The more interesting question: what are the second-order consequences for society?
Clean Meats — that is, animal products grown in a lab through cell culture — are morally acceptable and preferable to the status quo because they involve no unnecessary animal suffering and have orders of magnitude lower negative externalities than traditional livestock agriculture.
There is a serious health argument to be made in favor of not eating human meat. From a 2008 article entitled “Not that I’m thinking about trying it, but is cannibalism unhealthy?”:
“Other than the social stigma of cannibalism and, you know, the murder part, there is another important reason why consuming human flesh is not a universal practice: it can be deadly.
- Animal Welfare takes a big leap forward. While Clean Meat is primarily being developed as a solution to the “big problem” of an unsustainable food supply, the improved animal welfare associated with the reduction and eventual disruption of “factory farming” is a huge secondary benefit. This is already widely touted, but the introduction of Clean Human to a menu alongside Clean Chicken, Clean Beef and Clean Turkey may fundamentally alter how humans view their position atop the food pyramid. By abstracting away the need to kill an animal in order to produce meat, while simultaneously lowering the sanctity of “human” flesh, it is possible that mankind becomes more conscious of the fact that animals are sentient beings just like us, feel pain like us, and don’t deserve to suffer because of us. This argument has been made for decades by philosophers such as Peter Singer, but Clean Human might propel the argument into the mainstream.
- Humans may begin to disassociate themselves from their bodies. One of the wonderfully futuristic concepts in Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey is the evolution of David Bowman, the astronaut who successfully disconnects HAL 9000, from human to “Star Child” — an immortal being who resides in space — at the behest of a civilization who long ago progressed from biological bodies to a non-physical form altogether. Eating Clean Human is not going to get us any closer to evolving as a species, but it may loosen the sense of unity most humans currently feel between their mind and body. By showing that our bodies are made up of meat just like any other animal, we may begin to identify who we are more by our intellect, personality, and memories. This could pave the way for greater societal acceptance for lives led entirely as avatars in VR or Second Life than IRL. If Elon is as successful with Neuralink as he is with accelerating the advent of sustainable energy or enabling the spaceflight capacities necessary to make human life multiplanetary, we could be one step closer to removing the need for physical bodies altogether — the morality of which is a separate question for another time.
- Cannibalism may see a resurgence. Despite the aforementioned risks associated with cannibalism, the proliferation of Clean Human may lower society’s intolerance to genuine cannibalism. While it would undoubtedly continue to be ruled illegal be governments throughout the world, I can envisage a black market for “Authentic” Human springing up. In fact, the extent to which this is true could actually invalidate the assumption that Clean Human is morally defensible.
Post originally published on Medium. Read it here.