Husbandry And The Anticruelty Ethic

For most of human history, the anticruelty ethic and laws expressing it sufficed to encapsulate social concern for animal treatment for one fundamental reason: During that period, and today as well, the majority of animals used in society were agricultural, utilized for food, fiber, locomotion, and power. Until the mid-20th century, the key to success in animal agriculture was good husbandry, a word derived from the old Norse term for ''bonded to the household.''[1] Humans were in a contractual, symbiotic relationship with farm animals, with both parties living better than they would outside of the relationship. We put animals into optimal conditions dictated by their biological natures, and augmented their natural ability to survive and thrive by protecting them from predation, providing food and water during famine and drought, and giving them medical attention and help in birthing. The animals in turn provided us with their products (e.g., wool and milk), their labor, and sometimes their lives, but while they lived, their quality of life was good. Proper husbandry was sanctioned by the most powerful incentive there is self-interest! The producer did well if and only if the animals did well. Husbandry was thus about putting square pegs in square holes, round pegs in round holes, and creating as little friction as possible doing so. Had a traditional agriculturalist attempted to raise 100,000 chickens in one building, they would all have succumbed to disease within a month.

Thus, husbandry was both a prudential and an ethical imperative, as evidenced by the fact that when the psalmist wishes to create a metaphor for God's ideal relationship to humans in the 23rd Psalm, he uses the Good Shepherd, who exemplifies husbandry.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; he leadeth me beside still waters; he restoreth my soul.

We want no more from God than what the Good Shepherd provides to his sheep. Thus, the nature of agriculture ensured good treatment of animals, and the anticruelty ethic was only needed to capture sadists and psychopaths unmoved by self-interest.

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