I’m a meat-eater, and I’m a reader. I’m not a reader of social media posts so much. I read books. A lot of books. Besides chocolate, it’s my drug of choice. So, there I am, minding my own business, reading “Evil: The Science Behind Humanity’s Dark Side” by Julia Shaw, when I find myself flying into a minor rage.
Julia Shaw has a lot of very interesting ideas about the things we tend to think of as “evil”. I started reading it because there have been a lot of behaviors going on in the community I’m a part of that I see as evil and violent. I’m trying to make sense of it all. I’m having a hard time with it.
So, I’m reading the book and she’s talking about pedophiles and how it’s much more complicated than our judgmental butts make it out to be. She argues for understanding and using that understanding to help them rather than punish them. I’m thinking to myself that yes, I agree that, like most things, it’s much more complicated than we assume it to be. Yes, we should understand so that we can help or even prevent such actions.
And, I think that if you hurt someone, there’s consequences for that as well. As a society, we have to be clear about what we condone and don’t condone.
I was lulled into a false sense of security.
The next chapter she went into a rant about meat-eaters. Apparently, pedophiles deserve understanding but meat eaters should go to hell (my interpretation of the text). It went downhill from there.
I’m a meat eater. I love meat, especially bacon. But yeah, there’s a lot of cognitive dissonance going on in me as well, which is why I flew into my rage. I know that pigs are smart. One of my brother’s 4-H cows tried to lick me. I know that the system in which my meat finds its way into my gapping mouth is flawed. And I know if I don’t eat meat, I get sick. I tried being a vegetarian once and it really didn’t work well. I have so many physical problems as it is that I just eat the meat. And really, I want to eat it anyway.
How can I be a good person and still eat meat?
It’s a great question, and like all great questions, it’s more complicated than you might think. There are many things about being a human being that challenge our morality. Here are a few things that concern me, besides the meat issue:
To me, flowers belong on the plants that bloom them. Human’s grow flowers, genetically modify flowers (you can’t find a smelly flower anymore it seems), and cut and sell flowers for human’s pleasure. It’s not like we need flowers to survive.
Someone once told me that it’s okay to cut flowers because the plant will grow more. Sure, the plant is trying to reproduce. You cut the flower and it takes a lot more energy from that plant to keep trying to reproduce. Just because the plant doesn’t have eyes, and will re-grow a bloom, does that give us the right to do that to the plant?
I saw a sign in one of the Link Light Rail stations that showed a picture of a fish on it. The caption was “A Person, not Food”.
Meat eaters tend to think almost everything is food. Vegetarians don’t eat meat but will eat dairy, eggs, and sometimes fish. Vegans won’t eat meat, dairy, eggs, or fish.
The truth of the matter is that no matter what we eat, we are eating another species. We are a part of destroying something else. Either directly or indirectly in the way it got to us.
- Man-made products
Just living in this world as a human requires a lot of man-made products. But everything that gets made takes energy to make it. Whether it’s coal, or gas, or electricity, or even the human body itself, it all takes energy. If you follow that energy down to its bottom source, something was destroyed to create that product.
Even if a human does the work, that human needs fuel in the way of food. You might feel good about only eating vegetables, but the growing of those vegetables also includes tilling the land, destroying other plants and critters that might be on it. Maybe even their homes.
Even the bicycle you ride every day, what had to be destroyed to create it? Nothing is exempt.
The Human Conscious
The lion hunts. The monkey uses tools. They are not concerned with the morality of their actions. But humans are. We have a conscious. We’re able to extrapolate, to empathize, to question our own actions. We try so hard to be a good person. To follow our own sense of integrity. To adhere to our own moral structure.
And we miss the mark every time.
It is the burden of being alive as a human being at this time on our planet. Deep down, we often know the cost of our existence and that cost is high. Whether we believe in global warming or not makes no difference. We will see the cost of our actions and we’ll probably see it in our lifetime.
We try to make it right for ourselves. We draw that line in the sand. And then we try to push that line onto others as though we are superior. But it will never be enough and that’s something we all have to live with.
The Levels of Speciesism
When it comes to ethics of chowing down, we divide species into those we can and can’t eat. We can do anything to those we can eat. And we have.
Each society decides for itself what is acceptable or not. Here in the U.S. we are not allowed to eat dogs, or cats, or each other. We tend to not eat the horses. Other societies allow these sources of food.
There are still cannibals in the world today. And there are some humans who don’t see anything wrong with eating other humans. A term I’ve heard for human is “long pig.” I remember a line coming from Hannibal in the TV series “Hannibal”. One of his victims questioned his cannibalism. Hannibal replied, “It’s only cannibalism if you’re my equal.” And perhaps that’s the key. The perception of equality. The question of “how close are you to what I am?”
The Hierarchy of Equality
Here’s what I think is the unconscious, unacknowledged hierarchy of equality. The lower we go, the more likely we are to eat them.
- Humans who we perceive are most like us
- Humans who we perceive are different than us
- The more we perceive them as different, the more we dehumanize them
- This is where the -isms come into place, especially racism and sexism
- Gorillas, monkeys, etc…
- They can stand on two feet
- They have opposable thumbs
- They can learn words and work tools
- Meat-eating mammals
- Like humans, their young take much longer to grow up than the plant-eating mammals
- Like humans, eyes are pointing to the front
- Like humans, they are predatory
- We might hunt them for their pelts, or destroy them as vermin, but we don’t usually eat them
- Plant-eating mammals
- Most societies allow this form of food, in some way
- Meat-eating mammals, including humans, tend to see them as prey animals
- There are many exceptions
- Many Indian religions do not allow the eating of cow
- The Jewish and Islamic faith forbids the eating of pig, although there are places in Jerusalem you can go and order “white steak”. And yes, pigs tend to eat anything, including meat. I’m leaving this here anyway. Sue me.
- They still have eyes and legs
- We often see the chicken as very different than the cow
- They have eyes
- But really, they don’t seem much like us at all
- They are so unlike us; we have a right to do anything to them
- Clearly no one has had an angry spider plant on their hands
Where do you draw that line? How do you know it’s in the right place? No matter what, something is destroyed. How do you reconcile the reality of living as a conscious human while remaining in this world? How do we, in the face of all of this, live our best lives? Be content? Be happy?
Living In this World
I was having a discussion with my friend Fred. I told him that humans are a virus on this planet. That we do nothing but harm to this planet. That Mother Earth could care less about Picasso.
He argued against me. He loves being a human! So many things we can do and accomplish! I told him that I too loved being a human. I love it. I love everything, all the opportunities, my mind, my imagination, all of it.
And yet, I know what I am to this world. I am aware. I have to live in both spaces.
Part of being a human is finding the cost you can bear, within the bounds of your society. You won’t eat fish, while I eat meat. No matter what any of us choose, the cost is still there. There’s no getting out of it. We can’t think or rationalize ourselves out of it. And should we if we could? We used to be much closer to the source of our food. We understood the cost and accepted it. Now it comes in cellophane or in a vegetable bin.
That is the challenge of living in this world. How can we be honest with ourselves? How can we decide for ourselves what cost we are willing to bear, because bear a cost we do. How can we reconcile our own conscious and sense of morality with our reality in this world?
The challenge is ours.