Current Issue #488

Modern Times: Our Carnivorous Appetite

Modern Times: Our Carnivorous Appetite

If we continue on our current course, only animals that serve a specific human purpose will exist.

In the future, animals, with their natural habitat eradicated, will no longer roam free. The species not wiped from existence will be industrially farmed for human consumption, maintained as game for the pleasure of shooters, or as companion animals for our pleasure, disposable when that value has been exhausted. Without a radical change in the way we view nature, this dystopic vision will become reality.

Descartes once wrote that man is the master and owner of all nature. The progress of science and technology would allow a mastery of the natural world. Though he argued man should cease to be a slave of nature, Descartes did not encourage an aggressive
domination of it. His perspective, formed in the 17th century, proved prescient. As understanding of science and technology has outpaced moral and ethical progress, our natural environment is now slave to human desire.

How we exercise the power that comes with the advantage of higher intelligence defines our moral progress. Experience suggests we are in moral freefall. As our capacities increase, through technological progress and the accumulation of knowledge, our personal desires increase and concern for the effect their fulfillment has on others diminishes.

Our carnivorous appetite has changed the way we produce and destroy animals seen as good for eating. Industrial farming has been embraced. In China, for example, the volume of meat consumed has tripled since the 1990s. Dairy consumption has quadrupled during the same period. To satisfy increasing demand, China has replicated the industrial farming techniques from western countries. It now has the most sophisticated industrial farms in the world.

Industrially farmed animals are produced on an unprecedented scale, and suffer short lives of damnation. Chickens, cows and pigs live in miniscule communes – without room, air or anything that suggests a natural existence – then perish in killing centres. Industrial farming pays tribute to the evil genius of the 20th century, its methods of organisation and evisceration now applied to other species.

Over 10 billion chickens are now raised in China for consumption. These chickens require 200 billion litres of water annually. Their production drastically adds to already significant carbon dioxide emissions. The argument that meat delivers protein that enhances our well-being ignores the increased rates of obesity, heart disease and diabetes that has risen in parallel with increased meat consumption.

The environmental impact of industrial farming is as significant as the impact its allowance has on our morality. This lack of consideration for the environment is consistent with the massive land clearing, degradation and over-fishing that has been abetted by the scientific and technological advances predicted by Descartes centuries earlier.

If animals are seen to serve any purpose in the future, it will be directly proportionate to the pleasure they bring. Some species may survive to indulge modern man’s needless and anachronistic desire to hunt. It is difficult to understand what place hunting has in modern society, though research has demonstrated a link between high levels of hostility and a need for power and control with acts of violence to towards animals. It is likely hunting will maintain or enhance its place in the future, preserving another field of unnecessary torture of animals.

Progress in science and technology has reversed the original hierarchy of man as a slave to nature. Nature is now at our mercy and we have the capacity to dictate its future. Progress in the fields of philosophy and ethics have not kept pace with those of science, technology and economics. We have the means to destroy our natural environment and confer misery on those at our mercy.

This, then, will be the sum of human progress.


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