The could-be-worse reasoning is applied every day to attempt justify exploiting cows, chickens, geese, sheep, mice, rats, dogs, elephants, women, minorities, the old and the young. With animals, people compare current, “humane” slaughter methods to some horrible alternative, and then state that snuffing out the life of an enslaved, helpless creature is now honorable and free from any moral condemnation.
Let’s go back to the analogy of theft. If I steal your television, I don’t get out of jail by stating I could have also emptied your bank account. When we do something wrong, we do something wrong. It’s as simple as that.
Moral relativity to encourage animal exploitation is simple manipulation to keep us dim-witted and spend-thrifted (say that five times fast). Many people want to believe they can make a difference without changing a thing. As Gary Francione says, the “happy meat” and “humane” slaughter ideas are nothing more than the modern day equivalent of the church selling indulgences.
When we hear ourselves or others saying, “well at least I buy organic eggs,” or “at least this was free-range beef,” we need to remember that those allegedly great strides in animal freedom are illusions. We do not free animals by encouraging people to eat more of them. “Free range”, “grass fed”, “organic” and “humane” labels encourage consumption. These labels move us in the exact opposite direction of liberation and justice.
At the core of this issue is the notion that people are still okay with using the animals, it’s the “excessive” suffering they’re uncomfortable with. This is simple speciesism. Except in extremely trivial cases, no one would wave away a crime against a human because “it could have been worse.” That would not even work in small claims court. When the crime is against those who cannot speak for themselves, it seems, we sing a different tune.
The could-have-been-worse perspective backfires on meat eaters and works against exploiting animals; we can always define “do not interfere with them at all” as the relative comparison. Why must the relative marker be placed closer to torture, and not closer to amnesty? Easy:
The goal of arguing in favor of exploiting animals is never on behalf of the animals.
It is our duty to remind people that treatment does not need to be “worse than” to be wrong. Slavery is slavery. Nutrition options exist. Let’s use our options, not individuals.
No justice exists when crimes are dismissed by simply dreaming up “worse” crimes that could have happened instead.