Published on 4 Sep 2015
The Trolley Problem is a famous thought experiment about human ethics. This is a thought-provoking twist on the Trolley Problem.
Its far more complex than that.
I’ve been vegan for over 5 years now – but not from any ethical considerations, simply for health reasons – being diagnosed terminal cancer, doing my home work, seeing that the greatest single cause of the modern epidemics of cancer, diabetes, and heart attack is diet, and the combination of animal products, extracted sugars and extracted oils. In nature sugar was a good proxy for a vast array of phyto-nutrients, most particularly vitamin C, and about 30,000 others as well. In manufactured foods, most of those are missing (vit C is destroyed by temperatures over 60C).
Cancer risk increases significantly if total calories from animal products gets over 10% of total calorie intake. When I did the numbers most of my calories were from animal products. I didn’t think I had the will power to stop at one mouthful of steak, and I did have enough to say – no steak, no cheese, no milk, no fish, no chicken, no eggs.
So plant based diet, mostly raw, grown locally, is definitely the healthiest option, and it needs to be highly varied – lots of different plants every day.
Then look at the actual animals.
Do you think any farmer is going to keep growing animals if he can’t sell them?
Remove animals from diet and their numbers will plummet, as people stop keeping and raising the herds.
Going vegan stops the proximate cause of their death, and actually becomes the long term cause of significant reductions in numbers of “domestic animals”.
So it’s not that simple.
And I am all for animal welfare, and significant fractions of ecosystems being kept in as natural a state as possible.
The thing that most vegans don’t get, is that many (and in some countries most) farmers actually care quite deeply about their animals.
My dad was a farmer, and I was raised on farms. He had names for every one of the 200 and some cows on the farm. He knew their peculiarities, their likes and dislikes.
Yes the animals in his care did often ended their days at the hands of man, but those days were usually far more numerous than those of their wild kin, and for the most part far gentler and kinder and with less immediate danger than their wild kin experienced (very little immediate threat from predators).
So it really is far more complex that this very simplistic video paints.
Certainly there are farmers and farming techniques that demonstrate little care for the lives the animals lead. I have little time for such.
Simple does often create effects.
In a sense the simple way to stop a pandemic is to kill everyone with symptoms and everyone who has had contact with them. But it isn’t ethical.
Nor is this video ethical in that sense.
It paints an overly simplistic view that leads to actions that are actually counter to the real interests of animal welfare – if one is actually interested in the experiential reality of animals on a daily basis. And I do live in New Zealand, where the vast majority of animals are farmed outside, in large paddocks, and very few animals are kept in “city conditions” (we do however still keep most of our people in cities).
I’m not making any generalised ethical judgments about either vegans or farmers.
I am simply saying that the real situation is much more complex.
Have you ever watched a herd of herbivores being hunted by big cats or wild dogs or wolves?
Death happens in natural ecosystems.
Making death as quick and painless as possible is one possible response.
Deaths in nature are rarely either quick or painless.
Not that nature is cruel, it is simply indifferent.
In a very real sense it is just a set of relatively simple equations self optimising over time and space.
I haven’t actually done any serious simulations on the long term effects of veganism over time.
I’m not certain what the most likely outcomes are, in terms of changes in numbers and types of animals over the planet, and the nature of the deaths those animals experience (how quick and painless vs how drawn out and painful). I don’t know what those distribution curves actually look like, and my intuitions (from my training as a zoologist and some 40 years experience of involvement in modeling of fisheries), is that the numbers of domestic type animals would decrease and the distribution curves of the sorts of lives and deaths of those that did live would move toward the more anxious and unpleasant and painful end of the spectrum. And that is just an educated guess.
I am against cruelty in any form.
The more aware the individuals involved, the less acceptable that cruelty is.
That we subject human beings to living in cities under the stress of market based economics seems to me far more ethically intolerable that meat eating.
And I am vegan, and I do promote veganism and I do promote animal welfare.
And human welfare seems far more ethically important, and in our society is almost entirely ignored in favour of “economic considerations”.
As a society, our ethics are seriously distorted.