Saturday, 23 March 2013

Would You Eat Your Cat?

I recently read this book by Jeremy Strangroom which appears to be an odd choice for a devoted cat worshipper such as myself but becomes a little less mystifying when you know the sub title -Key ethical conundrums, and what they tell you about yourself.

This is not a book review although I do recommend it if you fancy a few mind benders before bedtime - the questions posed in this book can really mess with your head if you think about them hard enough. What I learnt about myself is that I am not the outright utilitarian I had always considered myself to be and as I get older some questions become a fuzzy grey colour whilst others stand out in stark and uncompromising black and white. This would be easy to deal with if there was a formula I was following but I seem to have different answers for very similar questions and many of them just don't have a yes/no answer. I found many of the questions very satisfying food for thought despite not finding any easy solutions to the problems presented.

The most disquieting section for me was Crime and Punishment where at first glance the questions appear very straight forward, even silly, such as 'Should we punish the innocent?' and 'Can worse ever be judged morally better?' but as I was encouraged to examine the various situations more deeply I found myself getting sucked into a way of thinking that was not normal for me and I lost myself in the twists and turns of ethics for the modern world which I smugly decided was stretching my intellect and making me a more informed person. It wasn't until I had finished the book that I realised there were, of course, alternatives to my clever clogs theory and it was entirely possible I was either very easily lead and with enough effort I could be persuaded to believe anything with a plausible sounding argument behind it or I was once again guilty of one of my persistent failings - overthinking everything. I still haven't made up my mind on most of the questions but I certainly know where I stand on 'Would you eat your cat'?

At first glance I assumed (I know I shouldn't but it was kind of hard not to) this was a eat your cat or starve to death scenario because, quite honestly I couldn't imagine any other reason for eating your cat although I doubt a common moggy would keep starvation at bay for long. The premise however turned out to be much odder than that and one I couldn't envision anyone I know considering. In this question a woman loved her cat unconditionally and was completely devoted to him, the relationship sounded almost like a lover to me but I guess if the cat was your lover the question 'Would you eat your cat?' would be a whole lot easier to answer. The woman had made a decision some time before that when the cat died she would eat him so that he would be a part of her forever (I told you it was weird). The answer to this question for me was a no brainer - no, I would not eat my cat under these circumstances, but that is too easy because the question really been asked was - do you approve of the woman eating her cat in these circumstances?

I think the knee jerk reaction for most people would be 'of course she shouldn't eat her cat - she is one sick kitty to even think about it' and I wholeheartedly agree but really the ethical dilemma is this - is this woman morally wrong to eat her cat so they can be joined as one forever and while I still hold onto the idea that we need some mental health professionals in this story I can't actually see any moral issues with the poor grief stricken woman with no friends eating her faithful companion so they may live together as one entity. It is certainly eccentric but I can't be convinced it is fundamentally immoral. Those of us who eat meat cannot really consider the eating of an animal as wrong without declaring our own actions morally corrupt. I concede most of us don't usually bring pets into the family with the intention of eating them but is it really any different to a farmer eating animals he has raised from birth for the table?

This lead my tired brain down another path which as a life long meat eater I am morally obliged to wander. When is it not ok to eat an animal? If I could cope with someone eating their pet where would I draw the line? Interesting question and while I am still exploring the answer I think the line in the sand is a long way off for me as the only circumstances I can think of that would prohibit me from eating an animal is the state of the animals population and future security. I would not, for instance, eat a tiger or a tuatara but if I was hungry enough any animal that isn't endangered is up for grabs providing they have been humanely dispatched. Having said that I know I have been guilty of eating meat that has not been slaughtered to the humane standards we have in this country but for my host country the method used to slaughter the beast was normal practice and they were very proud to offer the animal to us, their guests. In that situation I have already broken one of my own rules - does this make me flexible and culturally adaptable or do I have flimsy and brittle morals?

Our western culture is very narrow minded in the food resources it utilises compared with many other countries around the world and we have the luxury of turning our noses up at eating a dog or rat or guinea pig finding the notion unpalatable either due to the 'yuk factor' or the 'cute factor' depending on the species. Those Kiwis who have travelled in countries dominated by non western cultures are likely to respect the host's culture and tradition but only try the unfamiliar as a novelty rather than a viable long term menu option. How many travellers return from South America and set up a backyard guinea pig farm because they miss roast cavy - not a lot, although it is very easy to implement and could save money to help pay for the next overseas adventure.

All of this round about thinking has really led me to one conclusion which I have known all along so I could have saved myself an awful lot of bother - I will eat (almost) anything.