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Saturday, April 14, 2012

A Carnivore's Defense

I like eating meat.  It tastes good.  But is it?

My veggie friends and relatives don't think so; and they make me think.

In my mind, ethics and morality are different.  Morality, usually sanctioned by religion, is how most people in a culture behave, supported by their values and institutions.  Ethics is critical thinking about morality. So when my friends make me think about eating meat, they kick me out of my morality into ethics.

Among the latest findings of evolutionary biology and psychology, homo sapiens sapiens not only evolved as a carnivore but can probably thank the ancestors who began eating meat for the development of the frontal cortex and their most unique capacity to imagine, symbolize, plan, conjecture, think.

Now there's a powerful argument for meat-eating from human nature.  But of course, just because we are or have been a certain way, doesn't mean that we should be.  After all, just because we grew up in a slave or genocidal culture, based on primary needs to consume and to flee or fight doesn't mean we should continue that behavior.

Elsewhere (with many more words) I argued for an ethical model or theory based on this almost unique capacity to symbolize.  The model is a formula for being present: here, now, with.  A dynamic unity in tension between past and future, self and others, interior and exterior, real and ideal. I call it integrity and it is a primitive (not chronologically) position and experience of being the unity of all these dynamic tensions.  And the very dynamism of these tensions make it possible for us, personally and collectively, to advance that union or to dissipate it.  We are in our activity choosing to become what we will be.

Now apply that to eating meat. 

My ethical model indicates that we are struggling to make ourselves what we are and could be more of--a union with all nature (Spinoza had that right!).  The primary rule from my model is simply to treat oneself and all beings with dignity.  Dignity, freedom, meaning, creativity, power are descriptions of the state of being fully human.  But we are in the process of achieving them (should we choose to) and that process is called respect, liberation, empathy, or empowerment.  It starts with ourselves in union with an expanding circle of humans, out to those who were once considered just things or objects but with whom we can share feeling, learning from the past but imagining a better future.  Yes, that includes animals.

I think we are (and should be) moving towards a world where we do not trap, enslave, kill, and eat other animals.  But I don't think we are there yet.  First we need to make sure that all humans are receiving enough nutrition (including protein from meat or an alternative) and other resources to fully develop as persons in dignity.  Second, we need to protect those other animals with whom we can best communicate and with whom we have feeling.  Third, we need to advance ourselves as part of an overall process of moving humanity to the next stage of humanization called for in our very dynamic existence in an evolving universe.

I am willing to work with you and all towards greater integrity in our lives and existence with each other and all beings, including a life without eating meat.  Until then, however, I will enjoy my fillet of red snapper.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Rollie, I find your writing to be very articulate, intelligent and informed...I enjoy reading it...just a side note. I believe there will always be a struggle to resolve ethics, morality and "cultural religion" where the definer of what is right/wrong, good/bad, moral/amoral, ethical/unethical is a part of the system, that is a tree in the forest. It is why I believe there is a God and that His story is true. It is the same problem with those that hold absolutely to "anything", but creation. The idea that matter "created" itself; or that all matter came from anti-matter, that "created" itself. We hate absolutes because they are so restrictive and restraining; and we strive for anything else to take its place. Just so long as we are the ones that get to define the parameters...meat, no meat.

I will admit I am outclassed; when I read your writing I find myself wishing I was as articulate and literate...