Animal Cruelty on the Scale of Things: Are we all Michael Vick?
Last week, football play Michael Vick pleaded guilty to charges of engaging in dog fighting rings and will most likely end up in jail for it. The case has raised the issue of animal cruelty in our society. This piece points out that in most of the world, dogs are not treated particularly well or given the moral status that we do in the United States. It raises the question whether our revulsion against what Michael Vick did is an ethical issue or a culturally relativistic point: Is animal cruelty wrong, from a moral point of view, or is it a practice we think is wrong but is like driving on the right hand side of the road (we think its the right way to do it, but there's no good reason for believing that it should be the only way to drive)?
Philosopher Peter Singer, in this brief interview, clarifies that the issue of dogfighting is indeed a moral issue. But if we are to take it seriously, then we must start to raise questions about the treatment of many other animals, such as pigs and chickens, who suffer tremendous cruelty at the hands of human beings in factory farming. Singer argues there are distinct moral differences between dogfighting, hunting, and factory farming. Dog fighting is wrong because it inflicts needless suffering simply for the pleasure of human beings. Hunting is usually not cruel if it is done for food, since most careful hunters try not to prolong an animal's pain. The worst of these, from the moral point of view, would be factory farming, in which millions of animals are kept under indecent conditions involving filth, cramped quarters and disfigurement. From Singer's point of view, we ought to consider the scale of suffering that this industrial practice inflicts and to which most of us are complicit every time we go to the grocery store.