Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Beyond Factory Farming

I should like to call your attention to an article by Sherry F. Colb today at Verdict: “Factory Farming:” An Evolving Phrase. While I recommend the entire piece, I’ve highlighted one passage below so as to make a brief comment.

For (philosophical and ethical) reasons found within the Buddhist tradition,* I wholeheartedly agree with this, although of course one need not be a Buddhist to concur with the premises and conclusion:

“First, if a sentient living being feels good and healthy and happy, I cannot justify depriving her of her life if I have other options. Factory farming originally woke me and others up to the fact that the animals whom we were using for food and clothing have feelings and suffer and want to live out their lives [while they likely lack a conception of what it means to ‘live out their lives,’ they clearly express a will or desire to live, they ‘cling’ to life, as it were]. Having realized and fully absorbed this, I no longer wanted to play any role in sending animals to the slaughterhouse, however lovely their pre-slaughter abode.”

Those of us who more or less share this view cannot countenance “humane slaughter” of animals (which, for us, albeit with a few possible exceptions, is a contradiction). It is true that farm animals can be treated humanely, “pre-slaughter,” and thus the forswearing of factory farming, to the extent this takes place, represents a significant measure of improvement in the quality of the lives of animals before they make it to “our” plates. I welcome that, even if, from my spiritual and ethical perspective, it falls short of what we should be—and sometimes are—capable of in our ethical relations with non-human animals. 

* Specifically, the Eightfold Path, which is divided into three interrelated and mutually supporting parts: (i) insight or wisdom (prajñā), (ii) moral virtue (śīla), and (iii) meditation (samādhi). Moral virtue consists, broadly speaking, of “right speech,” “right action” and “right livelihood.” And, among other things, and given other Buddhist teachings and doctrines, “right action” entails observing the “five precepts” (pañcaśīla), the first of which is to abstain from harming breathing beings (Pali: ātipātā veramaī sikkhāpada samādiyāmi). This is keeping with a pan-Indic virtue, ahi or (‘non-injury’ or ‘non-harming,’ often also translated as nonviolence) exemplified in particular within the traditions of Hinduism and especially Jainism and Buddhism. There is a helpful discussion of this in Peter Harvey’s An Introduction to Buddhist Ethics (Cambridge University Press, 2000). 

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