There are a couple of philosophical caveats, I find, when discussing the meat farming industry – and if you don’t establish them you start talking at cross-purposes.
1. Are you a solipsist or a globalist?
I’ll have to define this as I intend it to be meant, and the easiest way to do that is propose a hypothetical situation.
Here’s the scenario: you are absolutely guaranteed to get 100% humanely reared meat for your plate (even to the highest definition), and let’s say for everyone else you know. The cost of this – however – is that everyone else – the rest of the meat eating world – only eat factory-farmed produce. The moment you stop having your 100% humanely reared meat, they also stop having their factory farmed produce.
So, do you carry on, knowing that you’re the “good guy”? Or do you realise that what you do may has an impact – even if you’re doing “nothing wrong”?
My own take on this is that if we can’t do it for everyone (and we can’t), then we have to change the culture and our habits. Otherwise because I’m well-off and can therefore afford this luxurious meat with a clean conscience, I still am propping up an over-reliance on meat as central to the cultural diet, and therefore perpetuating meat-eating and the inevitable industrial suffering required to supply the demand.
2. Is an animal a product or a being?
The idea of an animal being a product is so ingrained in our psyche that you may not have noticed me talking about “farm produce” above, and you may not have questioned what this use of language implies. It helps us to debeingise (if I may coin the term) a being into something more objectified. When Morrissey compares the meat industry to slavery, it’s not an altogether ridiculous comparison. The trick with slavery was (and is) to categorise slaves as a product. Once you can buy and sell one, it ceases to be a human and becomes a product. Then anything goes. Everyone cares about a human, but who cares about a product?
Well it’s the same thing with other animals. I believe the ability for normal, empathetic people to tolerate the insane meat industry is due to a combination of the distancing of themselves through woolly language and an “out-of-sight-out-of-mind” semi-willful ignorance (“I just don’t like to think about it”), combined with the re-branding of “beings” to “products” (which is founded on something much bigger which I can’t go into here).
Thanks to language you can turn:
“Massacring millions of beings”
“Processing an industrial quantity of produce”
However, the thing about the truth is that the truth is the truth, no matter how annoying that may be – and in the spectrum of product to being any animal is most definitely a being. The more you realise this, the closer you get towards the truth. I can show this myriad ways in a completely scientific, objective context. I can show that a being is definitely a being, which has then been “productised”, and not the other way round. The more we learn about the reality of the situation, how we beings are interrelated and interevolved, the more the walls of separation which appear through language and concepts dissolve through the cold light of reality.
Those campaigning to the end of animal suffering are known as “fringe” in contemporary society, which strikes me as extremely odd, when the reality of animal suffering is so objectively verifiable (especially now in the age of information!) as to surely rule out any doubt.
But old habits die hard, and although with hindsight we look back now at those who fought and campaigned to end slavery as rational, sensible, compassionate humans, they were seen as extremists in their time – just like the humans today who are simply brave enough to look reality in the face.