Thursday, August 28, 2008

Vegetarianism and Morality Discussion

A question from a vegetarian group on

Of course, by 'they' I mean the meat-eaters."

My answer:

I'm very interested in this question. I became a veggie almost 8 years ago, when I was 17. My interest in this discourse partially stems from my remembering the ease with which I gave up eating flesh. I attribute this to having familial support and educating myself pretty well beforehand.

I have, however, thought a great deal about why it is so difficult for many of my friends to make the "leap," a term I use not to emphasize the challenge implied therein. I have acquired a term that was new to me having read Peter Singer's Animal Liberation. The word is "speciesism."

Like so many other -isms - racism, Buddhism, sexism, atheism, feminism, pacifism, and so on - speciesism represents an ideology, a way of approaching the world. The ideology of speciesism is one that, knowingly or otherwise, most vegetarians and vegans reject, at least partially.

We must consider where we are geographically, historically, culturally, etc...before we pass too harsh a judgement on a belief. I think you would all agree that racism, or sexism for that matter, is abhorrent regardless. However, if we fail to humanize the position of others, and we fail to place it in geography, history, and culture, we are ignoring the very empathy that has led many of us to avoid eating animals in the first place. Obviously, this is not to advocate relativism, only to understand that most people have arrived at their various ideologies for reasons other than insanity or pure evil.

When we consider the question of change and the inherent challenge there, we must see that the majority of people are, in one way or another, a speciesist. This majority includes vegetarians, vegans, meat-eaters. The decision to eliminate animal products from one's diet does not necessarily mean that one has overcome the grip of speciesism. Many of us who realize the brutality that comes with consuming or wearing animal also consider our social organizations, our techical advancements, and our artistic achievements as representing progress transcendent of "animal" realm, thereby separating ourselves from our own animalism. We see these progressions as being beneficial to our "quality of life," all the while becoming more and more distant from a natural and sustainable definition thereof. In essence, we look at those "below" us, the non-human animals, with pity.

Believe me, I think vegetarianism is great for everybody. I do, and I couldn't be happier. However, I think alteration of diet is just one facet of an overall change of ideology; a paradigm shift. If we can all, and I mean all, truly devalue the tenets of speciesism and internalize a distaste for those tenets, the fallout will be enormously beneficial.

Many folks, with sound reason, see this as a two-sided debate - with meat-eaters on one side and veggies on the opposing side. I prefer to think that we're all headed in the same direction, and it just so happens that some of us are a little closer to the ideal than others.

Just as with any race, there are those at the front who have the choice of inspiring those behind them to catch up, or they can be vindictive and arrogant, as they speed towards a finish line that does not exist. There are those in the middle, who at times find themselves complacent, not believing in the possiblity of getting ahead, yet knowing they don't have to try too hard to not be last. Finally, we have those "flower-pickers" pulling up the caboose. Many of them have no interest in winning said race even if they have the ability. Instead of ridiculing them or getting overly frustrated with them, we must be advocates for the impetus of the race in the first place. We must help them to see, as many of us have, that the place that we're headed - a more humane, sustainable, natural, healthy world - is ideologically beautiful and pragmatically meaningful.

As a teacher, I'm very much focused on helping my kiddos see the beauty in the process, not necessarily the product, of their work. I see striving towards a more humane view of animals and of our earth is no different: it's the journey that counts.

All that said, the health factor and the environmental factors are a totally different issue. I have not the slightest understanding of the argument against vegetarianism within these two realms.

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