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.

In Defense of Marriage: A Modest Proposal

It is a fact generally acknowledged that the institution of marriage in the United States is troubled.

Editorial writers, television journalists, and politicians are agreed that less people are marrying, less are taking their marriages seriously, more are ending their marriages, and those who end them often have several. The importance and permanence of marriage appear to be badly eroded.

More recently, the attempts by homosexuals to have their marriages legally recognized have alarmed many of the same people. They’ve urged others to stop these proposed changes, on the grounds that marriage between anything other than a man and a woman is against Nature, and that this change will further damage this wounded institution of marriage or even finally kill it.

Whatever the measurable facts might be, there is a perception among the educated middle class that marriage is reduced, threatened, devalued, and possibly outmoded, and it’s a great cause for concern for many people. It would be generally helpful to calm their fears and, if possible, to revive marriage as a serious institution for those who choose it. Mistreating homosexuals is not helpful, nor is theocracy.

Prohibiting divorce and remarriage is the most obvious approach, but is politically impossible. Religious or simply conservative individuals who dislike homosexuals and fornicators are still unwilling to abandon serial marriage as an option, and will resist this fiercely, despite implied contradictions in their thinking.

Instead, I propose that we treat this as a matter of state incentive, and make our improvements with pricing as we do in the case of roads, for example. In this particular case, the problem is not the first marriage itself, which must be kept simple and inexpensive, but the mechanism of divorce. Easy divorce erodes the permanence and seriousness of marriage.

I propose a new set of taxes or fees, which will at once act as a brake on casual marriage and benefit the people financially. The act of divorce also must remain simple and inexpensive; the cost of endless failed marriages is measured not only in misery but in the cost of domestic violence and child abuse, which unduly burdens us all.

Instead, the schedule of fees will apply to remarriage. A second marriage, for example, might cost $5,000. This is a reasonable fee for a serious commitment, and will emphasize to both parties that they are taking on a serious responsibility. The third marriage in this case would require a $15,000 fee; the fourth, $50,000; and the fifth, $100,000. Whether to continue increasing the fee or not is a matter for further discussion.

This schedule of assessment on new marriages would apply to any marriage license issued by the government. Religious institutions would remain free to declare marriages valid or not by their own accounting, but none of this would apply to the legal status of those marrying.

In the case of polyamorous marriage, fees would apply to all participants.

Widows and widowers would be exempt from the remarriage payment for the next marriage after the death of their former partners. Legal penalties for the intentional death of a spouse to avoid the marriage fee would be increased over and above those for other murders, to reduce moral hazard from this rule.

The advantages of this system are obvious. No one is prevented from legally ending an insupportable marriage. Those who are seriously committed to further marriages are free to do so after paying the fee. Feckless and flighty couples with money will progressively enrich the state and the people. And as in all such plans, the cycle of divorce and remarriage will be dramatically slowed. Finally, the power of the institution itself will be greatly enhanced both in practical decision-making and generally respect. Nothing commands more authority in American society than a very large price tag.

I hope you’ll join me in sharing this proposal with friends, family, church leaders, and government representatives. I think that all of us, whether we intend to marry or not, can support a rescue of the power of marriage that restricts none of us and enriches all of us.

How Green Was My Upper Middle Class

When I was a child in the 1970s, there was something called The Ecology.

During the 1960s, some of the grownups had noticed that there was a lot of pollution, too much garbage, and a possibility that we might run out of things completely. They set out to reduce industrial and personal pollution, manage garbage better, and use things more efficiently.

“The Ecology,” as presented to us kids, was a thing that had to be preserved and kept clean. We were shown pictures and films of littered beaches, sad birds with trash on them, disgusting goop in bodies of water, and huge ugly smokestack factories spewing poison. What was to be done?

Two things: we were not to litter, and we were to pick up litter. The Ecology would stay dirty and get dirtier if we failed at these tasks. It was implied that the sad birds would still be covered with garbage and that things would get dirtier and dirtier forever.

There wasn’t much said about the smokestacks, the goop in the water, or any of the more complicated things the grownups had to work on. It was generally admitted that people had to change things around and stop treating the world as a wastebasket, and the grownups said they’d do that.

When I was a young adult in the 1980s, there was something called The Environment.

Despite putting filters on the smokestacks, stopping the goo from getting into the water, making cars a less dirty, and picking up a lot of litter, the grownups still had problems. Poisons were seeping into the groundwater, spray cans were carving up the atmosphere, fish populations were diving, and rainforests were being chopped up.

The Environment needed protection. Stopping litter and toning down the industrial pollution was fine, but now we needed other things. As young adults, we were asked to stop using spray cans and styrofoam. Additionally we were asked to recycle some things, to protest some of the more egregious industrial practices, and to purchase items that were good for the rainforest in some way. Particular companies were held up as examples of evil for turning rainforest into cheeseburgers or dumping crude oil on penguins; we were to boycott them. Finally, we were supposed to give cash or time to organizations that stopped bad behavior by companies or tried to preserve bits of natural beauty.

It was generally admitted that people had to change things around and stop grinding everything up into consumer products, that we should use things more than once, and that we should change our consumer behavior to reward or punish those who were selling us things.

Starting in the 1990s, a concept arrived called Green. It’s still with us.

Green is an adjective instead of a noun. If something is green, it is helpful to the environment or the ecology, or something like it. A policy can be green. An organization can be green. A person or a technology or a restaurant or even a web page can be green. There’s a lot of good done with this adjective: efficient technologies and alternative power sources, for example. But most importantly, a lifestyle can be green. As with other American lifestyles, green comprises magazines, television, social networks, and products. Lots and lots of products. Food, packaging, clothing, cars, appliances, services, and entire brands are green.

It is generally assumed that people need to take on a green lifestyle and purchase products that are labeled as such. The best demonstration of the lifestyle is to purchase as many products and services offered by lifestyle publications and media and show them to others as a demonstration of green lifestyle.

WHOOPS!

Don’t ya know there’s a war on?

If you’re a U.S. citizen capable of any political action, your first duty is to end this war.

We are the only people who can do this. We can vote, we can spend on candidates and organizations who change votes, we can demonstrate. No one else can.

The subject line of this post kept popping up in my head today. Just today I saw long articles, discussions, and arguments in blogs and publications about Mr. Obama’s pastor and his big mouth, about Tibet and the Chinese Olympics, about the sexualization of a 15-year-old girl as a television star, about the introduction of video into the Flickr photo site, about the virtues and vices of demonstrations in which large numbers of people ride around on bicycles… it goes on.

When the torch for the god-damned Olympics came through San Francisco, the local supporters of the Dalai Lama organized a dramatic, well-organized, and clearly expensive attack on the event and made international headlines. The arguments I mention above were not little squibs like this post, either; they stretched into yards-deep webspace over days, burrowing into tiny whorls of forum thread.

Imagine if you will, an alternate version of the last month, in which the creative energy, free time, technology, expertise, and most of all the money, money, money, money, money implied by all that crap above had been thrown at one big anti-war punch. A demonstration, a television ad, a get out the vote for an important legislator, a front page ad on every newspaper. And imagine if that happened every day. Because it could. We’re a wealthy nation with a crapload of free time. Those who can, do. Those who can’t, write. Those who can’t write, write checks. (Personally I write and write checks. I’m not very good at throwing bricks.)

If you think the war should continue, I’m not talking to you. If you agree that the war must be stopped, could we all maybe spend less effort, time, thought, and ESPECIALLY MONEY on other issues?

Don’t ya know there’s a war on?