I have the goal of reading 60 books this year, which means I’ve been reading a lot more than I did last year. Those books have provided obvious inspiration for blog posts (see below), which has made me start to reflect on what the future of this blog holds. I originally started blogging back in 2009 as a way to record my cross-country bicycle ride (see: Wandering Oak for those old posts) but as I continued writing this blog has evolved. Now, it seems like it is going to mostly be my reflections on what I’m reading and solicited advice on sex, drugs, and all of those taboo subjects of life for anonymous friends and strangers. I didn’t expect this, but life is often unexpected (which is what makes it so exciting!!!!). And, to be honest, I’d love to keep doing lots more advice stuff… so if you have any questions or comments for me please send them my way. As always, no subject is off limits and I will respond to all of them as openly and honestly as possible.
Okay, on to the book stuff that inspired this post.
I’m currently reading* “The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory” by Carol J. Adams and it has caused me to reflect a bit on two labels that I apply to myself: vegan and feminist. I haven’t really spent any time reading or analyzing those labels in a formal way. I’ve called myself a feminist for several years but have never read anything explicitly feminist until picking up “The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love” by bell hooks a couple weeks ago. Similarly, my veganism came primarily from personal reflection on my values and had little to do with the effect others had on me.
Okay, that last part is only partially true. I originally looked into being vegan because a woman I had a crush on was vegan. We didn’t end up together (she is still a friend and is married to someone MUCH more compatible than I would have been) but once I opened the door to veganism and started thinking about it I was stuck. Hormones and lust may have lead me to veganism, but logic and ethics kept me there.
Which brings us to “The Sexual Politics of Meat”, a merging of veganism and feminism.
Wait, sorry, I need to back up to bell hooks first…
There are two concepts discussed in “The Will to Change” that I should lay out first (by the way, I highly recommend “The Will to Change”, 10/10, will read again). The first is compartmentalization. I was raised in a world where generally compartmentalization was seen as a good thing. I should separate my role as a soldier, student, Christian, Republican, etc. from each other. Christ says “turn the other cheek” but the soldier in me says “kill ’em all, let God sort them out”. Christ says “Anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes not only me but also my Father who sent me.” and the GOP says “build a wall”. I thought I was at ease with my spirit, job, politics, and other roles in society being in different spheres of my life… but that wasn’t so. I couldn’t live with integrity – my life wasn’t integrated – if I was fracturing things. Reading hooks made me realize that my happiness, sense of self-worth, and ability to love was correlated with the years when I was able to break down the barriers between my roles and find a way to become united.
The second concept is really summed up in a quote hooks highlighted from Nathaniel Brandon. It is about taking responsibility for my own ethics instead of defaulting what is easy.
I am responsible for accepting or choosing the values by which I live. If I live by values I have accepted or adopted passively and unthinkingly, it is easy to imagine that they are just “my nature,” just “who I am,” and to avoid recognizing that choice is involved. If I am willing to recognize that choices and decisions are crucial when values are adopted, then I can take a fresh look at my values, question them, and if necessary revise them. Again, it is taking responsibility that sets me free.
Freedom comes from taking responsibility for my own actions and ethics instead of defaulting to the state, religion, or parents. As Socrates/Plato states, “An unexamined life is not worth living.” (Ugh, how cliche is it to quote Socrates?)
Okay, on to the actual meat of my thoughts when I was reading “The Sexual Politics of Meat” (see what I did there?). It really comes down to my ethical thought process for being a vegan, which is mostly admitting my own ignorance.
When people justify treating non-human animals differently than human animals they usually come up with some sort of line that separates us from them. Occasionally, I still hear things like “veganism isn’t healthy”, “you can’t get enough protein”, or “veganism is expensive”, but those arguments are getting factually weaker and weaker for most people. I do recognize that many people live in food deserts or lack the time, energy, and other resources to be completely vegan, but I think everyone can make small changes to minimize the harm to animals. Sorry, off on a tangent…
The one argument I hear regularly for separating human animals from non-human animals is that we have the capacity to “reason” or have “free will”. Here are my problems with that argument:
- Using “reason” or “free will” seems pretty arbitrary. Basically, people found something that appears to make us different and decided that it makes us so special that different ethical behavior applies. This is only a difference of degree not a difference in kind of the belief that white people are superior because they are white or men are superior because they are men. Finding the difference between two groups and deciding that is the line where ethics is drawn is not appropriate.
- It is weirdly anti-individual, but only for the benefit of humans. Many humans (due to mental illness, brain damage, age, etc.) lack what we would call “reason” or “free will” but we hold ourselves to a certain ethical standard for how we treat them. They are treated a certain way because they are human, not because they can reason. But the opposite is true with animals, even if we could prove that a certain individual ape (or dolphin, pig, whatever) could reason then we would still treat them with lesser rights because the majority of their species lacks that ability.
- To my knowledge, measuring “reason” or “free will” isn’t really possible. If they exist it seems that we can’t really determine it and it may exist on a spectrum instead of being binary. Animals show a level of problem-solving, self-awareness, emotions, etc. that shouldn’t be ignored. Many people discount this as just instinct… but couldn’t the same be said of humans? Pigs, in particular, are cognitively advanced. Just because our instinct is more complex doesn’t necessarily mean that we are better or deserve better treatment.
Really, the foundation of my view is that I don’t know how conscious animals are and I want to err on the side of peace and non-violence. I’d rather live a life where I am sure that I tried to minimize the suffering and death in the world than one where I just decided to go with the cultural norm even if it meant there was needless pain. I wouldn’t want Higgins to suffer and be killed for my pleasure ), and I don’t want animals that I haven’t named to be tortured and killed for my pleasure either (whether that pleasure comes from taste buds or from viewing makes no difference). Evolution has made me care about Higgins more than other animals, just as it has made me care about my partner more than a stranger. But if humans stand for anything, if free-will and ethics exist, then they implore us to move beyond evolution and show love and peace for those we don’t have the instinct to.
Think I’m batshit crazy? Am I wrong? Or maybe you want to send a kind message… I’m always open to criticism and respond to everything
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* I’m actually also reading “Principles” by Ray Dalio and working my way through “The Daily Stoic” by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman again but those don’t really play into today directly… but I’m sure they will in the future 🙂