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Politics is the Art of the Possible

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Is a truism that everyone remembers some of the time, and everyone seems to forget some of the time. Yglesias on cock fighting bans:

But should cockfighting really be banned? This doesn’t seem like a very nice way to treat animals, I’m skeptical that this is meaningfully worse than the way we treat the chickens we raise for meat and eggs.

That’s true, of course. However, the lifes of victims ofvarious forms of animal abuse which are currently illegal (and uncontroversially so) are nowhere near as bad as the lifes of animals in modern factory farming. The law isn’t consistent on animal treatment because we as a society haven’t acheived any logically consistent consensus on how animals should be treated. To insist for consistency in the law before our social norms have reached anything approaching consistency is to put the cart before the horse. Furthermore, if one is convinced that factory farming is a wrong that should not be legally condoned, better to have them inconsistently tolerated in the law, providing a nice rhetorical opening to remind us all of the hypocricy of our toleration of factory farming.

On the other hand, the existing legal consensus isn’t quite as illogical as it might seem. We may not have anything approaching a social consensus that the cruel treatment of animals is always and forever wrong, but we are moving closer to a consensus that unnecessary cruelty to animals is pretty problematic. One needn’t endorse a strong or even weak version of animal rights to come to this conclusion. Whether–and how–we ought to reform the treatment of animals raised for food and dairy is an important question, but we’re not there yet.

Matt also speculatively comments on the cultural politics of this issue, about which I know nothing and have no commentary to add.

Update: Several commenters and Dylan Matthews object to my suggestion that raising meat for animals, particularly in the modern industrual manner, is in some sense necessary. I agree, it’s almost certain not necessary. However, given the centrality of meat consumption to our diet and our culture for so long, it’s not surprising, and perfectly understandable, for such practices to be widely perceived as necessary.

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