WASM 3: The fox and the hound (and the mink and the seal)

(See previous posts here and here.)

In the central chapters (3-5) of Why Animal Suffering Matters, Linzey critically examines three practices: sport hunting (focusing on hunting with dogs in the UK); fur farming; and seal hunting, particularly the Candian seal hunt. I was surprised that there was no chapter on raising animals for food, since that accounts for far and away the largest number of animals used by humans. Maybe Linzey figured that factory farming and other such issues had been adequately covered elsewhere. In any event, deploying the concepts established in earlier chapters, he subjects these practices to sharp critique.

There’s not much point in me summarizing these chapters in detail. Suffice it to say, once you accept that animal suffering matters morally, it quickly becomes very tough to justify practices like fur farming and seal hunting. Linzey offers a close, critical reading of official government reports purporting to show that these practices are or can be carried out “humanely,” but he easily shows that animal suffering is given insufficient weight and that these reports tend to over-weight human interests, no matter how seemingly trivial or insignificant. For example, a British government report purporting to look dispassionately at hunting doesn’t seriously consider alternatives to controlling “pest” populations, or even really attempt to establish that these populations need controlling. It’s apparent that the presumed human interest in hunting is acting as a virtual trump card.

Linzey is thorough in showing how specious the arguments deployed on the pro-hunting, -farming, and -sealing side are, rebutting claims that these pracitces are, or can be made, humane. Curiously, though, he focuses throughout on the issue of suffering, without pushing the analysis to a deeper level. For instance, even if these practices could be carried out in ways that minimize animal suffering, is it right to kill animals (however humanely) for the sake of relatively trivial human interests? It may be, as some have argued, that animals’ assigned status–as beings whose lives can be disposed of by humans–inherently dooms them to lives of suffering because it ensures that their interests will always be given short shrift. This argument strikes me as one that deserves to be answered. (It could be that Linzey will take it up in his concluding chapter.)


One thought on “WASM 3: The fox and the hound (and the mink and the seal)

  1. Pingback: Press and web reports up to February 2010 | Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics

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