Moral philosopher Peter Singer thinks turkey pardons are “totally stupid”

Social distancing unlikely.
Social distancing unlikely.
Image: REUTERS/Brian Snyder
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Philosopher Peter Singer has no time for the strange, deeply American tradition of a presidential turkey pardon.

“Turkeys have not done anything wrong, and so cannot be ‘pardoned,'” Singer, a Princeton professor who wrote the definitive text on animal liberation, told Quartz in an email.

Ever since Ronald Reagan conjured up the turkey pardon to distract voters from the Iran-Contra scandal (and possibly even before that), many US presidents have participated in the disturbing pageant.

This year, Donald Trump will spare the life of either Peas or Carrots at the National Thanksgiving Turkey Pardoning Ceremony. (Unlike in most American elections, anyone can vote on which turkey should be saved.) The two turkeys are currently staying at the Willard Intercontinental Hotel, in a fancy room paid for by the National Turkey Federation, which sponsors the event.

It doesn’t take a genius philosopher to spot the trouble with the turkey pardon. For starters, it suggests that turkeys are killed not because they are a food source, but because they’re somehow being punished for a crime.

Looking closely at the ideas behind pardon quickly leads to uncomfortable questions about turkey underlings, human overlords, and the right to wield death upon the tasty. Singer explored similar themes in his book “Animal Liberation,” which argued that the moral distinction between humans and the animals they eat are arbitrary and absurd.

“People should think [the turkey pardon] is totally stupid,” Singer told Quartz. “We are the ones who need pardoning, for allowing them to be bred to the point where they cannot mate, and so all standard-breed turkeys are the result of artificial insemination, and for tolerating the overcrowded, filthy, stinking conditions in which they are reared, and finally, of course, for permitting them to be crammed into crates and trucked off to slaughter.”

“Truly, if you support these practices by buying the corpses of the turkeys, you don’t deserve to be pardoned.”

Tofurkey, anyone?