The Scavenger-Carnivore Ethic
*Please note: I’m thinking out loud more than usual here, and I really look forward to all your thoughts. Also, please check out this related piece of mine in Pacific Standard.
I want to delve further into the benefits of eating animals who have died natural or accidental deaths—and the larger ecological implications that might ensue.
The most notable benefit that would emerge from a scavenger-carnivore ethic is the sense that sentient animals truly value their sentience. The ethic builds on this recognition. Eschewing the purposeful death of sentient creatures would, from the human perspective, honor their consciousness on an individual level without denying ourselves the ethical option of eating animal bodies.
As such, it would draw a much clearer line between acceptable/unacceptable meat options than the industrial/humane distinction that we now rely upon with utterly disastrous consequences. And it would do so based on the explicit recognition that animals have as much a fundamental right to their bodies—specifically, for them not to suffer—as we do to ours. Widespread acceptance of this premise, in conjunction with an ethic of eating that does not categorically reject animal flesh, would exonerate reformers from charges of extremism, open the door to those who stubbornly believe that humans need to eat animals, and ensure that our consumption of animals was dramatically minimized.
It would also shift the way we think about human bodies. To be consistent, and avoid dietary speciesism, this ethic would have to entertain the moral option of humans eating human corpses as well. Did you just cringe? Yeah, me too. The source of this disgust may or may not be relevant. It may or may not reflect a visceral moral reaction that’s easy to experience but hard to articulate. That said, while it’s easy to make a cultural case against cannibalism, it’s hard to make a solid ethical case against it. Cannibalism may strike us as disgusting, and there may be solid cultural reasons for that view, but that does not mean that, morally speaking, it’s necessarily wrong.
Note where this premise leads. Not a sane person on the face of God’s green earth would argue that, because cannibalism is possibly excusable, it’s okay to raise and slaughter humans for consumption. Hence—in this scavenger-carnivore ethic I’m playing around with—there’s a rough consistency between how we treat animal bodies and how we treat human bodies—even if we have no plans to start devouring human corpses (which is fine with me). That consistency, I think, only enhances the worth of this ethic.
A scavenger-carnivore ethic, in its primary attention to and evaluation of bodies, also creates room for humans to understand their body parts and functions as integral to ecological cycles, much as we do the bodies of non-human animals. One immediate benefit to come from a scavenger-carnivore ethic would be the mass production of humanure— human waste as compost to grow food. What prevents us from currently doing this is a failure to imagine our bodies as essentially animalian, a failure that constitutes a largely unrecognized and wasted (yeah, yeah) environmental opportunity.
In a similar vein (please excuse all bodily metaphors here), we could start sharing more of our bodies with non-humans when it comes to medical research and technologies. Would you give your kidney to your dog if such a transfer was possible? There are humans today walking around with pig tissue in their heart valves. A Scavenger-carnivore ethic would encourage and even reward such a cross-species transfer of flesh. I’ll deal with bestiality in another post, but it’s relevant here.
Backing up a bit, consider the how the human-plant relationship would be altered if we embraced a scavenger-carnivore ethic. Eating animals that have died natural or non-human predatory deaths would motivate humans to preserve more wilderness, and to respect our place in it. Rather than follow the bogus ideals of holistic managing domesticated animals, humans would seek to create space for animals to be animals on their own terms, feeding and breeding as the see fit. Rather than dive into the woods and hunt, we would tour the woods for the deceased. We might even learn the difference between a birch and an oak tree along the way. Plant life would flourish and humans would be more active. And we could stop reading boring but important op-eds in the Times about why humans are fat.
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