**Isn't it hypocrisy to eat meat but deem it unethical to kill the animal yourself?**
"There are circumstances in which killing is generally deemed ethical, and others in which it isn’t. To eat meat while asserting that all killing of animals is unethical is perhaps hypocritical, but certainly illogical. Most meat-eating people sidestep this dilemma by deciding that the killing of an animal for food is ethical. Some people assert that killing any animal is ethical, so long as it is done “mercifully.” People who think that all killing of animals is unethical, even those who don’t eat meat for this reason, are forced by necessity to make exceptions. This is not necessarily hypocritical. There are many paradoxes and inconsistencies to be found in the philosopy of the ethics of killing.
For example, if I killed and ate someone’s pet dog, they would probably consider that unethical, even if they were meat-eaters, and I offered to pay the “fair market” value of the dog afterward. However, if I killed the dog while it was attacking me, most people would consider the act to be justifiable self-defense, although eating the dog afterward would be viewed askance. If I killed the dog because it startled, frightened or threatened to attack me, most people would consider it an unjustified act, unless I was a police officer in a country like the USA. If I killed the dog because I wanted to have it stuffed and mounted for display, there are a few who would consider that to be adequate justification. If I pretended to like dogs, but paid anyone a bounty who presented proof of having killed one, that would clearly be hypocrisy.
We must also consider the sometime fine distinctions between the ethical, the moral, and the legal. In meat-eating societies, killing an animal raised for slaughter, like a goat, pig or cow, is considered “ethical” and “legal” under a broad set of conditions. Depending on the society, it can be difficult to escape moral culpability for the killing or eating of particular species. Some people even assert that killing a human is ethical, if the killing can be “justified,” and some people’s list of justifications is pretty long. Killing humans for food is almost always considered unethical, and desecration of a human corpse is illegal and immoral, so when thousands of people are killed on other pretexts, or as the result of some disaster, the protein has to be wasted.
The concept of sin can actually be quite useful in this debate. A sin is an act that causes moral angst. Where ethics are usually binary, i.e. an act is either ethical, or it’s not, sin is a scalar value ranging from zero to infinite. To live a moral, ethical life is to minimize one’s sinning. To be hypocritical is to pretend that you haven’t sinned, when you know that you have.
For example, killing an animal for food could be considered a lesser sin than killing one for sport. In my opinion, any wanton killing is unethical, but killing a spider is not as big a sin as killing an elephant. The legal, ethical killing of a livestock animal raised for slaughter carries a relatively small burden of sin, but wanton killing of an animal that is one of the few remaining members of an endangered species is unethical, probably illegal, and clearly a greater sin.
Returning to the subject of the hapless pet dog, we can order its killings on the scale of sin, from lesser to greater, as killing accidentally; killing for inescapable necessity (starvation or self-defense); killing negligently or for hire; and finally, killing wantonly, for revenge, fun or sport. I can draw the line of ethics wherever I choose, so I choose to draw it between necessity and negligence.
Killing an average plant is not as big a sin as killing an average animal. Still, as a consumer trying to live low on the trophic chain, I admonish myself and others to “eat fruits, not roots” as much as possible, because eating roots usually kills a plant, while eating fruit (or a few leaves) doesn’t. Harvesting a field of grain is a negligible sin, because this method is consistent with the natural life of grasses, although it might collaterally deprive other plants and animals of their opportunity to survive. Clearing the land for the field might have been a greater sin, depending on specific circumstances. While cutting a tree for timber is relatively low on the sin scale, clear-cutting an “old growth” forest is eco-cide, no matter how much money it produces.
Having wandered far afield, we can bring our philosphy to bear on a distantly related question. Isn’t it hypocrisy to sentence a human to death for a crime, while deeming it unethical to kill the person yourself?"
When I was 24, I came out. The first woman I was with had a friend who worked with homeless people. She volunteered with her friend sometimes. They’d take them out to lunch. I remember her telling me that a good lot of them are where they are for reasons not even close to what people assume. That it’s most often that they simply don’t have a family or a support system. She sent me a list of...
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