Tuesday evening the Philodemic Society hosted a special debate, “Resolved: The eating of meat is unethical.” On the affirmation was the Society’s guest, Mr. Bruce Friedrich, Vice President of Policy and Government Affairs for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).
Even the most carnivorous among us could not deny Mr. Friedrich’s wit, intellect, and superb oration. Though he could not pronounce the name of the society hosting him or that of his opponent, he was quite eloquent in his defense of vegetarianism. The crux of his argument lay with the environmental impacts and inefficiencies of industrial farming and the suffering inflicted on animals bred for consumption. If you would not want to kill an animal yourself, he said, you should not pay someone else to do it.
On the negation, Mr. Stephano Medina of the Philodemic Society posited that true empathy—and therefore a utilitarian a framework—is impossible when the subject is animals; our obligation to animals stems from our own liberal notions of civilization but that animal “rights” do not exist a priori; and that inefficiency is simply the cost we have agreed to pay but is not inherently immoral.
After these excellent keynotes, debate was opened to members and non-members to give speeches of three minutes of less. For those not in attendance, you missed quite a show! Here are a few snapshots from the evening: salmon trembling at the name Bade, sheep collectively bargaining with their shepherd for rights, “chicken persons,” lab-made meat, and pigs playing joystick-controlled video games. The night’s antics reached their zenith when Mr. Snow proudly declared that he does not use condoms out of environmental concerns associated with latex and urban waste—luckily socks can’t get pregnant.
While these moments of humor were welcomed by all those in attendance, the debate centered around profoundly impactful issues. What is our responsibility to other living creatures? What connection, if any, does that have to our responsibility to each other? Can you delink the product from its production? And what implication does that have for our system of ethics? Do animals have agency? Is the elimination of all suffering possible or even noble?
In closing, Mr. Medina urged the night’s participants to embrace the imperfect world in which we find ourselves rather than arrogantly elevate ourselves above something as fundamental to the human experience as food—something which intersects our history, culture, and civilization. Mr. Friedrich responded that we need not attain sainthood. Instead, he proffered that we need only do the best we can given our choices—and that abstaining from meat is the more kind and more environmentally friendly choice.
In what seems to be an emerging trend, the vote on the evening’s resolution was stunningly close with 37 affirming, 34 negating, and 4 abstaining. Because the Society’s constitution requires a majority of those in attendance to affirm, the resolution was negated.
The Society was thrilled to welcome Mr. Friedrich as well as the many interested members of the Georgetown community. We hope to see many of you again! As a quick reminder, our normal weekly debates continue this Thursday with “Resolved: Job should have cursed God” in the Philodemic Room (Healy 208).