Overcoming Bias

After attending dogfights it’s rumored that on some nights Michael Vick would continue his bloody activities by dining on cow’s flesh.  No word yet on whether prosecutors will be seeking additional prison time.


I don't buy the analogy. I make a distinction between eating animal flesh and the imposition of unnecessary pain and suffering on animals through fighting.

But there is some analogy, I believe, between animal fighting and certain methods of factory farming that are unnecessarily cruel, only to deliver less expensive meat.

There is a case to be made that those of us with a certain level of income have a moral obligation, if we eat meat, to go cruelty-free.

Football players volunteer to attack and injure one another for the entertainment of fans. The dogs are coerced into doing so. One would hope a libertarian economist could tell the difference between coercion and voluntary transactions.


"A certain level of income?"

How would you compute that? What is the amount of premium for "cruelty-free" meat that I should be required to pay if I make $60,000 a year? What if I have 7 kids to feed as well?

How about differing prices for different levels of cruelty?

(By now, any of you who are still taking me literally, please go read the PETA blogs or something)

My point is, how can you monetize the amount of suffering imposed on another species for the benefit of ours? I throw this one to Tyler.

Regardless of whether it can be defended or not, the legal system has drawn a line between dogfighting and eating cow. Basically, our society has told Vick that we get very upset by that sort of thing, but he went and did it anyway, so I don't think he deserves much sympathy.

The whole thing is about personality. Dogs have personality, cows don't.

Thanks a bunch.
(to Jules, who's nursing his coffee) Want a sausage?

Naw, I don't eat pork.

Are you Jewish?

I ain't Jewish man, I just don't dig on swine.

Why not?

They're filthy animals. I don't eat filthy animals.

Sausages taste good. Pork chops taste good.

A sewer rat may taste like pumpkin pie. I'll never know 'cause even if it did, I wouldn't eat the filthy $%^&#. Pigs sleep and root in _____. That's a filthy animal. I don't wanna eat nothin' that ain't got enough sense to disregard its own feces.

How about dogs? Dogs eat their own feces.

I don't eat dog either.

Yes, but do you consider a dog to be a filthy animal?

I wouldn't go so far as to call a dog filthy, but they're definitely dirty. But a dog's got personality. And personality goes a long way.

So by that rationale, if a pig had a better personality, he's cease to be a filthy animal?

We'd have to be talkin' 'bout one $#@^&&' charmin' pig. It'd have to be the Cary Grant of pigs.

Pulp Fiction (1994)

So which way do you want it Alex, dog fighting legal or meat eating illegal? I'm curious to know.

Oh Yes, now we see the depth of libertarian analysis.

Regardless of whether it can be defended or not, the legal system has drawn a line between dogfighting and eating cow.

"The law is the law" is about the worst argument possible,

"How would you compute that?"

I don't have to. I'm making an appeal to conscience. Let you conscience be your guid.

"What is the amount of premium for "cruelty-free" meat that I should be required to pay if I make $60,000 a year? What if I have 7 kids to feed as well?"

You conscience should guide you. Once you make yourself aware of what's being done to the animals for your savings, you then decide whether to give up meat, whether to pay a premium for cruel , or whether to fund unnecessary cruelty and pocket the savings.

"How about differing prices for different levels of cruelty?"

That's up to you.

"My point is, how can you monetize the amount of suffering imposed on another species for the benefit of ours? "

Well, we do that all the time with our choices. You do it every day, so what's your problem with being aware of the monetized value you and I place on cruelty?

Why does it bother you so much to actually consider the consequences of your choices?

In short, just because the problem isn't perfectly solvable doesn't absolve you from moral considerations.

Actually, if he'd gratuitously tortured the cow before eating it, he could have been prosecuted for animal cruelty, at least in some parts of the country. The law draws lines; there are few laws that don't seep into some shade of gray, but we as a society come to agreements on where solid lines should be drawn. It seems disingenuous for an economist to pretend not to understand that. Our society has decided that it's ok to eat certain animals -- but even then, the laws have become more and more strict about how much pain those animals can endure before they're eaten. We've decided that there are societal benefits to discouraging sadism. Personally, I agree with that. I'd let a hamburger eater babysit my kid, but certainly not a dog fighter.

Eating the flesh of cattle is fine by me and, although it's not my thing, I don't have any quarrel with people who eat dog (or horse, etc.) meat. I do, however, have a huge problem with anyone who would train, and then force, animals to deliberately kill and maim each other ... dogs or cattle (or cocks, etc.).

The difference is clear to even a casual observer ... one is for sustenance, the other is entertainment; death for entertainment is the height of degeneracy.

Why is this complicated?

I have no comment on this subject yet (I am still thinking) but would some like to discuss bull fighting in Mexico and Spain?

BTW these dogs are often very male to male agressive naturaly so I do not know enough to be sure that they are not willing participants.

This is silly, Tyler.

We kill dogs all the time for social benefit. We do so in the most humane way possible. Few people consider the local animal shelter equal to dog fighting.

Besides, I am more a fan of the simple joys of a monkey knife fight.

"The analogy with football players is hardly perfect, but it's definitely worth pointing out given the absolute vehemence with which Vick is being denounced."

The vehemence is understandable. Society has done quite well by Vick, so we all kind of expect him to avoid felonies (especially felonies that involve cruel acts) in exchange. Most of us think that we'd be able to resist any temptation to commit cruel felonies if we were paid Michael Vick-type money to do so. In addition, there are also some cultural differences at work here. Dog fighting is not just cruel, it's also unfashionable. For some reason, I see some rough parallel between Vick's dogfighting and Jerry Lee Lewis's marriage to his 13-year-old (second?) cousin.

"It's a bit astounding to think that he's committed some of the worst atrocities in recorded history."

I haven't seen any comparisons between Vick and Hitler/Stalin/Mao/Pol Pot, and I haven't seen calls for the death penalty, but maybe I just don't read widely enough.

"Oh that's right, human being have agency while birds don't so it's much better to get your jollies watching human beings beat the crap out of each other than it is to watch birds fight each other. What a simple, coherent moral view."

Well, it is simple and coherent. You just don't like it.

To me, Alex implicitly asked what is the difference between a dog and a cow?

He might be implicitly asking that, but why? Vick isn't being prosecuted under laws that favor dogs over cows, he's being prosecuted under laws that universally punish animal cruelty. Alex is making a rhetorical point about a contradiction that doesn't even exist.

...it's much better to get your jollies watching human beings beat the crap out of each other ... What a simple, coherent moral view.

Yes, I do think agency is an issue. I have very little sympathy for those who knowingly and willingly put themselves in harms' way and then complain about the inevitable consequences. I also think that blood-sport spectators, at least the ones literally there for the blood, are of somewhat questionable moral character; although there is clearly a difference between professional boxers and a game of Russian roulette ala "The Deer Hunter."

I'm also confused as to why a simple, coherent moral view is bad.

I see a lot of you saying the dogs are forced to fight each other. Now, I'm a bit ignorant on how dogfighting
(or cockfighting) actually works, but I don't think that's quite right. The dogs are forced to be in the same ring
together, certainly, but from that point on, the dogs make the decision to fight. (to the extent that dogs can make
a decison) After all, how would you communicate a threat to the dog that it must fight or face some punishment?

Mike, I don't think the view is particularly simple or coherent.

The existence of the National Football League does not flow purely from the decisions of players to engage in that activity. I would say that the audience plays a huge role, conferring not just vast quantities of money to the players but also glory and fame. The NFL is a social phenomenon. Players volunteer for it because the incentives are right; they don't create the incentives themselves.

Meanwhile, why is the free choice of the animal especially important when it comes to dogfighting, but not *at all* important when it comes to the food supply or neutering pets?

So, Michael Vick was prosecuted for watching dog fighting and nothing else? Okay . . .

So, can't I be pro-meat and anti-bull fighting?

and someone was let free even after he "hunted" and killed caged birds (and in the process put an old lawyer's life in jeopardy)

Laws are fundamentally a reflection of local values. Vick's dogfighting was in Virginia, and he's brought up on charges. Cheney's "hunt" was in Texas, and nothing happens. Make of that what you will.

I'm pretty sure pitbulls, among other breeds, like fighting. I personally wouldn't go to a dog fight, but I don't have any problem with it. I've also eaten dog, which some people find reprehensible. I think the inconsistency, if there is any, is between people who believe all animals are equal, and those who elevate some and lower others. Denis Leary said we ought to just have animal auditions:

And I know what it's about. "I don't want to eat the meat because I love the animals. I love the animals." Hey, I love the animals too. I love my doggy. He's so cute. My fluffy little dog.. He's so cute- There's the problem. We only want to save the cute animals, don't we? Yeah. Why don't we just have animal auditions. Line 'em up one by one and interview them individually. "What are you?" "I'm an otter." "And what do you do?" "I swim around on my back and do cute little human things with my hands." "You're free to go." "And what are you?" "I'm a cow." "Get in the f-ing truck, ok pal!" "But I'm an animal." "You're a baseball glove! Get on that truck!" "I'm an animal, I have rights!" "Yeah, here's yer f-ing cousin, get on the f-ing truck, pal!"

But Vick is also in trouble just for dog fighting and the PATRIOT Act was used against cockfighting in Tennessee.

Re: the law with respect to livestock. Many states have general anti-cruelty laws that would seem to obviously encompass factory farming practices, but they all have language like "this shall not be construed to prohibit any current practices."

"If Vick had treated cows the way he treated the dogs he would have been prosecuted for animal cruelty to the cow."

If Vick had treated cows the way he treated the dogs, they would have called it Rodeo!

I think martin's point stings a bit. If he'd been discovered to have beaten the hell out of his wife a few times, maybe put her in the hospital, he'd have received at least one order of magnitude less hatred, and assuming he'd managed to stay out of jail, he'd still have an NFL career. If he had gone on dozens of drunken and drugged-up joyrides, terrorized random strangers in bars, etc., that might have landed him in jail, but he'd have been forgiven by his fans, and if he'd stayed out of jail, he'd have kept his career.

The dog fighting is genuinely nasty, but the reaction to it is way, way out of proportion to the evil done. That reaction has a lot more to do with emotional impact than real harm.

In my opinion, making a choice between a)eating meat b)eating something not coming from animals with the similar nutritional content and 1) watching a dogfight 2) doing something else for pleasure is mainly grounded on getting more pleasure out of a) and 1). Today, if you will, you can pretty easily (assuming no allergies etc.) be a vegetarian/vegan and get all the nutrients you need. So feeding yourself clearly doesn't require eating meat.

Ppl (most) making the choice a) regard suffering to cows as a cost. I also think (most) ppl making the choice 1) regard the suffering to dogs as a cost. They enjoy the adrenaline rush of a fight in the same way as ppl watching WWF or MMA. If they would actually enjoy the suffering, I think they would choose to torture the dogs.

One distinction between the choices is that in general ppl sympathize more with dogs than cows. If 1) was changed to "watch a bullfight", i think less ppl would object.

Second distinction is the availability of suffering. In a) the suffering is not seen. In 1) the suffering is seen. Availability can be brought to a) by changing it to "eat meat & while eating watch the pigs/cows/chicken living in small cages and being slaughtered." In my opinion, the availability of suffering shouldn't be a real distinction when making moral judgements. After all, the suffering is there whether you see it or not (the falling tree does make a sound, though you are not there to hear it). Moreover, the real issue is the suffering to animals not our perception of suffering.

Pulling strings together: my argument is that the only real moral distinction between a) and 1) is using dogs instead of cows/pigs/etc. In other words, I say that "eat meat & while eating watch the bull living in small cages and being slaughtered." is morally equivalent "watch a bullfight". (Morally equivalent statements = if one statement is allowed by a moral code it follows that the second must be allowed as well and vice versa).

"token lynching"

Get over yourself. What's truly weird is the size of the population of people who get aflutter over how many bad names Vick is being called and how many mean editorials he's drawn. Who cares whether and how much people like him. You act like hating Vick is equivalent to some physical oppression. Never would I have guessed that so many people cared about Vick's hurt feelings.

token lynching? You should be ashamed.

"token lynching? You should be ashamed."

I am not the person who wants to lynch someone, so I don't need to feel ashamed. Shame is for the people with the racist double standard, such as yourself.


Stop being so racist toward cows, you dog supremecists.

Rex Rhino,

When you find an NFL player of another race who did the same things Vick did and he is not reviled in the same manner that vick has been then you might have a point.

Until then, not so much.

Eric H and Rex Rhino

If you are serious about eating ethically go vegan.

I am amazed at the number of people who think they are eating more ethically by consuming a vegetarian diet when in fact they end up eating more products that are cruel to animals.

As a follow up, it should matter not that such instruments are used for entertainment purposes on a dog versus a cow or any other living creature.

Anyone taking pleasure in torture, which is what training a dog to fight to the death is, needs help. And the pleasure factor is what separates dog-/bull-/cock-fighting from slaughtering...not the cuteness factor of the animal.

Adding up: (assuming what the article says is true for bull/cow training too) If bull/cow-fights(+training) cause significantly more suffering than farming+slaughtering, one can eat meat while condemning bullfights.

Alex - pretty pointless post, on the whole. HUGE difference between the two.

As for REX - hunting in my area is mostly done by middle class and lower middle class. And very likely, when these laws were written, hunting was even more common (democratic) than it is now. It's not the sport of Kings. Your comments fall far short of reality.

"If you are serious about eating ethically go vegan."

See, this is the thing, each of us has our own opinions and ethics on animals. Some people insist on being vegan... others vegetarian... others want to eat a good steak.

However, the difference is that the people who are against Vick advocate at best ending his career, at worst throwing him in prison.

Locking someone in a cage, and/or destroying their livelyhood, is a good deal different than advocating a particular lifestyle choice.

hunting in my area is mostly done by middle class and lower middle class

How many are non-white?

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