Vegetarians and Vegans

Many mainstream media personalities and organizations involved with promoting vegetarianism and veganism are not only ineffective, they are sometimes counterproductive and antithetical to the cause. Some of the most prominent examples are Gary Yourofsky, Vegan Gains, and PETA. These of course are the extreme examples, but the problem is widespread within vegetarian and vegan communities. Ridiculing and shaming meat eaters is not only obnoxious, it makes the message unpalatable for those who might otherwise have been willing to engage in discourse. Many vegans and vegetarians are too absorbed in touting their own moral superiority to realize that discourse is the only way forward. You don’t create a paradigm shift by being condescending to the people you’re attempting to persuade.

I personally decided to stop eating meat because I heard sound arguments about environmental impacts and the suffering endured by animals. I was also exposed to friends who offered arguments about compassion and sustainability without any element of shame. I was not convinced by shock value, or cuteness, or people stating that meat consumption was immoral with no justification. I don’t think meat production is sustainable or moral. Does that mean I think people should cut meat out of their diet immediately? No. Suggesting that ANY amount of meat consumption is evil is just going to polarize. Switching your diet to exclude meat is a big change for some people. This change needs to happen slowly, with health effects being considered carefully. Yet I think for the majority of people it would merely be mildly uncomfortable for a while. It’s not that hard. And that’s a much better message to spread.

What I find absolutely infuriating (though I haven’t experienced it personally) is this zealous vigilantism that seems to occur among certain vegans and vegetarians. People are trying to improve their habits and they are attacked if they “cheat”. It’s disgusting. The point of avoiding meat consumption is to limit production. Even getting someone to go from eating meat 7 days a week to 4 days a week should be considered a huge success. And if someone accidentally gives you bacon on a salad, or pepperoni on a pizza, why would you throw it out? People treat these choices as if they’re some kind of religion and anything that could even be interpreted as a transgression is a sin. It’s great to have moral values, but rather than force those values down others’ throats, why not encourage discussion of the things you care about.

Instead of dehumanizing the majority of society, we should seek to humanize the experience of animals, and to remind people that not only animals suffer from factory farming, but the environment does as well.

If this topic interested you at all, be on the lookout for my take on oysters and other bivalves and their relation to meat-free diets.

 

Pascal’s Wager

Pascal’s Wager proposes that we ought to adopt Christian values and beliefs just in case Hell exists, because it is too large a risk not to. It basically asserts that even if no other reason can be found to believe, one should do it out of self-interest since facing eternal damnation in the afterlife is horrifying. This argument is fallacious for numerous reasons.

Firstly, the basis for disbelief (i.e. atheism) is in the likelihood of possibility. The Christian notion (along with others) of God is extremely unlikely, which might be why faith is so crucial to believers. For someone to choose assimilation to such a belief system on the basis of such an absurdly unlikely possibility is illogical. Proponents of Pascal’s Wager might argue that a lack of belief has no advantage, so why not take the chance, however unlikely. Unfortunately, engaging in such a belief system usually means spending a great deal of time attending a Church of sorts and adopting practices/ideologies that might lead to problematic outcomes, such as the ostracization of homosexuals.

Secondly, Pascal’s Wager does not account for belief systems that contradict each other. Some of the practices Christians are taught to engage in might be considered sin or “haram” in Islam, and vice versa. If one were to decide to take Pascal’s Wager, they are then left to decide between many equally unlikely concepts of “God”. Usually popularity is a somewhat worthwhile heuristic for evaluating the viability of a belief system, yet to choose the most popular of a multitude of systems that are equally lacking in feasibility is absurd.

Finally, if I were to come up with a fictional entity that demands certain practices of you, I highly doubt you would conform to those practices on the basis that the entity I’ve proposed might be “real”. I could come up with limitless belief systems that require you to act in contradictory ways with infinite rewards and punishments. What makes the claims of any one of these belief systems stronger than another? Popularity? A book? If the wager that Pascal offered up truly were heads or tails like he suggests, then his claim might be worth further examination. Unfortunately, if analogized to coin flips, the likelihood is better described by a coin landing on its side millions of flips in a row.

Preamble/Introduction

The thing I believe we lack most in modern discourse is direct communication. Almost everything is embedded in complicated ideology and metaphor. I aim to use simple to understand, yet expressive language. The topics I want to start with are things like religion, race and gender politics, economics, abortion, libertarianism, education etc. I haven’t planned out exactly what I want to cover as of yet, but I want to express my thinking in the simplest way I can. The subjects already have their own discourse communities, that is, their own ‘local’ vocabularies. Of course it will be hard not to draw on these, but the goal is to use general enough language for easy understanding regardless of your current familiarity with the specific subject. For example, if I’m trying to discuss philosophy, I wouldn’t use a word like “tautological” without explaining what I meant by it. I believe too many writers, politicians, academics, etc., throw complicated sounding words around to sound intelligent. I’m certainly guilty of it, maybe even in this intro. Good use of language doesn’t mean confusing your audience with how brilliant you sound, it means expressing what you want to as clearly as possible.

No, the goal here is not to criticize others for a lack of straightforwardness. I’m sure there will be some of that, but what I really want is to promote discussion that attempts to be inclusive to EVERYONE. Laymen’s terms no longer exist. There is so much “technobabble” (complicated jargon) of various sorts out there. Expanding terminology is a great thing, but when we want to express something further than just within or among the community that understands the jargon, simplification is crucial and sometimes a difficult skill to learn. This requires empathy, and sometimes even a willingness to sound dumb. For example, I don’t know the first thing about programming, so if someone starts talking to me about it without recognizing my lack of understanding, it’s not only frustrating, but it means time is being wasted, knowledge transfer is being impeded, and it has the potential to isolate.

Even the language and tone I’m using now isn’t appropriate for everyone. I know that. It doesn’t appeal to everyone, but I’m doing my best to be expressive and concise while making myself as clear as possible. There are many people I know that would read this and already be turned off by the academic sounding speech or “seriousness” of this. I don’t know exactly who my audience is for this project, I guess I have a rough idea, but hopefully I can give you a decent mix of simplicity and authenticity while remaining engaging and maybe even somewhat entertaining.