This article describes how we seem to live in a willed blindness towards the effects that our meat production and consumption have on animals, the environment and the climate. A willed blindness that cannot be explained by either lack of knowledge or scientific uncertainty. The blindness enables us to see ourselves as moral beings although our lack of reaction to the effects of our actions tells another story. The article describes the consequences of intensive meat production and consumption to animal welfare and environmental degradation and discusses different strategies to overcome the willed blindness focusing on the development of either a new moral vision of our obligations or new visions of what a good life is.
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An apologetic remark: Several of the references are to Danish publications. They mainly refer to the examples of animal welfare issues. I rest assured that similar examples will be possible to find in other languages.
It should be noted that this way of distinguishing between the three welfare perspectives, as useful as it is to show the differences, understates the communality between them.
It should be noted that this choice of focus does not imply that the other reasons behind our willed blindness are not important to analyze closer or that there are not others not even mentioned here. The choice is governed by the wish to discuss how visions of the good life can help change our perception of the situation. Finally I suggest that readers interested in a more theoretical discussion on self-deception in moral thinking go to Gardiners A perfect moral storm and read chapter 9 (Gardiner 2011).
I here assume that a reduced meat intake would provide us with the economic possibility to purchase animal products from animals who have had a higher welfare than the average intensively farmed animal—and that we would do so. If one chooses to go vegetarian or vegan the number of animals will drop, but there is no guarantee that the animals left will have a better life. Agricultural areas previously used for producing animals could on the other hand then be left for wild animals. Whether this in the end will produce the largest sum of welfare is an interesting discussion—especially for utilitarians. For the purpose of this article it is simply assumed that, all things being equal, a reduced consumption of animal products will result in higher animal welfare for some animals, a possibility to restore some wild areas and a lessened environmental impact. That it is not necessarily so, but demands more than just a Meat Free Monday, is clear. One could easily imagine a family that bought less meat, but then spent the economic surplus gained from this in a way that damaged animals and the environment just as much or more. As with other areas of human existence, e.g. food waste, it is necessary not only to stop doing what is seen as “wrong” but also to choose to do what would be seen as “right” with the new opportunities (Gjerris and Gaiani 2013).
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Gjerris, M. Willed Blindness: A Discussion of Our Moral Shortcomings in Relation to Animals. J Agric Environ Ethics 28, 517–532 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10806-014-9499-6
- Animal production
- Animal welfare
- Climate change
- The good life
- Willed blindness