What’s Wrong with the World

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What’s Wrong with the World is dedicated to the defense of what remains of Christendom, the civilization made by the men of the Cross of Christ. Athwart two hostile Powers we stand: the Jihad and Liberalism...read more

A Miscellany of Science

I suppose many here have already read what follows. Nevertheless, each article in its own way merits, and more than merely merits, what my merest sketches might hopefully supply: a meager few new readers.

First is last month’s Atlantic with a lengthy treatment by Charles C. Mann of the astounding transformations in the world of fossil fuel extraction, refinement, distribution, and perpetuity. One might according to several precepts read, in bald summary, the meaning and importance of this article: the precept that moderate liberals have at last awakened to what’s going on and no longer stand athwart science and engineering and economic development; the precept that human projections and predictions are, in the industrial enterprise of the cleverest animal on this planet, the creature called man, an amusing but usually idle pastime; or merely the precept that, by golly, man is a clever creature.

Speaking of earthly creatures, who can match on the level of majesty and mystery, on the level of defiance and generosity, the elephant? It appears to me, having taken my time (read: lollygagged) through this small book of an essay by The New Atlantis Managing Editor Caitrin Nicol, that the answer to that question is None. The elephant is a source of unending fascination, ably adumbrated here. If you thought this subject could not support sixty pages of careful elaboration, you thought wrong.

But the genius of Nicol's extraordinary work of synthesis is, by accent of the grandeur of the elephant, far from pulling down man to the level of reductionist brutes, rather to elevate man. If even the elephant, by dint of independence and incommensurable uniqueness, rises above that dingy level which our truculent reductionists present of the world of living creatures, then surely the only other creature who has mastered this trunked titan, can likewise claim that ineffable quality to which materialism must yield. If the question Ms. Nicol asks in the title to her essay is indeed a very much open one, in the sense that the possibility of having a soul (the presupposition), is not open but rather quite closed; why, then materialism is false. The alternative is to say of the elephant that what science in its ever-limited fashion tells us cannot be true. Since no creature can have that quality which elevates it above the material, the evidence of the elephant’s possession of it is falsehood, delusion, or folly. What narrowness materialism throws men into!

These two monster articles, each in its own way, give evidence that prodigy in research, synthesis, and clear writing has not yet departed the world of man. Nor has prodigy in most any endeavor. In both journalism and technological extraction of methane hydrates from beneath the seafloor, for instance, we can now say with confidence that man is indeed a clever and ineffable animal.

Which points to a third fact. This fact can be drawn out only by an enormous implication, which I have scarcely the time to sketch out. Fortunately, in this context Jonathan Last has already done the hard work of data collection, collation, and analysis, by which the enormous implication may be seen clearly. This, among ample additional reasons, is why everyone must read Mr. Last’s What to Expect When No One’s Expecting: in order to understand that precisely because every new human being brought into this world is not only a new mouth to feed but also a new incommensurable and creative soul, the worldwide trend (now evidencing only a few isolated pockets of countertrend) of human sexual sterility is a staggering problem. It is moreover a problem which, for reasons related to their peculiar obsessions, our liberals will be very late in coming around to discover. Indeed, most of them are busy still telling the reactionary tale of overpopulation; in other words they are at least an entire generation behind the times.

Liberals have constructed their political dreams upon the foundation of moderate but steady growth in (a) human population and, more precisely, (b) productive human population; this means that their whole political project presupposes a picture of human sexuality that their own theories reject with the utmost vehemence. In brief, the early postwar sexual mores which liberals have ever since been at pains to repudiate, supplied the vital biological undergirding for what we call Social Democracy — which was, across the Western world, though in varying degrees, the political outworking of postwar liberalism. The technological innovations that have suddenly, and against all predictions, made the abundance of fossil fuel resources, even North American fossil fuel resources, more striking than their scarcity, demonstrate that productive heavy industry is hardly a thing of the past. But even the most productive industry needs human beings to work it. And, liberal backwardness notwithstanding, it is the future scarcity of these most mysterious and astonishing creatures, human beings, that really should worry us.

Late in her essay, Ms. Nicol spares a moment to reflect on the efforts by elephant caretakers to maintain a controlled population of these wonderful giants, in zoos and parks.

Even as poaching is reducing some elephant populations to perilous levels, others are being killed en masse supposedly for their own good. Elephant feeding exacts a heavy burden from their habitat — fifty pounds of vegetation munched by each elephant every day adds up to a lot. When elephants moved freely across the African continent, this denuding fit naturally into regrowth patterns and the impact was dispersed. Confined to parks, even very large ones, they can’t migrate in the same way and the trees and ground cover get stripped down dramatically. Thus, to protect biodiversity and avoid the sad spectacle of elephant starvation, many park managers cull populations to what they deem sustainable levels.

As [elephant scholars] have eloquently argued, these grisly interventions take a very short view of ecological cycles and elephant populations’ ability to self-regulate and adapt to their environment. Births go down in the years following a major drought, for instance; since elephants’ reproduction cycles are so long, manually adjusting the population year to year means intervening in a process that has not played itself out yet. [. . .] As in so many other ways, however, stepping in to control a specific aspect of a complex situation has yielded enormous unintended consequences. Although culling experts once believed that they could take out precisely the desired number of elephant families while leaving the rest of the population alone, more recent data show that survivors are definitely affected, even if they were far away at the time of the cull. Elephants have relationships within their herds that extend well beyond the small group of immediate family they travel and spend each day with, and their long-distance communication capabilities make them aware of events happening miles away. As [other scholars] have documented, disturbed behavior has often been observed among these survivors, and autopsies of those who die later for other reasons show signs of sustained high stress consistent with post-traumatic stress disorder.

In the past several years, there have been increasing reports of elephants rampaging around out of control — destroying property, attacking people, raping and killing rhinos, and other chaotic behavior. Traditional explanations for rogue elephants such as musth or competition for habitat do not fit with the sudden change, as some behaviors (such as lethal fights between bulls) are surging out of proportion to their normal incidence and some (such as assaulting rhinos) are otherwise nearly unheard of. Instead, Bradshaw points to the collapse of elephant society brought on by culling and poaching, the licit and illicit forms of mass annihilation. In addition to the psychological trauma these engender in survivors, they have also disrupted the transmission of elephant culture from one generation to the next.

It seems that Birth and Population Control cannot really be achieved, even in elephants fully subject to human will, by any art we mortal men possess. When technological Birth Control in humans infiltrated Christianity (excepting always the lonely and luminous witness of the Catholic Church) our patron here at What’s Wrong with the World synopsized its absurdity in a sharp phrase, calling it “a scheme for preventing birth in order to escape control.” Since hardly a man has lived who possessed a more fertile imagination than Chesterton, it is no reckless conjecture to say that he would have recognized instantly the futility of supposing we can precisely control the birth of elephant populations, any more than we can control the birth of human populations; and the peril of proceeding as if we can is disclosed in the awful ruin we have wrought.

Liberals and progressives have a lot to wrestle with in these three pieces of writing. One hopes they have sufficient independence of mind left to set aside their prejudices and confront the empirical facts before them.

Comments (105)

These are some very interesting essays. I loved the stories of the elephants - although I haven't managed to finish that so far, it really is long-ish.

Liberals have constructed their political dreams upon the foundation of moderate but steady growth in (a) human population and, more precisely, (b) productive human population; this means that their whole political project presupposes a picture of human sexuality that their own theories reject with the utmost vehemence. In brief, the early postwar sexual mores which liberals have ever since been at pains to repudiate, supplied the vital biological undergirding for what we call Social Democracy — which was, across the Western world, though in varying degrees, the political outworking of postwar liberalism.

Paul, I take it that you are referring, in "construct their political dreams upon the foundation" to such things as the (unstated, but necessary) assumption for Social Security as the 5 to 1 ratio of workers to beneficiaries that was consistent with pre-war familial dynamics, but which Social Security itself changed irrevocably. Any pay-as-you-go wealth transfer system that builds its own incentives to break the system has conceptual problems.

Also, I assume that what was the political outworking of postwar liberalism was the repudiation of sexual morals and not the "biological undergirding for what we call Social Democracy." The syntax there had me puzzled for a minute.

Yeah, Tony, that was a real mess of a sentence, wasn't it? Social Democracy, to my mind, was the political outworking of liberalism: the construction of the welfare/entitlement state. I would describe the repudiation of chastity as more of a cultural outworking. Sorry for the confusion.

The financial position of Medicare and Obamacare is even more dire than that of Social Security. All of these middle class entitlements rest on an assumption of steady economic growth; and finding historical examples of steady economic growth under conditions of declining population is very difficult.

They are both interesting essays. I suppose I ought to say, though, that I remain quite unconvinced that elephants have true language. Also, the apparently wholehearted endorsement of Matthew Scully's Dominion is worth an eyebrow-quirk. I recall thinking that Wesley J. Smith had the better in that brouhaha, and Smith was actually rather respectful to Scully. The thesis that Christians have a duty to be vegetarians is one that I find unconvincing, and I appreciate Smith's determination always to bring the human element in _even when_ we are talking about practices such as factory farming or animal experimentation. So, for example, even if we grant that factory farming is hard on the animals, what are the consequences for the poor if factory farming were to be banned and everyone could eat only free-range meat? These are the sorts of questions that need to be asked but that the "creation care" Christians are unlikely to ask and face squarely. And they are certainly unlikely to be willing to draw policy conclusions unpalatable to animal welfarists. (Surprisingly enough, since in other contexts those same Christians tell conservatives that we do not care enough about the poor.)

Paul, Bismark was a conservative and, as I recall, a devout Christian as was Adenauer. The welfare state and social democracy have always been center and center-right responses to the left, not products of the left. The same goes for things like cap and trade and Romney-Obamacare (which is modeled on the German/Swiss/Heritage Foundation schemes).

Also, the viability of SS and other welfare state projects are largely a function of productivity and doesn't depend on some fixed ratio of workers to retirees or participants as the notion that human population can infinitely increase is Ponzist (besides, "work" as a concept is likely on the cusp of some serious changes - of course I, for one, will welcome our new robot overlords).

(BTW, if, and prior to the Singularity of course, the marginal product of robots belongs to capital then people become superfluous save for amusement, companionship and basic science. Perhaps this explains climate change denial - at the top at least.)

I guess the only time a conservative feels oh so deeply for the poor is when those concerns can be used to justify some greater cruelty, oh well. If factory farming ended and meat consumption dropped, the land that grew the feed that produced the meat would be freed up for more efficient (and cheaper) protein (and other food stuffs) production.

For example, if we eliminated the huge feed lot along I-5 in the California's Central Valley, the land would likely fill with the orchards that otherwise mostly occupy that side of the road while all that corn would go into other food stuffs.

Most "liberals" probably use simple math here - any continuous increase in population of any animal is impossible. For example, a one percent increase of we humans per year would have us numbering about seven trillion in about 700 years for a density of about 50,000/sq.mi. As large chunks of the Earth are uninhabitable or necessary for food production and other infrastructure, the experienced density would be far greater (think of a 20' X 20' square - that's all you get).

That elephants (and other African fauna) are under pressure is arguably an indication that Sub-Saharan Africa is over populated with Plains Apes not elephants - it's not the pachyderms that need birth control/culling.

I took the point of the energy article to be that we have been given a bridge to sustainable forms of energy production. If we take the easy way out then the Earth's carrying capacity for we Plains Apes will rapidly plunge southwards.

Al, what a return to glory this is!

Paragraph 1 -- "Let's imitate Germans." Well, fascinating. But can we ask, very gently, what Al thinks of current day German centrist political-economic policy?

Paragraph 2 -- While Al welcomes whatever mellifluous overlord is in fashion, I'm going to stick with the very unfashionable view that the surest, and off at the end only way to increase productivity is by bringing new immortal and creative souls into the world, and then dedicating a massive portion of your own resources to raising, disciplining, and upholding them.

Paragraph 3 -- "I want rational tyranny -- now. I can't stand freedom."

Paragraph 4 -- Sheer conjecture. Likewise, if global warming is true, maybe the upper Midwest and the Canadian interior is the world's new breadbasket.

Paragraph 5 -- OK

Paragraph 6 -- Curiously, despite your math, what history records is actually a "continuous increase in population" of that most mysterious of all animals -- man. The only way it becomes "impossible" is by forgetting that every last animal dies.

Paragraph 7 -- I'm going to pretend that you just screwed up your argument, because I can hardly believe that you're openly arguing for a culling of Africans.

Paragraph 8 -- You know, there's a pretty major concession concealed in those two sentences.

I can hardly believe that you're openly arguing for a culling of Africans.

I can.

Also, the viability of SS and other welfare state projects are largely a function of productivity and doesn't depend on some fixed ratio of workers to retirees or participants as the notion that human population can infinitely increase is Ponzist

Well, the rate of productivity resulting from both human labor and non-human resources is indeed variable. I grant that. But the rate of income that constitutes "basic income" for a modest living is, also, variable, and the two tend toward a sort of gross equilibrium. The income of the poor guy on SS with no supplement at all would look like a king's ransom to a Viking king of 400 AD, in terms of what it can buy: antibiotics, knives and scissors that cut cleanly, fresh fruit in winter, a heated apartment without drafts, a telephone to talk to any friend at any moment, music of a 100-piece symphony orchestra at whim, and daily mind-numbing entertainment in a box.

Also, continuing increase in human labor productivity requires continuing increases in the amount of investment in that resource (child-rearing and education). I think there may be a natural leveling-off equilibrium in the economics of the two, which effect is seen fairly clearly in the now widespread (multi-country and multi-cultural) self-modification of effective fertility in high-education countries.

Oddly enough, I am not universally opposed to social insurance of some sorts. I am, however, universally opposed to calling ours a "retirement" system, instead of what it actually is, a pay-as-you-go generational wealth transfer mandatory insurance arrangement. And I am generally opposed to positioning a system built on false premises that ignore economic reality, like the reality that having society take over generational transfers at the government level necessarily reduces personal responsibility - with _consequences_ that affect both economics and social interactions.

(besides, "work" as a concept is likely on the cusp of some serious changes - of course I, for one, will welcome our new robot overlords).

However much it might help, we will NOT have a robot-based economy by the time SS benefits have to be reduced for beneficiaries. The dearth of workers and growth of beneficiary class will hit first.

I guess the only time a conservative feels oh so deeply for the poor is when those concerns can be used to justify some greater cruelty, oh well.

Al, that is a cheap shot and completely unfounded. There are conservatives who feel just as little for the RICH as they do for the poor! They are equal opportunity jerks.

The last time I saw any statistics on this, the record of republican politicians vs democrat politicians on giving personal charity to the poor was clear: dems were stingy to an incredible degree, the republicans gave something like 3 times as much - which might still be considered stingy, but 3 to 1 is still significant. Granted, not all repubs are conservative, but I have never seen statistics broken down by conservatives vs liberals.

~~even if we grant that factory farming is hard on the animals~~

Understatement of the decade...

~~what are the consequences for the poor if factory farming were to be banned and everyone could eat only free-range meat?~~

"The righteous man cares for the needs of his animals, but the kindest acts of the wicked are cruel." Prov. 12:10

Animal cruelty is wickedness, and factory-farming is institutionalized animal cruelty, regardless of the purpose. It's balderdash that animals must be tortured so people can eat; the truth is simply that we've become acclimated to the process and see it as "normal." Which it isn't. (Not to mention our abnormal desire for huge, unnecessary quantities of cheap meat.) We ought not countenance wickedness just because some good comes from it.

the truth is simply that we've become acclimated to the process and see it as "normal." Which it isn't. (Not to mention our abnormal desire for huge, unnecessary quantities of cheap meat.) We ought not countenance wickedness just because some good comes from it.

Yeah, I see. So "good" comes of it, meaning that anyone honest is forced to admit that actually factory farming _does_ help to provide low-cost eggs, milk, and meat, which actually _is_ of human value. But on the other hand it's "simply" that we've become "acclimated to the process and see it as normal," which would seem to mean that it has no advantages whatsoever but is just some sort of weird, inexplicable habit.

Nice little contradiction you've got there, Nice.

It's balderdash that animals must be tortured so people can eat;

Um-hmmm, because it must be so much fun to be field mice cut down by harvesting machines so all the conscientious vegans can eat...

C'mon, yore asposed to be some sort of innerleckchul, ain't ya?

If animal cruelty is wicked, as the Scripture says, then it's wicked, no matter what good comes out of it. But we've learned, through acclimation to it, to wink at the wickedness and choose simply to see the good.

Kind of like liberals and abortion.

"it must be so much fun to be field mice cut down by harvesting machines so all the conscientious vegans can eat..."

Pure sophistry. There is a difference between inadvertently causing the death of animals, and purposely causing them pain and discomfort while they're still alive. And even non-vegetarians who are "creation-care" conscious know that if animals are to be killed it should be with the least pain possible.

Care to try again?

(Not to mention our abnormal desire for huge, unnecessary quantities of cheap meat.)

Nice, can you support that claim of "unnecessary"?

It is my impression that typically when a nation brings its meat intake in line with western levels, where formerly it had lived with much less, the children of those people tend to end up taller. That certainly happened in several Asian countries. While this datum is capable of more than one interpretation, I would posit that it is directly indicative that the human body is capable of living on less meat, but that it flourishes on the higher levels of meat that westerners typically are getting. If that's valid, then the only way to substantiate your "unnecessary" is to base it on a standard of less than optimal health.

I would gladly buy meat that does not involve harsh animal suffering, if I knew what standard of treatment that meant, could verify that the farms/slaughterers were complying, and could establish that the resulting meat amounts that I could then buy would be sufficient for good health. I don't think anyone has the necessary data and models to show the last point. Until then, I am stuck with an imperfect market which responds only sluggishly to my interest in a better arrangement.

Pure sophistry. There is a difference between inadvertently causing the death of animals, and purposely causing them pain and discomfort while they're still alive.

No, actually, it's not. That "inadvertently" is quite assured. It's a necessary part of the non-meat-growing process. Nor is whatever pain and suffering is caused to animals kept for meat some sort of sadism done for its own sake. Both are byproducts of humans' need for food and of the methods they must employ to produce food in large quantities. As for "while they are still alive," I presume the mice and many other small animals are not humanely killed *first* and only then caused pain! The fact is that animal rights types just don't want to think in those terms, because they want to speak of those who raise animals for food in large numbers as being, precisely, sadistic torturers.


And I utterly disdain your reference to "abnormal" desires for "unnecessary quantities of meat." That sort of busy-body phariseeism makes me want to tell the people purveying it to go jump in the lake. Yeah, y'know, all us Westerners are engaging in Roman orgies in which we vomit out some quantities of meat so we can eat more. Oh, no? We're not? Guess not. Who the heck do you think you people are to go around making up arbitrary quantities of meat that are "necessary"? Please. No, I'm not willing to subject my kids to potential B12 deficiencies, iron deficiencies, rickets, and stunted growth just because self-righteous paleo-leftist prigs think we should all eat like third-worlders for the sake of animal rights. Nor do you have the slightest right to attempt to impose that sort of thing. And dare I point out: It wouldn't be people with the money who would suffer if you got your desired laws put into place. It would be those who are poorer and couldn't afford the far higher prices caused by less efficient methods of farming. So, once again, go jump in the lake.

And by the way, it's tedious to point this out, but that verse in Proverbs doesn't say that not being super-kind to your animals is wicked. It's written in the form of typical eastern parallelism. The righteous man _even_ looks out for his animals, but the wicked man is so cruel that even his kindest acts are cruel. In point of fact, animal rights types don't seem to think kosher slaughter is particularly kind.

Nice Marmot, next time you start talking about "consumerism" and "wanting stuff we don't need," I'll remember this thread. In some of those conversations you manage to give the impression that you are a reasonable man and merely want people voluntarily to forgo fancy gizmos in the name of self-restraint and high-minded personal asceticism. But this isn't just about choosing not to buy that new ipad so one has more to give to the poor. No, what we've seen here is that all this talk about consumerism and greed is, inter alia, about making sure, by the passage of animal rights laws, that the Western poor have less meat, eggs, and dairy. Because according to Nice Marmot the Guru of Consumption, they don't really need as much of all that stuff as they are getting anyway.

"I'm not willing to subject my kids to potential B12 deficiencies, iron deficiencies, rickets, and stunted growth just because self-righteous paleo-leftist prigs think we should all eat like third-worlders for the sake of animal rights."

False dichotomize much? That's a no-no for philosophers, methinks.


"Both are byproducts of humans' need for food and of the methods they must employ to produce food in large quantities."

What do you call 20 dogs in a 15 X 15 pen?
Animal cruelty.
What do you call 20 calves in a 15 X 15 pen?
Farming.

Your capitalist ideology is showing. You'll defend it even at the cost of accepting such patently inconsistent nonsense.

~~I would posit that it is directly indicative that the human body is capable of living on less meat, but that it flourishes on the higher levels of meat that westerners typically are getting. If that's valid, then the only way to substantiate your "unnecessary" is to base it on a standard of less than optimal health.~~

Most nutritionists say that we eat more meat than we need to, and in larger portions than necessary. We're not a fat-arsed nation with rampant heart disease, high cholesterol and high blood pressure because we like salad too much.



"all this talk about consumerism and greed is, inter alia, about making sure, by the passage of animal rights laws, that the Western poor have less meat, eggs, and dairy."

I don't believe in animal rights. I just believe that animals should be treated as living creations, not industrial resources. Likewise, there would be more for the poor if the middle class and wealthy didn't waste so much.

"Because according to Nice Marmot the Guru of Consumption, they don't really need as much of all that stuff as they are getting anyway."

There is no earthly reason why an apple should cost more than a McDouble. Markets apparently don't solve everything. What the poor could use is less expensive healthy food, not cheaper Baconators. But hey, profits rule, so pile on the meat!

There is no earthly reason why an apple should cost more than a McDouble. Markets apparently don't solve everything.

Because God told you personally how much each item should cost, and how those costs should compare with one another, and when it came to market forces, it didn't work out according to the list given you by the voices in your head. Thanks for letting us know.

Oh, and Nice? You've also blown your "We distributists are all about smaller government" creds right out of the water, as well. Because you've made it clear that you really want meat and animal product consumption forcibly reduced by government regulation that vastly drives up the price. And somehow we gotta bring down the price of those apples, too. And maybe find a way to put the Golden Arches out of business. Scratch a so-called distributist and you find a totalitarian. I've never known it to fail yet.

Because God told you personally how much each item should cost, and how those costs should compare with one another, and when it came to market forces, it didn't work out according to the list given you by the voices in your head. Thanks for letting us know. ... And somehow we gotta bring down the price of those apples, too. And maybe find a way to put the Golden Arches out of business.

If one actually believes in the primacy of the untrammeled (free) market, a collective amoral set of interactions and economic forces that allocates society's resources, then one is then precluded from giving normative prescriptions about how society should operate since they abdicated any notion of mortality and justice that is independent of market transactions from consenting adults.

Clearly, it seems incontrovertible to say that fast food (in general) is not nutritious as this is supported by epidemiological evidence, and therefore, there should be education and economic incentives, such as lower prices and subsidies, to promote the consumption of more alimentary alternatives such as fruits and vegetables in order to promote greater long-term "utility" to society. Certainly, decreased morbidity is "positive utility" that outweighs any sensual pleasure one would experience when consuming palatable yet insalubrious food, although this requires a low intertemporal discount rate (valuing the future over the present). Thus, one can credibly argue that there is a moral imperative (at least under a utilitarian framework) for encouraging the consumption of healthy food and impeding access to junk food that supersedes any notion of the sanctity of the marketplace.

---

The best rebuttal (using a similar utilitarian framework) is to say that proles have little "future-time orientation" (a term coined by the Venerable Half Sigma) due to their cognitive limitations; proles want Big Macs and free cell phones. One can argue on the basis of the difficult implementation of changing people's eating habits that proles do not possess the discipline or desire to eat nutritious food, and would prefer the immediate satisfaction of junk food.

http://www.halfsigma.com/2012/10/to-get-votes-give-the-people-what-they-want.html
http://www.halfsigma.com/2012/10/more-post-debate-stuff.html

Please. No, I'm not willing to subject my kids to potential B12 deficiencies, iron deficiencies, rickets, and stunted growth just because self-righteous paleo-leftist prigs think we should all eat like third-worlders for the sake of animal rights.

Oh, you sound like Helen Lovejoy! Won't somebody please think of the children!

I do occasionally eat meat, usually lean protein such as chicken breast, but I sparingly buy it at the store as, although I am not a vegetarian, my sense of utilitarian ethics is an inhibitory force that discourages meat consumption. My primary sources of protein (in decreasing order) are Greek yogurt, nuts, eggs (nice source of choline), Muscle Milk (if I plan do some body weight calisthenics after a large (> 6 IU) injection) and cheese. Your argument is quite specious since there are other sources for the relevant micronutrients outside of animal products. The almond milk I drink, for example, is fortified with calcium and vitamin D, and they are not from animal products. Checking the Wikipedia entry for "Vitamin B12", one does not need to derive B12 from an animal, as it can be fermented in select bacteria (similar to bacterially produced insulin from recombinant DNA plasmids produced in bioreactors). Furthermore, one does not need the protein in meat for optimum health, and humans are not obligate carnivores.

Just admit that you really like the taste of meat and you are not willing to give it up, unless you have a more sound nutritional argument for the necessity of meat in the human diet. Perhaps one could eat fish for the omega 3 fatty acids, and even the one's from supplements are sourced from fish.

"you've made it clear that you really want meat and animal product consumption forcibly reduced by government regulation that vastly drives up the price."

Really? Where did I imply anything even remotely like that? Just as Protestant theology errs in viewing all asceticism as legalism, Protestant economics errs in viewing even encouragement to economic self-limitation as potential totalitarianism. In an amoral economic system the nature of the choices don't matter -- it's the "freedom" to choose that counts. Hence, Chic-Fil-A is praised because of its decision to close on Sundays, and Wal*Mart is praised in spite of its decisions to be open on Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas. The sheer illogic of holding both positions is overlooked under the illusion of being for "freedom."

Yet when this same logic is carried over by the Left into the sexual arena, the Right yells and screams like banshees. We on the Right need to get our own flippin' house in order, stop worshipping "choice," and maybe we'll start having some sort of positive effect on the culture.

"The righteous man _even_ looks out for his animals, but the wicked man is so cruel that even his kindest acts are cruel. In point of fact, animal rights types don't seem to think kosher slaughter is particularly kind."

Yes, I know all about the parallelism. Yet, it still says that "the righteous man cares for the needs of his animals," and the implication is that NOT caring for one's animals is therefore a form of unrighteousness. I'm not a vegetarian, and I don't view humane slaughter as inherently problematic. Factory-farming, however, involves both inhumane treatment of the animals before they're killed, and inhumane slaughter. It is in the nature of industrialism to treat the Creation as a mere resource, and with the rise of industrial agriculture this treatment has been extended to the animals.

Oh, and the whole "paleo-Leftist" thing is simply inane, an expression of the neo-con flatulent thinking which assumes that any critique of corporate/industrial capitalism is automatically "Leftist" in origin. George Nash, call your office. You need to rewrite the history of American conservatism, as it's been discovered that Weaver and Kirk were actually crypto-Lefties!

Yeah, yeah, BR, I know all about going all around the barn to try to find some other way to get enough B12. I also know about the vegan kids with rickets and other dietary deficiencies (including the breast-fed infant in France who died) *in Western nations* because their parents didn't happen to go around the barn enough times. The relevant bacteria live in the largest concentrations in animal guts, and animal products are by a long shot the easiest and most efficient way to get the relevant nutrients. That this efficiency is *in part* a result of flavor is something only a vegan Puritan would think a telling argument contra.

NM, you ask:

Where did I imply anything even remotely like that?

On June 11, 2013, at 1:23 p.m., the first comment "Nice Marmot" made in this thread was in response to my _explicit_ comment concerning the negative consequences if factory farming were banned. "Nice Marmot's" immediate reaction to this was merely to cite the alleged cruelty thereof and to quote proof texts which supposedly answered my concerns about banning it. That any reasonable person would derive from this, and from the entire subsequent conversation, the conclusion that "Nice Marmot" thought my concerns frivolous and believes that factory farming should be banned because the poor "eat too much meat," as we all do in the West, should hardly be controversial. This is also supported by "NM's" subsequent reference to the alleged fact that an apple "should" cost less than a hamburger and his sneer that the market must be wrong because it hasn't done this, which of course points to a supposed need for more coercive, non-market measures to bring about the "right" price comparisons.

I believe factory-farming is wrong because it institutionalizes animal cruelty, not because we eat too much meat in the West. The desire (not 'need' -- nobody 'needs' McDonald's) for cheap meat is the market driver that keeps factory-farming viable.

~~which of course points to a supposed need for more coercive, non-market measures to bring about the "right" price comparisons.~~

Only to the ideologically-addled mind. What it really points to is the need for an examination of why an apple costs more than a McDouble.

What it really points to is the need for an examination of why an apple costs more than a McDouble.

Probably because McDonalds in content to take a loss on the burger in order to get more people in the door (or through the drive-through, as the case may be). I very much doubt that grocers find apples to be effective loss-leaders.

Nice Marmot, there really is a evident tension in your arguments here: It is not rational to assume that strident denunciations of industry as based on manifest wickedness will issue naturally in a desire for restrictive legislation to curb said industry?

More specifically, I have a great deal of trouble seeing how the logic of your view wouldn't lead you to chastise me for what I celebrated three years ago here:

http://www.whatswrongwiththeworld.net/2010/05/memorial_day_weekend.html

"It it not rational to assume that strident denunciations of industry as based on manifest wickedness will issue naturally in a desire for restrictive legislation to curb said industry?"

Yes, and I recognize the tension. I do not, however, subscribe to the notion that such denunciations necessarily issue forth from a desire to curb the industry in terms of coercive legislation.

From the opposite side, I believe that conservatives should recognize the tension present in their view, namely, that defenses and promotion of the products of wicked industrial processes in the name of "freedom" will result in an increased desire for those products, exacerbating the wickedness.

As I said, I'm not a vegetarian, so I have no qualm with your Memorial Day post.

NM, if you aren't in favor of coercive measures, the sniffs at the ineffectiveness of the free market are very odd indeed. After all, if you and your brethren simply go about pricking people's consciences so that they choose to boycott most animal products because of the alleged cruelty involved, then that will _be_ a market force, manifested through the free choices of individuals.

Frankly, I think this is all baloney. You didn't even trouble to hide your opinion from the very first in this thread. You didn't even bother when you came rampaging in about the wickedness of animal factory farming to _try_ to pretend that you weren't talking about coercive measures, despite the fact that you were responding (negatively) to a comment in which I _was_ talking about coercive measures and questioning them. Now you've been caught letting your inner authoritarian show and you're trying to back-pedal to Mr. Moderate. It's actually a little humorous.

Sorry, but you presumed that opposition to factory-farming necessarily entails an acceptance of statism. You are unable to see beyond the false binary of laissez-faire vs. coercive government action, and thus color your opponents with the broad brush of "Leftism."

My objection to your initial statement had to do with your specious defense of factory farming, not with any acceptance on my part of "banning" it. Any legislation against it, which in theory I have no difficulty with, would in my view have to come democratically, and not in a top down sense.

In short, I believe that it is decidedly unconservative to support factory farming for utilitarian reasons, and it reflects not any sort of true conservatism but instead some truncated, consumerist, libertarianism-infected version.

Hmmm...my taste buds and blogging skills are always activated when someone says McDouble (I'm like Homer Simpson with beer -- but smarter and with a smaller gut).

You will take my $1.00 McDouble (and don't forget my McChicken!) from my cold, dead hands!!!

Anyway, I think it is always good to quote Blake Hurst when the subject of factory farming comes up:

Arizona and Florida have outlawed pig gestation crates, and California recently passed, overwhelmingly, a ballot initiative doing the same. There is no doubt that Scully and Johnson have the wind at their backs, and confinement raising of livestock may well be outlawed everywhere. And only a person so callous as to have a spirit that cannot be revolted, or so hardened to any kind of morality that he could countenance an obvious moral evil, could say a word in defense of caging animals during their production. In the quote above, Paul Johnson is forecasting a move toward vegetarianism. But if we assume, at least for the present, that most of us will continue to eat meat, let me dive in where most fear to tread.

Lynn Niemann was a neighbor of my family’s, a farmer with a vision. He began raising turkeys on a field near his house around 1956. They were, I suppose, what we would now call “free range” turkeys. Turkeys raised in a natural manner, with no roof over their heads, just gamboling around in the pasture, as God surely intended. Free to eat grasshoppers, and grass, and scratch for grubs and worms. And also free to serve as prey for weasels, who kill turkeys by slitting their necks and practicing exsanguination. Weasels were a problem, but not as much a threat as one of our typically violent early summer thunderstorms. It seems that turkeys, at least young ones, are not smart enough to come in out of the rain, and will stand outside in a downpour, with beaks open and eyes skyward, until they drown. One night Niemann lost 4,000 turkeys to drowning, along with his dream, and his farm.

Food production will have a claim on fossil fuels long after we've learned how to use renewables and nuclear power to handle many of our other energy needs. Now, turkeys are raised in large open sheds. Chickens and turkeys raised for meat are not grown in cages. As the critics of "industrial farming" like to point out, the sheds get quite crowded by the time Thanksgiving rolls around and the turkeys are fully grown. And yes, the birds are bedded in sawdust, so the turkeys do walk around in their own waste. Although the turkeys don't seem to mind, this quite clearly disgusts the various authors I've read whom have actually visited a turkey farm. But none of those authors, whose descriptions of the horrors of modern poultry production have a certain sameness, were there when Neimann picked up those 4,000 dead turkeys. Sheds are expensive, and it was easier to raise turkeys in open, inexpensive pastures. But that type of production really was hard on the turkeys. Protected from the weather and predators, today's turkeys may not be aware that they are a part of a morally reprehensible system.

Like most young people in my part of the world, I was a 4-H member. Raising cattle and hogs, showing them at the county fair, and then sending to slaughter those animals that we had spent the summer feeding, washing, and training. We would then tour the packing house, where our friend was hung on a rail, with his loin eye measured and his carcass evaluated. We farm kids got an early start on dulling our moral sensibilities. I'm still proud of my win in the Atchison County Carcass competition of 1969, as it is the only trophy I have ever received. We raised the hogs in a shed, or farrowing (birthing) house. On one side were eight crates of the kind that the good citizens of California have outlawed. On the other were the kind of wooden pens that our critics would have us use, where the sow could turn around, lie down, and presumably act in a natural way. Which included lying down on my 4-H project, killing several piglets, and forcing me to clean up the mess when I did my chores before school. The crates protect the piglets from their mothers. Farmers do not cage their hogs because of sadism, but because dead pigs are a drag on the profit margin, and because being crushed by your mother really is an awful way to go. As is being eaten by your mother, which I've seen sows do to newborn pigs as well.

God bless Ray Kroc, who was not only a successful entrepreneur, but a generous philanthropist as well:

http://www.kroccenterchicago.org/about/

Any legislation against it, which in theory I have no difficulty with, would in my view have to come democratically, and not in a top down sense.

So let me get this straight: I'm straw-manning you because of my "false binary" of state coercion vs. the workings of the free market, but you actually _favor_ legislation against factory farming. And then you're trying to salvage your small-government credentials by arguing that such legislation would have to be passed "democratically," whatever precisely that means. The legislation, however, would be the legislation, and hence would be government action, and hence would fall squarely on one side of my supposed "false binary." NM, you're just amazing. It's a matter for head-shaking. You dodge and weave and dodge and weave, and in the end you come as near as nothing to _admitting_ that you favor ("have no problem with," which is putting it mildly considering your invective thus far) laws against factory farming, and yet I'm supposedly misrepresenting you because this is what I (quite reasonably) understood all along from your comments??? And somehow you're still an advocate of small government because you support the expansion of government power in this area by the means of the votes of legislators? What? Is it big government action only if it is done directly by the executive branch? What utter silliness.

Fine, so now I'll remember: NM thinks it's "small government" as long as the big government laws and regulations are passed by the legislature, democratically. Got it. So "small government" is a kind of code. Wow.

And, yes, I support the more efficient means of producing animal products, and I support those because I care about human beings.

Ha! -- knew that was Singer from the first sentence. If anyone's head is more Sirico-addled than Lydia's, it's his.

I think I've seen this piece by this fellow Hurst before, and if memory serves, there was considerable disagreement with him in the comments section where it originally posted.

~~NM thinks it's "small government" as long as the big government laws and regulations are passed by the legislature, democratically. Got it. So "small government" is a kind of code. Wow.~~~

In my view it's not big government if it's done locally. There won't be a crack in the space-time continuum if my township decides against allowing Wal*Mart to put a store here. Likewise, the Union will not collapse if certain counties, or even states, decide to regulate or even ban factory farming. But maybe your McDouble will come off the Dollar Menu -- the horror, the horror!

Here's what I'm saying in a nutshell:

If cruelty to animals is fundamentally wicked,

and

If factory-farming is shown to be cruel,

then

conservatives, especially religious conservatives, have no business supporting it regardless of the good that comes out of it.

To do so is to endorse the doing of wrong so that good may come. If this is the case, then we've got nothing to say about cock-fighting, dog-fighting, or bear-baiting. Even on the practice in some Asian countries of skinning dogs alive prior to eating them, we would have to remain silent.

This is exactly the sort of thing you get when you prioritize the efficient and the economic over the moral. Don't know what I'd call it, but conservative it's not.

Well hang on just a minute. We've got to examine what cruelty to animals actually is; we've got to have some precept that distinguishes it from non-cruel consumption of animal flesh. Unless, of course, vegetarianism is a Christian duty.

To eat meat, one must kill animals and cook their flesh. Let's keep that foremost in mind. Hooking a fish by its mouth and overpowering it until complete exhaustion defeats it can hardly be anything but cruel in a strict sense, right? Or merely netting masses of fish and heaving them abroad a boat until asphyxiation kills them all -- what kind of treatment is that? Livestock, let's hasten to remember, has been slaughtered ruthlessly long before the advent of modern factory farming. It's just that the general decline of widespread livestock farming, along with hunting, has removed most folks from any experience with the bloody and gruesome features.

Western man has varied in his approach to particular hunting and farming practices. Would NM outlaw bullfighting in Spain? Fox-hunting in England? But no Christian society that I'm aware of has ever enacted a total proscription on the cruel death of animals for their meat.

So unless "conservatives, especially religious conservatives" are prepared to suggest that the St. Peter's means of employment was fundamentally wicked, we have a lot more thinking to do than just crying cruelty and building tight but superficial syllogisms.

If you do a little reading on factory-farming, esp. regarding how the animals are treated while still alive, I think you can't help but come away with the realization that much of it involves what would under different circumstances be considered cruelty. Scully's book 'Dominion' is a good place to start, even though I do disagree with his call to vegetarianism.

As regards fishing, my understanding is that fish have fairly rudimentary nervous systems that don't feel pain at the level that mammals do (if they indeed feel what we would consider pain at all). Which of course doesn't give us the freedom to torture them, but does impact the morality of the process in which they are harvested.

"Paragraph 1 -- "Let's imitate Germans." Well, fascinating. But can we ask, very gently, what Al thinks of current day German centrist political-economic policy?"

Hey, they were first in these matters and the rest of the developed world has. You seem to be resisting the historic fact that the welfare state and social democracy were centrist and conservative reactions to socialism and communism. Bismark was the first to act on that insight. That observation, of course, no more constitutes a wholesale endorsement of Teutonic social policy than liking sweet potato pie is an endorsement of rebellion and treason.

Re: current matters, I like Barry Eichengreen's take,

"...This presumption reflects from the “lesson” of history, taught in German schools, that there is no such thing as a little inflation. It reflects the searing impact of the hyperinflation of the 1920s, in other words. From a distance, it’s interesting and more than a little peculiar that those textbooks fail to mention the high unemployment rate in the 1930s and how that also had highly damaging political and social consequences..."

http://www.clevelandfed.org/Forefront/2013/Spring/ff_2013_spring_10.cfm

Back in the day I frequently ran across a small group of Hungarian emigrants whilst roaming around the Angeles National Forest. They dressed in fatigues and all had AR 15s and were preparing for, well, something. For them it was always 1956 and everywhere was - or might well become - Budapest. Kinsley recently showed he can't get past the 70s and for some Christians it's always Rome and the lions are soon to come. We PAs often get hooked on a given story for reasons that have nothing to do with the current reality.

"Paragraph 2 -- While Al welcomes whatever mellifluous overlord is in fashion, I'm going to stick with the very unfashionable view that the surest, and off at the end only way to increase productivity is by bringing new immortal and creative souls into the world, and then dedicating a massive portion of your own resources to raising, disciplining, and upholding them."

Given your posting of the pic of you and the rug rat in Bowser homage, I get the reasons for the sticky sentimentality (I do have to note that we lefties advocate policies that would way ease the emotional and material strain of parenthood) however the Simonist emoting is besides the point (Drum posted this interesting chart which is on point and should be instructive to non-wealthy parents who care about the future),

http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2013/06/chart-day-great-gatsby-curve

The reality is that we have likely hit a huge inflection point. Hunting and gathering on sol 3 was a much more pleasant existence than agriculture - for the vast majority anyway. Comrade Lenin once wrote that Soviet power plus electrification would equal communism. He was wrong - such formulas usually are, but the implications of financialization plus AI and robotics may well work out.

More on the rest but I found a couple of red, red robins bobbing amongst my blueberries this AM so netting is in order.


Paragraph 8 -- You know, there's a pretty major concession concealed in those two sentences.

Al, you're pushing it. If NM's inner authoritarian is showing, your inner nasty is showing. And we do ban nasties. You've been kept around here for a long time because you're usually too savvy to show the tentacles, but if you start referring to the love that contributors have for their children as sappy sentimentalism, to their children as rugrats, and the rest, I will start wondering why we let you stay.

Insufferable rudeness of that sort is completely unacceptable.

al,
Don’t worry, I will keep "Paging bitter, party of one!" as a memento because it is classic.

NM,
Just bow down to the corporations like everybody should, they own everything worth owning. Frankly, letting Lydia call you an authoritarian has been ridiculously funny. "You want to pass democratic laws that make it harder for corporations to feed humans cheap, unhealthy food/poison? Tyranny!" If you can't destroy that accusation you should abandon any pretense of republican governance. Paleo-cons are supposed to be the most adept at looking at corporate capitalism holistically: along with all that cheap meat comes earlier puberty and childhood obesity, an advertising culture that sexualizes everything, and more abstractly, political parties awash in legalized corruption. You also haven’t said a word about farm subsidies, which are clearly state coercion in the almighty Free Market, hallowed be its Efficient Name.

I'm opposed to farm subsidies, meaning real, direct subsidies. Note: It's not a subsidy for an agricultural business to deduct its ordinary business expenses from its gross profits, even if those ordinary expenses include gasoline for driving a long, long way to deliver its food.

Eating animal products causes the sexualization of culture? Now I've heard everything. That's pretty desperate, Step. Maybe NM shouldn't take you on as an adviser.

Eating animal products causes the sexualization of culture?

Corporate capitalism is heavily involved in advertising. Do you deny that?

Yeah, in all areas, incl. pretty much every type of product out there. Unless we just want to stop the production of everything, I don't think blocking whole areas of human industry and production is anything like the way to rein in inappropriate advertising content. This has to do with legally stopping factory farming how?

Anyway, look, Step, perhaps you don't get this: In his other incarnation Nice Marmot wants to woo small-government conservatives to his philosophy of distributism by telling us that we're on the same side in some important respects because distributists also want to make government smaller. When it comes to endorsing even state-level laws banning factory farming and driving up prices and not giving a hoot because, hey, Americans eat too many animal products anyway, I unhesitatingly say that he's blown his creds on that line of argument. Either you can convincingly "reach out to" small-government, non-distributist conservatives by actually agreeing with them where they want government to be downsized or not up-sized, by convincing them that a desire for small government is a genuine shared value between your school of thought and theirs, or you can advocate putting a halt to factory farming by passing laws at the state level. You can't do both.

I doubt very strongly the validity of claims entrenched in the Great Gatsby Curve. Let's take this one comment:

So why does this matter for the United States? The U.S. has had a sharp rise in inequality since the 1980s. In fact, on the eve of the Great Recession, income inequality in the U.S. was as sharp as it had been at any period since the time of "The Great Gatsby."

In the US, before the economic disaster of 2007-9, the statistics showed that from 1993 to 2003, the actual size of the lower-income class AND the actual size of the middle class shrank - the only place they had to go was the upper income class. That was on the front page of the Washington Post. (Though their headline was: Middle Class shrinking! - go figure.)

Given that during the same decade, there was an influx of something like 8 million immigrants with nothing on their backs but a shirt, the actual shrinking of the lower-income class must perforce have reflected the shift of a very, very significant number of poor people into higher ranks of income. If, at the same time, the "wealth divergence" of richest 1% versus the other 99% got wider, this represents exactly what kind of problem (other than envy)?

NM, so if you don't want a new gov bureaucracy devoted to telling us how little meat to eat and how to treat farm animals, the only options available (seems to me) are ones involving voluntary choice. I can see intelligent, trained users (people who eat) reducing their intake of meat by a significant amount - say, back to the level at which we ate in 1970. That would reduce a lot of obesity and cut down a lot of un-nutritious fast food meals (though the actual contribution of MEAT from fast food to obesity is probably moderate, considering the overweening amounts of fat, sugar, and starches involved, and the evanescent amount of actual chicken in a chicken nugget). But if I understand correctly, we were already using factory farming methods in 1970. At the same time, our population has increased by at least 20%. So, even if the demand side of the market reduced down 20% less PER PERSON - and if every fat person were to lose 30% of their weight by eating less - we would STILL need factory farming to feed us as a nation without increasing meat prices by double or triple. I have looked into buying free ranging beef, and I can't afford it.

I am willing to be shown that it is possible to feed our 310 million people a flourishing diet that includes the meat that is a complete diet on no more spent than we spend now, without intense forms of farm animal production, but I am not seeing it. I am not willing to go BR's route, I would have to forage half my day and OTHER productive and necessary activity would be lost.

And let's also not forget the people (and there are quite a few of them) who use high-protein diets precisely to improve their health, and who find that it works. More meat, less potatoes, weight loss and more energy. Go figure.

Yeah, in all areas, incl. pretty much every type of product out there.

Thanks, when I wrote "holistically" I meant it.

Either you can convincingly "reach out to" small-government, non-distributist conservatives by actually agreeing with them where they want government to be downsized or not up-sized, by convincing them that a desire for small government is a genuine shared value between your school of thought and theirs, or you can advocate putting a halt to factory farming by passing laws at the state level. You can't do both.

You can trust the free market to be good and wholesome, which has a near-infinite number of counterexamples, or you can believe that citizens can elect people to look after their best interests (i.e. not tyranny). Whether that concerns your favorite social issues or economic issues, law is law.

Tony,

I don't have much to add to your excellent comment at 9:54 PM except this mild criticism related to this statement:

"...and the evanescent amount of actual chicken in a chicken nugget."

For quite some time McDonald's has made their nuggets with all white-meat chicken. I can't speak for the competition, or whether or not the processing of the nuggets allows other material into the nugget, but there will be no random slagging of McDonald's while I'm around ;-)

Al has encapsulated a new variation of Rousseau's old barb about the man who's a cosmopolitan in order to hate his neighbors without regret: he can go ahead and hate children because he recommends policies to "ease the emotional and material strain of parenthood." What a curious, ersatz Sacrament of Reconciliation these materialists manage to confect!

If you do a little reading on factory-farming, esp. regarding how the animals are treated while still alive, I think you can't help but come away with the realization that much of it involves what would under different circumstances be considered cruelty.

NM, my point was that something broader than that is true: much of human treatment of whole classes of animals as such has involved cruelty, or mistreatment, or injustice, on a systematic level. I do not deny the specific instance (factory farming) of the general principle (human systematic mistreatment of animals). Why would I? Human stewardship of the animal world, it appears, just does involve cruelty.

If we consider, rather than Al's Sacred Hunter-Gatherers in the Sky, the actual treatment of the actual animals that primitive man actually ate -- why, we'd find cruelty in abundance. I'm at a loss to see why the reverence of the plains Indian hunter for the bison in any way diminished the poor beast's horror at the death it endured at his hands.

In the end, NM, I'm happy to consider specific legislation which, in your view, would accomplish what remedies you seek, as regards how our society is supplied with meat for consumption. Far from being deadset against it, my position is one of skepticism, not ideological hostility. I suspect that our whole farm economy is pretty miserably handled, from a perspective of legislation, regulation, and supervision, and could quite readily be improved by wise laws and reforms.

Whether that concerns your favorite social issues or economic issues, law is law.

Thanks for the tautology, Step2. When I start advising farmers to engage in civil disobedience, you can bring this up, but I haven't yet done that. Since I never claimed to want smaller government *in the area of abortion* (which is perhaps what you have in mind for "your favorite social issues"), so what? Big deal. It's Nice Marmot who wants to convince mainstream social conservatives with free market sympathies that he and they are on the same side in some meaningful sense related to smaller government. He's the one who has to make the case. It's a given in that context of discussion, part of what we call the "background information," that neither side claims to be "small government" when it comes to pornography or the slaughter of the unborn. Arguably, however, outlawing factory farming, on the other hand, is an area where the mainstream conservatives he'd like to bring aboard will find his claims to be in favor of smaller government to have been undermined.

Arguably, however, outlawing factory farming, on the other hand, is an area where the mainstream conservatives he'd like to bring aboard will find his claims to be in favor of smaller government to have been undermined.

Factory farming is part of a larger problem of economic centralization and to a similar extent, corporate bureaucracy and cost-shifting (Walmart is notorious for having so many employees on government welfare). So does the law mean factory farmers can't drive small farmers out of business, create massive swamps of manure, feed all sorts of drugs and hormones to their animals, and then complain about the high taxes they have to pay on their large profits? Sure, cry me a river. For those who want small government, having a local group of farmers who are more connected to the community they provide for, building a community spirit of self-reliance, taking actual pride in their work, and even making a moderate profit which is taxed less is pretty much ideal. The only thing I'm unsure about is how factory farms compare to family farms regarding illegal immigrant labor.

Step2, I think most of us here at W4 are on record for being against those laws, such as certain subsidies, that promote agri-business at the expense of small farmers. I don't think you will get any objection here for getting government out of the business of helping kill the small local family farms.

Same, to *some* extent, goes for other small business. Part of the problem of new little Mom&Pop firms is the hurdle costs - the cost of overcoming the initial start-up barriers due to government regulation. I saw that happen with my next door neighbor, who thought about starting a little side-line hobby / business but had to scrap it because of rules about this, that, and the other thing. The sheer know-how needed to steer clear of legal cesspools is daunting to new start-ups. (Not all of the legal problems are specifically governmental as such - contracts can be headaches too - but it is certainly the case that excessive government has helped make those things headaches.) Many conservatives are for revamping law to eliminate laws that favors large business over small ones, and part of that is wrapped up in the desire for less total regulation, less total government.

That said, I don't think that there is anything in that for claiming a basis for outlawing high-intensity farming practices, or for outlawing large successful businesses that have the effect of putting small firms out of business, not simply as such. If, on a level playing field without cost-shifting, company A gets huge by being better at providing a good service to people more cheaply than small companies, then there is no direct basis for denying company A the right to exist, and to so regulate would be to take away a property right without any principled reason. Big as such isn't evil, isn't unfair, doesn't consist in doing someone wrong.

So, the issue really comes down to just which laws and rules really are necessary for a level playing field, and which laws are really necessary for protecting us from harmful practices. By all means, a farm that is exporting its waste onto the rest of us without asking nor paying for it in fair terms should not get to do so. And arguably there is a place for making sure that what a farmer feeds his livestock is not damaging to people who buy his meat, but exactly what that place is, and how severe "damaging" is severe enough to matter, and whether the social restraint should be a matter of disclosure and transparency versus actual prohibition, are all not determined by general principle and leave plenty of room for judgment calls.

So, it is more than possible that some of the very things you find despicable in the corporate world would be things that conservatives want to get rid of too. I don't like laws that favor the big guys over small ones, that favor multi-nationals over local ones, that favor impersonal corporations over personal business relationships. But I am awfully wary of calling a law that permits a large business to find a way to make a profit that a small business has trouble taking advantage of a form of "favoritism" for large business, and therefore I am wary of trying to use law to restrain large business without a clear basis other than that they are making a good profit. (Direct subsidies, on the other hand, should probably go away altogether, or at least universally have short time limits like 4 or 5 years.)

Great comment, Tony.

There is another engrossing essay in the current New Atlantis, William Hurlbut's treatment of St. Francis, that touches on these matters of discussion.

http://www.thenewatlantis.com/publications/st-francis-christian-love-and-the-biotechnological-future

"Frankly, letting Lydia call you an authoritarian has been ridiculously funny."

Yeah, I know, Step. I'm just happy she pulled back from "totalitarian"!

"Paleo-cons are supposed to be the most adept at looking at corporate capitalism holistically: along with all that cheap meat comes earlier puberty and childhood obesity, an advertising culture that sexualizes everything, and more abstractly, political parties awash in legalized corruption."

I don't consider myself a paleo, but in general you are correct. Neocons and mainstreamers absolutely refuse to consider the connections between these things, even when it's bonafide conservatives that point them out. I didn't bring up subsidies because the conversation was already wandering kind of wide and didn't need to be broadened further.

"You can trust the free market to be good and wholesome, which has a near-infinite number of counterexamples, or you can believe that citizens can elect people to look after their best interests (i.e. not tyranny). Whether that concerns your favorite social issues or economic issues, law is law."

Exactly. Mainstream conservatives have no problem with "throwing it back to the states" when it's a pet issue of theirs.

"Factory farming is part of a larger problem of economic centralization and to a similar extent, corporate bureaucracy and cost-shifting."

Today's mainstream conservatives do not see this sort of economic centralization as problematic, if indeed they grant its existence at all. They've done a DNA check on Leviathan -- it's all government, no corporate.

"NM, my point was that something broader than that is true: much of human treatment of whole classes of animals as such has involved cruelty, or mistreatment, or injustice, on a systematic level. I do not deny the specific instance (factory farming) of the general principle (human systematic mistreatment of animals). Why would I? Human stewardship of the animal world, it appears, just does involve cruelty."

Yes, this is true, but it doesn't make it right. And in addition we seem to have crossed a line: animals in the industrial farming system are no longer looked at as animals, i.e., living, sentient beings with a telos, but as individual pieces of a given commodity or resource that can be treated indiscriminately, like a piece of lumber or a lump of coal, which can feel no pain. The very practice of factory farming stems not from sadism, but on an inhuman indifference to the Creation of which animals are a part. It is of course in the nature of industrialism to exploit Creation in this way, but the industrial mindset has only (relatively) recently made its way into animal farming.

"I suspect that our whole farm economy is pretty miserably handled, from a perspective of legislation, regulation, and supervision, and could quite readily be improved by wise laws and reforms."

I know he's not much liked around here, but Wendell Berry is the guy to read on this, specifically his The Unsettling of America. He gives the history of the farm problem as an amalgamation of both government mishandling and corporate grasping, and suggests ways out of it. Joel Salatin is also good on this stuff.

Btw, we already know what some of the suggestions are, such as the banning of crating for pregnant sows. See Jeff S.'s excellent quotation apropos of that above. Also the discussion there of free-range turkeys. Think the practices recommended are always better for the animals? It ain't necessarily so.

While we're at it, Smith's A Rat is a Pig (etc.) discusses some of these issues, including actual cost differences for eggs and meat from uncaged chickens (similar to Tony's point above concerning free range beef). Smith takes human costs seriously rather than brushing them off, as Scully does and as some on this thread have done. He also points out gains that have already been made in humane treatment of animals in the meat industry.

As I said above, when that Hurst piece first appeared, if memory serves, there was considerable disagreement with it in the venue's combox. In any case, the fact that Hurst is a writer for the right-liberal Weekly Standard, a pro-GOP, pro-corporate (but I repeat myself) rag, makes his objectivity somewhat suspect.

"Big as such isn't evil, isn't unfair, doesn't consist in doing someone wrong."

In the agricultural arena this is debatable, since there was a concerted effort to make small farms obsolete under the "get big or get out" idea, which made a different error: big as such is more efficient, more productive, etc.
As early as the nineteen-teens (and probably earlier) populist-leaning writers were lamenting the American worship of "bigness." See for example the introduction to Booth Tarkington's 1915 novel The Turmoil.

The idolatry of bigness is a part of what Maximos (God bless 'im) used to call the "biggerbetterstrongerfaster" mentality, which is a consumerist version of C.S. Lewis's chronological snobbery.

"Smith takes human costs seriously rather than brushing them off, as Scully does and as some on this thread have done"

Who's brushing off human costs? And how? By the rejection of an unchristian consequentialist ethic? The point is we never should have gotten to this place to begin with. And sometimes when you screw things up, fixing them is costly. But that has absolutely no bearing on the inherent wrongness of the thing, and the need to fix it.

Oh, and having grown up in Pittsburgh, which was once one of the most polluted cities in the nation (both air and water), I've seen first hand how industry tends NOT to clean up its own messes unless a bit of gov't pressure is brought to bear. A perfect counter-example of a point where the market is decidedly not "good and wholesome."

NM, newsflash: Keeping pregnant pigs in gestation crates or caging turkeys being raised for food is not intrinsically immoral, as murder and rape are. So, yeah, these are policy questions of prudence, and human consequences are relevant. Deal with it. Considering consequences is a problem only when we're excusing absolutely, intrinsically wrong individual actions, such as deliberately killing an innocent human being.

As for who is brushing off human costs, you are. You have done so at multiple points on this thread, and frankly, I have a life and can't be bothered to find them all.

"Keeping pregnant pigs in gestation crates or caging turkeys being raised for food is not intrinsically immoral, as murder and rape are."

Go onto the ASPCA website and read some of the examples of what's done to various farm animals. We're not just talking about crating or caging, but other things inhumane enough that if you were to do them to a domestic animal you'd be prosecuted. And sorry, but it takes a goodly amount of equivocation to conclude that such practices aren't intrinsically immoral. Deal with it your own self.

Oh yes, I forgot -- you equate human costs with corporate profits. What's good for Wall St. is good for Main St. I guess then I am brushing them off. As I said above, no tears from me if the McDouble falls off the Dollar Menu.

No, I equate "human costs" with cost to the purchaser, as I've made clear numerous times. As Wesley J. Smith points out, eggs from free range hens are _significantly_ more expensive than eggs from caged hens, and that's just one example.

As for gestation crates, perhaps you should talk to some of your fellow activists on these issues; that's one of the first things _they've_ chosen to target.

Listen, the whole issue here seems to be that you consider this to be a matter of absolute morality, and to a very large extent, I do not. Your invidious use of the term "consequentialism" is _precisely_ what I call "dismissing the human costs." In essence what you are saying is that the laws you want to pass are required by absolute morality on which there can be no possible compromise and that therefore no consideration of such matters as the rise in cost of animal products should even be taken into account. That just _is_ "dismissing the human costs." Therefore, as far as I'm concerned, your entire approach is wrong-headed from the get-go. It isn't consequentialism to take consequences into account where consequences are indeed relevant. And in fact it is a characteristic feature of people on (too bad if you don't like this phrase) your side of the political aisle that they repeatedly treat things as matters of absolute morality which are instead matters of prudential weighing of factors. This applies to environmental policies, minimum wage policies, and so on and so forth. Many things.

NM, I know you love to duke it out with Lydia, but pray consider that it's not obvious that consequentialism that, were it applied to human beings, would be