Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Are Vegetarians Evil? Or, Are Meat-Eaters? A Taunt

Are vegetarians evil? Or are they simply misguided? As I think of the vegetarians that I've known over the years, I really don't think I've ever met a single one that didn't also exude moral superiority, whether of the quiet and hardly noticeable sort, of the loud and obnoxious sort, or somewhere in between.

When I think of the responses that meat-eaters make to vegetarians, overwhelmingly the justification offered is some variation of "Eating meat gives me pleasure." Just to be clear: I also put justifications for eating meat for reasons of health under this rubric. Part of health is the absence of nutritional deficiencies and as well as the absence of mental and spiritual maladies.

From the vegetarian's perspective the meat eating is somebody else's pleasure. Vegetarianism is one instance of a broader conundrum: the problem of other people's pleasure(s). Another instance of this: sexual mores. Consider the hullabaloo that Evangelicals make about homosexuality. The conflict about homosexuality mirrors oddly enough the conflict around vegetarianism: Christian Morality condemns certain desires and behaviors. Or if delicate ears prefer: Christian Morality would limit desires and behaviors to their life-affirming and positive forms: procreation, monogamy, love, etc. But in so doing, sex as a vehicle of self-discovery and enhancement of one's autonomy and individuality is quietly and delicately hushed up. Self-discover in whatever venue is fraught with error, mistakes, poor judgment, and above all learning from experience, which is to say from bad experience.

It would then seem that the sometimes not so subtle air of moral superiority that vegetarians sometimes exude is rooted in the pleasure of denying oneself a pleasure of little value to the vegetarian. The vegetarian denies himself the pleasure of eating meat because she cares little for it. And because the vegetarian can make this little self-denial in the name of justice, fairness, kindness, avoiding cruelty, or what have you, it must of course follow that any person who is unwilling to make the same self-denial is necessarily immoral.

Morality is in large part then dependent on the belief that some pleasures are inessential, unreal, immoral, and only apparent pleasures. The pleasure that one can deny oneself will almost assuredly be intimately bound up another person's autonomy. For such a person, there is nothing "apparent" and "merely" about it.

For most meat eaters giving up meat, the possible reason to give up meat is because vegetarians are unhappy with the consumption of flesh by non-vegetarians. Just like Evangelicals find other people's pleasures to be a powerful political rallying point.

So, I ask anyone stumbling upon these pages: an analogy worth pursuing? Is an argument? Or enough of a taunt to disarm the not-so-clever and the all too unwary?

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

I'm back (again)

I dropped the blog for a while because of school, mood, and a peevishness of character. It's hard for me to fall in with a (more or less) like-minded group for long. I have always found the agreement of others with my beliefs and opinions highly disagreeable. One of the implications of atheism in pretty much any variety is that one's beliefs are cosmically and eternally insignificant. Generally speaking, atheists don't believe that anyone is going to suffer eternal torment for having the wrong beliefs.

One of the reasons that I started this blog was to keep myself in a writing frame of mind so that I would be able to work on my papers.

Nonbelieving Literati #1a

I liked The Exterminator's post about Julian, It can be found here.

Can a “liberal” political leader who professes faith — even one who picks and chooses practices from various different religions — be truly tolerant? Or is there something inherent in every system of supernatural belief that causes its adherents to be enemies of those with differing worldviews?

As might be expected, The Exterminator answers in the negative. And further, he makes clear that he doesn't think the character of Julian as Vidal presents him is the man for the job, so to speak, of implementing policies of tolerance and peaceful coexistence.

The pre-Christian Ancient World generally regarded apparently similar deities as equivalent. Jupiter of the Romans was the same deity as Zeus for the Greeks, for example. For the Greeks, "Jupiter" was simply what the Romans called Zeus, and if the Roman rites were different? That was between the Romans and the Deity in question. Further, there have been religions and social systems in the past that were unabashedly eclectic.

There is a phrase that gets bandied about from time to time: the prejudice against prejudice. The rhetorical thrust of this phrase goes to the heart of the matter: Is the preference and bias for policies of tolerance and diversity over policies of intolerance and hatred just another irrational prejudice? That in following policies of tolerance and diversity fewer people would get hurt would seem to be not insignificant. But tolerance and diversity can also be the arguments of the delicate and the cowardly who are afraid of getting hurt physically or otherwise.

There is a way out of that paradox: a commitment to values, ideals, and institutions of tolerance and diversity. This would require, of course, the recognition that conflict, misunderstanding, and strife are inherent to human social life. No doubt such thoughts strike many as immoral. This recognition can be less controversially phrased: instead of beginning with the belief that it is possible in principle to remove completely from public life egoism, strife, oppression, and the like, or in the worst case to hide these all too human qualities in private life. humanity's less than presentable rather than being removable are the mud and clay from which a body politic is to be sculpted. If this thought strike readers as bizarre or proto-fascist, I cannot recommend The Federalist Papers strongly enough.

However, in exacting a commitment to values and institutions, there is a corresponding loss of transcendental justifications for one's institutions. The commitment to the values and principles embodied in one's institutions does not flow from (a) God's commandment, but rather from
love in the same way that parents of a severely handcapped child loves their child: because it is one's own. Love of the fatherland is like any other human passion: it can be phenomenally stupid, blind, ignorant, intolerant, and the like. And it can also be love of the principles embodied in a way of life.

If sectarians do not themselves profess a similar love, then that is the limit of tolerance.

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