There’s an interesting piece by David Hart at the UK’s Human Rights Blog called “Eating Horse and Where Our Language Comes From” which, is, perhaps, tonally, a wee bit smug, for humans have always eaten horses and the archaic peoples of the steppes flourished by doing so–a matter that Hart finds amusing–a bit of schadenfreude for those who see the current horse meat scandal as an offense against morality.
I am mistrustful of moral outrage that erupts like sun spots, yet sufficiently sentimental about horses to abhor the news that Romanian abattoirs have been selling equine flesh as beef. The crime is misrepresentation. If eating horse is immoral than eating any animal must be–and I’ll leave that argument to others, see: http://www.bbc.co.uk/ethics/animals/using/eating_1.shtml
On the subject of morality and eating animals I’ve always been most persuaded by the virtue argument:
People who participate in a system that treats animals cruelly, and that kills animals to provide trivial pleasures to human beings, are behaving selfishly, and not as a virtuous person would.
David Hart isn’t terribly interested in the morality of animal husbandry and our eating habits–he’s more “lit up” by the fact that our ancestors both ate and rode horses at the same time they developed spoken language. You are, it would seem, both what you eat and where you go. Hart references a book by Professor David Anthony, The Horse, the Wheel, and Language, which I intend to read as soon as possible.
What’s clear is that human beings have eaten horses throughout history, often because horses were better survivors in winter than cattle. Against this one may say, rightly, that human beings will eat anything–tarantulas, worms, even each other. Eating horses may well have kept fragile humans alive in colder ages than our own. Traveling on horseback certainly intensified the need for language.
Language and cruelty are old sisters, a matter that Hart doesn’t explore. Poets have always known this. Language is not inherently virtuous. If you paint a face on a stone it will not be ethical. And I would say the horse has always been an innocent in this matter.