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?


  1. Homosexuals arent causing pain to others, meat eaters are.

    If I get pleasure killing jews, or using blacks as slaves, as i think they are a lower species is it wrong for someone to say something about it? Actaully isnt it a moral obligation for someone to ry and stop this sort of thing?

  2. Sorry, Jay, that it took me so long to publish your comment. I've been distracted with a cross-country move and I have a weakness for tinkering with my computer. Notification of your comment probably got lost in one of several unsuccessful experimental upgrades. That said...

    YIPPEE!!! I have my first nutcase post.

    So, uh, how are you using Blacks as slaves? As far as I know, that's the sort of thing that has to be done on the sly and kept very hush-hush.

    Then again, taking your comment at face value...

    On the one hand you get "pleasure killing jews, or using blacks as slaves" but in the next you ask "isn't it a moral obligation to ry [sic!] and stop this sort of thing?"

    Which should "someone" stop, Jay? Getting pleasure? or "killing jews, or using blacks as slaves"?

    Or is eating meat what is causing pain to others? In which case, you sound like some ethically-challenged twit from PETA.

    As I said above, I apologize for not publishing and responding to your comment sooner. But, I would appreciate clarification.

  3. Hey Bob, No worries.

    To continue my nut case post. Not all vegetarians are people who want to deny others pleasure, the homosexual analogy doesnt work.

    2 homosexuals are not harming anyone and so others denouncing it can seem like moral intervention.

    The analogy of slavery or racial or sexual discrimination works better. Like slaves for thousands of yearsthey were seen as inferior and exploited. It wasnt done behind close doors like you suggest. If you look at the decriminilisation of slavery in USA, most people hated the few of would stand up for the rights of blacks as moralists. "Dont tell me not keep a slave, you dont have to but dont judge me"

    Luckily humanity evovled and recognised the brutility of it all. This through a few brave people speaking up and not being intimidated by flawed justifications.

    In the same sense animals are seen as commodities that are factory farmed, millions are kept in painful conditions and killed everyday. More than the holocust die everyday after leading a totured life.

    May be humanity again will recognise the errors of their ways sooner than later.

    Your analogy of christians pointing the finger at gays and how vegetarians point out how meat eaters are uncompassionate is twisted. Trying to make out how the poor old meat eaters are being victimised for innocently eating meat, forgetting the real victimisation that the meat eaters are doing to living breathing, feeling animals that have their necks slit so you can taste a sausage.

    Why dont you think a little more before you convince other retards about your pathetic and dangerous views.

    Hitler convinced thickos that jews and blacks were a lower species of life and so can be killed and exploited by the superior race. In the same way some humans think that they can do whatever they want to other species of life, the environment etc for their own selfish wants (not needs)

  4. Back when I used to teach writing, I liked using a lot of comparison exercises. Merely pointing out the similarities between two things did not make a comparison. However, pointing out the similarities between two things that are not often juxtaposed, or have hidden similarities would fulfill the requirements of the exercise.

    Rarely have I ever met vegetarians -- and I have known a fair few over the years -- who at the same time did not make an impression of smug moral superiority by mere fact of having denied themselves a presumed pleasure.

    The post was a two-pronged jab at both vegetarians -- vegans in particular -- and at evangelical Christians.

    I also found the juxtaposition pleasantly ironic: vegetarians seem by and large politically liberal, progressive-minded, and such. Evangelical Christians tend to be conservative, homophobic, and more typically prone to deny themselves pleasures (at least in public).

    I can't think of any meat-eaters that I have known over the years who were troubled by moral condemnation by vegetarians, vegan or otherwise.

    If there is a grand point to the post it is the posing of a psychological question: is the feeling of moral superiority -- whether acknowledged or not -- founded on the perception of denying oneself some pleasure.

    I have a close friend who is a vegetarian for health reasons. In the time that I have known here I have never felt that her denying herself meat was anything but a choice she made for her own well-being, and that other people should decide for themselves what contributes and what akes away from their own sense of well-being.

    Of course, I don't deny the facts from which you extract a moral obligations, namely industrial farms. I do question whether any moral obligations derived from that fact can be founded on anything other than one's own feelings of disgust at discovering how one's dinner is prepared (paraphrasing Bismark's remark about sausage-making and politics).

    If something disgusts me, then are not those people who enjoy what disgusts me also not disgusting? And are they not even more disgusting, if they take their pleasure without remorse or a second thought? In that case, we come back around to my original question: how much of ethics and morality is about other people's pleasures?

  5. Consider the honey bee conundrum. It's not only about eating honey. Consider the reality of bee-keeping. It's big. Hives are trucked around so as to pollinate orchards. Even organic earth friendly ones. The vegan life-style in this country required the honey-bee industry: hives are kept on trucks providing for easy movement between farms and orchards. And you know the bees are not always treated well.

    See also this post: http://brokeman.wordpress.com/2008/11/26/a-vegan-spouse for some good points.


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