On Hating Vegetarians

Many of my friends are vegetarian. To clear up the terminology, I am talking about people who do not eat meat of any kind (not fish or chicken either, folks), but may use other animal products, e.g., eggs or honey.

Non-vegetarian friends rarely handle this well. If the subject comes up, at least one person will immediately and vociferously attack it in one of these ways:

  1. I don’t get it! Boy, I sure do love a big steak. And my mom’s meatloaf. So great! What is with this vegetarian shit? I love lamb chops, and fried clams, and lobster! You know, one favorite place of mine is Kelly’s down on the beach. Boy, they sure do make a great hamburger. Another thing I like…
  2. What is their problem? I’m so tired of all this preaching. Everyone’s telling people what to eat, what to smoke, what to say. Why can’t they just enjoy a normal life like anyone else? Let me tell you, my sister-in-law is one of those vegetarian types and I can’t eat at her house. Just broccoli and shit. Tofu! It’s not food! Who’d eat that shit?
  3. So what do you mean, like, I’m a bad person? Who are you to judge! I bet you do bad things, and you’re telling me I’m a jerk just for doing what everyone does! People like you are all hiding something.
  4. Wow, that’s really unhealthy. Be sure to get enough protein. I mean, you have to make up for it. Be sure to eat huge amounts of [food with high protein content] in it or you’ll get really sick. OMG you make your KID eat vegetarian? That’s like CHILD ABUSE!!!
  5. It’s ridiculously unnatural. Humans are hunters, we eat meat. I mean, c’mon, ancient cave paintings are about hunting. We aren’t meant to survive with out it. How else would we continue to be large, dominant creatures with upper arm strength and a killer instinct? People who don’t eat meat are girly and possibly homosexual. It’s a betrayal of our natural healthy state.

None of these make sense. Let’s learn!

  1. Other people don’t necessarily like your food, and you know it. Why should others like a whole class of foods you enjoy? For that matter, if you learned that a food you enjoyed was made from babies or profited al Qaeda, would you continue to eat it? Your taste has nothing to do with other people!
  2. Did anyone just tell you what to do, or what not to do? Other people not eating something doesn’t constitute restrictions on your habits. It’s their choice. If your sister-in-law can’t cook, either tell her so or push the food around on your plate until it’s time to go. And tofu is just another food, not some condensed symbol of Berkeleyite pseudo-meat hypocrisy. Like it or don’t, but leave the poor curdled soy alone.
  3. Wait, who said that? The person across the table from you just said she doesn’t eat meat. Did she go on to say that people who eat meat are psychopathic murderers without empathy? Did she just start with a lecture about where your burger comes from, or what some religious figure said about eating animals? Did she tip your plate over? If not, she’s just choosing to eat differently from you, and the implication of wickedness is all yours. Not everyone with principles is either a Tartuffe or an inquisitor. Drop it.
  4. You’re just wrong. People who eat a reasonable mix of foods don’t get malnutrition. And that reasonable mix does not have to include meat. When you hear people talk about getting enough “protein,” they are talking out their ears. “Protein” in U.S. culture is just a word for meat. Actual proteins come from many foods, and nobody is getting beri-beri or pellagra from lack of burger. Go look it up!
  5. If you hear an argument for modern behavior based on “instinct,” or “evolution,” or “basic human nature,” stop and investigate, or just dump it. Any human behavior can be justified or condemned based on unexamined assumptions about our nature. These arguments have been used to justify rape, celebrate war, demonize men, excuse cannibalism, and attack pantaloons. Humans have survived with and without meat just as we have survived in the Antarctic and the Sahara, survived genuinely destructive malnutrition, survived Pop-Tarts, and survived living in rivers of raw sewage without antibiotics. All evolutionary biology means is that someone lived long enough to fuck and someone else lived long enough to squirt out some babies of which some survived. It does not imply burgers.

What have we learned? We have learned that meat eaters like meat. We have learned that people who feel criticized morally become upset and defensive. We have learned that in U.S. culture, not eating something can get a person in big social trouble. And we’ve learned that the reasons for this are not reasonable. And finally, we have learned that reactions to food choices are visceral (ha).

It’s true that vegetarianism in the U.S. is almost always a moral choice rather than a tradition or a practical dietary one. Choosing not to eat meat implies a judgment on the act of meat eating parallel to the message of celibacy, sobriety, or boycotts. Vegetarianism also goes against deeply rooted (ha) beliefs about wealth, health, pleasure, and choice. It’s not neutral.

What I take from this is that many people are threatened by the idea of conscious morality. Of any kind. Someone who makes a moral choice and gives up some pleasure, adding some complexity and trouble to life, is a psychological threat. The immediate response is that the person making that choice is a stereotyped hypocrite from a Hollywood movie, an unhappy person who wishes others to be unhappy, an obsessed idiot. I’ve noticed a linguistic shift during my life that perfectly evokes this: I hear people using “righteous” to mean “self-righteous,” as if the very idea of moral choice implies hypocrisy and the need to control others.

I myself am not a vegetarian. I have no meat days twice a week. I am not a believer in “animal rights,” nor do I consider killing animals and eating them to be immoral. My reasons are humanist. Meat takes a lot of grain to make, and eating meat has an environmental and economic impact on others. I’ve been impressed by some calculations of how much better one can do just by eating less meat, and so far I’m doing so. I have no authority or desire to tell anyone else to do the same, or to say that I’m “more moral” because of this. It just feels right to me, and I enjoy my food more.

if you’re not a vegetarian, and vegetarians make you grumpy, consider why. Are there good reasons why someone else’s personal moral choice makes you upset? Are people who make a moral choice necessarily hypocrites, nannies, deluded utopians? Or have you avoided and denied ethical and empathetic impulses so much in your own life that anyone making the effort has you terrified?

Hating others for harmlessly doing what they believe to be right does not reflect well on us as individuals or as a society. Eschew that.

Meaning Well: Anti Irony #1

One of the worst things you can call someone now is “well-meaning.”

A well-meaning person is always doing the wrong thing. The phrase encompasses many sins. The well-meaning person is presumed to be ignorant of the world’s harsh ways, naive, gullible, and full of an unwarranted optimism especially about human nature. Arrogance or at least hubris is implied too, in that well-meaning people have an exaggerated view of their own ability to improve things.

One thing is certain: well-meaning people always make things worse. They’re always trying to feed babies when the real problem is that parents won’t work. Or getting in the way of a war because of the horrors thereof when the real problem can only be solved by winning the war. Or providing shelter for the poor when the real problem is the oppressive system that keeps them poor. Well-meaning people always seem to have band-aid solutions and don’t see the picture. Their attempts to make things better always result in disaster because of something called the Law of Unintended Consequences which says that every time you do something that seems to mean well it will mean more trouble later on, in the larger scheme of things.

The answer to the problem of the well-meaning is to accept that the world is a harsh place and embrace that harshness. In fact, one is supposed to embody the world’s hard ways. If someone misbehaves, punishment and force must be used. If there is a problem between governments, then it will inevitably result in war and it’s best to prosecute the war as soon as possible. If there is a social disaster like a famine or an economic crisis, it’s important that this “run its course”; mere half-measures like handing out food or shoes will only drag out the problem.

If a problem resists solution by bombing or jailing or some other harsh measures, then it is considered to be insoluble and part of the human condition. To say otherwise is, once again, to be “well-meaning.” Tough-minded hard-nosed adults understand how unforgiving and full of suffering things are and don’t try to change it. Only the very young and the fatally naive believe that things can be improved.

This is a place where Social Darwinism, Marxism, and Malthusian pessimism meet after having been thoroughly dumbed down into one idea: don’t try to be good. The task is impossible and will make you into a victim yourself. Worse still, it will obstruct the natural way of things which eventually resolves conflicts. The Tao of this worldview is cruelty, and you must flow with it.

This attitude is everywhere in my country. The admirable person is said to be hard-nosed, realistic, rational, sober, and tough. His opponents are softies, Pollyannas, illogical, giddy, and weak. It’s as though the Churchill-Chamberlain dichotomy was applied to every part of life: politics, religion, law, medicine, the arts, everything. You’re either a heroic bulldog war fighter or an umbrella-waving idiot appeaser.

The word “aggressive” is entirely positive in all contexts. It has come to mean “effective,” and anything labeled “passive” is by definition a failure. One roots out crime aggressively, and also treats disease aggressively, and even an aggressive prose style is given the seal of approval.

I urge you to resist this. Mean well.

Feed babies. Use band-aids on wounds. Give poor people 20 dollar bills and places to stay. Solve arguments without violence. Oppose cruelty and war. Be passive rather than aggressive. I urge you, in fact, to be a complete weenie and wussy, who can’t see that what’s needed is a short sharp shock. I urge you to think of criminals and drug addicts as salvageable improvable humans. I urge you to lose an argument more often and to resist an opportunity to destroy an enemy.

It’s true that our conscience doesn’t know how to manage a central bank or create a national water policy or stop the warmongering of dictators. And our conscience is naive about realpolitik and the tragedy of the commons and the necessity of breaking eggs to make metaphorical omelettes.

“Well-meaning” is our attitude when we listen to conscience. I am not ashamed.

So I went to JAG and … he says, “Well the Geneva Conventions are a gray area.”

Via srl: An officer of the 82nd Airborne Division of the United States Army describes violations of the Geneva convention.

o I guess what I’m getting at is the Army officers have overarching responsibility for this. Not privates, not the Sergeant Jones, not Sergeant Smith. The Army officer corps has responsibility for this. And it boggles my mind that there aren’t officers standing up saying, “That’s my fault and here’s why.” That’s basic army leadership. […] [I]f America holds something as the moral standard, it should be unacceptable for us as a people to change that moral standard based on fear. The measure of a person or a people’s character is not what they do when everything is comfortable. It’s what they do in an extremely trying and difficult situation, and if we want to claim that these are our ideals and our values then we need to hold to them no matter how dark the situation.