Considering the lobster claw game

The video above features a man trying to catch a live lobster with a giant metal claw. And, well, it is just disturbing. Trigger warning: if you've ever been attacked by a giant claw descending from the sky or just don't like watching animals being harassed, you may not want to watch the video.

Conor Friedersdorf has written a thoughtful take on this video that looks at what is morally disturbing about trying to catch a live animal with a giant metal claw:

Watching that moral confusion, I couldn't help but think of David Foster Wallace's essay "Consider the Lobster," published in August 2004 after the late, great novelist was sent by Gourmet to cover the Maine Lobster Festival. "Is it all right to boil a sentient creature alive just for our gustatory pleasure?" he asked. "If you're tilting it from a container into the steaming kettle, the lobster will sometimes try to cling to the container's sides or even to hook its claws over the kettle's rim like a person trying to keep from going over the edge of a roof. And worse is when the lobster's fully immersed. Even if you cover the kettle and turn away, you can usually hear the cover rattling and clanking as the lobster tries to push it off... The lobster, in other words, behaves very much as you or I would behave if we were plunged into boiling water."

...Compared to all that, grasping the lobster in a claw unlikely to hurt it and dropping it into a chute seems downright humane. So it is interesting that playing the claw game is enough to make us uncomfortably aware of the lobster's sentience in a way a mere lobster tank isn't.
[Emphasis mine]

Here's what I think is the difference: like driving past a chicken farm in Arkansas or a beef feed lot in Kansas, passing a tank of lobsters is not pleasant, but when you happen upon this unsettling places, you likely are en route somewhere else, so these captive animals were not your destination. Even just getting a whiff of the stench through your car window, you may feel a sense of dread as you imagine what it must be like inside the cramped and sweltering chicken house. Or as you push your grocery cart past the tank of lobsters, you might pause to think of their poor condition, but their torment is not your goal, you are merely passing by.

But to play the claw game is like running into the chicken house and terrifying the birds or walking up to the fence of cows and prodding them with a stick. Their quarters too cramped, they can't quite evade you, so you're sure to reach them, sending them fearfully pushing into their pen mates trying to get away. You've become an actor in their captivity. You're playing a role in increasing their suffering. Most of us are probably familiar enough with cows and chickens to know they are sentient and able to sense fear. With lobsters and other sea life, there is an element of "out of sight, out of mind" that prevents us from considering their suffering in the same way we would with pets or farm animals.

But the lobster claw game puts the lobster in clear sight and invites us to observe their behavior. It is interesting to watch the guy in the video work through the morality of this issue as he plays the game. He starts with little evident concern for the lobsters, but their energy, their spirit and willingness to fight back against the claw earns his respect. He is left unsettled, concluding the game is creepy and wrong.

Perhaps the claw game, as twisted as it is, has become a consciousness-raising tool. It seems to have worked for this guy. And I suspect his video will impart the same lesson on its many viewers, without our needing to take a turn with the claw.

Tags: Animal Rights | Animals | Animal Welfare | video

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