The missing link between child-porn and animal products

Stones in Olympos

 

Let’s assume you’re vegan. Is it OK to dumpster dive (or skip, as the Brits would say) meat or animal products?

Which moral implications does this problem face?

For a lot of people I know, who are vegans or vegetarians it is a clear thing that they “can” (respectively “want to” or “allow themselves to”) eat those products if they pull them out of the garbage. They call themselves “freegans” then – although that term refers mostly to people who feed voluntarily and as a political statement out of the garbage and does in practice not necessarily include being vegan, but the word itself, “freegan”, is a combination of free (‘cause out of the trash) and vegan.

What is the moral idea behind this concept?

The morals are the following (at least I would analyse it that way): it is wrong to produce meat and animal products the way we do it, having animals suffer and be mistreated. This is to be avoided. Hence it is wrong to consume it in the “normal” way, meaning: purchasing them in a store and thus support the system with your money and commitment in that sense. Because, and this is now the important part, it would create more demand for those products and accordingly (in our capitalist world) lead to an increased production of it. So purchasing meat and animal products leads – more or less – directly to what we want to avoid, namely the wrong treatment of animals in the factories. Philosophically spoken this is a consequentialist normative ethics. What is morally judged about an action are the consequences of it rather then the deed as such. Actually, if you observe yourself and see what you judge to be morally wrong, this is, I feel, an often used concept in our everyday lives.

According to this approach for many vegans it is alright to eat animal products and/or meat if they pull it out of the garbage bin, as they do not support the system behind it with this and create demand (which could be to some extant questioned as well…).

But how about we look at it differently?

What if we judge the action of eating meat (animal products) as such as morally wrong?

Why should we do so, you might ask… which is a good question. I asked it myself. That leads us to an intensively discussed philosophical question: Are there intrinsically good/wrong actions? So completely independent from any other implications/consequences/prerequisites?

In order to understand what that might mean I was trying to find an example for this concept. So I started to imagine if it might be OK to “consume” children-pornography in case you find a DVD in a trash bin. I think this analogy holds: in both cases we talk about the product of a clearly immoral action (mistreating animals | abusing children), in both cases the “consumption” itself doesn’t change anything anymore (let’s assume no one will ever find out and it does not fuel your exigency for more of it which might lead you to “create demand” on the market) and the consumption is driven by a simple desire (desire for a special food or sexual arousal).

With this example in mind I feel like it still is a different case, although I feel like the analogy holds. According to our judgement above about it being OK to skip animal products as this implies no bad consequences, it should also be alright to watch children-pornography that you have pulled out of the trash.

However, my “moral sense” makes me feel really awkward about this judgement.

How can it ever be a good thing (or at least a “morally not wrong” thing) to feel happiness, let alone sexual excitement about watching a child being abused? By judging so the person wouldn’t even have to have a bad conscience. He or she could simply enjoy him/herself a hundred percent, watching an innocent child being raped and hurt – as the action is not morally wrong.

Same concept with Dan Savages “very dangerous Idea” (There are no Sexual Ethics approx. at minute 34, but I recommend watching the whole panel as it is really good!) where he stresses that apparently (“scientist proof”) the sexual crime rates dropped significantly when porn got available and that this fact could be used for having child abuse numbers drop – if you make “virtual” child pornography such as comics and mangas available. From a consequentialist point of view this would be bidden, as the consequence (sex crime rate dropping drastically) seems very desirable.

And in fact if I sit down and think about it that way I think, well, maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad idea. If by introducing accessible fictional child-porn the actual number of child-rape would drop –wouldn’t that be a good thing? But then I think: well, it’s not so easy. It seems to me that one major problem with the consequentialist approach is that, of course, the consequences of an action will happen in the future – and when we deal with things that are supposed to happen in the future we are always dealing with certain possibilities. So all the sudden it becomes an statistical problem. What if then, in this scenario, 5% of the paedophiles do actually get motivated to carry their sexual disposition into execution by watching those films?

And here it is as always with philosophical evaluations, they seem to be never ending and lead from one problem to the other. I wonder if at any point of my studies I will not get this feeling…

And still: I found it very difficult to imagine, that someone sitting at home in front of a screen showing a child being violated and abused, enjoying him/herself while watching someone else suffer – that this could be morally acceptable. That this person would have no reason whatsoever to feel bad about her/himself. It would mean, that there is no moral problem with feeling pleasure from seeing an innocent person suffer.

Anyway.

Back to our ditched animal products.

If one were to say that eating animal products is wrong as such, regardless of its consequences, then it would be clearly wrong to eat them out of the bin. Just as it would to watch child-porn that one pulled out of a trash bin.

If not – if you judge an action by its consequences you find yourself facing tons of new problems, evaluations, probabilities…

And then there is another possibility. Maybe we as human beings actually face different moral problems in different ways. Maybe it is in fact a bad analogy, but not because of some random attributes, but because we simply judge it with another normative system. In one case we talk about actions having intrinsic moral factors, such as in the case of child-pornography. And in another case we see actions mostly from the point of view of their consequences, such as eating animal products.

All that talk and now what? You might think. And that’s right. All that talk and now nothing – but potentially some ideas and food for thought.

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