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“Humane” Meat and the Prime Directive: What Does Star Trek Teach Us About the “Farming” of Other Animals?

A couple of days ago, we received this comment to our blog entry announcing our new name:

Please remember, not all farming is factory farming. Vermont is rich with grass-based small farms that honor the efforts of both humans and animals. So many folks will never voluntarily go vegan- let’s help them understand that there are still choices available that make a world of difference in the lives of animals and the health of the planet.

These days, the question of whether or not eating the flesh and other “products” of other animals can ever be ethical (or honorable) is very much on peoples’ minds, especially here in Vermont where the locavore movement is very strong. We believe it is never ethical to exploit other animals for any reason whatsoever, and that veganism is the only honorable answer to the question of what to eat. Here are just a couple of our past writings on the subject:

No Exploitation is Good Exploitation
Find Out About Food

These (and countless other) articles show that “happy meat and eggs” are still produced by exploiting and eventually killing countless animals. Here are some other excellent reports concerning the “humane meat” movement, including one that shows the extreme inefficiency of funneling food and water through animals to feed humans, instead of just feeding ourselves directly:

The Truth Behind The Labels: Farm Animal Welfare Standards and Labeling Practices
Hard to Swallow

However, beyond directing the commenter to such writings or just answering in a short fashion, I wanted to respond in blog form, mostly because this is a comment that deserves a well thought-out answer.

I will begin by telling you that I’m a science fiction fan. I’ve been one for over three decades. Down the years, various friends, co-workers, and lovers have teased me about this, believing science and speculative fiction are just one tiny step up from trashy romance novels in the quality department. However, I’ve always known that this genre has a great deal to teach us about ourselves on an individual basis as well as where we are headed on a collective basis. This is due, in part, to the fact that almost everything written in this genre is set in the future, where we can (if we are honest) see ourselves in almost every character we meet.

For example, on an earth set after the third world war, we will meet the ruling class; we will meet the radioactive poor; and we will meet the rebels who are leading the way to revolution; and we could easily be all of them. We are the protagonist and the antagonist both, set against a landscape terrifying in its familiarity. There is no way we can honestly say we are a good guy or a bad guy when the bright light of the future is cast upon us, and if we allow it to happen, we can learn a lot by seeing the world from multiple perspectives.

It is said that empathy can lead to the greatest change. If we imagine ourselves in the shoes of the other, we begin to understand what motivates the other; we learn what we share with the other, and what we do not. By being able to empathize with the admirable other, perhaps we learn how to behave more admirably. By admitting that we have something in common with the villainous other, perhaps we learn how to modify our own problematic behaviors. This dynamic is very much in play when it comes to reading science and speculative fiction: because we become many of the characters, we learn to empathize with them.

What, then, might fans of Star Trek learn when they empathize with Captain Kirk or Captain Picard? Bravery, certainly. Integrity. Fairness. Determination. These characteristics are embodied in no better place than the Prime Directive: the guiding principle that oversees all Federation travels and missions. Here is one wording of the Prime Directive (from Wikipedia):

As the right of each sentient species to live in accordance with its normal cultural evolution is considered sacred, no Starfleet personnel may interfere with the normal and healthy development of alien life and culture.

This meant that every time the members of the crew of the Starship Enterprise landed on a new planet and encountered any kind of life whatsoever, they were forbidden to interfere in any way. Their presence could never affect, in any way, the civilization (or lack thereof) possessed by the inhabitants of the planet. They held back not because of some law or other, but because they believed, in their deepest collective guts, that to interfere in the lives of other species was wrong, plain and simple.

So, let’s become Captain Picard and step foot on another planet. Only this other planet is our own planet. Picard is walking the earth of 200,000 years ago when homo sapiens are first emerging onto the scene. Picard is one of them. In fact, he is the first one of them, and when he looks at all of the other species around him, he is fully aware of how different he is from them. He is as dramatically different from them as the Picard of the skies was from his encountered aliens.

But he still possesses the Prime Directive, because he is Picard, after all. And he sees these alien lives — these sentient species with alien cultures equivalent in their way to his own Prime Directive — and he knows that each of them has the right to self-determination on both an individual and a collective level. Nothing he does may interfere with their normal, healthy developmental processes: normal as defined by them and not him. He lives and breathes this directive, after all.

And so he lives his life and allows everyone else to live theirs. He does not “domesticate” the goat or sheep so he can eat their milk or flesh; he does not ride the horse or throw alluring bones to wild dogs. Any of those things would rob them of their self-determination. He does not make a line to demarcate his land, or dictate who may live where, as that would be an interference. To live in this way, according to the Prime Directive, does honor to himself and everyone else like him.

When we are Picard on that earth of so long ago it might as well be another planet, we have nothing but admiration for his actions. Because we are viewing this show, we can put ourselves in Picard’s shoes and feel ourselves making his same choices. We can also place ourselves in the minds and bodies of the other sentient species with whom Picard is sharing the world. In this way, we know the wordless relief, the sheer unconscious gratitude, of trusting we will not be abused or exploited by someone more powerful than ourselves.

Can we, then, extend the implications to our own world — to today’s world? It seems that, in fact, we must: after all, the Prime Directive of science and speculative fiction is that we must apply what we read or see to ourselves. So, who are we? We are homo sapiens, and we’ve domesticated numerous other sentient species. Those whom we haven’t domesticated, we’ve bullied into submission. We have interfered with them at every level, including their genes; we have interrupted their right to self-determination in every way possible; we have determined where they will live, where they will not, with whom they will reproduce and how often, whether or not they will keep their children, and when and how they will die.

We have done this to trillions of animals. And no, that is not a typo.

And why do we do this? We have no justifiable reason for it, when it comes down to the core of the matter. The flesh we eat is unnecessary for our health. The eggs we eat are unnecessary for our health. The milk we consume is unnecessary for our health. [In fact, most studies show that these things are not only unnecessary, but are, on balance, unhealthy to us.] We have materials that surpass their skins and furs in both comfort and warmth. In short, we do not need to do any of these things.

But we continue anyway, creating and tormenting and exploiting and murdering countless billions of sentient creatures every year. We tell ourselves many stories about why we do this, but in the end, we are causing unnecessary torment and basing our actions upon lies. Lies that bring profit to us. Lies that bring a pleasant taste to our mouths. Lies that stroke our dominance-craving egos.

There is no honor in forcing a member of another species to be born; to live in our structures; to submit to our probings and takings, kidnappings and medicatings; to die when we deem they must. There is no way to make a positive difference in the life of another animal when the only choices we offer them are either some pain or a lot of pain; some years of life or a lot of years of life. We might say there is a difference in degree of honor. But there is never any honor in violating the Prime Directive.

It is not too late to stop our hurtful ways. We can stop right now, in fact: stop creating animals, stop eating their flesh and milk and eggs, stop wearing their skins, stop taking their urine in pill form, stop performing experiments upon them. We can stop pretending to ourselves that there is a difference between controlling another animal and controlling another human being. If our actions would not bring honor to another member of our own species, we could choose to see that it will not bring honor to a member of another species. We can choose to live with everyone else, and not on top of their backs.

There is no honor brought to non-human animals in so-called happy meat or milk or egg production. It’s a different version of exploitation; and as long our hands create that exploitation – as long we violate the Prime Directive – we will never bring honor to ourselves.

2 comments to “Humane” Meat and the Prime Directive: What Does Star Trek Teach Us About the “Farming” of Other Animals?

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