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What Is It Like For Animals To Suffer?
Like us, probably
[content warning: factory farming]
A lot of people don't care about animal welfare because they don't think animals have very complex capacities. An animal may not have an understanding of the future. She may not be capable of metacognition: reflecting on her own thoughts and feelings to figure out why she thinks and feels the way she does. She might not be capable of abstract reasoning. Her pleasures may be less complex than ours. Therefore, they argue, we should prioritize animal welfare less.
I am not sure if you have ever experienced 10/10 pain—pain so intense that you can’t care about anything other than relieving the pain, that you can’t think, that your entire subjective experience consists only of agony. Pain so intense that you are begging to be allowed to commit suicide because death would be better than enduring one more moment.
It was probably the worst experience of my life.
And let me tell you: I wasn’t at that moment particularly capable of understanding the future. I had little ability to reflect on my own thoughts and feelings. I certainly wasn’t capable of much abstract reasoning. My score on an IQ test would probably be quite low. My experience wasn’t at all complex. I wasn’t capable of experiencing the pleasure of poetry, or the depth and richness of a years-old friendship, or the elegance of philosophy.
I just hurt.
So I think about what it’s like to be a chicken who grows so fast that his legs are broken for his entire life, or who is placed in a macerator and ground to death, or who is drowned alive in 130 degrees Fahrenheit water. I think about how it compares to being a human who has these experiences. And I’m not sure my theoretical capacity for abstract reasoning affects the experience at all.
When I think what it’s like to be a tortured chicken versus a tortured human—
Well. I think the experience is the same.