July 28, 2004
Response to Silver Spartan, Re: Meat.
This is in response to Silver Spartan's thoughtful comment: I think my not eating meat or wearing leather is not a rational/moral imperative in the usual [Kantian] sense. Basing morals/ethics on rationality, as Kant does, degrades the ethical, to be sure. My vegetarianism is, rather, a single instance of not doing something I think/feel I should not be doing. I quit smoking about two months before I went veggie, and it was for the same reason. I felt like I shouldn't be doing it. It sounds inane, most likely to say that, but I suppose it's in line with sound Transcendentalist ideals, i.e., there is no higher voice than one's conscience, the voice of the "divine" (whatever name one chooses to give to such an entity) inside of us. Nevertheless, as Max Scheler is careful to point out, any sort of moral/ethical "ought" is necessarily an individual ought, specific to each person. What I ought to do is follow my conscience, and what another ought to do is follow his or hers. Our consciences may not all say the same things. Most people's consciences might agree that killing another person is wrong and that lying is something to avoid. One important thing to remember is that other people have different consciences, and berating people who feel that there is nothing wrong with eating meat is always unfair. To expect someone to listen to another's conscience over their own defeats what a conscience is for. I can imagine that some people feel like they should not watch television or drive a car, and I know some people who feel like they should go to church everyday or work for charity. I might not feel these particular things (I love driving, in fact), but some people do. Perhaps we could all be a little more understanding of one another and patient with one another if we were to remember that there are a lot of things that we all feel differently about and that we cannot always change this.* I like to believe that I am not one of those judgmental vegetarians; I don't even like to talk about what I eat much sometimes. Unfortunately, there are enough veggie jerks to give us all a bad name. "Oh, how can you eat that?" I hate being in a restaurant or a cafe' and hearing someone say loudly, "I don't eat meat." Nothing makes vegetarianism seem so negative as such statements. I'm not entirely innocent: I recall once asking someone if he killed his steak himself, but that was only after he did a rabbit impression of me for having a plate full of veggies. We were both joking, though, of course. In the end, it's not always hard for me to not eat meat. It smells good, but I can resist it pretty easily, since it would feel so bad to eat it. The same goes for smoking. Sometimes, over a beer or coffee with my friends in Maryland, I would love to light one up. But I would not really be able to enjoy it. Now, the trick is to make doing or not doing the other things I feel I should or should not be doing as easy as not eating meat or smoking. If getting my research done and publishing papers were as easy for me as eating extra veggies, I would be in very good shape indeed. [* The ever-wise William James even goes so far as to claim that one's choice of philosophy will always be determined by one's temperament, and Scheler says that we are fated to certain orders of preferring in what we love and hate. Both, however, are careful to reserve the freedom for us to choose within these frameworks.]