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Another slaughterhouse thread?! Yep.

In MD and DE, farmers will destroy roughly 2 million chickens. Why? Because chicken plants are shuttered at the moment and farmers will not feed chickens indefinitely. This dramatizes something I was getting at in a thread the other day.
That thread, to review, was questioning the power attributed to "exposing" the grisly details of slaughter as a tool of animal liberation. If slaughterhouses are the grounds for our primary encounter with livestock will it generate moral concern?

My contention was that the overdetermination and (imagined) non-relationality of the slaughter spaces “derealize” livestock and make them embodiments of unlivability. We may not seek to stop their deaths because we cannot imagine them properly living or doing anything but dying.
Back to the present, the chicken slaughter is reminiscent of other supply chain “catastrophes” we are witnessing driven by perverse market logics: negative oil prices and potatoes and milk destroyed rather than given to the starving.
And it underscores the important point made by, among others, Mike Davis and Amartya Sen: modern famines happen because people can’t afford to purchase the food that exists, not because there is inadequate food to eat.
Those are important points, but I want to press on another: the question *should we reproduce animals* may be more ethically complex and productive (for animal liberation) than the question *should we kill animals.*
Put differently, does calling something into life carry different responsibilities than ending life? And if so, is calling billions of animals into lives of perpetual suffering more ethically fraught than ending lives of perpetual suffering?
I don’t take the underlying assumptions about livability here lightly. Declaring lives to be “worse than death” is a move that has surely been used to justify all sorts of violence--particularly, for human populations, eugenic violence.
But if you believe, as many animal liberationists do, that animals who live their entire lives within the harrowing spaces of the industrial meat system would be better off never having lived at all, then what follows is a line of thought you must address.
(Incidentally, if you don’t believe this is true, Derek Parfit’s Repugnant Conclusion would like to have a word with you about whether industrial meat production is, in fact, a grotesque evil rather than a repugnant good.)…
Imagine animal liberation is tomorrow. What happens to the billions of livestock on the planet? Will they roam free? Who will feed them? What will they eat? Will they be allowed to reproduce? How will they be governed?
The problem, of course, is that these billions of livestock are ecologically untenable under our current system, but they would be equally ecologically untenable if everyone stopped eating meat tomorrow.
In some senses, the existence of billions of livestock living lives we deem “worth living” is fundamentally incompatible with not only human society as it is currently organized but also as we can plausibly imagine it.
The mass chicken destruction in Maryland and Delaware dramatizes this. We have called these billions of animals into life, and constructed the ecological conditions that provide for their short and miserable lives, for only one reason: profitable meat.
In the absence of profitable meat, there is no industrial ecology for them to inhabit. Their “need to be negated” does not vanish; rather it intensifies and swells. The liabilities mount. The rationale for their destruction internal to capitalism is strengthened.
Animal liberation activists are not naive, of course. When they say, “We should stop treating animals so cruelly and we should stop killing them” what they functionally mean is “We should stop reproducing animals in these numbers and raising them in these conditions.”
This is the effect, after all, of reducing per capita meat consumption: less meat consumed means not that any individual livestock animals receive reprieves from the blade, but that fewer animals are reproduced in the first place.
To put it differently, animal liberationist strategies of persuasion (rather than coercion/violence) are oriented towards shutting slaughterhouses by starving them of demand, not by forcibly shuttering them (at least in the near term).
But if that’s the functional strategy, what should we make of the gap between the rhetorical emphasis on slaughter and the (relative) inattention to breeding? Why does this distance exist and what purpose does it serve?
And, as an empirical matter, do humans experience the responsibility to care for what we call into life as more binding than our responsibility to refrain from killing that which we do not think we have called into life?
I would never try to answer that question in any universal way, but I would, at least, say that I live in a society that is comfortable with the proposition that killing (or allowing to die) is often good and necessary. We kill so many humans and have so very many reasons for it.
I would also say that the cultural force of parental responsibility in the US is quite strong, albeit understood and experienced more as the obligation of individuals to other individuals and less and less as a collective social responsibility.
I do not suggest that this ethical terrain is preferable, but it is definitely the terrain on which animal liberationists must pitch their battle and it is why I am focused on reproduction and breeding as a vital problem of industrial meat and animal welfare.
Ecofeminists have done an excellent job of foregrounding the sexual violence of industrial meat, but I think it is also productive to suggest that livestock animals are, quite literally, our offspring: We call them into life and without them they would not exist.
Some might take this point as denigrating or paternalistic, but I think it cuts another way too: We have called them into life and because of this, we are responsible to them. We have an ethical obligation to them, and we are currently failing abysmally to meet it.
I make this observation as well with the fact that livestock, from this view, are not "natural" (though there is no such thing): they are complex technoscientific objects. We cannot "send them back to nature." Our responsibilities will not be satisfied by that "freedom."
And, finally, I want to literalize this story about parenthood as much as possible by documenting how intimately interwoven humans are, somatically and emotionally, in the reproduction of livestock. When we breed animals we literally make their sex.
Ok. That's all. Clearly, this thread isn't long enough.
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