February 20, 2006
When I opined earlier that "vegans have a right to be vegans" but that I have a problem once they try to prevent me from eating meat, I was touching on a problem area surrounding the cultural debate.
What someone eats is, in my view, as much a personal decision as what someone does sexually. No matter how unwholesome, unhealthy or even ungodly the diet, it really isn't the moral business of anyone or the legal business of the government. Unless, of course, the eating or the sex infringes on the rights of others. There is no more right to steal or commit violence in order to eat (or to eat children) than there is to do these things in order to satisfy one's sexual desires.
The logic of this has always struck me as so obvious as to not require extended discussion. But in the case of vegans (at least radical vegans) there is an emergent class of diet proseyltizers who believe the diets of others are their business, and whose diets have morphed into what might be called "lifestyles" roughly analogous to those based on sexuality.
Veganism is more than a diet, and more than a choice; it is a theory. As such, it seeks to justify and self aggrandize in the same way as certain other lifestyle theories. Fortunately, we have not reached the point where laws are proposed forbidding discrimination against vegans, and so far as I know, landlords and employers are still free to refuse housing and employment to people who don't share their tastes in food.* Nor is there any movement to eliminate "carnivo-normative" phraseology from the language. I can freely exclaim "Hot dog!" just as I can assert that "there's no meat in your argument!" without being accused of assuming the superiority of a meat-eating diet. Calling someone a "couch potato" is not seen as a putdown of vegetarianism.
[Interruptional note: To my horror, I just discovered that "meat-centric" is already in use! Which proves my point.]
In logic, what's the difference between veganism and constitutionally protected lifestyles based on religious or sexual practices? Is it that veganism is chosen? Actually, vegans assert that only vegetarianism should be chosen because it is man's natural diet, and that it is meat-eating which is artificially chosen -- much to the detriment of the health of the meat-eaters.
But aren't we talking about human freedom based on individual choices? Why should it matter whether or not something is healthy or unhealthy, or whether someone pronounces it natural or unnatural?
In the debate over human sexuality, much time (in my view) is wasted debating whether or not individuals are "born that way," and I am sure a similar claim could be made by vegetarians that man is born with an innate preference for vegetables.
If conduct is legal and up to an individual, why does this matter? If I successfully demonstrated that near-sighted people are "born that way," does that make the wearing of glasses wrong? Does it make doing without them superior? Are deaf people who refuse treatment superior to deaf people who obtain cochlear implants, or hearing aids? Why?
My concern (which I touched on earlier) is that the obsession with theories can cause people to forget that theories are not dispositive or controlling of human behavior in a free society. At least, I don't think they should be.
It never ceases to amaze me how much time is spent debating whether or not homosexuality is inborn or chosen. Personally, I think that such conduct can be freely chosen, but that the preference for it is often but not always present from birth -- but what I think is irrelevant, because I see the larger debate as involving human freedom. To seek explanations for something that people do which it is their right to do is to imply that it needs an explanation in order to be done. Or in order to be worthy of protection or respect.
Thus, according to the logic of this debate, whether or not gay people are entitled to "be that way" depends on whether they were born that way. (And if one engages in homosexual acts, one's existence is subordinated to theory, and one is said to "be" that way, even to have been "born" that way.) This is not said about innumerable other legal activities, and little time is wasted arguing over whether human actions or activities are conditions. Yet in the case of sexuality, considerations of conduct which ought to be based on freedom are often subordinated to theory. Few things could be more condescending.
From a practical standpoint, I see a larger danger in allowing theory to swallow debates involving rights, as rights can be lost that way unnecessarily. Even constitutional rights.
A constitutional analogy to the forced "born versus chosen" debate can be found in the competing theories of "the living breathing constitution" which is set up in opposition to the doctrine of "original intent." According to the former theory, the constitution can be amended to say whatever we want it to say without regard to (even in spite of) what it actually says.
That the founders never contemplated things like automatic weapons or the Internet doesn't bother me at all, even though I favor original intent, but that's not the point here. My complaint is that so much time is spent arguing these theories in opposition that unthinking people tend to assume that they are mutually exclusive, and that one should "win" in a sort of dialectical struggle, because one necessarily negates and cancels out the other.
That's not necessarily true. Even if we posit that the constitution is a living breathing document which can mean whatever we want it to mean, then if we think the constitution means what was originally intended, isn't that what we want it to mean? Does not living and breathing include at minimum what was originally there? If it can "change with the times," does that mean that such change must occur only in a certain direction?
I don't see why, but I think confusion is created and reality is swallowed when too much faith is placed in theories as opposed to reality.
I haven't even touched on race or sex.
(I'd rather not, because theory gets in the way.)
I think this may touch on the struggle between communitarianism and individuality. (Control by subordination of the individual to groupthink, even?) I guess that's another essay.
Um, maybe not.
A HARD-TO-SWALLOW AFTERTHOUGHT: What most bothers me about the above essay is that I had hoped to use veganism as a hypothetical argument ad absurdum, only to discover that my "absurd" hypothetical is not absurd, but real!
(I'm glad I don't teach law school.....)
MORE: Are some "sexual orientations" more protected than others? I don't know about the United States, but in Canada the answer seems to be "NO" (well, so far):
VANCOUVER, January 5, 2006 (LifeSiteNews.com) - The BC Human Rights Tribunal is being asked to discover a new “sexual orientation.” The Vancouver Sun reported December 30, that a self-described “pagan” is accusing the Vancouver police of discrimination for refusing him a license to drive a limousine because of his involvement in the “bondage and discipline, domination and submission, sadism and masochism” (BDSM) underworld.In the United States, such laws might very well be unconstitutionally vague. What is "sexual orientation"? We hear the phrase bandied about, and most of the time people use the term to describe homosexuality. But I don't see why a preference for S&M or B&D isn't as much a preference as anything else. Is there something about the sex of the partner which is more important than the nature of the sex? Why? What about people who care less about the sex of the partners than about age? Or what they want to do?
If laws forbidding discrimination based on "sexual orientation" are intended to include only homosexuality, why not state that clearly in the law?
posted by Eric on 02.20.06 at 09:01 AM
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