Western society has seen enormous changes in its attitude towards animal cruelty over the last 150 or so years. In a rural setting, if you wanted to eat roast chicken, you had to kill the chicken yourself. The link between ‘Eating Meat’ and ‘Killing Animals’ was uncomplicated, and it doesn’t seem like many people were especially emotional about it. That was just how it was. Gratuitous cruelty towards animals was frowned upon, but as long as you owned the animal in question, there wasn’t much that could be done. Think of Dostoyevsky in ‘Crime and Punishment’ describing the man deliberately flogginghis horse to death for public amusement:
“He’ll crush her,” was shouted round him. “He’ll kill her!”
“It’s my property,” shouted Mikolka and brought the shaft down with a swinging blow.
There was a sound of a heavy thud.
“Thrash her, thrash her! Why have you stopped?” shouted voices in the crowd.
These days, animal cruelty will land you in prison. Just ask Michael Vick. And the vast majority of people enjoy eating meat, but don’t want to see how the sausage is made. People deliberately avoid enquiring too much about the process that produces their steak – it’s not that they don’t know what’s involved, they just prefer not to think about it. If you forced the average person to kill a cow to get their T-Bone steak, I’m not sure they’d be up to it.
And this is where my prediction comes in. If nanotechnology becomes sufficiently developed (and it’s a fair bet it will), it seems that given say, 200 years, we might be able to recreate a perfect steak at the molecular level without having to slaughter cows.
And when this happens, it will sever the link between eating meat (which most people don’t want to give up) and killing animals (which most people seem quite glad to give up, at least most of the time). Think about the success of free-range eggs. Can you imagine if you could purchase equally delicious chicken that never involved a hen having to suffer? I’d buy it in a second.
Give it two generations in this environment, and I'd predict that the average person will view the deliberate slaughter of animals for meat as being repugnant and horrific.
My guess is that in the fullness of time, future generations will come to view today’s abattoirs in a similar way to how we view the Circus Maximus. In other words, they will bare be able to control their repulsion at the idea that the average person would willingly go along with such wholesale slaughter for no higher purpose than their own enjoyment.
And if I had the courage of my convictions, I’d admit that I’m not altogether sure that they won’t be right in this belief.