Monday, September 27, 2010

Will future generations condemn us for factory farming?

In an article in yesterday's Washington Post, Kwame Anthony Appiah (currently the Laurance S. Rockefeller University Professor of Philosophy at Princeton University) asks which of our current practices will shock future generations the most. He says from looking at how our attitudes have changed to things in the past, that there are three signs that a practice is 'destined for future condemnation.'

  1. People have already heard the arguments about the practice. For example with slavery, the case against it had been around for a long time before legislation to stop it emerged.
  2. Defenders of the custom don't offer moral excuses but instead state that 'tradition, human nature of necessity' make it ok. (As in "We've always had slaves, how could we grow cotton without them?")
  3. Thirdly, supporters of the practice use 'strategic ignorance' avoiding information that might force them to see how cruel things can be, for those things that are so very convenient. Those who wore the cotton slaves grew didn't want to think about how they were treated, so abolitionists constantly drew attention to the conditions of the middle passage, making sure that the horrifying stories of the people's plight can to public attention.
In light of these three signs, Appaih gives four offerings to what he thinks will cause our descendants to ask "What the hell were they thinking?"
  • Our prison system
  • Our treatment of animals in food production
  • Our isolation of the elderly
  • Our treatment of the environment
 For the sake of convenience he states that people, animals and the environment are being pushed 'out of sight, and to some extent out of mind' as prisons, nursing homes and factory farms get bigger and the environment around us becomes more and more fragile.

Well worth a read, the full article is here.


  1. Good article. thanks for sharing it!

  2. If orgs like PETA didn't have the balls to go in and document this nightmare, we'd never know how bad it is. So stop blaming the messenger, and look at the facts. As a society, we've said okay to torturing certain animals. I can't help but believe we'll have the sense and compassion to change course at some point. But the urgency is sadly lacking.