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 plainly wrong, is not so plainly wrong when applied to animals.

You send us all off on homework assignments on factory farming and meat-eating in general, in a thread where I've already recommended a very long essay on the injustice we men commit against elephants. And no one is defending the practice of eating them!

Show me a strong argument from Scripture, Tradition, or Right Reason for why it is always and everywhere wrong to kill animals in a cruel manner. I submit that it is NOT ALWAYS WRONG to kill animals in a cruel manner, and thus the mere assertion that that cruelty is happening is not, on its own, sufficient to support what you want it to support.

"Show me a strong argument from Scripture, Tradition, or Right Reason for why it is always and everywhere wrong to kill animals in a cruel manner."

Perhaps I haven't made myself clear. I'm not talking so much about killing them in a cruel manner (as you say, sometimes such cruelty is inevitable), but raising and keeping them in a cruel manner. With Scruton (thanks, Step 2!), Berry, Salatin, and others, I'd argue that the actual killing should be as fear- and pain-free as possible (some of the slaughter methods in industrial farming are horrendous), and that additionally there is no reason for animals to be cruelly mistreated while being raised and kept. As I said above, 20 dogs in a 15 x 15 pen will get you in trouble with the authorities; 20 calves in a 15 x 15 pen will get you called a farmer. Many practices we'd find unthinkable to perform on domestic animals are performed millions of times every day in industrial farming. THIS is my objection, not so much the method of slaughter.

Again I repeat, if we cannot condemn such cruelty simply because it produces cheap food, then neither can we condemn cock- or dog-fighting, bear-baiting, the Asian skinning alive of dogs for food, etc., either. If we say all these things are not wicked, we're monsters. If we say that the food aspect somehow justifies them, we're consequentialists. For at that point what makes the skinning alive of a dog okay is the fact that it's going to be eaten afterwards (perhaps even by the poor!) and cock-fighting becomes non-problematic as long as the loser is then put in the stewpot.

All this sophistry just to protect corporate agriculture and our "economic freedom." American conservatism has lost its flipping mind.

Step2, that's a pretty impressive comeback.

As for the crux of the matter, Scruton is clearly wrong on where the onus lies: we are a carnivorous type of animal, it belongs to our natures to incline toward eating meat because that is the normal way of eating healthily. The onus of the argument lies on why we should change that (if at all).

That said, I agree that with his point that we should - as with all human actions - engage in it reasonably, with attention to the way it fits into our realm of goods high and low. Carelessness in eating is not any sort of virtue, even though it may be less bad than carelessness in fulfilling the appetite for sex.

Scruton's article also glaringly ignores the reasonableness of getting sufficient protein and other meaty nutrition in a manner that incorporates care for all the OTHER demands on a person's resources, including time. He seems to just plain ignore that man's need for protein has a naturally available answer that not only may be used but should be used commonly. The default position is man hunting for meat, not man searching out the steps needed for obtaining through vegetation all the required amino acids that we cannot manufacture internally.

for why it is always and everywhere wrong to kill animals in a cruel manner. I submit that it is NOT ALWAYS WRONG to kill animals in a cruel manner,

Paul, I am going to make a guess here: by "cruel" you mean "with severe pain and suffering". We have been killing animals that way for thousands of years, most of the time with hunting because that's the only way we could do it. I would say that that kind of cruel killing is distinguishable from handing them wanton, unnecessary suffering that does not serve any purpose. Putting animals into cost-effective cages, so it serves a purpose (whether that purpose is adequate to the need is a different matter) and so is not wanton in that sense. I would suggest that the old past-time of nasty boys of ill-treating an animal with severe pain merely for the sake of watching it suffer, that kind of wanton cruelty, is always wrong.

(Support for the distinction: we kill people with severe suffering when we hang a person, but for 150 years nobody had the least concern with that being a "cruel" punishment, at least not in the meaning of the 8th Amendment. There always had been a purpose to the severe suffering of hanging, and we always knew how to kill someone faster and easier, that's why nobles were executed with beheading where peasants were hanged. Just as the pain of surgery is not evil when used for a suitable purpose, so also inflicting pain on animals to suitable purpose is not wrong either.)

Again I repeat, if we cannot condemn such cruelty simply because it produces cheap food, then neither can we condemn cock- or dog-fighting, bear-baiting, the Asian skinning alive of dogs for food, etc., either.


Well, _that_ is sophistry. Human entertainment by means of harming animals for that entertainment purpose is far and away different from human nutritional well-being. Since skinning dogs alive for food is a lot less efficient as a food-gathering method than not skinning them alive, the Asian practice obviously does not serve any good human end. It's the human ends we need to be looking at here. Being entertained by watching dogs fighting doesn't count.

Tony is talking a lot of good sense, by the way. My only quibble with his last comment is that I'm not convinced that hanging caused great pain and suffering, at least not if done "right" so as to break the neck.

Lydia, I did a small amount of research on hanging about 3 years ago for some reason or other. Apparently, the practice of doing a drop to break the neck is relatively recent, becoming quite common only in the 1800s. It takes a certain amount of know-how so as to avoid 2 different extremes, as well as a gallows with a drop door (kicking a chair out from underneath doesn't normally do it). Very common was pulling up the condemned off the ground, (rope over a tree branch or gallows) or walking a horse out from underneath him. Anyway, quick death was sometimes contrary to the objective and even when they had the choice of a quick means they didn't use it.

Even without breaking the neck, typically the compressed arteries would deal unconsciousness within a minute or 2. But that didn't always happen with either light victims or very muscular ones, apparently, it wasn't a sure thing.

~~No, I equate "human costs" with cost to the purchaser~~

Bingo. Man as homo economicus. Cash nexus morality, with little if any concern for non-material ramifications. You reason as if The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism was never written. And it's not just lefties who see the truth here.

"Human entertainment by means of harming animals for that entertainment purpose is far and away different from human nutritional well-being."

What of the providers of said entertainment? They are doing it to make money, no? I mean they have to take their kids to McDonald's too, right? Why is this not a valid "human end"?

"I would say that that kind of cruel killing is distinguishable from handing them wanton, unnecessary suffering that does not serve any purpose. Putting animals into cost-effective cages, so it serves a purpose (whether that purpose is adequate to the need is a different matter) and so is not wanton in that sense."

Your statement in parentheses is key here. The question to be asked is whether the suffering is necessary to fulfill the need. With industrial farming the answer is no, for two reasons. One, the need itself is artificial, created by advertising that appeals to our gluttony. Virtually every nutritionist will tell you that as a society we consume far more meat than we need to, especially red meat.

Two, the practices themselves are demonstrably cruel, causing unnecessary and wanton suffering to the creatures in question:

~~animals kept in cages too small for them to recline or even turn around in.
~~chickens in cages so small that their feet grow and actually become enmeshed in the wire.
~~automatic systems for killing cows by a blow to the head, which doesn't always kill them, and allows them thus to be picked up alive by the legs and carried that way for rendering.
~~use of parts of animals as feed for same animals (the grinding up of male chicks, for instance, as feed for female chickens which are more valuable)
~~close, filthy containment which causes infections in animals, requiring administration of antibiotics (letting animals get painfully ill because, hey, we can treat it later)

Etc., etc. etc.

I maintain not only that such practices are wicked, but that their purpose isn't to allow the production of inexpensive food for the poor, but to increase "efficiency" and ultimately corporate profits. It is a symptom of the industrial extractive economy, the same economy that gave us strip mining, mountain top removal mining, clear-cut lumbering, bad agriculture resulting in topsoil loss, erosion and pollution, etc. AND this is directly related to the sexualization of culture, in that the same commodifying of Creation evinced by industrial farming is now being applied to human sexuality. You cannot treat the Creation exploitatively in one area and not expect ramifications in others.

NM, please. Just because the supposedly evil corporate profiteers are concerned about increasing efficiency for their own supposedly evil ends does not mean that the _effect_ is not providing inexpensive food for the poor. It is self-evident that it _does_ have that effect, which is what forces you to claim that, hey, the poor don't really _need_ all that animal protein, as defined by NM, the Guru of Who Needs How Much. As usual, those on your side of the political spectrum imply that anything not motivated by love of one's fellow man is suspect if not bad outright.

Your reference to people engaging in dog-fighting to make money for their families, as though I would therefore have to approve of dog-fighting, is lame, to put it mildly.

"Just because the supposedly evil corporate profiteers are concerned about increasing efficiency for their own supposedly evil ends does not mean that the _effect_ is not providing inexpensive food for the poor. It is self-evident that it _does_ have that effect"

Yeah, so? We're back to consequentialism again. The magic of the market: mistreatment of animals increases corporate profits, and as a sidelight poor people have more to eat. But illgotten gain used even for charity is still illgotten gain.

"As usual, those on your side of the political spectrum imply that anything not motivated by love of one's fellow man is suspect if not bad outright."

Rather, anything motivated by avarice has necessarily negative results irrespective of any good that may come from it.

"Your reference to people engaging in dog-fighting to make money for their families, as though I would therefore have to approve of dog-fighting, is lame, to put it mildly."

Hmmm, so treating animals badly one at a time to make money is bad, but treating them badly en masse for money is okay. Strange logic there!

NM, I weary of you. I truly do. The immediate end of caging animals in ways you disagree with (hey, I thought you said it _wasn't_ about caging?) is *the production of food for humans*, which is in itself a human good. It is not entertainment. In some cases it also prevents animals from harming each other (see Jeff S.'s quote above about gestation cages).

And you can go on braying "consequentialism" until you turn blue in the face, but keeping an animal in a cage too small for it to turn around in isn't an intrinsically wrong act, however many times you say it is. And so forth.

C'mon, Lydia -- I never said that all caging was wrong. Stands to reason that if I think animals can be humanely killed I think they can be humanely caged, doesn't it?

Taking your dog to the vet in a crate is one thing. Leaving it in a crate 24/7 is another, regardless of any economic benefit of the latter.

I think we'll leave it at that for the nonce. You're treating all these things as absolute matters, and I am not. And your "argument" likening factory farming to dog fights is a really, really poor argument, but you can't see it. And, yes, I will remember this exchange next time you fly your "small government" flag.

And btw, NM, let me just spell this out for you in extremely explicit terms in case you still don't understand why I keep bringing up the small government issue:

Repeatedly, in thread after thread after thread, you rant about "greed" and "consumerism" and what-not. Repeatedly I hint that I suspect that you want to _outlaw_ or at any rate use the coercive power of government to stop or prevent those activities you consider to be examples of greed and consumerism. Repeatedly you then get up on a high horse and sniff that I'm just like all conservatives, that I can't understand the notion of voluntary asceticism, that I'm just presenting a false dichotomy of either the amoral free market or government coercion.

Normally, one would gather from these huffy and high-falutin' comments that you are saying that you _don't_ want to use the coercive power of government to stop those activities you consider to be examples of greed and consumerism, at least not in those areas that aren't already agreed upon between you and your more mainstream conservative audience (namely, me). One would normally take these expressions of indignation to mean that you just want to engage in moral suasion, to make people feel _guilty_ about buying ipods or buying stuff made overseas or buying from Walmart or whatever you happen to be ranting about at the moment.

It emerges in this thread, however, that there is an entire area where you do not already agree with social conservatives about the need for stricter laws, and where you _know_ that you don't already agree with them, where you _do_ want to make use of the coercive power of government to outlaw what you consider to be *intrinsically immoral* acts vis a vis animals. Yet in this very thread you pulled your same old move, accusing me of being "unable to see beyond the false binary of laissez-faire vs. coercive government action." Upon being called on this blatant shift of position, you attempted first, unconvincingly, to hang onto the accusation of a "false binary" by saying that the government action you favor would be passed democratically. Upon having it pointed out to you that coercive government action passed by elected legislators is still coercive government action, you shifted your claim to retain small-government creds to saying that the action you favor is at the local or even state level! Need I point out that state farm laws still count as coercive government action? I should not need to point that out.

This means that I did _not_ mis-label you by means of a "false binary," that I was completely _correct_ to think that you wish to use coercive government action in this area! And, again, this is an area where you know quite well that most mainstream conservatives will disagree with you.

Therefore, when you come around elsewhere talking _again_ about this false binary and about voluntary asceticism and all the rest of it, you will pardon me for pointing out that it has already turned out that that's simply not all there is to it for you and that you _do_ wish to use the coercive power of government to prevent what you regard as greed in areas where other conservatives definitely don't agree with you!

Naturally, this makes one wonder where else this comes in. For example, perhaps you also "wouldn't mind" (translation, "would favor") state laws in every one of the fifty states outlawing Walmart. Perhaps you "wouldn't mind" (translation, "would favor") state laws preventing "excessive" CEO salaries or the sale of gadgets you consider to be "unneeded." I seem to recall that these are also examples of "greed," in your opinion. Yet any time I have suggested in the past that this may be where you are coming from, you become indignant! Yet, I have to wonder why I should now think otherwise, having been proved correct in the case of factory farming.

I really don't know how to be any clearer. Your talk of false binaries and voluntarism and what-not has proved to be a bait and switch here, and that's all there is to the matter. This doesn't surprise me all that much. It's just rather amusing, not to mention frustrating, that no doubt you will go on making the same moves again later while trying to tell us how "small government" distributism is.

This just really proves my point -- the assumption that any government intervention/limitation in the economy, even state or local, implies a "big government" mentality is simply nuts, and is a perfect example of the very false binary I mentioned! My township decides against a WalMart or a chicken plant and it's "coercive government action." Sheesh.

You really can't see the difference between opposition to the mistreatment of animals and opposition to high CEO salaries, and why it might be legitimate to be in favor of legislating against the former and not the latter? Or why it might be legitimate to regulate Tyson Chicken while not regulating WalMart?

There is no bait and switch here. Neither is there any "blantant shift of position." What there is is nuance, something that your kneejerk approach to economics will not allow you to see. It is the mark of an ideology to have everything cut-and-dried in such a way that it will permit no examination of its own dogmatic stances. Free markets are well and good, but when support of them becomes an ism, an ideology, then we've got problems.

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!!!

Don't flatter yourself; you are just a prole (as the Venerable Half Sigma would say because you like McDonalds!) ;-)

If we want to compare ourselves to animated characters, I guess I am Misty although more geeky in our personality, but I have tomboyish interests such as science and middle-distance running (I was almost able to run a six minute mile, not bad for a woman, but I have no sprint speed for a devastating kick) because of the potential injury risk to my feet and joints after intensive long-distance running (and now I have to deal with the demon of hypoglycemia). I have no fashion sense (like Misty and many adolescents) and cannot discern recent trends, but my clothes look modest and feminine. Instead of wearing high-heel to tempt some man, I rather destroy him along two blocks after popping a dextrose tablet with my New Balances -- I usually have enough endurance that I could outrun him by maintaining my normal pace (~6:30-40) if he tries to initially break away by sprinting. Of course, an actual regular male runner (not jogging) with a low enough BMI would be able to easily best me.
----

Veganism is hard to defend in practical terms (as opposed to arguing from a consequentialist perspective that animals do suffer when we consume animal products), but it is fairly easily and healthy to procure the necessary micro and macronutrients when one abjures meat; Fridays in Lent seem at best benign deprivation.

My township decides against a WalMart or a chicken plant and it's "coercive government action."

If they directly outlaw it, with penalties, yes, of course it is, though on a local level. There are people who go to jail for breaking city ordinances, in case you weren't aware. I'm about to blog about a Catholic high school official who could be sent to jail for firing a lesbian teacher. So let's not pretend that local laws have no coercive element.

But I notice that you dodge to draw attention only to the coercive action that has the smallest-level effect when you are challenged. It's part of your overall MO that you would prefer that I, and others, forget that you also endorsed state-level action, which is obviously a much harder level to avoid and involves, usually, heavier sanctions.

"It's part of your overall MO that you would prefer that I, and others, forget that you also endorsed state-level action, which is obviously a much harder level to avoid and involves, usually, heavier sanctions."

If a borough can tell a strip club "we don't want you here," why can't a state do the same with an industrial farm, if the people in that state believe that such farming is morally questionable and want no parts of it? Is it wrong for people in WV and KY to seek to ban mountain-top removal mining if they believe it harms their localities? It seems that you only want to complain about "big government" when it inhibits big business (never mind that government originally got bigger partly as a result of the need to police big business, which wasn't doing such a dandy job of policing itself).

It is decidedly UNconservative to argue that localities and states have no business in monitoring or regulating the commercial activities that occur within their boundaries, esp. when those activities are conducted by large out-of-area firms that have no stake in the non-commercial aspects of those localities. And it is ridiculous to say that to hold such a view is to make one's adversion to big government suspect. To do so is to call "suspect" the entire Kirk/Weaver continuum of American conservatism. One need not be a big business cheerleader to be a conservative, despite what Fr. Sirico, Fox News, and the GOP say.

And it is ridiculous to say that to hold such a view is to make one's adversion to big government suspect.

NM, I take state regulation so seriously that I want to regulate nearly _all_ of the things I'm opposed to, including abortion, at that level. I'm a 10th amendment hawk. I think the state ought for most things to be *the* entity of state coercive action.

Even now, with the 10th amendment largely gutted, a huge number of crimes, including murder, are prosecuted at the state level, and people go to prison for long periods of time at the state level. To try to argue that state-level action cannot, by definition, ever be "big government" is simply absurd. The state can regulate hugely, and it either does so wisely or unwisely, but of course it _is_ the state and its actions _are_ the actions of government with the full coercive power thereof.

You continually confuse what you regard as _good_ government action, the action you _want_ government to take, with the action's not _being_ government action. That's simply silly. Whether the government should take this action or not is what we're disagreeing about!

Of course you can make your small-government credentials suspect if you want the government to regulate x, y, and z which conservatives don't think it should regulate! It doesn't erase this effect simply to say that you aren't urging federal laws, as though state laws can never count as "big government." What true small-government conservative is ever going to agree with that?

Now, I suppose you're going to come back and say that you are just saying that the state laws you regard as good and reasonable don't count as "big government," but that's silly, too, considering that you know perfectly well that most of your fellow conservatives won't agree that those laws _are_ good and reasonable, that that is precisely the point at issue.

"I'm in favor of small government" coming from you is apparently code for "I'm in favor of the government regulations, including a whole bunch of new ones conservatives oppose, which I think are good." Well, guess what? That isn't what would normally be understood by "small government"!! And it doesn't magically turn into this if you tell us that you want to outlaw factory farming at the state but not the federal level! Again, you get indignant and huffy when it's implied that you want people to be put in jail by the state if they do the "greedy" things you disapprove of, and then it turns out that that's exactly what you do want!

And don't give me a lot of additional huffy stuff about the big difference you see between outlawing factory farming and outlawing big CEO salaries. I'm not responsible to read your mind and figure out what you think is reasonable or unreasonable! Why should I? The point simply is that your protestations that you don't want to coerce compliance with your views of "not being greedy" and the like have turned out to be _false_ in a very large area--namely, animal farming--where you know perfectly well that you agree with the left and not with the right in wanting to expand the power of the state! So save your indignation. And expect to be asked, the next time you start talking about "voluntary asceticism" and "false binaries," whether this is code, again, for, "Well, actually, I _do_ want to outlaw this and put people in jail for it, but just at the state level. That's not coercive or an expansion of government power, is it?"

What a time-waster you are being.

If a borough can tell a strip club "we don't want you here," why can't a state do the same with an industrial farm, if the people in that state believe that such farming is morally questionable and want no parts of it?

I don't take Lydia to be saying that they can't. She certainly allows that it is within their legitimate authority to undertake such regulation. But it is coercive, in the sense of preventing private activity on pain of legal sanction. It is quite a bit more than moral persuasion or voluntary boycotts to forbid a business from operating by punitive legislation.

Exactly, Paul.

Suppose I were addressing a card-carrying, pro-choice libertarian. (Yes, I know there are pro-life libertarians. I'm talking about someone who isn't.) I would never claim that he should embrace my position on abortion because it is a small-government position. I would happily admit that my position on abortion involves government coercion. I might tell the libertarian that I'm small-government on _other_ issues (like, er, farm regulation, for example), but I would keep those clearly, conceptually distinct from the issues where I know perfectly well that the card-carrying libertarian and I disagree and where I unhesitatingly admit that I want to have _more_ laws. I would have plenty of other arguments to present to him as to _why_ he should be pro-life, including arguments based on his own libertarian principle that it is right for the government to protect against the use of deadly force against the innocent. But I wouldn't claim that I am "small-government" when we're discussing this issue. Nor would I get indignant if the libertarian accused me of wanting to coerce people on this issue. Nor would I accuse him of having a "false dichotomy" between voluntary action and government coercion. Dam' straight I want to coerce people not to perform abortions! Etc.

Lydia,

One can legitimately believe that the government has some responsibility in encouraging healthy food choices among citizens and giving its citizens access to nutritious food due to the adverse health consequences of unhealthy food. This may entail government coercion, but I do not see anything inherently bad in such coercion, especially when you adamantly advocate coercion in other domains in life such as reproductive issues (as you are outspoken against abortion). At least the utility of the consumption of nutritious food can be appreciated in secular, empirical utilitarian language (such as in terms of biochemistry and epidemiology) and human health is universally valued, while opposition to abortion often emanates from religious considerations -- considerations that are not as universally held.

Note that is entirely philosophical and therefore does not deal with the practical implementation of public policy. Perhaps, the potential benefit of government interaction (proscription, regulation, etc.) would be eclipsed by some unanticipated consequences of government policies. But there is no a priori ethical principle to oppose government coercion and market intervention in matters concerning food (and other provinces in the realm of human health) while justifying intervention in reproductive affairs. It just seems to be an (apparently incoherent) subjective preference in how one believes a government ought to work that not fundamentally rooted in an abstract moral framework independent of one's preferences and experiences.

BR, I do think the laws in question are almost certainly a bad idea, but that isn't the point in the sub-discussion here. The point in this sub-discussion is whether *in fact* laws involve coercion and whether a person who is indignant when it is suggested that he wants to force compliance by regulation has any right to such indignation since he does, in fact, wish to force compliance by regulation. It's really that simple.

"She certainly allows that it is within their legitimate authority to undertake such regulation. But it is coercive, in the sense of preventing private activity on pain of legal sanction. It is quite a bit more than moral persuasion or voluntary boycotts to forbid a business from operating by punitive legislation."

Well, then, if "coercion" is going to be defined that widely then all laws are coercive; what we are arguing about then is not their coercive or non-coercive nature, but whether they "coerce" in areas that we agree they should or not. Given than, the "big gov't" vs. "small gov't" thing is precisely meaningless. It does not seem to me to imply a "big government" stance to desire an end to the industrial maltreatment of animals. In fact, it's a specious claim, as specious as calling everyone in KY or WV who wants to end mountain-top removal mining a proponent of "big government." Under this usage the term means nothing and becomes simply a bugaboo word for the libertarian-right.

NM, if you previously thought the expansion of government involvement occurred only where government shouldn't be involved, then you had some very odd views of what a phrase like "expansion of government power" or what-not might mean. Of course all laws are coercive. It's an old saying: "Without penalty there is no law." The phrase "big government" is obviously context-relative. Usually it's intended to be pejorative, but as between two people, one of whom wants and one of whom doesn't want a particular law, saying that you're in favor of "small government" just because you're only in favor of the laws you're in favor of becomes completely uninformative. Usually you can only tout your small government credentials to someone who thinks smaller government is often a good thing insofar as you are saying that you and that person _agree_ about where and how government should be smaller.

So, for example, I can tout my small government credentials to a libertarian in many areas of business and finance regulation, but I know that he won't accept that I have any small government credentials in the area of social areas, because he and I disagree there, and there I want _more_ laws.

It's really a rather simple thing. Your rhetoric has been highly confused. But I'll just be sure to ask you next time you get all huffy about "not wanting to be coercive" whether this simply means you only want the laws you want, and then we can stop trading phrases which evidently you find confusing and instead get on to the more informative exercise of finding out what laws you actually _do_ want in the area in question, especially which ones you expect conservatives to disagree with you about!

It wasn't Nice Marmot who started up with all the "coercive" talk, nor was he the one to begin labeling people "authoritarians". Now that we've acknowledged that everyone here is just as "coercive" and "authoritarian" as he is about their own concerns, maybe this discussion can be productive. Well at least we've established that "small gov't" and "big gov't" talk is just meaningless hot air. Hate to say it, but once again the liberals were right all along.

Matt, two things: First, NM did, in _this_ thread, accuse me of a "false binary of laissez-faire vs. coercive government action," and it then turns out that, weirdly, he thinks that "coercive government action" refers only to government action he thinks is a bad idea! The phrase I just quoted about the false binary between laissez-fair and coercive government action is a direct quote from him! Second, in many other threads he uses the same MO. He accuses mainstream conservatives _repeatedly_ of leaving out non-coercive options and of jumping to the conclusion that those who talk obsessively about greed and what-not are in favor of the expansion of government! Naturally, I'm making the connection here: In how many of _those_ areas did he actually mean that he _is_ in favor of the expansion of government action, the enactment of actual _laws_ against the "greed" he is deploring, while nonetheless (totally confusingly and confusedly) accusing conservatives of jumping to conclusions for thinking exactly that! Third, when he is trying to sound really winsome towards conservatives for the distributist cause, he will say again and again that he is as much against big government as he is against big business. So he has previously accepted those terms of reference and attempted to use them to argue for the appeal of his own position. Given the strange confusion that has emerged in his usage, doubt is naturally cast on those appeals.

"next time you get all huffy"

Pot. Kettle. Black. Matt is correct -- you're the one who instantly presumed "coercion" and incorporated it into the conversation: "NM doesn't like factory farming -- he must want to ban it! His claims of being against 'big government' are therefore hogwash!"

The liberals are not right about everything related to this, but they are certainly correct about the libertarian right's privileging of corporate freedom. If you believe that the corporation's only responsibility is to its shareholders, and that its only raison d'etre is to increase profits, then any legal limitations that hinder that activity are going to be viewed as onerous and coercive, cultural ramifications notwithstanding. Thus, the idea that industrial farming involves inhumane treatment of animals and therefore should be open to legal limitation is viewed as a coercive attack on business and a pitch for "big government." (Note also that absolutely no concern was evinced for the plight of the animals.)

The conclusion is that one cannot be for "small government" and simultaneously wish legally to limit corporate power. This is patent nonsense, of course, but the libertarian-right ideology prevents its adherents from being able to see it any other way.

The binary holds up: one is either for laissez-faire, or one is for "big government." Nuance and prudence that imply that there might be a third way are verboten. Local limitations are just as coercive as a federal ban. Etc. Etc.

"So he has previously accepted those terms of reference and attempted to use them to argue for the appeal of his own position. Given the strange confusion that has emerged in his usage, doubt is naturally cast on those appeals."

Ha! Didn't really know that a township's restriction on Wal*Mart opening a store in its boundaries qualified as "big government," but I guess I do now! Pardon the confusion.

Lest Mr. Singer become too winsome in his praise of McDonald's, let me say that my midwestern city over the weekend had a GLBT Pride Day, and McD's sent a contingent of folks wearing t-shirts on which the golden arches were replaced by rainbow ones. Hey, anything for a buck, right, nevermind the culture...

NM doesn't like factory farming -- he must want to ban it!

Sigh. It turns out that you _do_ want to ban it.

And, since as you know most conservatives _don't_ want to ban it and therefore _do_ consider the attempt to ban it to be an excessive use of government power, it was totally confusing and bizarre to say that a conservative is jumping to conclusions by thinking that you want to ban it.

Again, you are totally confused in that you think something isn't "coercive" if it's what you believe should be done! That's nuts. And it definitely creates confusion in conversation where you're saying people shouldn't think you want to be coercive, yet you really do want to ban, legally, what you're opposed to!

Didn't really know that a township's restriction on Wal*Mart opening a store in its boundaries qualified as "big government," but I guess I do now!

If the restriction didn't exist before, passing it certainly is an _expansion_ of government power in this area.

But yeah, I definitely think a state's banning factory farming is an instance of fairly major growth in government power. If you would be thrilled if all fifty states did that, and damn the consequences as far as large-scale rise in meat, dairy, and egg prices, then that _is_ quite a dent in your claim to be in favor of "small government."

Look, this will simply result in my asking you again and again to cut the cackle, and certainly cut the indignation, and come to the horses: When you rant against people buying gadgets you don't like, I'll just ask you to cut the cackle and come to the horses and tell us what laws you want, which you have reason to suspect conservatives wouldn't want, against selling and buying "unneeded" gadgets. And so on through all the different things you rant about as "corporate greed." How, precisely, do you propose to stop that? What do you favor? Or, to use your own type of phrase, what laws would you "not mind" seeing passed against this activity? Would you "not mind" if all the states in the union, state by state, outlawed WalMart? And so forth.

Then we'll know where we stand. And as more and more of this comes out, I'll just laugh next time you say you're in favor of small government.

How about if I get a jump on you by laughing now? Because I really don't know where to go from here, this is making so little sense.

Among the libertarian right any attempt to limit corporate "freedom" is automatically deemed to be promotion of big government. End of story. That's what it all seems to boil down to once all the cackle is cut.

Sorry about coming to the party late, but...

It seems to me that NM is thinking of the difference between "big government" versus "little government" mainly in terms of which level of government is wielding a certain coercive power. Conservatives generally want the lowest feasible level of government to wield a coercive power if and when such coercion is needed for the common good. The default position should be a lower government rather than a higher one.

Lydia is thinking of the difference mainly in terms of whether an aspect of personal choice is regulated by coercive power at all. Conservatives generally think that (any level of) government should not exercise coercion on a matter except when (a) it is clear that in order for the common good to be preserved and promoted that X result be obtained, (b) in order for X to be obtained, coercion is necessary, and (c) so constricting free choices with coercion will damage the overall good less than achieving X will promote the overall good. The default position is that people should be left free to manage their own choices without interference of government except when it is clear that so allowing reduces the common good in a significant way.

From Lydia's comments, I think that she doubts that (a) is satisfied, because X in this case is the good of kind treatment of animals, which is not a matter that clearly pertains to the common good of humans; and that (b) is debatable but has not been sufficiently argued, maybe other means than coercion can be successful; and especially that (c) has not been established at all because NM has not even attempted to really show that the resulting effects of his proposed coercive regulating would damage the common good less than leaving things alone, at least not in a useful manner. I don't call simply saying "we don't need to eat as much meat" serious or even useful because it fails to address the actual numbers at all, but in addition there are other aspects of damage to society than simply the price of farm product. Remember, the default conservative, small government position is to leave decisions in private hands unless you can establish with reasonably prudent considerations that in toto, putting a new matter under government coercion is less damaging to the overall good than not achieving X, the reasonably prudent considerations ranging over all of the reasonably foreseeable effects.

There is always and inevitably some dispute over the relative importance of X in the grand scheme of the things, the totality of goods affected. Interestingly, while libertarians profess to want government never to be involved in mandating virtue, BOTH conservatives and liberals are explicitly willing to have government use coercion to enforce at least the outward conditions or actions _as_of_ virtue. In reality all three want government to use coercion to mandate outward conditions that should come from virtue, it's just that the 3 groups orient on different primary areas of concern (libertarians restricting theirs to mandating non-violence and enforcing contracts, which involve certain elements of virtue). I bring up "virtue" explicitly because St. Thomas says that the purpose of law is to promote virtue (libertarians really wouldn't like him), not just to promote either conditions or even actions as of virtue: It is not sufficient to the true totality of good that all people have the same amount of wealth (by government redistribution or by other means) if the net result is rampant interior greed and envy, the interior vices would vitiate the good *conditions* of adequate wealth enjoyed. Likewise, it is not sufficient for the true good of society that the government suppress outward acts of violence if men are constantly (inwardly) wishing and desiring to maim, murder, and steal for their personal pursuits, the interior hatreds would vitiate the good outward non-violent conditions or actions.

The true good consists not only of outward conditions and actions that imitate virtue, but actual virtue from the inside out, by the whole of society or at least by most people. Men being men and subject to original sin, we don't start out with virtue, but by grace we can acquire virtues with practice. Hence good government is essentially ordered to virtue by mandating sufficiently with respect to outward actions that society is mostly peaceful AND such that a person can reasonably grow in virtue through being habituated toward true free choice for the good. Doing so requires delicacy and nuance: the law MUST mandate on outward actions and conditions about some things, such as not killing your neighbor, and SHOULD mandate some sorts of actions (paying basic taxes for basic government), but also should be cautious about mandating on additional matters because man fails to grow toward true interior virtue when too much outward constraint is placed on him. The ideal society (here in this life with men subject to sin), then, is a body of laws that restrict men sufficiently to provide the precursor conditions that habituate them toward virtue, giving them sufficient outward conformity to the actions of virtue that adjusting their own interior dispositions is less a matter of doing inward violence to one's whole nature so much as simply learning discipline, while at the same time giving them sufficient outward freedom to exercise and develop virtue in its fullest expression. (Recall St. Augustine's "Love God and do what you will", referring to the man whose loves are fully and properly oriented not needing law.) Such a society, in addition to using law to restrain, will also modify human behavior through other avenues, including proper child-rearing and discipline, the Church, social pressures like shame and praise, etc.

It is my impression that Lydia's position is that even if it is true that factory farming methods are (as NM claims) inherently disordered, that kind of disorder is something that we can tolerate with respect to law, we can attempt to address them by other approaches than simply outlawing them.

"Interestingly, while libertarians profess to want government never to be involved in mandating virtue, BOTH conservatives and liberals are explicitly willing to have government use coercion to enforce at least the outward conditions or actions _as_of_ virtue. In reality all three want government to use coercion to mandate outward conditions that should come from virtue, it's just that the 3 groups orient on different primary areas of concern (libertarians restricting theirs to mandating non-violence and enforcing contracts, which involve certain elements of virtue). I bring up "virtue" explicitly because St. Thomas says that the purpose of law is to promote virtue (libertarians really wouldn't like him), not just to promote either conditions or even actions as of virtue"

Agreed. But you see, the prime actor in industrial farming is not the private individual, but the corporation, which, acting purely from a profit motive, is unconcerned with "virtue." The relative order or disorder of the institutionalized maltreatment of animals is something with which the corporation does not have to concern itself, provided the activity in question is legal. It has no internal mechanism to delineate between virtuous and non-virtuous activity. Thus, the purpose of law in terms of the corporation cannot be to promote virtue, since the corporation has no interest in virtue, only in profits.

The corporation may not have any formal interest in virtue, assuming that the corporation does not have virtue or any aspect of it written into its corporate structure.

Yet the corporation of necessity requires persons - as its officers and as its shareholders, and usually as its employees. These persons must needs have a relation to virtue, either by intending it or by ignoring it. The officer of a corporation cannot choose to model the corporation as something independent of virtue because the actions of the corporation are actions of human persons, usually by both directive (officers or managers directing persons to do them) and by execution (employees actually carrying out the directive), but at least by the former. The persons in the corporation are morally responsible for the acts of the corporation whether the acts are legal or illegal. Thus, choosing to murder a corporate opponent, or to pay employees less than justice requires is immoral for the corporation because it is immoral for the human persons OF the corporation to will that the corporation do these things, whether the law says so or not. Thus, the corporation may not "concern itself" with virtue any more than a mafia don does so, but in both cases they are obliged to do so and are defective if they don't concern themselves with virtue. The law directs ALL persons (including corporate persons) to avoid murder, so there are matters where the law regulates corporations with respect to human virtue, and matters where it does not. There is no definitive reason why a corporation as such should be considered as objectively ordered away from virtue, and if a specific corporation IS ordered away from virtue for its agents, it does so on the basis of immoral choices by its own directors, executives, etc.

Lydia is thinking of the difference mainly in terms of whether an aspect of personal choice is regulated by coercive power at all. Conservatives generally think that (any level of) government should not exercise coercion on a matter except when (a) it is clear that in order for the common good to be preserved and promoted that X result be obtained, (b) in order for X to be obtained, coercion is necessary, and (c) so constricting free choices with coercion will damage the overall good less than achieving X will promote the overall good. The default position is that people should be left free to manage their own choices without interference of government except when it is clear that so allowing reduces the common good in a significant way.

As Richard Nixon stated that "we are all Keynesians now", then similarly we are all utilitarians now. Needless to say, "common good", "reasonably prudent", "virtue", and "justice" an ambiguous terms and would be inevitably interpreted different by those holding opposing political ideologies and personal interests, and it would therefore be best not to involve the term. Surely, few conservatives would subscribe to John Rawls' definition of "justice" or would incorporate "distributive justice" within it. Moreover, utilitarians and liberals, two philosophical/ideological groups than conservatives are opposed to, generally value "free choices" and the absence of "coercion", but tend to define those terms differently than liberals, or emphasize different aspects of those terms in their respective definitions. In order to maintain a degree of objectivity, it might be beneficial to jettison these obfuscatory terms and inherently subjective concepts. My primary point, however, is that criterion (a) is implicitly utilitarian (or ostensibly relies on utilitarian assumptions): in order for one to judge that criterion (a) has been satisfied, one has to deem, based on the expected outcomes, that the positive effects of government "coercion", resulting in X, outweighs the infringements in personal "freedom". In order to make this judgment, one has to analyze the potential effects of a given government policy based on past empirical observations of the effects of preceding policies and political experiments and make inductive inferences that anticipates the expected consequences of a given policy, or modify it or formulate an alternative policy based on knowledge from previous experiences. One then compares the perceived positive and negative consequences of the policy and then makes the judgment. Since human agents involved in this process are influenced by personal biases and cognitive limitations, this systematic "utilitarian" approach will seldom arrive at an optimal, objective solution and is therefore imperfect. Moreover, since people often possess divergent and mutual exclusive interests, it is practically impossible that a given policy will be Pareto efficient -- that is either benefiting or neutrally affecting everyone at the expense of no one. Most importantly, to restate, one's subjective biases and preferences would affect one's valuation of the potential negative and positive consequences, even if the consequences can be accurately predicted or analyzed from an ex post facto perspective.

The previous abstract meta-argument, as opposed to arguing over the concrete effects of a particular policy, how highly one should regard specific principles such as "non-coercion" or "freedom" or the appropriate scope of the government in the lives of its citizens, was intended to highlight the salient, considerable difficulties in developing an objective normative political philosophy. A political philosophy should not be a mere vehicle to advance an individual or group's interests, despite any party stridently asserting its preferences supersede the interest of others. Instead, such an objective, utilitarian political philosophy has to acknowledge and respect the interest of others and in one's self, and has to be willing to make concessions at one's own expense for the benefit of the other parties, at least on a theoretical if not practical level. A democratic system of political institutions intends to accomplish this by limiting the political power of privileged individuals/groups and distributing that influence more equitably among the populace and adopting legislation/policy based upon popular consensus. A historical example of this approach was the concept of Westphalian sovereignty, which respected the independence and autonomy of European nations and constrained nations from encroaching upon another nation, although this may be the consequence of mutually protective political alliances that deter any aggressors by the prospect of retaliation not out of any respect for a political principle. Any violation against the sovereignty of another nation (or people without "formal" political institutions) for economic or geopolitical gain can be considered "imperialism". A political philosophy that eschews the principle of respecting the interests of others and values political power for its own sake or as a means to a personal end can be considered amorally Machiavellian.

Given the "utilitarianism" of the aforementioned criteria to justify a departure from the default minimalist position, there are no a priori reasons stemming from the minimalist philosophy itself; such justifications has to be found outside the purview of he minimalist philosophy, either from empirical considerations, a supplementary external moral or political philosophy, or personal preferences. Since the reasoning involved in advocating one policy (or an absence of policies) involves the arguer's subjective preferences and dispositions, it is seldom that such arguments that would employ for or against a given policy are objective and disinterested and often reflect one's preferences or a partisan platform. There seems to be no coherent reason found within the default minimalist position itself that justifies government intervention on reproductive issues but generally abjures it in the sphere of the free market. Regarding the issue of abortion, one can still use a minimalist philosophy as a guiding framework, but invoke (the external) personhood theory to argue that the unborn should not be bestowed any of the rights and protections of citizens, including a right to life. From the perspective of a personhood theorist, government intervention would likely violate the liberty of the pregnant mother in order to save the life of an ethically insignificant being. Although abortion may be immoral in the context of a personal decision, this does not automatically justify its legal prohibition from a set of principles from political philosophy. In contrast, human health (of conscious "persons") is almost universally valued, and it is reasonably uncontroversial premise to believe that governments should act on the behalf of its citizens to protect them from factors that would damage their health.

It would seem that contemporary conservatives are the purveyors of the "small government" philosophy, but it is likely that this principle is commandeered to give the appearance the modern conservatives are genuinely concerned with individual liberty possess the prerogative to define terms such as "small government" and "liberty" in political discourse for their advantage, neglect "distributive justice" by explaining that any maldistribution of power and goods is merely the consequence of the dynamics of the free market. One can even credibly argue that most varieties of Marxism are "small government" because they believe in the withering of the state once the influence of the bourgeoisie and their political institutions have been extirpated both domestically and internationally. Some far-leftist are anarchists, believing that all forms of government inherently entail oppression and no form of organization would preempt any self-interested party from arrogating political power and use that authority to inimically effect other people; the self-interested party would just manipulate and work within the constraints that were originally designed to restrict the political power of those not operating out of good faith. Moreover, a minimalist government can be interpreted rather differently. In The Open Society and Its Enemies, Karl Popper acknowledges that governments pursuing some positive goal (such as a communist utopia or a thousand year Aryan Reich) would evolve into an abusive totalitarian dictatorship that would egregiously denying the personal liberties of its citizens, justifying that such exercises of power are necessary to fulfill the positive goal. Popper does argue that since it is impossible to define positive utility or identify what makes citizens happy, the pursuit of a political, utopian scheme benevolently intended to maximize happiness or achieve some greater good would ultimately be misguided. Because universal positive utility would be elusive, Popper, being sensitive to human suffering, argues that utility would be defined negatively, by identifying the causes of suffering and enacting measures to alleviate its inimical effects. For instance, most people value peace and health, but these can be seen as negative desires: one values peace since it is the absence of the destruction and turmoil of war; one values health since it is the absence of physical morbidity and disability. In Popper's negative utilitarian framework, the question of the question of Who should rule? should be replaced by How can we so organize political institutions that bad or incompetent rulers can be prevented from doing too much damage? The government role would then be minimalist: instead of pursing a grandiose utopian agenda, it would consign itself to identifying, anticipating, and addressing urgent problems among the citizenry in an piecemeal manner while defending fundamental political liberties. The pursuit of happiness is then delegated to the individual who can then use his/her liberty to fulfill that end.

*Although I am not a liberal anymore, because of Popper's work, I consider myself a nominalist due to my encounter in college (The Open Society was not an assigned reading and I read most of it independently) with the discussion about it in Chapter 10. Popper truly is a high calibre political philosopher!

"The law directs ALL persons (including corporate persons) to avoid murder, so there are matters where the law regulates corporations with respect to human virtue, and matters where it does not. There is no definitive reason why a corporation as such should be considered as objectively ordered away from virtue, and if a specific corporation IS ordered away from virtue for its agents, it does so on the basis of immoral choices by its own directors, executives, etc."

The profit motive precludes the operation of a virtue ethic within the capitalist system (In fact, Gregory argues in The Unintended Reformation that the jettisoning of virtue ethics in the early modern period is one of the factors in the rise of capitalism). The end is wealth creation; there is no internal mechanism to delineate between virtuous and non-virtuous means to that end. As its proponents tell us unceasingly, the market is amoral. Thus the only way to limit corporate action, other than self-policing based on the morals of directors, employees, etc., is the law.

Today, pornography is legal but prostitution is not. Both are immoral; if by some means tomorrow the situation were suddenly reversed, the market would adapt, but without reference to the virtue/non-virtue of either practice, other than its legality.

That corporations do reject virtue ethics in their quest for profits (they can create, produce, and sell an unvirtuous/immoral product, or they can use an unvirtuous means to produce a morally indifferent product, while remaining completely within the law) is what makes corporate capitalism subversive of traditional values.


As Tony says, corporations are made up of real people. Real people can decide that it's wrong to make a profit in a certain way. And they should. Indeed, real people who try to make a profit make decisions of this kind all the time, and rightly so. It is wrong and should be illegal to make a profit by selling pornography. I'm not a die-hard libertarian. I'm not convinced that it is either wrong or illegal to make a profit by putting your pregnant pigs in gestation crates or even (shocka) docking the tails of your milk cows (for reasons of keeping their udders clean) without anesthetic.

That's usually where conservatives do fall on these issues, so the position should hardly come as a shock. In any event, it is undeniable that if _all_ the practices animal activists are bothered about were outlawed effectively, this would make negative differences to human beings. My original comment in the thread, which sparked such outrage, was that it is good and important to take those negative differences into account and that Scully (whom the article author was praising) brushes them off, as does NM.

Cue NM getting outraged and asking where he brushes them off. As Tony says, airily saying, "We don't need to eat so much of that stuff anyhow," hardly counts as a serious response to the concern.

"As Tony says, corporations are made up of real people. Real people can decide that it's wrong to make a profit in a certain way. And they should. Indeed, real people who try to make a profit make decisions of this kind all the time, and rightly so."

Which is great, and I'm glad that they do, but this doesn't mean that the entire system as a system is unprincipled/amoral, and functions primarily as an engine for wealth-generation, regardless of virtue, which only enters in secondarily, if at all. Plenty of people in corporations DON'T act virtuously, and there is no internal pressure on them to do so, since the sole purpose of the engine is to generate wealth.

"I'm not convinced that it is either wrong or illegal to make a profit by putting your pregnant pigs in gestation crates or even (shocka) docking the tails of your milk cows (for reasons of keeping their udders clean) without anesthetic."

If these were the only questionable practices I might agree with you, but as you are well aware, the reality is far worse. Of course it could just be that you value cheap fast food over humane treatment of the Creation. But it wouldn't be the first time that "conservatives" made that sort of trade-off.

"That's usually where conservatives do fall on these issues, so the position should hardly come as a shock."

Correction: that's usually where today's libertarian-infected neo-conservatives fall on these issues. Once again, for the umpteen millionth time, today's mainstream bogus conservatism demonstrates its inability to see any further back than about 1980.

Which is great, and I'm glad that they do, but this doesn't mean that the entire system as a system is unprincipled/amoral, and functions primarily as an engine for wealth-generation, regardless of virtue, which only enters in secondarily, if at all. Plenty of people in corporations DON'T act virtuously, and there is no internal pressure on them to do so, since the sole purpose of the engine is to generate wealth.

That is demonstrably not true, to whit, the non-profit corporation. Plenty of people form corporations without profit being a motive, much less the only motive.

But of course, NM was primarily referring to FOR PROFIT corporations, not the other kind. To which I will make 2 points. First, the very fact that there can be and are non-profit corporations means that in principle the concept and purpose of "corporation" as such is not "the profit motive" but something else. In fact, the basic idea of incorporating is to make it easier to formulate choices on a collective basis for doing things that are easier done in on a collective basis than doing them alone. That can include "making a profit" but it need not.

Secondly, the for-profit corporation is just a specific way of organizing a business. A business always includes within its raison d'etre "making a profit" but need not (and, generally, does not initially) limit its purpose solely to that to the exclusion of all else. Many corporations come about as the next stage of an already existing small business. As those initial entities, like a mom-n-pop outfit, tend to get started, the entrepreneur sees a niche of people's needs or desires that he can fill, and acts to fill it. This can be done *solely* with an intent to profit thereby, BUT THERE IS NO NECESSITY to doing so. There can be, and often is, a concommitant purpose to see that people be satisfied in some need. Indeed, most small business people most of the time do in fact want their customers to walk away satisfied, even when that satisfaction doesn't materially improve his profit. There is nothing about forming a corporation that requires the business to drop this as part of its motivational structure. Some explicitly retain it. Some retain it with explicit orientation toward due limits of the profit motive.

Perhaps many conservatives don't agree with me, but I reject the notion of the "invisible hand" of utility as being the sole required driving force for a good free market. And although many people in the upper echelons of large corporations forget to be good human beings when they put on their corporate hats, there is nothing that I see in the very nature of incorporating that mandates that they do so. What we have, rather, is a vitiated market, where because of the cultural vices, people (and the corporations) have a hard time resisting temptations to greed and other evils in their business decisions. The fact that the current market conditions have inculturated businesses into vicious trends doesn't mean the concept of a free market is defective in itself, any more than the horrendous inculturation of contraceptives and lust into the marriage environment implies that marriage is evil.

"The fact that the current market conditions have inculturated businesses into vicious trends doesn't mean the concept of a free market is defective in itself"

Absolutely, and you will find that critics of corporate capitalism argue against it precisely at that point: that the industrial/corporate market is not really free, in that it is rigged in favor of the big guys (the distributist writer John Medaille titled his recent book Towards a Truly Free Market).

"any more than the horrendous inculturation of contraceptives and lust into the marriage environment implies that marriage is evil."

The difference between the two is that capitalism (understood as a system) is based on the supposed transmutation of the vice of avarice into the virtue of self-interest. I've yet to hear a sermon on marriage which describes it as the transforming of lust into love.


Yet the corporation of necessity requires persons - as its officers and as its shareholders, and usually as its employees. These persons must needs have a relation to virtue, either by intending it or by ignoring it. The officer of a corporation cannot choose to model the corporation as something independent of virtue because the actions of the corporation are actions of human persons, usually by both directive (officers or managers directing persons to do them) and by execution (employees actually carrying out the directive), but at least by the former. The persons in the corporation are morally responsible for the acts of the corporation whether the acts are legal or illegal. Thus, choosing to murder a corporate opponent, or to pay employees less than justice requires is immoral for the corporation because it is immoral for the human persons OF the corporation to will that the corporation do these things, whether the law says so or not. Thus, the corporation may not "concern itself" with virtue any more than a mafia don does so, but in both cases they are obliged to do so and are defective if they don't concern themselves with virtue.

I am under no delusions about the "morality" of market-based outcomes or the market economy itself. It would seem that Tony commits the classic fallacy of composition, believing that since a corporation is compose "real" individuals with the capacity for morality and virtue it can conduct itself "morally" especially under the direction of upright directors. In order to do this, one must exaggerate the role of individual agency in a corporate/market environment. However, that position elides any collective, game theory incentives that override any individual morality that are in effect in a competitive environment, especially when the under the duress from the exigencies of financial survival from other competitors and the imperative of profit. The innate propensity of a for-profit corporation would not always be consonant with a person's sense of morality. It is therefore possible that a market composed of virtuous, moral individuals participating in a market economy pursuing their immediate economic interests can be amoral since it is ultimately undirected and uncoordinated despite the individuals of the market possessing moral rectitude. "Moral" individuals acting disconnectedly in their self-interest can make an amoral/immoral market. This conclusion is similar to the anarchist view on the nature of government.

Anarchists believe that all forms of government inherently entail oppression, and no form of organization would preempt any self-interested party from arrogating political power and use that authority to inimically effect other people; the self-interested party would just manipulate and work within the constraints that were originally designed to restrict the political power of those not operating out of good faith.

capitalism (understood as a system) is based on the supposed transmutation of the vice of avarice into the virtue of self-interest.

Well, you and I probably have a different definition of "capitalism understood as a system." I will admit that under capitalism as certain economists or philosophers envision it, it uses self-interest in a very simplistic, even formally utilitarian manner, so that it does indeed attempt to transmute avarice into a virtue (of sorts). Yet there are other versions of capitalism which don't take such an approach. I will be highlighting one of them in a soon-to-come new post. For now, suffice it to say that this version takes note of utility and narrow self-interest but expressly shows limits to these, resting the "system" on a wider base of motivation than that. It may be debated as to whether it is a capitalist system, but I maintain that any system that prescribes that a person who turns capital wealth over for production of new wealth is due a portion of the _new_ wealth, is to be called capitalist, and this version does that.

I'd say that there's a difference between earlier, "small market" capitalism, which was family and small-business based, and the industrial/corporate capitalism that started to become dominant in America in the post Civil War era. Most critics of capitalism, myself included, are thinking of the latter when criticism is offered.

Thing is, there was nothing inherent in that earlier capitalism to prevent it turning into what it has become today. This is one of the reasons why I believe that there is in fact a taint at the root of the whole thing, a taint based on false understandings of both individualism and liberty, and the transmutation of the sin of avarice into self-interest.

I do believe that corporations can and do conduct themselves morally. The problems are that A) there is nothing inherent in the system that steers or guides them to do this, and B) therefore the company that does act more scrupulously will often find itself at a disadvantage in the market.

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