The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Killing Herd Animals

One of the great crimes and tragedies of our world is how we treat the animals we eat (or whose milk, eggs, or other products we eat and use). Factory farming keeps them in tiny enclosures, feeds them monotonous foods, and then when they’re slaughtered, it’s a terrible experience–they’re terrified and die in pain.

There’s been a kerfuffle in Britain, where the Green Party leader said he’d bank Halal meats.

There’s an argument for this based on Nassim Taleb’s tyranny of the committed minority. If enough people simply won’t buy something unless it’s done their way, it makes sense for capitalists to just produce all of whatever it is that way. “Just butcher them all Halal.”

Halal killing is a cut to the jugular vein, and then all blood is drained. In part it’s fairly clear that the intent is to spare animals pain, same as it is in Kosher butchering, where the carotid and jugular and windpipe are all cut in one smooth motion.

So both these things seem good to me, but it seems that there’s a third style of killing herd animals that is even more painless: the Mongolian one. They make a small incisition in the neck, then pull out a vein. The animal dies quickly and painlessly (though it’s messy, as you’d expect.)

I have little respect for religious rules just because they’re religious, and that includes rules about how animals are treated. Animals, especially mammals, clearly have emotions and suffer. If you want to obey “God’s” rules yourself, knock yourself out–as long as it affects no one but you. But when it effects other people, those rules get no extra points because “God” said so.

Both Halal and Kosher killing is better than what happens in most slaughterhouses. But if Mongolian butchering is painless, then that’s what we should use. It should be mandated by law, everyone who kills animals should be trained, and slaughterhouses should be inspected.

And if that means some Jews and Muslims (or anyone else) decide not to eat meat, they can go howl.

The point here isn’t really about slaughtering animals (though we should do it humanely, and yeah, I’m willing to see prices go up if that’s required and I’m poor enough that means I’d eat less meat), but about religions, ideologies, and policies.

Religions are ideologies which claim special status. “God said,” usually.

Those claims are laughable. It’s not that God may or may not exist, it’s that there are too many religions all claiming “God” said different things.

Obviously, most of them are wrong. Heck, they’re probably all wrong, even if God does exist.

So that means they’re just ideologies: a series of assertions about how the world is, how the world should be and how humans should think, feel, and act. As such, they are due no more deference than any other ideology, whether capitalism, the divine right of kings, the Pax Romana, or democracy. They are simply provisional sets of ideas, from a particular time, with a particular history, and they can be wrong, or more to the point, harmful. Some will be good, some bad, and so on.

As such they must be evaluated by the good they do, versus the harm, and if better ways of doing things, in terms of the welfare of humans, animals, and life in general are found, what some guy centuries or millennia ago said about what God wanted should be thrown out the window.

Religion, all religion, including yours, is just ideology in supernatural drag.

Treat it as such.

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Why Impeachment Has No Traction


Open Thread


  1. WasteMaker

    I propose we keep the American factory farm style of butchering if only for when it comes time to eat the rich.

  2. DMC

    Both kosher and halal methods are at some pains to insure the minimal suffering of the animal but also reflect the semitic aversion to consuming blood, hence the opening of the large blood vessels to exsangunate the beast in question. They’re both emphatic that the animal must not be bludgeoned to death, which is close enough to the “boltgun” method commonly used in industrial slaughtering to render any such resulting meat neither kosher nor halal. The thing with getting religious people to actually DO GOOD is to convince them that its what their religion already demands of them and that you’ve just happened along to reming them of this.

    Tell me more of this “diving right kinds”.

  3. Onihikage

    The bit about religions all saying they’re right reminds me of a question that Google hasn’t been terribly helpful for (or I just haven’t found the right search terms) – What other major religions make direct claims that they are the only path to heaven/nirvana/etc., and what passages of their texts make that claim? Bonus points for non-Abrahamic ones.

  4. Eating less meat would not necessarily be a bad thing.

    We have to stop doing what we’re doing. It isn’t working.

    Though for WasteMaker’s suggestion I’ll make an exception.

    Your bonus points are safe, Oni, as are your base. No need to ‘bank’.

  5. Dan Lynch

    I spent some time working in slaughterhouses. That was 35 year ago, but I doubt if the technology has changed much.

    It’s bad.

    They use a type of gun that shoots a retracting steel finger into the brain. For safety reasons the steel finger remains attached to the gun — you don’t want bullets flying around the slaughterhouse.

    But as the line forms to go into the kill room, apparently the cows talk to each other, so the cows in the line know what is going on, and panic. They can’t go anywhere, but they jump around and make things difficult for the workers.

    The finger gun does not always work. Most of the time it does, but occasionally it merely stuns. So they may have to “shoot” the animal multiple times, or they may have to fall back on a sledgehammer or even a rifle (probably not today due to safety concerns).

    But that’s not the worst part.

    After the kill, the animal is immediately hoisted onto the assembly line with hooks, it’s throat cut open and the hocks cut off. The gut is sliced open and intestines dumped out.

    About this time, sometimes animals that were merely stunned by the finger gun, suddenly wake up and start flopping around as it is suspended from the hooks, with its intestines hanging out.

    So it’s bad. I had to stop eating meat for several years after that.

    Even today, I would rather eat meat that I have harvested myself. Fair chase hunting is much more ethical that what happens in a slaughterhouse. It’s still sad to kill an animal in the field, but as long as it is a good shot, it’s a quick, noble death, surrounded by fresh air rather than the stench of a slaughterhouse.

  6. Joan

    Definitely agree with Ian here.

    Onihikage, I wonder if you’re talking about common characteristics of Axial Age religions, which would include non-Abrahamic religions that also claim a true way, have sacred texts, and that believe humans are fundamentally faulty and must be saved, etc., but I don’t know enough about it to be sure.

  7. Stirling S Newberry

    The problem with meat is that wealth is created by formula:

    population increase + increase productivity + bankruptcy = wealth

    and well, animals can go bankrupt too: we kill them in nasty ways. Think about killing humans in a slaughterhouse. Some people do, they are called vegetarians. So if we charge for the human killing of animals, who, exactly, pays for it? The 90% do not have any money. The well-to-do want to catch up to the rich. The rich do not want their share to go down. This is why “G-d” scares them: people do things for other reasons than money.

    Right now the rich are trying to make in so the poor pay for everything. This includes killing.


  8. realitychecker

    Ian, you are so right that all the different religions can’t be right about their particular God views.

    We should only give societal protection and privileges to the right one.

    Problem solved. You’re all welcome. 🙂


    Religion, all religion, including yours, is just ideology in supernatural drag.

    Excellent line. A keeper.


    Dan’s referring to one of these. Apparently they’re not just for killing cows in slaughterhouses. Killing animals slowly and more humanely is closer to where we need to be and certainly in the right direction. We need to slow production down substantially as we make our way back to a world made by hand versus machine.

  11. Herman

    Well, someone could argue that it doesn’t matter if animals suffer because they are simply living machines, an idea that could be applied to human beings too. If a cruel but efficient way to slaughter animals exists why not apply it to serve the needs of the greater organism, human beings?

    I don’t agree with the above statement but it seems perfectly legitimate to me from a materialist perspective. Indeed, I am not sure that morality can even meaningfully exist in a wholly material universe but that is a topic for another time.

    My point here is that this issue seems to have less to do with religion and more to do with the efficiency demands of an industrial, consumer civilization. Outside of certain religious traditions like Judaism and Islam where there are rules about meat preparation and the few people who care deeply about animal welfare, most people, whether religious or not, want their meat anyway they can get it and don’t care how it is obtained.

  12. Ché Pasa

    Both halal and kosher slaughter can be extraordinarily gruesome and horrifying for the victim, and they can take quite a long and painful time, so I wouldn’t be so quick to claim they are “better” for the animal than X form of slaughter. They aren’t. That they are supposed to be done according to rules given by God (oh, right) does not make them somehow more humane. They are arguably among the least humane forms of slaughter.

    Large scale slaughter of animals, whether industrial or religiously done is a horrible thing. The workers and the animals both are victims.

    I’ve seen a video of a Mongolian slaughtering a goat. Doesn’t seem like much of an alternative in the end. Smaller scale, one-on-one, and a sense of respect for the victim makes for a less depersonalized and dehumanized form of slaughter, but in the end, it’s still pretty gory and is neither painless nor quick.

    It’s hard to imagine how Dan Lynch got over his experience in a slaughterhouse. Maybe he never did.

    The supposed God-given rules for slaughter or any other human activity are basically excuses and justifications for doing things a certain way — forever. Those ways originated as directives, customs and observances in small societies long ago. It doesn’t mean they’re intrinsically good or bad. They’re customary. It’s how the ancestors learned to do it; and their ancestors and so on. But I seriously doubt the ancestors of the ancestors had a direct line to the Divine. No matter what they say.

  13. highrpm

    ideologies: choose your gaming table.

    if somehow mankind didn’t consume meat, how would mankind define war?

    halal war := nuke ’em. only the survivors suffer.

  14. Willy

    Martin Luther once wrote a treatise about how the rise of reason kills faith, and how bad that is. Then he wrote another treatise about the morality of destroying Jews because their faith is different.

    So I pondered this. What if from Gods perspective, humans are the big dumb animals that mature to adult size in far too short a time to understand anything except overgrazing. And only at the end of the line do we learn our true purpose. Maybe the reason that we’ve never discovered intelligent alien life, or that God never just shows up, is that well-hidden aliens are in control, and humans are being farmed for some kind of metaphysical harvest beyond our current comprehension.

    Then I remember that faith-based reasoning, plus a little imagination, is probably why we’re all in this mess. So I try to return to reason.

  15. realitychecker

    @ Herman

    Any time I encounter a human who inflicts needless suffering on an animal in the belief that the animal’s suffering has no significance, I am immediately visited with the conviction that the only ‘efficient’ way to respond is to have them suffer the same type of suffering for a few hours.

    @ Willy

    Gotta give you props for that one. At this point, the only “God” that I could ever respect would be one who realized that we are probably not fit for anything but eating. But now that you’ve planted that thought in my head, I’ll be looking over my shoulder all day.

    An ideal God would also be one who would have struck the Speaker dead with lightning a few minutes ago when she swore that “this has absolutely nothing to do with politics.” And that Catholics are incapable of hating.

    Maybe it’s a good thing that nobody listens to any of us?

  16. As far as religion goes, and hey-Zeus right as the hammer falls, as the bowel vacation makes contact with the oscillating air circulation unit (shit hits fan), at the moment the world ends floating down out of the sky on a flying rainbow unicorn with thousands of ‘angels’ on flying rainbow unicorns to carry all the faithful away to paradise… tis far the more likely thousands upon thousands of cavernous spacecraft, vast slaughter-houses piloted by ravenous vaguely reptilian creatures, replete with horns and folked tail, intent not as benevolent overseers of the demise of this world and our current iteration in human evolution and our children’s evolution onto the next iteration of humanity but as ravenous reptilian creatures… you know, hungry lizards.

    We did, afterall, invite them to “Come Eat!”

  17. Herman


    Most people would agree with you on the “needless” part but what about people who argue that industrial slaughter is necessary to meet the huge and growing demand for meat? To them the suffering of animals is outweighed by the need to feed human beings. The same arguments are used for animal testing. Whatever suffering animals go through is outweighed by the benefits to human beings.

    You do not need to be a religious person who thinks humans have a soul to make these arguments, you could be an atheist who thinks that ultimately humans are higher-level organisms and thus human needs outweigh animal needs. The issue here is the demand in our consumer society for more meat. There are millions of people who love their dogs and cats and would be horrified by cruelty to a dog or a cat but have no problem eating beef, chicken and pork slaughtered in deplorable conditions.

    Furthermore, I don’t know if animal slaughter was ever humane. Did our most ancient ancestors care about the suffering of animals that they killed in the hunt? I don’t know but I am skeptical of the Garden of Eden school of history that says humans lived in something like utopia before the advent of agricultural society. I don’t agree with Hobbesian types like Steven Pinker but I am not convinced of the accuracy of the noble savage school either. People like to transfer their modern values to primitive humans so that they can say that their ideology is “natural.”

    I suspect that many humans in the past would consider our softhearted feelings for animals to be strange and this would not be entirely due to religion. It is just that most of us no longer hunt or even raise domesticated livestock. We eat industrial food and dote on our pets and say that we feel bad about animal suffering right before having another cheeseburger.

  18. Willy

    I’d think that any meat-eating aliens capable of managing the powers required for interstellar flight while also avoiding species self-annihilation, would be growing genetically engineered meat sacks in big vats or something, without having to worry about any sentient animal’s feelings and all that. But I’ve been wrong before.

    I do agree that if I ever witness somebody being inhumane to a ‘lesser’ creature, human or otherwise, that it’s probably just a matter of time before they try something inhumane on me if the opportunity or ever need presented itself.


    As we do to what spawned us, so too will what we spawn do to us. Precedent’s a bitch.

    I’m reminded of that scene from the original Planet of the Apes where the apes conduct a raid on the human savages for encroaching on their crops and the time-traveling astronauts are dumbstruck and slack-jawed at first blush.


    Temple Grandin designed this. A humane way to herd humans to the slaughter so they don’t get spooked or frightened.

  21. It isn’t all that far fetched to supposit that at some point in the past half-million years extra-terrestrial travelers – for whatever reason: pure science, sheer boredom, desperate survival, or profit – genetically interfered with the development of the proto-humans they found roaming the savannahs of Northern and Western Africa. That not only are we but fleas agitating the hide of a far greater organism, but some bastard’s abandoned science project, if not cattle, or pigs, as well.

    Is it a bad time to point out that ‘humans’ harbor all the behavioral characteristics of herd animals? Sprawled drooling Pavlovianly across the “couch” the backseat out of a nineteen sixty-nine Chevy Suburban drunk on the Ambien, Prozac, Viagra and bimbo bottle-blonde crotch-shots on Fox Kool-Aid, blindly following a charismatic ‘leader’ to suicide? Dragging the rest of us with them?

  22. Willy

    I never imagined that most white evangelicals would be in the state they’re in. They used to be such a caring bunch. From national polls, to my own sisters, the beliefs and behaviors appear identical. One could almost think that an all powerful God is leading them. But I don’t.

    I’ve studied MBTI. It’s not a science, or really a pseudoscience, but has enough ring of truth to it to be taken seriously by outfits like Boeing and Cambridge Analytica. A master manipulator once told me that somebody we knew was “cut from that cloth”. Good salesman can spot temperaments and tailor their sales pitches accordingly. It builds on what psycho-socio thinkers going back as far as the classical Greeks have suspected, that people are born with temperaments which don’t change much over the course of their lives. One’s knowledge changes, attitudes change, the weight of experiences will shape one, but core emotional motivations don’t change much. It’s probably because of electrochemical genetics which either don’t change or are difficult to change. Regarding plasticity, it is obviously possible for a skinny kid to add muscle and bone mass with powerlifting and nutrition, but he’ll never be a Mateusz Kieliszkowski without the supporting genetics. German Shorthairs are naturally better duck hunters than are Bichon Frise. My lifelong indoor cats still want to leave the comfort of their warm cat beds to go outside to kill stuff. So it is also with human temperament. We want to do what we’re born to want to do.

    Most people (over half) are born to be “herd animals”, and most of the rest of us just go along for more practical reasons (therefore the large and lucrative marketing/advertising industries). I appear to be more of an empathic rational. I view most TV ads with skeptical annoyance. Even if something appeals to me, it has to be a vital need for me to want to buy it. And then I’ll do my homework to make sure it’s a good product, a practical fit. I couldn’t care less about “cool things”. I’ve always been that way. But my sisters buy stuff just to keep up looking cool.

    So back to white evangelicals, yeah, most of them today are domestic cows. Scientists poll at less than 5% religious, when they were closer to 80% Christian a century ago. I don’t think they’ve moved onto other fads as much as they’ve lost the practicality of praying to an unseen God who never shows up. Christianity is also bleeding humanists.
    Generally speaking, the departure of those two not-so-herdy types has made the white evangelicals quite appealing to plutocratic political movements who can use the more herdy mass for personal gain. But that’s just my opinion.

  23. Temporarily Sane

    If a law was passed that obligated every meat-eating human to personally partake in slaughtering a certain percentage of the animals they consume each year, I wonder how many people would continue eating meat? I can’t imagine many white-collar delicates presenting themselves at the nearest abattoir and shooting steel bolts into the brains of their dinner and watching it flail in bug-eyed terror as it is strung up and eviscerated in an assembly line slaughtering operation.

    It’s one thing to contemplate “humane” ways of killing an animal and actually killing it yourself. We live during a time when mildly insulting words are earnestly equated with physical violence and university students say reading novels with descriptions of sex or violence “traumatizes” them. People lose their shit over a Muslim travel ban while droning and bombing Muslims to death and destroying their countries is met with a collective shrug. We have secular doomsayers who claim global warming will bring the apocalypse down on all our heads and that humans can and should cool down the planet’s climate. But we end up doing nothing and the “dire warnings” continue until nobody is really sure what the hell is going on.

    These are very strange times. The notion of an objective external reality that exists independently of the human mind is becoming a fringe belief and people are losing the ability to tell the difference between a fact and an opinion. Reason and rational thought as the primary method of determining what is real and what is not real is losing out to hyper-individualistic subjectivity.

    People say all kinds of things without really thinking about what it is they are talking about. Instead of abstractly babbling about how you “support” the Halal or Kosher method of slaughtering livestock or the slightly more “humane”, but messier, Mongolian method, ask yourself if YOU would be able to kill the food that you eat. I would bet good money that many city dwellers and suburbanites would be traumatized for life if they just had to watch live (or on hi def video) as somebody else kills their meat for them, let alone do the deed themselves.

    The internet has turned us into a society of bullshiters.

  24. realitychecker

    Very sane. Word.

  25. Willy

    I’m currently dealing with two parties who want me to assume all legal liability in a certain project for a pittance, while they profit handsomely. I’ve told them repeatedly that under those conditions that I shall do things my way, at my price, or no deal. But they keep on trying to delude me even after I’ve clearly explained that I know their game and that I’m not a fool. It’s almost as if they cannot believe that they’ve actually met somebody who isn’t a blind, desperate, naive idiot. The greedy self-delusion is fat out there. Now that’s trickle down!

  26. Willy

    I could bone a fish or kill poultry. But then, I don’t eat red meat for health reasons. It’s fortunate, because I think cows are cute and pigs are smart and deer are too Bambi.

    Everything seems to trace back to corporate overlords who’ve become expert at conditioning us (well most of us) into mindless consumer livestock. I think of turkey farms with fat turkeys who’ve been bred for only one thing – to want to eat more feed.

  27. Most specific demands to ban halal or kosher slaughter (or reject it as part of the general supply chain) have a motive of prejudice towards each of the affected minority communities — a suspiciously disproportionate attention to the last moments of the animal’s life. I only respect that idea when it comes from ethical vegans, or, at best, as part of a principled program of attention to the entirety of animal life, with due and proportionate attention given to the *whole* meat supply chain.

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