Earlier this month, a friend and I attended a local "Philosophy Slam," this one about vegetarianism. The question was plain: Should we eat animals? The argument was simple: Taking for granted that we should minimize suffering wherever we can, oughtn't we start doing this by not killing animals? Especially when ample consumable alternatives are available?
My answer: I reject the premise, "we should minimize suffering whenever we can," not because we shouldn't, but because we shouldn't talk like that. Speaking in universal ethical maxims are the bread and butter of utilitarianism, and other sorts of fascism.
Assuming that the question of animal ethics is simply a matter of "minimizing suffering whenever we can" and its converse "maximizing pleasure wherever we can" leads to the worst kinds of cruelty. Bypassing real problems such as the separation of people from the means of food production (the hunter may be the most ethical meat-eater), it reduces cows, chickens, and pigs, to an economy of hedons and utils.
The economy of maximizing pleasure and minimizing pain is the very economy that yields real animal cruelty because it strips animals of their ordered dignity, and replaces it with commodity. The utilitarianism to which the speaker appealed in order to save the animals, is the very thing which enables their violence. We shouldn't talk like that.
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