People in Southeast Asia eat dogs, so why don't we eat bisque of schnauzer and terrier lasagna? People in India don't eat cows, but that's just religious mumbo jumbo. Why do we euthanize dogs when we could be making 7-11 taquitos from them? I can't figure it out. This is pretty much the whole of John D. Sutter's "argument for eating dog," which has already received 5,000 comments and been liked on Facebook 18,000 times.
Sutter has let rationalist premises lead him into an alleyway. He's stuck with his disgust at the idea of eating dogs but bereft of a reason to respect his disgust. And he ends with an admonition to think harder, though he despairs of an answer.
Perhaps he believes that any taboo that isn't built on the most obvious rational premises is a fraud. More likely, he thinks that any taboo with moral overtones must be against things that are intrinsically wrong. A person working under these premises would conclude that the only choice is either to zealously work to ban snacking on canines worldwide or to overthrow laws or even censorious attitudes against the practice.
And so Sutter is left with the dilemma. Dogs are protein. And it's rational to maximize utility, right? If he follows this train of thought to its logically crude conclusion, we'd be feeding the hungry with meatballs made of grandmothers and their cats. "She died naturally," we might say in the flesh kitchens, "so it sorta dovetails with the supererogatory ethics of fruitarianism."
As Sutter gropes around in the dark for an answer, he almost stumbles on one:
If we think dog shouldn't be eaten — like, ever, regardless of how clean the trade is and how quick the kill — then maybe we should think about the other animals we eat, and if and why we don't feel the same way about them. Is it because we spend so much time with dogs — looking into their eyes, talking to them, walking them, picking up their crap — that we understand that they are living, breathing, feeling beings? [CNN]
Well, yes, kinda. It's not that we don't know cows and chickens are living beings, but that we have designated them as food and we raise them for that purpose. And, in fact, on family farms it is not unusual for children (or adults) to name animals before slaughter. "We're eating Bella tonight!" they might say of a chicken.
Western society has invested different energies in dogs for other purposes, ones that give them honored places in our homes as guardians, assistants, or companions. As a society, we've befriended them.
Occasionally, that friendship can be detrimental to dogs, as we see in exaggerated inbreeding practices. And some of that friendship may be owing to dogs' evolving into "social parasites" that make expressions and noises designed to prevent us from smashing in their heads with rocks when they annoy us. Even dogs that pee on the carpet learn quickly how to make affiliative gestures that we erroneously interpret as sorrow or guilt.
But the reason we shouldn't eat dogs is related to the same reason it is more heinous and hateful to burn a synagogue than a community center, or that it is more of a violation to burn down a man's home than the two rental properties he owns of an equivalent dollar value. The spaces, objects, and even animals we sanctify with our respect, friendship, and time really do enter into different moral categories. It is not inherently evil to smash a picture, but it is a gesture of hatred to tear a beloved family photo.
Societies like Korea's, where dogs have been eaten and kept as pets, even come up with different categories of dogs to separate the ones that are sanctified by human friendship and those that are not and therefore can be eaten. As Americans, with our own history and sense of ethics, we would probably never develop this distinction, and that's okay. We're fine with diversity when it comes to other cultural manifestations, like manners, another dimension of human behavior with moral implications. It is a human wrong to be inhospitable, but hospitality may have completely different expressions and taboos from one culture to the next. So, too, with our taboos on eating and animals.
When rationalism is completely divorced from human culture, human history, and human loves, it turns brittle. This is the shallow pattern of thought that leads a judge in Australia to say that taboos against incest are completely obviated by the availability of abortion and birth control.
So, yes, looking into their eyes, talking to them, walking them, and picking up their crap is exactly why we shouldn't eat dogs. And this applies to non-dog lovers, dog fearers, and even dog haters, since taboos of this type are a society-wide phenomena. Even if Koreans or Vietnamese eat dogs, we shouldn't. We may not have the same respect for religious objects that certain religions exhibit, but we owe it to them as a matter of courtesy not to smash them.
So, too, with dogs, who have been made by hundreds of years of history and culture into icons of industry, creativity, friendship, and love.