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Eating disorders

 

“Thus, in animals, there is neither intelligence nor souls as ordinarily meant. They eat without pleasure, cry without pain, grow without knowing it; they desire nothing, fear nothing, know nothing…”

--Nicholas Malebranche

I can almost see your eyes widening in terror as you read the title of this column. “No!” you silently scream. “Not another op-ed piece about bulimic, over-achieving Dukies who struggle with trying to stay perfect! Please, don’t do this to us!”

Well, you can relax. I hereby take this vow: I promise I will not mention bulimia again. I further promise to never mention “perfection” or “effortless” in the same sentence.

So what kind of eating disorder do I have in mind? The worst kind—the kind you never even realize you have. To coin a phrase, I’m talking about Antisocial Eating Disorder. No one seems to be talking about this disease, and yet it kills more than all the other disorders in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychological Association combined. It is truly the silent killer, yet the mental health profession has yet to take notice. How is this possible?

DSM-IV lists something called Antisocial Personality Disorder among its veritable cornucopia of mental pathologies. This book is like a who’s who catalog of my friends, but I guess not everyone has friends who are coprophiliacs. But I digress. Among the elements in making a diagnosis of APD are the presence of certain key behaviors such as “impulsivity, reckless disregard for the safety of self or others and lack of remorse, as indicated by being indifferent to or rationalizing having hurt, mistreated or stolen from another.” Based on these criteria, I would say that anyone who eats meat, whether fish or chicken or pig or cow, is suffering from a variation of APD: Antisocial Eating Disorder. What else is meat-eating if not recklessly disregarding the safety of animals and then rationalizing this slaughter afterwards? And as for impulsivity, think “Harold and Kumar go to White Castle.” Who is more impulsive than a carnivore jonesing for one of those little hamburgers?

I can already hear you objecting. You’ll say that animals aren’t meant by the word “another” in these criteria, so I’m being unfair by reading the meaning I want into the criteria of DSM-IV. “Another” here simply means “another person,” so you think you’ve avoided my little sophism. And to a certain extent I’d have to admit that you’re right. Of course I’m playing with the language, and of course I know that the authors of DSM-IV don’t mean to classify the entire population of meat-eaters as diseased lunatics. But maybe, based on a little common sense, they should.

Think about your relations to the animals you know and love. Your dog. Your cat. Maybe even your marmoset or grouse. Don’t you treat them with the consideration that you give “another” person? Don’t you accord them the respect you grant to other people because you know, deep down, that that’s what they deserve? And don’t you think there’s something wrong with people who don’t? What would you do to someone who came into your yard and butchered your dog or cat? Smile and make them breakfast, perhaps with your dog for “bacon?” You wouldn’t want other people coming into your home and treating your pets like the meat at a grocery store. The question is, why don’t you apply that same emotion and reasoning to the other animals around you?

The quote that I selected to begin this piece is from a 17th century French philosopher. His views reflect the state of science and philosophy at the time, when animals were thought to be little different from machines. We now know better. We know animals feel pain, we know they are capable of fear, and we know they are intelligent—at least as intelligent as the kids over at Carolina. We don’t eat them (insert joke here), and with good reason. Let’s give the animals in the barnyard the same consideration we give the animals on Franklin Street.

 

Stefan Dolgert is a graduate student in political science.

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