Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Vegetarianism: Is it Wrong to Keep Snakes?

Ethically speaking, vegetarians are better human beings and it's a shame I'm not one of them.

The meat industry is responsible for terrifying levels of food-waste, pollution and an overall contribution to animal suffering that is impossible to support in good conscience. Deep down we all know this. This barely acknowledged guilt is why non-vegetarians so frequently voice their petty gripes and quips about out-spoken vegetarians; this is despite "anti-vegetarians" generally being far more obnoxious and vocal. In short, we are guilty and we know it. Neither sneering t-shirt sloganism  nor panel show laddism will make this go away. When it comes to the moral question of vegetarianism, those healthy bastards have us cornered.

 I confess that I currently eat meat only because I like the taste of it: the ethical arguments have yet to overpower my appetite. This is a fairly common quandary for me: many of my moral failings emanate from a chasm between what I recognise intellectually and how I actually behave. I'm not a very rational person.

Anyway, enough self-flagellation...

Vegetarianism has obvious implications for one's dietary requirements and the ethical premises on which it is founded often leads one to veganism. That is to say that the kind of argumentation that inspires vegetarianism, whether it be animal rights or simple utility calculation, often demands refusing not just the ingestion of animal products but also the use of them in general.

Alongside the renouncement of leather-jackets is the question of pets. Can a vegan/vegetarian keep one? If you are of a moral rights strain then the answer is generally yes but within reason. If you are a utility focused ethicist then there is a little more wriggle room, but still a number of variables to account for.

How ethical is the pet-trade in hamsters et al? Are all hamster sellers morally equal or are there some who are morally preferable? What harms might be inflicted on a domesticated hamster and does it out-weigh the pains endured by not-existing?

More interesting is the question of carnivorous pets. I have kept snakes myself so I will use them as a somewhat racier case study than the more mundane, and probably more ethically concerning, example of cats.

 A snake lives only in virtue of other animals dying. Bearing this in mind, is the snake a moral effrontery to a decent minded vegetarian? Is the vegetarian obliged to kill it in order to save the other animals whose suffering is needed to feed the snake?

 If one had a moral rights inclination then the answers would probably be something to the tune of yes to the former and no to the latter. However, if one were more inspired by utilitarians such as Peter Singer then the question of killing the snake becomes more difficult to answer.  In closing, I don't have anything particularly deep or insightful to say; I'm just waiting to see an ALF activist torch a reptile store.

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