Brief response to essay: 'Why you should eat meat'

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Daniel V.
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Brief response to essay: 'Why you should eat meat'


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Re essay at Why you should eat meat

Now and then at there are essays that exhibit the potential for some mild volatility and thus draw commenters who are more than willing to bring their conflagrative expertise to the proceedings. The most recent was an essay authored by British philosopher Robert Zangwill titled, 'Why you should eat meat', with the subheading of, 'Not eating animals is wrong. If you care about animals, then the right thing to do is breed them, kill them and eat them'.

With an opener like that it didn't take long for some regular readers of Aeon to round up pitchforks and torches for a march up to the castle of the allegedly carnivorous mad philosopher and part-time essayist whom Wikipedia at the outset of his bio describes as: "..known for his expertise on moral philosophy, especially metaethics, aesthetics, especially the philosophy of music and visual art." I have not read any of Mr. Zangwill's work but just by the Wiki link description he sounds informed enough. I will slide past the 'metaethics' part, 'meta' is fast becoming a commodity and it's usually been a euphemism for speculations on the transcendent. I would not be surprised if at some point soon a new brand of toilet tissue appears at supermarkets: "META" - "Cleans more than before."

It took no longer than a day for some of the comments to be partially redacted or deleted by the Aeon staff. I will get to that later but first I want to address Mr. Zangwill's oeuvre.

In general discussions there are modes of approach that are used by every person. The modes utilized depends on the premise of the discussion. For example, if I was talking to a mechanic about car repairs it would be of little use to bring in talking points about the Ottoman Empire. It's irrelevant, unless of course, your mechanic happened to be of Turkish descent and with a particular gripe about history. But when discussions are about philosophy and such then we get into a territory of more specific modes.

Once those modes are agreed upon by the discussants - and usually a silent agreement since one figures the other already knows the basic modes - then the conversation can proceed. In the initial stages of the discussion each person attempts to get an idea of the other's, let's say, architectural structure for the argument at hand. If in the beginning of the discussion/argument flaws are noted then these are noted immediately or registered for later use as the structure develops.

A few quotes from Zangwill's essay gives us an idea as to its 'structure':

"The existence of that animal, and animals of its kind, depends on human beings killing and eating animals of that kind. Domesticated animals exist in the numbers they do only because there is a practice of eating them."_Nick Zingwall

This is true, how many chickens or cows would exist if humans didn't eat chicken or beef? The logic here is that if people perpetuated these types of animals to exist for the purpose of consumption then such must be acknowledged and to be talking about animal rights is merely hypocrisy. Rather than guilt-trippin' about it, Zingwall says it's better to accept that perpetuation and own it.

According to statistics, the global meat industry racked up around $867 billion in 2021 and is expected to be around $1.1 trillion in 2025. The United State's beef production in 2020 amounted to 12.4 million metric tons. The U.S. also has the largest domestic consumption of beef of any country. ( With numbers like that it seems many are quite comfortable in the perpetuation of eating meat and won't be giving up ownership of it anytime soon.

In the extremely unlikely scenario* that all meat eaters would wake up one morning and decide they were going to be vegetarians, that would definitely be chaotic, to say the least. The demand and pricing for vegetables and meat substitutes would go through the roof and more land allocated for production. A lot of cows and chickens would be milling around wondering what the hell is going on with some of the more desperate leafing through their dog-eared copies of Animal Farm for clues, any clue. And of course, Chicken Little will feel a bittersweet validation. But of course, none of that will happen anytime soon.

[*The only scenario that I can imagine where such would happen would be a disease of some sort that plagues animals worldwide.]

"The emphasis among the defenders of so-called ‘animal rights’ on animal pain and suffering while ignoring animal pleasure and happiness is bizarre and disturbing. Human beings suffer, and their deaths are often miserable. But few would deem their entire lives worthless because of that. Likewise, why should the gloomy and unpleasant end of many of the animals we eat cast a negative shadow over their entire lives up to that point?

What is mildly bizarre and disturbing is Zingwall's equating the existential premise of humans with that of animals. Granted, we're all in the same 'neighborhood' but that does not mean that our perceptions of it are going to be the same. Humans regard themselves as having a developed sentience and many when looking at the natural world notice that there are non-human creatures in it that seem to possess that sentience though in a different degree. Dogs can be considered ambassadors of that trait in that it would be difficult to find any dog owners claiming that their canine best friend has no feelings whatsoever. If a domesticated animal like the dog can exhibit those traits then it's not much of a jump to think that other animals likewise have a degree of sentience. Countless documentaries have shown that degree in different animals. From there you don't need to do the math, it's simple arithmetic that sentient beings have feelings of different types. One may be hard-pressed to identify the feelings of an insect but as we go up the scale then the similarities of sentience between humans and animals become apparent.

"I suspect that the pleasure and happiness of animals is overlooked because they are not of our species. This is a kind of speciesism that particularly afflicts devotees of ‘animals rights’. All lives have their ups and downs; and this is true for animals as well as human beings. Both ups and downs are important."

Precisely because it is true for both animals and humans that lives have their ups and downs that many humans have recognized the sentience of animals. Ups and downs take on a different significance when animal rights consider the sentience of an animal compared to regarding it in the aforementioned 12.4 million metric tons of slaughtered flesh.

As I read the essay again to pick some quotes for this posting I did find a few but in the end they're all basically summed up in this quote:

"Because they reason, human beings have rights, whereas animals lack rights because they cannot reason. Since they lack rights, we can paternalistically consider what is good for them. And this good dictates that we should kill and eat them, so long as their lives are good overall before we do that. They have no rights standing in the way of the mutually beneficial carnivorous practice.

In this duct-taped syllogism the keyword is 'paternalistically' and its self-conferment of dictating what is good and what needs to be killed. Sound familiar? Human history is replete with examples of this.

The flaw in Zingwall's argument overall is that there is no way at the present to communicate with animals with the sophistication that humans do with each other. If you are having a discussion with another person and it happens to be one in which you are trying to discern the reasoning of the other, how they actually feel about something and so on, then the language used in that discussion is crucial to whatever agreements or disagreements. Since animals cannot talk to us ala Dr. Doolittle and convey in an advanced manner what their actual thoughts and feelings are, then we merely have an interpretation filtered by speculations about their existence. If there ever comes the day when a dog, a cow, a chicken, or any other animal suddenly talks to a human even in the most rudimentary sense and whatever language, that's the day humans will be able to know with certainty how animals regard themselves and humans.

As humans, it isn't difficult to tell what another person may be feeling and thinking simply by looking at them. There are cues which we've learned and even if the person doesn't speak the same language we get a general idea about them. There are cues which show when another person is not only in distress but also in other situations. With animals, humans have learned some of the basic cues about their condition but nothing yet to the degree of a substantial comprehension of their own existential regard. Many people have acted on these basic cues and they have shown that the animal kingdom has its own sense of consciousness. Genuine awareness and consideration, even towards other species, is a many-splendored thing whether it be animal rights or a simple pat on a dog's head. If this were not the case then it is doubtful that humans and animals would have existed together for so long on this pale blue dot.

The following are comments by readers of the essay that were redacted or deleted. All are from January 24, 2022:

Derek Swift:

That surely was never meant to be a serious article. There were so many blatent untruths and so much misinformation that nobody with the background of the writer would ever put his name to such rubbish. For a moment I had to check the date to see that it wasn’t an April Fool’s joke. I confess to being nonplussed as I cannot understand why anybody with an ounce of intelligence would write such an article unless it was only to raise the ire of all right thinking people who read it.

Danny Wadeson:

Genuinely wondering whether this is some kind of sarcastic/troll article - like, it’s so bizarre that if it’s actually genuine, I’m utterly baffled as to why Aeon have decided to publish this. What’s stranger still is that Aeon is SO good 99.5% of the time - (redacted ) how did this navel-gazing, middle-class-decadence apologist piece get past the editors? (/redacted) I mean, there’s not even any need to point out the article’s various failings - they’re plentiful and obvious - so I’ll just say, ‘I’m outraged - unless it’s an elaborate prank, in which case…kudos I guess.’

Peter Erian:

I expected this article to (be) some sort of absurdist philosophical hyperbole. Disappointingly, it is not. While it is argued with the rigor of an Onion article the only absurdity is that the author believes what he is writing. The idea that pleasure experienced by animals absolves us from causing their suffering is absolute nonsense. Imagine applying that reasoning to human interaction, to our legal system. Would it be okay to kick a man in the genitals after he has an orgasm, because after all we must consider his pleasure and his pain? Would it be okay to abuse a child who has had a charmed life, free from incident, because we must consider his pleasure and his pain? (there was more but not copied due to my not extending the comment at the time)

Douglas Overman:

This article is garbage. I was trolled into reading it for some sort of reaction. I don’t always agree with what Aeon publishes, but usually I at least can understand a differing point of view. I think garbage is too mild a word for this story.

Wendell Garnto:

Truly an idiotic article. Sounds like someone trying to deflect and ease their conscience in their complicity in exploiting sentient beings.


Genuinely the dumbest article I’ve ever read on Aeon. Not sure why they’ve suddenly decided to start publishing right wing troll garbage.


And this was the last time anybody ever agreed to publish something written by this person.

Corvus Strigiform:

I thought that this had to be an Onion article, but the Onion has more accurate sources and makes better points.

James Richardson:

April Fools Day is a few months away, no need to hurry it up. I myself write this kind of stuff up when I get bored, just to stir the pot in major newspaper’s comments sections. I leave out the slash s (/s) sarcasm at the end and many take me seriously. Great fun.

Eousuf Arman:

I’ve been reading Aeon’s articles since 1 year but I never thought Aeon can published something like that. This Trash-like author wrote something not only about animals also about the creator of everything. I don’t know what’s his problem with God and other stuffs. But Aeon should need to more careful before publishing such articles. I always wait to learn something new from Aeon (and I did, just this article made me disgusting).


To the staff at Aeon:

With nearly 25 years of being on the internet and participating in forums and creating administering some of my own, I can assure you that the above quotes are very mild compared to the vitriol that I've seen online in the past. has nothing to worry about if these mentioned quotes are as spicy as it gets. Nonetheless, I do understand why the redaction and deletions, especially if it possibly came at the request of others. Too much spice can make for a tummy ache, but a little spice now and then keeps things interesting. :-)


Update: I just looked at the essay (26 Jan.) on Aeon and it seems comments are accepted or just the comments of the author responding to some commenters
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