Lobster Metaphysics

Ezra Klein, following up on a brief post noting the New York Times report on the lobster glut, posts a quote from David Foster Wallace’s piece, “Consider the Lobster.”

Still, after all the abstract intellection, there remain the facts of the frantically clanking lid, the pathetic clinging to the edge of the pot. Standing at the stove, it is hard to deny in any meaningful way that this is a living creature experiencing pain and wishing to avoid/escape the painful experience. To my lay mind, the lobster’s behavior in the kettle appears to be the expression of a preference; and it may well be that an ability to form preferences is the decisive criterion for real suffering. The logic of this relation may be easiest to see in the negative case. If you cut certain kinds of worms in half, the halves will often keep crawling around and going about their vermiform business as if nothing had happened. When we assert, based on their post-op behavior, that these worms appear not to be suffering, what we’re really saying is that there’s no sign that the worms know anything bad has happened or would prefer not to have gotten cut in half.

Lobsters, however, are known to exhibit preferences. Experiments have shown that they can detect changes of only a degree or two in water temperature; one reason for their complex migratory cycles (which can often cover 100-plus miles a year) is to pursue the temperatures they like best…In any event, at the Festival, standing by the bubbling tanks outside the World’s Largest Lobster Cooker, watching the fresh-caught lobsters pile over one another, wave their hobbled claws impotently, huddle in the rear corners, or scrabble frantically back from the glass as you approach, it is difficult not to sense that they’re unhappy, or frightened, even if it’s some rudimentary version of these feelings …and, again, why does rudimentariness even enter into it?

The piece goes on to cogently demonstrate that it’s difficult to justify eating lobster — and mutadis mutandis, other meats — without holding the position that, “animals are less morally important than human beings,” which is, incidentally the same rationalization that prior civilizations employed to justify slavery, gladiatorial combat, genocide, and human sacrifice. Wallace then wonders if future civilizations will regard our eating habits through the same lens we examine the gross immoralities of past civilizations.

Logically, I think there’s a case here, which is precisely why this topic should never be discussed ever again.

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Posted in Culture. Tags: , . 3 Comments »

3 Responses to “Lobster Metaphysics”

  1. mike Says:

    lobster is overrated anyway. it needs to be drowned in butter to taste good, and requires one pick through loads of intestines while eating dinner.

  2. Jon Says:

    Indeed — this was never meant as a culinary defense of lobster.

  3. truevcu Says:

    It’s basically an artificial luxury market on par with the diamond. Although I have to admit the pictures included on the original article did succeed in making me hungry.


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