for food entirely? Who are these people and how do their brains work?

          • Touchstone

            Well put. I understand your question now. A few thoughts:

            1) I understood Leah’s posed hypothetical to imply that large scale vegetarianism/factory farm boycotting was not feasible in the near future, but that large scale chicken lobotomy was. This is obviously quite implausible.

            2) The slavery example was not meant to be that close an analogy to the case of the chickens. I realize that the personal choice element made it seem more like an attempted analogy than it was. My bad, and good catch, Katie.

            3) The point I was trying to make was simply that I’m typically skeptical of arguments against reducing evil that claim “reducing this great evil to this lesser evil will make it hard to kill the evil overall”

            4) I’m skeptical largely because I think it’s very hard evaluate the truth of or assign a meaningful probability to a claim like “chicken lobotomies will, overall, sufficiently extend the existence and scope of animal abuse that they will cause more suffering than they will alleviate.” Conversely, we can be much more epistemically confident when reasoning about evils that current exist and can be immediately reduced. As such, I tend to privilege fighting evils in the present over holding off fighting them with the hope that they can be more fully conquered in the future (example: in spite of transhumanist arguments, I still think malaria control is a better use of my charity dollars than Friendly AI research). Certainly, if offered a choice between a chicken lobotomy (certainly) going into effect immediately and factory farming (certainly) being phased out over the next 30 years, I’d pick the latter. That said (see (1)), I don’t think that’s the choice Leah gave us.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/thecrescat/ The Crescat

    “Here’s where I stand: if it’s a given that we’re going to raise animals in unpleasant conditions, better to kill them early … ”

    I think this how people justify abortion and infanticide.

    • leahlibresco

      It’s certainly the justification for euthanasia.

  • http://arkanabar.blogspot.com Arkanabar

    My initial thinking was that this was not in line with the dignity and respect due to chickens. (Yes, chickens have dignity and are due respect; no, they do not have the dignity or deserve the respect due to humans.) So too are factory farms, but not quite so much; factory farm animals can at least be taken out of the factory farms and raised like real animals.

    @Brian Green — are you SURE that the telos of chickens does not include becoming food for some other organism? It sure seems to be part of the telos of most organisms.

    • http://moralmindfield.wordpress.com Brian Green

      Arkanabar, you question is interesting. It depend what level one thinks teleology embeds at. For the ecosystemic perspective chickens DO have a telos as food. But from the perspective of the individual organism chickens do not. I tend towards the second perspective because I have probably taken too many classes in human rights and therefore preference the rights of individual organisms contra the larger community, but I can see the point of the first. Good question.

  • Sam Urfer

    Being eaten by myself, and hence becoming me, is the highest end a chicken could hope to achieve. As such, I owe it to the chicken to eat it’s flesh. But the chicken also deserves to bee treated with dignity and respect, and I damage myself if I sit by and let it be abused by factory farms.

    Free Range, yo.

  • Joseph Lizewski

    this sort of practise is already used on humans. Psychiatry revolves around the principle that being less conscious is better than being psychotic or in pain. They have done lobotomies in the past, still do psychosurgery techniques, and their medication all either ceases, or stops the self regulation of brain activity.

    I think it is the most revolting error in judgement the human species has ever made, believing that principle to be the morally true.

    • Frank

      Everything has it’s place in medicine though. Lobotomy itself is shown to be inneffectual in treating mental diseases. it just make the person more managable, but I don’t think anyone would object to removing a damaged section of brain that is causing horrific seziures. Some conditions are extreme enough to warrant extreme treatment. As for the chickens… this is just plain evil. You do turn the chicken into a machine part. The technology for keeping the ‘chicken’ alive with half it’s brain removed would best be used to just keep sheets of chicken meat alive. An animal should not be ‘turned off’ to ease moral outrage. If conditions are horrific enough to make a lobotomy a reasonable course of action, then the conditions should be improved. I am not usually strong when it comes to animal rights. I have no problem with them testing medicine and drugs on animals before using them on humans, though I draw the line at cosmetic use. I see the same thing here. If somehow this was needed to preserve humanity I could see it as a neccessary evil, but this is clearly unneeded, there are alternative meat production techniques, and seems to almost be a plan that could have come from a nazi scientist. If life was worthless as a whole, seems a great idea, but as life isn’t worthless…


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