Of us, whether vivisector or vegan, have been subject to mechanisms undercutting sympathy for animals. How long and to what extent we submit to these mechanisms is not a matter of rationality: to cut off our feelings and support animal exploitation rational, given societal expectations and sanctions; but to assert our feelings and oppose animal exploitation is also rational, given the pain involved in losing our natural bonds with animals. So our task is not to pass judgment on others' rationality, but to speak honestly of the loneliness and isolation of anthropocentric society, and of the damage done to every person expected to hurt animals.
Is it possible that future generations will regard our present agribuisness and eating practices in much the same way we now view Nero's entertainments or Mengele's experiments? My own initial reaction is that such a comparison is hysterical, extreme - and yet the reason it seems extreme to me appears to be that I believe animals are less morally important than human behings; and when it comes to defending such a belief, even to myself, I have to acknowledge that (a) I have an obvious selfish interest in this belief, since I like to eat certain kinds of animals and want to be able to keep doing it, and (b) I haven't succeeded in working out any sort of personal ethical system in which the belief is truly defensible instead of just selfishly convenient.
From a nonpatriarchal metaethical standpoint, however, Singer's and Regan's theoretical similarities are as significant as their differences. In particular, both Singer's utilitarian theory and Regan's rights approach are developed within a framework of patriarchal norms, which includes the subordinatin of emotion to reason, the privileging of abstract principles of conduct, the perception of ethical discussion as a battle between adversaries, and the presumption that ethics shoudl function as a means of social control.
We generally accept that it's natural for carnivorous wild animals to kill other animals in order to live. But people don't often think (or even know) about the extraordinary and unnatural suffering that humans inflict on the animals that we freely harvest for food, with the help of modern high technology and the animal food sciences.
The recognition that human beings are specifically and deliberately responsible for whatever aberrances farm animals may embody, that their discordances reflect our, not their, primary disruption of natural rhythms, and that we owe them more rather than less for having stripped them of their birthright and earthrights has not entered into the environmentalist discussions that I've encountered to date.
It shouldn't be the consumer's responsibility to figure out what's cruel and what's kind, what's environmentally destructive and what's sustainable. Cruel and destructive food products should be illegal. We don't need the option of buying children's toys made with lead paint, or aerosols with chlorofluorocarbons, or medicines with unlabeled side effects. And we don't need the option of buying factory-farmed animals.
Just how destructive does a culinary preference have to be before we decide to eat something else? If contributing to the suffering of billions of animals that live miserable lives and (quite often) die in horrific ways isn't motivating, what would be? If being the number one contributor to the most serious threat facing the planet (global warming) isn't enough, what is? And if you are tempted to put off these questions of conscience, to say not now, then when?