Embracing My Contradiction
I’ve recently become aware of a possible contradiction in my thinking about animal rights. On the one hand, I’ve come to believe that, in a counterintuitive way, raising farm animals on pasture-based small farms is more cruel than raising farm animals in confinement on factory farms. My justification for this assessment is that the decision to treat animals well for a period of time and then do an about-face and kill them is more psychologically dissonant for humans than the decision to treat animal like objects from beginning to end—which is cruel, but at least consistently enshrouded in the salving fiction that animals are objects.
On the other hand, I have grudgingly tolerated these small farms—which, recall, I have just deemed crueler than factory farms—as “steps in the right direction,” a claim that has landed me in terrible, awful stead with my “abolitionist” friends, most of whom I suspect have quit reading this blog, dismissing me as yet another “new welfarist.” There are days when I do wonder if they are right (but I digress . . .).
So what gives? I think it’s important to note that, for the animals themselves, there is no doubt that the small-farm, pasture-based scenario allows more freedom to move about, socialize, and make choices. These freedoms, one can safely assume, lead to greater happiness for the animals even if they do subtly derange those who love their animals, name them, and then hand them over to the slaughterhouse and eat them as if this were all normal behavior.
Thus, while I think the alternative “humane” systems are quietly detrimental to the human psyche, I still think they are better for the animals who could otherwise be living a short life in utter hell. Better, of course, does not make anything right, but better is still better. So, even in light of the massive delusion that humans engage in to feel good about small-scale animal agriculture, and even if it is all based on a mad delusion, I still think that the heart of that delusion—the little kernel of an idea that farm animals matter enough to give them some extra space to be themselves—holds the potential to push potential vegans down the right path, however slowly, however dubiously.
Thus I embrace my apparent contradiction.