Coercion is Key

Scott Lemieux on dog fighting versus factory farming:

There are, I think, some colorable substantive distinctions; in particular, Vick's actions (not just the dogfighting but the additional torture-killing of the dogs) represents a sadism for its own sake that factory farming doesn't, and hence it's reasonable for the law to treat them differently. But is this distinction enough to justify significant federal jail time for Vick in a country where factory farming is not only legal but subsidized? Seems like a hard case to make. Can eaters of mass-produced meat (or, even more so, people who see nothing wrong with mass-produced meat) justify intense outrage at Vick? It's hard to rationally justify, I think. A little humility is on order for those of us with bad faith eating practices.

But let's try this enough way. Speaking as liberals, as Scott and I are, we can (and, I think, should) simply embrace some hypocrisy on this front. It seems to me that I should probably only eat "cruelty free" meat. And it's actually the case that I eat more of such meat than I would were I totally indifferent to this issue. But I'm far, far, far away from actually living in compliance with this idea. But this is actually a common liberal phenomenon. I believe the country should adopt policies related to health care that would almost certainly represent a net transfer of resources away from a person like me toward others in greater need. I don't, however, personally transfer any resources in this direction.

Which is just to say that Michael Vick has violated some laws against animal cruelty. To observe that other kinds of cruel treatment of animals related to the industrial food process should be subjected to more stringent regulation isn't a reason for Vick to be let off the hook. That in the absence of such regulation, a lot of people who think there should be stricter ones find it difficult to live up to our own ethical ideas arguably just strengthens the case for regulation. I'm not, in general, a big believer in the idea that not living in accordance with hypothetical regulatory frameworks while still believing such frameworks should be constructed (supporting a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade scheme while still having a large carbon footprint, for example) constitutes hypocrisy in a meaningful way.