Anti-reality-based theory?

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.)


* Anyone who thinks my vegan analogy is extravagant should think again. In a case in which a vegan was denied a job which would have required him to be vaccinated, the California Court of Appeal ruled against plaintiff's contention that veganism is not a protected category as would be a religion.

Not yet..... But at least one law review article proposes that it should be. And the plaintiff's theory is spreading. That's because theory trumps reality.

Sigh.

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.

A Vancouver man, Peter Hayes, has accused the Vancouver police of illegal discrimination because of his involvement in BDSM. Hayes says that he lost a potential job as a limousine driver when police refused him a chauffeur's permit and has taken his case to the Human Rights Tribunal.

The Tribunal’s Lindsay M. Lyster wrote an 18 page preliminary decision saying that the complaint can go forward. She said that while she did not completely understand the “precise nature of Mr. Hayes' lifestyle, practices and preferences,” they ought to be investigated as to whether they fall under the definition of sexual orientation, and therefore of the protection of human rights legislation.

Lyster wrote that she did not understand the meaning “of the parties' use of the term BDSM or other related terms.” Despite this, she believed “that Mr. Hayes suffered an adverse impact as a result of the respondents' actions is, on the facts alleged, clear, as he was denied a chauffeur's permit and lost the opportunity to work.”

The police department said, “In our submission, sexual orientation is separate and distinct from preferences or behaviours while engaging in sex. The legislature has not gone so far as to prohibit discrimination on the basis of preferences or behaviour.”

The issue of legal protection for “sexual orientation,” however, is a vexed one since when such legislation was introduced, a clear definition was deliberately withheld.

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










Comments

A great deal depends on the definition of vegan. Regretably, a large number of people have decided that to be vegan is to be an officious jerk who creates rules by personal caprice and imposes penalties without check or balance.

We cannot support the contention that vegans have a right to be aristocrats.

Patrick Lasswell   ·  February 20, 2006 12:58 PM

One thing I've learned: No one is ever just a vegetarian.

diane   ·  February 20, 2006 1:05 PM

I do believe I was born gay. But I am getting tired of all the hand-wringing and apologizing many of us do about it. I see no need to explain how I "got this way," because anybody who doesn't already either understand or at least accept it would probably refuse to be persuaded by anything I said.

Veganism, in my opinion, is practically a religion. It is, indeed, accompanied by a whole raft of other attitudes that are held every bit as firmly as religious beliefs.

All issues involving personal matters such as these need to be left to the individual instead of forced on others. If some loony ever gets ahold of a nuclear device and blows up the world, it will probably not be because of politics, but over some issue like this.

Lori Heine   ·  February 20, 2006 4:27 PM

I am vegan, and I don't think veganism is a religion. I have friends who are hardcore omnivores, and they have never considered their eating habits as religion. I am also gay, and I don't think my gayness is a religion. I am who I am, as long as I am not hurting another living being, human or non-human. I am vegan because I strongly believe that all animals have the right to live. I don't proselytize, but I share. When people ask me why I do not eat meat or wear animal products, then I take that opportunity to share my vegan beliefs. I also invite friends over to my house and cook them delicious, nutritious and superb vegan meals and usually they crave for me. You don't have to proselytize to win converts: in my case, sometimes the way to a person's heart and mind is through his or her stomach.

You need to realize that not all vegans are moralistic or obsessive zealots. In the same vein, not all Christians are fundamentalists or take every word in the Bible literally. And of course, not all Muslims are terrorists either.

You asked, "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?" Yes, in the ideal world, every human must make individual choice. But we all know that one's freedom ends when you trample on the freedom of others, such as animals. It should matter whether or not something is healthy or unhealthy, because it is a question of public health. As a consumer, I have the right to know what goes in my food. The Food and Drug Administration, the pharmaceutical industry, and major lobbyists all conspire together to make consumers even more sick: this has got to stop. One of the goals of being vegan is to not only respect and liberate animals but also to liberate bumans from greedy, lying and corrupt corporations and individuals.

To those who would like more information about veganism from a sane, rational, mild and non-judgmental vegan, I recommend John Robbins's site http://www.foodrevolution.org/

Rafa   ·  February 20, 2006 10:21 PM

Rafa,

Domesticated animals are not free, they have never been free, and they owe their existence to their value as food for civilized people. Insisting on freedom for domesticated animals is lunacy when you do it with your animals, but it is theft when you try it with animals I am raising for my food.

Wild animals are only free in that they are available to be food for the next higher predator on the food chain, whatever parasites they carry, or whatever carrion eaters find their carcases. Wild animals have no capacity to control their environment beyond that which their ancestors bequeathed upon them. The capacity to make new changes to meet new situations is the only meaningful definition of freedom that matters.

The people of North Korea do not have the capacity to make new changes to meet new situations of their own accord, and beavers do not have the capacity to operate in the desert. One lack of freedom is due to adherence to a delusional political situation and the other is due to a set of survival traits that does not encompass a varied environment. Neither is free, but we have a real hope and potential to make North Korea free. There is no hope of teaching beavers to live in the desert, or even to ever explain to them why it might be of value for them to do so.

Your logic is so flawed as to demean the semantics on which it is built. I sincerely doubt you even understand why others find it so irritating that you are unwilling to help make North Korea free while you are investing time, money, energy, and breath in rescuing domestic animals.

Patrick Lasswell   ·  February 21, 2006 3:39 AM

Mr. Lasswell:

Allow me to reply to your comments.

"Domesticated animals are not free, they have never been free, and they owe their existence to their value as food for civilized people. Insisting on freedom for domesticated animals is lunacy when you do it with your animals, but it is theft when you try it with animals I am raising for my food. "

It all depends on how you define "free" or "freedom." In India, domesticated animals are free. They roam the streets of Bombay, New Delhi and all over the country. There are millions of stray dogs and cats all over the world, and they roam the streets freely. I don't have any problems with people eating meat, but I do have a problem with how the animals are raised and treated as food. I don't know where you have been, but the Humane Society of the U.S., PETA, and many other animal rescue organizations can show you a multitude of cruelty cases committed by humans towards animals. Does your freedom also give you the right to hurt a defenseless non-human creature? What is your take on sows who spend all their lives in small cages - against their will - and are forced by giant agrobusiness industries to produce more litters until they are deemed old and useless? Isn't it arrogant of you to say that animals "owe their existence to their value as food for civilized people?" Is the value of animals simply reduced to being food for "civilized" people? What about animals who are pets and who provide warmth, affection and companionship to many lonely people and patients in rehabilitation centers? Should these animals also be fed to "civilized" people? Since humans are also animals, what is your take on cultures who find human flesh appetizing? You mentioned that wild animals "are only free in that they are available to be food for the next higher predator on the food chain." However, you failed to mention that not all wild animals end up being eaten, since they have been afforded by nature essential characteristics to survive, and thus are able to flee their predator and still enjoy their freedom, unlike animals in cages raised by humans for food and thus will never see the light of day again. And pray tell, what is your definition of a "civilized" person?

Then you said, "The capacity to make new changes to meet new situations is the only meaningful definition of freedom that matters. "

If these new changes involved human intervention as to better the lives of enslaved and abused animals, would you call such intervention meaningful? If you see a man beating and kicking a poor dog, what do you do? Do you allow it to happen, or do you call the authorities? If you are beaten and kicked by someone who is stronger and bigger than you, wouldn't you expect that another person intervene to help you or at least call the police? Freedom is only meaningful - in a civilized society - if and only if all citizens are aware of the evils of enslavement and injustice.

Then you stated, "The people of North Korea do not have the capacity to make new changes to meet new situations of their own accord, and beavers do not have the capacity to operate in the desert. One lack of freedom is due to adherence to a delusional political situation and the other is due to a set of survival traits that does not encompass a varied environment. Neither is free, but we have a real hope and potential to make North Korea free. There is no hope of teaching beavers to live in the desert, or even to ever explain to them why it might be of value for them to do so."

Well, from what I have read recently from Wikipedia:

North Korea has previously received international food and fuel aid from China, South Korea, and the United States in exchange for promises not to develop nuclear weapons. In June 2005, the U.S. announced that it would give 50,000 metric tons of food aid to North Korea. The United States gave North Korea 50,000 tons in 2004 and 100,000 tons in 2003. On 19 September 2005, North Korea was promised food and fuel aid (among other things) from South Korea, the U.S., Japan, Russia, and China in exchange for abandoning its nuclear weapons program and rejoining the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. It remains to be seen if this exchange will actually occur; the agreement remained only one day before issues arose with its implementation.

In July 2002, North Korea started experimenting with capitalism in the Kaesŏng Industrial Region. A small number of other areas have been designated as Special Administrative Regions, including Sinŭiju along the China-North Korea border. Mainland China and South Korea are the biggest trade partners of North Korea, with trade with China increasing 38% to $1.02 billion in 2003, and trade with South Korea increasing 12% to $724 million in 2003. It is reported that the number of mobile phones in P'yŏngyang rose from only 3,000 in 2002 to approximately 20,000 during 2004. As of June 2004, however, mobile phones became forbidden again. A small amount of capitalistic elements are gradually spreading from the trial area, including a number of advertising billboards along certain highways. Recent visitors have reported that the amount of open-air farmer markets have increased in Kaesong, P'yŏngyang, as well as the China-North Korea border, bypassing the food rationing system.
Moreover, there have been economic improvements since 1999. According to the ministry of unification of South Korea, the GDP grew by 6.2% in 1999, 1.3% in 2000, 3.2 % in 2001, 1.2% in 2002 and 1.8 % in 2003. Similar figures are expected in 2004 and 2005."

Your comparison of North Koreans and beavers in the desert is rather droll and somewhat idiotic. Of course there's no hope to "teaching beavers in the desert" because of natural selection in the same way that there's no hope to raising lions to be vegetarians because it's their nature. However, with advanced technology, I suppose it is possible to build an artificial stream or lake near a desert and introduce beavers to their "new" habitat, though I highly doubt if they will survive. I find it odd that you treat beavers as humans when you say, "teach" them " or "explain" to them.

Then you said, "Your logic is so flawed as to demean the semantics on which it is built. I sincerely doubt you even understand why others find it so irritating that you are unwilling to help make North Korea free while you are investing time, money, energy, and breath in rescuing domestic animals."

How presumptuous of you to assume that I am unwilling to help make North Korea free! I am sure there are enough humans and social and charitable organizations that help the country. I may not help North Korea at this time, but I surely contribute to causes that are just as important as helping North Korea, such as educating the public about the dangers of Islamofascism thru my blog. You questioned why I am "investing time, money, energy, and breath in rescuing domestic animals." That's my choice and my freedom, and a good one, too, because I am not infringing on the rights and freedom of someone else, unlike perhaps you as a carnivore. I will stop rescuing and helping abandoned animals if your people stop breeding, mistreating and abandoning them. Lastly, you failed to realize that my dietary practices are similar to millions of Jains and vegan Hindus and Buddhists, and some cultures in Africa that rely solely on plant-based nutrition. Why don't you attack them as well?


Rafa   ·  February 21, 2006 2:25 PM

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