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May 24, 2014 11:11 AM   Subscribe

This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You eat the blue worm – the story ends, you wake up in your nest and believe whatever you want to believe. You eat the red worm – you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the fox hole goes. Remember, all I'm offering is the truth – nothing more.
posted by eye of newt at 11:17 AM on May 24, 2014 [8 favorites]

I like how the free range option is brought up and immediately dismissed. We have no way of knowing what chickens prefer, say scientists, but probably virtual reality.
posted by 2bucksplus at 11:43 AM on May 24, 2014 [15 favorites]

One of the problems with ethical decision-making frameworks like consequentialism and deontology as they're usually applied is that they don't always take into account the subtle ways in which morally significant actions affect the ones who do the doing, so to speak. In doing something like this to chickens, I think we would be debasing ourselves in a totally unique way. We already desacralize animal life with factory farming, and we would be putting a layer of unreality not only between the poor chickens and their actual lives but also between ourselves and what factory farming really is with a move like this. It would be a way of letting ourselves off the hook, I feel.

I don't think factory farming is okay, but I can't change it myself and I can't afford to buy meat taken from happy, healthy animals. All I can do is say that we should think about ways to make reality less bad, not ways to disguise it.
posted by clockzero at 11:44 AM on May 24, 2014 [4 favorites]

First link in the OP should be to The Economist's blog and not Google's redirect chain.
posted by ardgedee at 11:50 AM on May 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Clearly the solution to a fundamentally barbaric practice is to effectively, forcibly, rewire the brains of those affected such that they are disconnected from the reality of it. By the same logic, a prison camp would be rendered ethical if the prisoners were fitted with VR.
posted by tybeet at 12:02 PM on May 24, 2014 [6 favorites]

To the subject of the post... I keep thinking of things to say but they all revolve around the thesis that Philip K. Dick was probably more prescient than he realized.
posted by ardgedee at 12:16 PM on May 24, 2014

Because outfitting thousands of chickens with VR headsets makes much more sense than just letting them out into the yard.
posted by vverse23 at 12:24 PM on May 24, 2014 [8 favorites]

Because outfitting thousands of chickens with VR headsets makes much more sense than just letting them out into the yard.

Of course it doesn't. This is ham-fisted conceptual art, not a serious proposal.
posted by Pyry at 12:35 PM on May 24, 2014 [3 favorites]

It just occurred to me that you can take this much further. Why stop at free-range simulations? Why not let these chickens fly? Chickens can imagine that they are soaring high across the countryside, side by side with golden eagles.

I bet that would make for some very happy chickens, and some tasty eggs!
posted by eye of newt at 1:03 PM on May 24, 2014 [3 favorites]

Why don't we just use VR and smelly smoke for the slop we're fed by machines through the tap in our apodments?
posted by oceanjesse at 1:29 PM on May 24, 2014 [6 favorites]

Maybe if "free range" meant something other than "the maximum number of chickens per square foot crammed together in a warehouse without cages, and a door to the outside is open a football field away", they wouldn't be as stressed or injured?

Oh, but that might require more space per chicken, which would cut into the profit margins. Won't somebody think of the poor agribusiness?
posted by Feyala at 1:41 PM on May 24, 2014 [5 favorites]

Just take out their brains.
posted by Segundus at 1:45 PM on May 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

"There's research suggesting that free range chickens show all the signs of having a stressful life," Stewart says. "They have more broken bones, they get broken legs, etc., whereas birds raised in little boxes don't have those indicators of stress. And who's to say which is better?"
The Yes Men have struck again?

So - I forgot about what Feyala had said: that our definition of "free range" is bullshit and a joke. I mean, it's probably better than in a complete cage, and I would hope that at least some so-called free-range chickens truly are what we think of when we think free-range, but I can't say I follow the issue very much...

But my first instinct upon reading that quote was "well duh!" Of course, I think that's the point, yeah? Same with the whole "free range children" movement (or whatever the fuck Cory Doctorow is always on about, you know "kids today, they don't get rough and dirty, everything is so safe nowadays, you don't have a chance to break your bones anymore, or poke your eye out with a stick, like we did when we could run free back in the good ol' days of the 60s-80s....

Yeah, if you go out and engage in the world there's higher risk of damage. Physical damage. It's stressful, but that is different than isolation (which is a form of torture, thanks). Anyways, yeah, they're all taking the piss, clearly. I'm sure the "researcher" is a fictional character, so...

Why am I even wasting my time responding to this again?

Oh, I suppose so I can link to this...
posted by symbioid at 1:57 PM on May 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Stewart Lee, 2009, Dave Gorman's "Genius": "This is wrong, Simon. It's wrong, it strikes at the very heart of what it means to be alive, and it's wrong, what you said. And it's very disturbing, you've now got me worried that I'm a battery farm chicken in a virtual reality helmet, which for some metatextual reason, has programmed in a scene whereby someone suggests a thing where chickens can be made to wear virtual reality helmets. It's like a chicken version of the Matrix"
posted by Omission at 3:34 PM on May 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

The absurdity of chicken VR is overwhelming the central questions in the Economist piece, I think. From a business standpoint, giving chickens a VR world will likely be prohibitively expensive or impossible for quite a while.

However, I think the Economist is using the Chicken Matrix as a springboard to examine the possibility that humanity might plug itself in for corporate profit. The business of human VR could end up looking a lot like the chicken one in many respects, and I think the author of the piece overestimates how much of normal "people business" would have to be replicated by VR technology for widespread adoption; consider the slot machines in a modern casino—rows and rows of human beings stuffed into profitable Skinner boxes because reality is less appealing than endless gaming. Add full VR, and you have something that many, many more people—especially poor, young, elderly, or otherwise marginalized people—might choose over normal physical reality. And some time after that, the rest of humanity may not have much choice but to plug in and join them.
posted by Wemmick at 4:18 PM on May 24, 2014

Can't we wirehead them?
posted by sebastienbailard at 4:28 PM on May 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Wouldn't it be much more efficient to just fit every citizen with a computer implant that makes them believe that chickens and other livestock are being treated with a normal amount of casual cruelty instead of being subjected to the Gothic horrors of the industrial farm system?
posted by deathpanels at 8:14 AM on May 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

How about an augmented reality system that makes it look like you're eating the meat of your choice when in actuality you're eating tofu. This would need smell/taste emitters too to be convincing.
posted by Pyry at 1:04 PM on May 25, 2014

This is ham-fisted conceptual art, not a serious proposal.

Mmmmm, ham fist. With chicken fingers, I hope!
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:55 PM on May 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you're going to simulate chook utopia, this verse in Pam Ayres' "The Battery Hen" has some pointers:

I might have been a farmyard hen,
Scratchin’ in the sun,
There might have been a crowd of chicks,
After me to run.
There might have been a cockerel fine
To pay us his respects,
Instead of sittin’ here,
Till someone comes and wrings our necks.

In her spare time British mostly comical poet Pam Ayres is a patron of the British Hen Welfare Trust.

I hope that doesn't debeak derail the thread, I just joined up and this is my first post in MetaFilter Reality. Yesterday at work I was reading this and other Ayres Pomes to the elderly, so serendipity.

I did read the Economist article in the FPP, got scared and elated both. Thanks for posting.
posted by valetta at 11:27 AM on May 26, 2014

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