Are vegetarianism/animal rights/animal liberation philosophically incoherent?

From a humanist (human-supremicist) standpoint, there are many strong reasons to reduce meat eating. The key one, I think, is that current livestock practices undermine the environmental sustainability needed for human life to flourish. But we should be clear - this argument doesn't require eliminating animal eating or animal exploitation, only reducing them.

I don't think humanism can stand up to the anti-speciesist argument. Separating humans from other life and calling for the right to life, freedom, and equality for humans is based on the arbitrarily-chosen "special properties" of humans. No argument is made for why protection from torture and murder should follow from the ability to use language or demonstrate self-consciousness. And frequently humanists still want to protect even those humans who don't possess such properties, like the severely retarded or comatose.

The question is whether an anti-humanist perspective is any more viable. Once you recognize that the arbitrarily-drawn categories that protect humans are invalid, I don't see how you can avoid accepting that all life, including plants and insects, is equally deserving of protection. Where does that leave us, living in an industrial society that necessarily kills millions upon millions of plants and insects?

At some point I think we have to accept that to live is to kill, that nothing short of the elimination of all humans (and all predators for that matter) is consistent with anti-humanist rights to life and freedom. It goes without saying that such a solution, which demands massive killing, is itself inconsistent with these commitments.

So where does that leave us? I think harm reduction is really the only appropriate way forward, unless you want to go straight for absolute nihilism. We have to reduce as far as possible the human impact on other living things. Some obvious measures include:

1) Stop eating most animals,
2) Promote sustainable agriculture,
3) Pursue population control,
4) Produce and consume less,
5) Research technologies that keep unwelcome animals out of human habitats without hurting them.

But these guidelines are less absolute than a lot of us are used to. I don't think there's any question we should stop eating mammals and birds, since raising them for food not only involves killing them but also killing all the plant feed they eat. However, it's less clear that eating wild fish and insects is a problem. We should certainly consume less, but what kinds of consumption are indispensable remains an open question. An impact reduction approach also fails to answer questions of how to balance the need to prevent suffering with the need to prevent killing, and where all this leaves the matter of animal exploitation.



A war of each (plus parents) against all

This is a pretty interesting article about how parents in the USA are increasingly subsidizing their kids well into adulthood.

The Bank of Mom and Dad

There are some pretty surprising numbers here, including these: "Parents pay $2,323 a year to help support children 25 and 26 years old, said Dr. Schoeni, and $1,556 annually for offspring 33 and 34."

Disappointingly, the reporter does a half-assed job exploring what might be causing this trend. She gestures toward unfavorable economic conditions - "paychecks have stalled, housing costs have risen, education costs have skyrocketed and credit has become so available as to be dangerous" - but then settles on a different explanation. Namely, today's youth are more choosy, so "extended education, the exploration of career options and delayed marriage are the causes of the long transition to self-sufficiency".

My own suspicion is that this represents an adaptation to the realignment of capitalism that began 30 years ago. The postwar settlement that created equitable growth and secure if powerless jobs for the nation's workers has been steadily torn down and replaced with steep inequality and fierce competition. Those parents with the means to do so are trying to preserve a middle class life for kids who simply can't do it on their own, and trying to give them a competitive edge in the increasingly bitter struggle for the dwindling number of jobs that can financially support lives considered respectable and comfortable.

This brings up an issue that the reporter was curiously silent on - what happens to all those kids whose parents simply can't afford to give them the financial space they need to explore careers, attend business school, law school, med school, or grad school, or accumulate the low-wage experience on which they can build successful careers? This seems like far the more interesting story, where we can see the naked class struggle going on beneath the generosity of parental love.