IN THE DECEMBER 6, 2010, edition of Time magazine, futurist Ray Kurzweil happily predicted that in the coming decades, “we’ll grow in vitro cloned meats in factories that are computerized and run by artificial intelligence. You can just grow the part of the animal that you’re eating.” According to Kurzweil, this would be a great improvement over factory farms. Getting meat from living animals, he pointed out, “is yucky.”1
Kurzweil’s vision is one conception of progress; producing meat by cloning would certainly inflict less suffering on animals. But it would also mean the end of traditional practices of animal husbandry and the virtual disappearance of most livestock. Perhaps a better future would involve small-scale, sustainable operations that respect the cultural meaning of livestock and maintain, in improved form, traditional practices of animal husbandry. Grassfed bison ranches, urban livestock production, or even hunting could also figure in a defensible vision of a better, more fully realized animal welfare society. In fact, we can imagine several different versions of that society. That’s the problem, and the beauty, of liberal pluralism. In a liberal society, citizens are expected to have different values and to pursue differing visions of the good life—for humans and for animals. Kurzweil’s vision may be a defensible choice, but it is not our only defensible choice.
But maybe Kurzweil’s point was that these different choices are irrelevant: The irresistible force of the market, combined with the direction of technological development, make cloned meat inevitable. There’s really no point arguing about which Utopian system of livestock production we’d prefer; the