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.]

7 comments:

silver spartan said...

hi Pragmatik,
I am a layman pragmatik :). I have to seriously admit that with all these sophosticated allusions, I had to go through your column thrice in order to take the essence. And your expression was more than what I wanted to say. Yes ofcourse we have lot of 'vegetarian jerks' who's actions make us disbundled in many of the dining parties. But I also have my band of friends who always feel my vegetarianism tempting to be teased, whenever we go out for eating. We have jerks at both ends pal :).
Conscience is a complex thing to express and analyze. There is nothing right or wrong in this world as "beauty depends on the beholder's eye". Even what a criminal does might seem right to his/her conscience. The laws framed by humans are really based on some common conscience and sometimes seem immaterial. I might even agree that few criminals are far more capable in analyzing life and hence willfully cross laws, as it was just framed by a mere human like him/her (whom he/she feels is not as wise as he/she). And such people do have reasons for it, else their conscience would have not allowed them to do such actions. There are many things that we do in our day-to-day life, which cause pain, though these actions are lawfully/morally/ethically right. Before I meander into another subject, it is better to pull back and abide that our conscience is the better master and hence always be calm & patient, so that we can hear what our conscience is saying and please note: a calm mind is a wise mind.
I would wish to tell about one important thing that I am suffering from - the conflicts of your mind and conscience. I have a situation in hand pointed out by you. You said that you were at times tempted, say while hanging out with your friends to light up a cigarrette, but you would rather not, for the sake that you will not enjoy it after you have gone through. But the problem is when your friends swing out, they sometimes feel disappointed when we don't swing with our own mood atleast for them. An this always brings up arguement that are always left-over for the betterment of the friendship. What I am tryng to say is that, in order to survive in a society, we might sometimes need to do certain things against our conscience. Can somebody help me out with such situations !
This verse "Basing morals/ethics on rationality, as Kant does, degrades the ethical, to be sure." was typical to understand, but I sure now abide by what it says :). I seriuosly doubt whether publishing papers should be of any difficuilty for PRAGMATIK !!

Alcarwen said...

I hate to jump head-on into a conversation that I'm very obviously not part of, but well, I'll do it anyways... In reference to both this post of yours and the one Silver Spartan was referring to... I suppose that the urge to hunt/kill and the bloodthirst that comes along with it is really just a desire to overcome, to succeed and to prove one's worth for a society... Now, you, in choosing to not eat meat have overcome;-)... not exactly like you have to go and hunt down your tofu or anything, but you've substituted a new difficulty for it. Not only are you obeying something set forth by your conscience that is telling you to avoid the steak in order of a big plate of veggies, but in doing so, you overcome that primal urge that told Thoreau to hunt down the muskrat.... I don't know; I suppose in modern terms, I think we're going to overcome that basic instinct to kill in other ways... maybe academically. ;-) It seems to me it's a hell of a lot harder to get the research done and the paper published than it is to bring down a lion....

And true enough, we can't berate people for what their consciences have laid out for them. I'm sure you wouldn't damn me for eating a hamburger... but that type of thinking only carries you so far.... unless you are assuming that people are capable of perverting what it is that their consciences have told them (as in I'm sure a murderer might feel he was justified in killing, but is it really right? or that Hitler really believed he was doing good... does that make it forgiveable?)... Sure there are times to be accepting... and then there are times not to be so accomodating.

I'll add my usual disclaimer to this;-) This is, of course, just the humble (and mindless) musing of someone with a terrible grasp of what you choose to study... we English students claim no expertise in philosophy.

Pragmatik said...

Alcarwen,
You're right; I would never condemn you for eating a burger. Or anyone else, for that matter:)
I am certainly deficient in my understanding of 20th century history, but I have always heard exactly what you say about Hitler: that he thought he was right. Knowing when someone possesses a conscience that is operating on a different set of premises than most of us is usually easier than figuring out what to do about it. And, unfortunately, those mistaken people who think they are right fight like hell because they think they're right. But you’re definitely right: such instances have to make us re-examine our notion of tolerance.
I think that most people's consciences probably agree about most things (ugh, the Transcendentalist comes out!) like killing and lying, but there are some people who might have seriously malfunctioning consciences. I don’t know if it’s fair to just put these folks in institutions all of the time, but I think that people with fundamentally defective consciences usually turn out to be what everyone else calls “crazy” and are quarantined. It’s strange that, in a society known for its contributions for psychology, no one put Hitler in a nuthouse.

Pragmatik said...

Silver Spartan,
As per your problem with offending friends by not smoking and the greater issue of getting along in society when your conscience tells you to act differently than your society does, I would refer you to Thoreau’s monumental essay, “Resistance to Civil Government” (B.K.A. “Civil Disobedience”). One of a myriad of rousing quotations therein states that when you are confronted with a law of a government or society which contradicts your conscience, “Break the law. Let your life be a counter friction to stop the machine. What I have to see, at any rate, that I do not lend myself to the wrong which I condemn.” Thoreau thinks that doing what your conscience tells you to do is obeying a higher law and that it is the best course of action, not matter what society or other people tell you to do. As his night in prison and the scowls from his Concord neighbors show, however, following the dictates of one’s own consciences is often the most difficult course of action.

Pragmatik said...

P.S. I forgot to post this: the link to “Resistance to Civil Government” – courtesy of the Thoreau Institute: http://www.walden.org/Institute/thoreau/writings/essays/Civil_Disobedience.htm

silver spartan said...

Hi Pragmatik,
By the way what Thoreau says, sounds to me as though that he's backing Adolf. But as you say it is really difficuilt to conront society in order to satiate your conscience. And all depends upon the situation you are and the will power you put up. Anyways thanks for the solution. "I can code this path to be chosen by my sub-concious mind when needed ;)".

Alcarwen said...

I agree with Thoreau, obviously, that most people's consciences are going to agree. People like Hitler are just a special case. (Did you know he was veggie? Where's the logic there anyways? :) ) There are reasons, I'm sure, for the way anyone's conscience operates... societal, environmental and chemical factors (as in the case of the "crazy" ones). Who knows? Certainly not I. It's interesting though to think how things like that operate and what is a function of a purely internal voice of conscience and what is part of some other ingrained belief system. (or at least I think it is:) )