I have thought for some time now that the next big rights issue for our society will be fought over the status of animals. Reading a short piece by David Wood this morning entitled Kinnibalism, Cannibalism: Stepping Up to the Plate reminded me just how “locked and loaded” this issue is today. The philosophical justification of the mass killing of animals for food–to take one of the most salient examples of a multi-faceted issue–is, on most currently valent positions, vanishingly small if it exists at all and, as with the pronouncements of Nietzsche’s madman, it is just a case of how much time the lightening, thunder and light of the stars will take to arrive.
Genetic overlap between man and the mammals some of us eat is considerable: pigs (86%), cows (80%). The old understanding of cannibalism understood autophagy as ‘humans eating humans’. For many today, when we eat mammals, we are no less eating our kind, our kin.
Is the principle here that the more genetic “code” we share with species x, the less we should be ready to eat it? That seems to be preserving a human exceptionalism through the back door. Why should our code be the yardstick by which other species are measured? And why should genes be a determining factor rather than, for example, the equally problematic measures of animal “intelligence” or even “cuteness”?
Perhaps Wood’s “kinnibalism” is a staging post for a society that is not ready to swallow a completely vegetarian or vegan diet quite yet. First move against kinnibalism and then, once that argument is won, bring people the rest of the way. Such staging posts are not uncommon in these types of debates, and more often than not they are effective.