WASHINGTON — A recent European study has suggested that lobsters don’t feel pain when being boiled. For a lobster, the study suggests, going into a boiling pot is like taking a dip in a hot tub.
The study has caused an uproar as people recall that other studies have indicated that even plants can feel pain, and in the animal world — from seashells to humans — pain has traditionally been accepted as a part of being alive.
What is also interesting about this lobster study is that its focus on “luxury goods” reeks of commercialism.
Have you ever seen an ad warning that smoking cigars can cause cancer and heart disease? If you have, please let me know because I haven’t. Cigarettes, a democratic addiction, have been the subject of well-justified harassment for decades, but not aristocratic cigars.
An American president caught taking a puff on a cigarette would probably be impeached, but once again cigars are different. Former U.S. President Bill Clinton happily smoked them and even used one as a sex toy during his wild sessions with Monica Lewinsky in the Oval Office. It seems to me that cigars are made pretty much of the same stuff as cigarettes are, but they remain wrath-exempt, much in the same way that obscenely wealthy corporations become tax-exempt while Mom and Pop grocery stores pay the government every penny due.
It is correctly maintained that drugs like cocaine and heroine are bad not only because they kill people but also because they let warlords in Columbia and Afghanistan keep the local poor people in permanent misery by involving them in illegal drug-producing business for very little pay. But I have rarely heard the same argument being made about diamonds, although the Third World miners who produce them are frequently in the same labor category as the peasants who grow coca plants.
U.S. television personality Martha Stewart is another example. Having gone to jail for cheating in securities trading, she is going to publish a book about her experience and is set to star in a major TV show. Meanwhile, an ordinary criminal released from the same jail would be lucky if he could get a job stocking shelves in a supermarket.
Of course, there are exceptions to the rule. Furs are highly profitable, too, but it has become unsafe to wear a fur coat in North America because doing so can provoke attacks by angry animal-rights activists. Even Hollywood celebrities have largely agreed that killing animals for their fur is cruel, and fur is now a frowned upon commodity.
But it is still OK to eat steaks, even though in principle a cow has the same right to live as a fox. Why the disparity, one wonders. The answer, probably, is that foxes and other small furry animals are incredibly cute — unlike cows (and lobsters).
Animal-rights advocates display heaps of hypocrisy as well. In their view, to kill mosquitoes is fine but to use rats in medical experiments is not. Is that because one can’t look in the eyes of a dying mosquito?
Principled vegetarians insist that killing animals for food is immoral, but what about killing carrots, lettuce or leeks? These vegetables can’t scream or walk, but they are alive. Just like humans, they are born, they grow, they reproduce and they die. But when they are harvested for food, like lambs brought to slaughter, these vegetables perish in their prime and, worse, they are chopped up while alive.
Moral philosophy fails in the domain of animal rights. Most Western societies agree that the sight of a dog being abused is horrific, and justice is served if the perpetrator is subsequently punished for cruelty. However, other cultures raise dogs for food — and there is zero difference between dogs and cows when they are raised for food.
Hunting animals for fun strikes many people as brutal, but what about fishing? After all, a bullet ends an animal’s life instantly, while a fishing hook is an instrument of torture. For this reason, some radicals declare fishing to be immoral, but they say little about sharp kitchen knives being applied to the tender flesh of cabbage.
Perhaps one has to admit that our choices in this respect are entirely subjective. In one culture a person regards a dog as dinner, in another as a family member — and both views are legitimate. In Britain, many people view it as a crime to kill rats in the name of science. But tell that to a farmer in Central Asia, where rats carry lethal diseases, including the plague.
But when science — or shall we say commerce — steps into the argument, the whole situation becomes preposterous. Like accommodating priests granting a dispensation, scientists can tell people buying expensive lobsters: “Don’t feel guilty about boiling them, they can’t feel pain.” (They never add, though, that eating lobsters is also good for the fishing and restaurant industries.)
What’s next? A discovery that fresh oysters actually like to be chewed and swallowed, as they are sworn masochists, or that pheasants are suicidal by nature? Maybe somebody should start marketing pots with boiling water to lobsters themselves by saying, “You will get a permanent, beautiful scarlet tan in just three seconds — we guarantee it! And no funeral expenses whatsoever, all remnants are disposed of completely free of charge. Call your local store for more details.”
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.