May 22, 2007
the bellwhether of my karma ran over the influence of my dogma!
Er, perhaps I should call this "MY PSEUDO KARMA JUST RAN OVER MY INNER DOGMA, Part II."
"You are you and I am I, You do your thing and I'll do mine, and if in the end we meet up together, it is beautiful."
In an earlier post, a commenter asked me why I even allow comments, and while I replied that comments are there because I believe in letting people say whatever they want, I still think it's a good question.
I have of course every right to turn off comments, but it strikes me that if I turned them off I would lose their most important feature -- something which for me is reason number one for having comments:
They help give me some idea of the type of person who is reading. Without comments, I'd be writing to a completely unknown audience, and I would not have a clue as to what anyone thought about anything I write. I wouldn't know whether they liked the blog or whether they're only reading because I annoy them (I do attract both categories), and I would have no idea what their political, cultural, and personal perspectives were. Not that I absolutely have to know whether someone is right, left, center, libertarian, religious, atheist, apolitical, black, white, male, female, straight, gay, or tired of categories, but the comments at least give an occasional hint of who people are and what they are thinking.
As I have said countless times, I am in no way obligated to reply to comments, or even read them. Sometimes it strikes me that my "say anything and expect nothing" policy is the best way to encourage people to speak their minds, and I often wish I didn't succumb to the temptation to answer comments, because this can affect what people say, and it might even influence what some might think. The latter can lead to a terrible feeling of responsibility I do not seek. To the extent that I care what people think, were I allowed to influence them my goal would not be to change what they think so much as it would be to encourage them to think for themselves. I can't count the number of times I have met people and after conversing with them for a while, I have begun to realize that they cannot justify the logical or philosophical underpinnings of what they are saying. Then I realize with horror that I am not hearing what that person thinks; I am hearing an often mindless repetition of what someone else thinks. It reminds me of my undergraduate days in college when "Marxists" abounded. At least, they said they were Marxists. True, many of them could spout Marx line and verse, but if you offered examples of practical applications (like "Do you think your parents' house should become property of the state?") they'd hem and haw. I see the same thing with people who'll say they agree with this law or that law, but if asked closely whether they'd support putting someone in prison for violating it (especially a family member), the hemming and hawing begins. It often turns out that people do not really think what they say they think. I don't want to change their minds so much as I'd just like to encourage them to really think what they think free from undue outside influence.
There went a mouthful. What is "undue outside influence"? It would take a long essay to explain, but the bottom line is that I don't like seeing people succumbing to thoughts that are not their own and are not arrived at independently to the extent possible. People who are thought-followers. And because I don't want to encourage that, it would seem to behoove me not to participate in conduct which might set me up as some sort of "leader." Leaders, of course, are often (though not always) thought followers. They follow the thoughts of their followers closely, and it leads to cycles of influence.
I don't care so much whether a person agrees with me, so much as that he agrees with himself. It's tricky, but it's one reason I hesitate to get into comment debates. The other is that debates are a waste of time for me. People can say what they think, but for me to agree with it or disagree with it takes time. Most people already know what I think, and if they agree, they know I agree. If they disagree, they know I disagree. I can't remember a single instance in which a comment changed my mind about anything. They are sometimes informative, and sometimes if someone tells me I got the details wrong I can correct them, but for the most part this is opinion, and I'm not going to change my opinion because someone else has a different opinion.
The problem is that I'm human. I do allow myself to be influenced. There's no way to avoid it. If I agree, I am influenced, and if I disagree, I am influenced. Even the refusal to be influenced means being influenced.
It's a tough paradox, and one I'd love to avoid but can't.
However, this morning I saw an example which I think illustrates the futility of trying to influence people who have certain ideas, by positing other ideas with which they are known to disagree. I'm not vegan, and while I don't especially care what other people eat, I was fascinated to read about the vegan parents who starved their child to death, and I wrote a post about it. When I saw (via Glenn Reynolds) that Nina Planck had written about the same case, I was naturally interested in what she had to say:
I was once a vegan. But well before I became pregnant, I concluded that a vegan pregnancy was irresponsible. You cannot create and nourish a robust baby merely on foods from plants.It's all worth reading, and here's her conclusion:
An adult who was well-nourished in utero and in infancy may choose to get by on a vegan diet, but babies are built from protein, calcium, cholesterol and fish oil. Children fed only plants will not get the precious things they need to live and grow.That makes a lot of sense to me, but it meant "the Vegans are on the attack" at Amazon.com. Of course, vegan attacks on meat eaters are nothing new, but I thought I'd check out Amazon.com anyway. Here's what one reviewer said:
Completely irresposible would be an understantment.Sure enough, that book review is mostly lifted verbatim from the "About the Author" section of the book the reviewer promotes:
T. Colin Campbell, PhD, is the project director of the China-Oxford-Cornell Diet and Health Project (the China Study), a 20-year study of nutrition and health. He is a Jacob Gould Schurman Professor Emeritus of nutritional biochemistry at Cornell University. In more than 40 years of research he has received more than 70 grant-years of peer-reviewed research funding and authored more than 300 research papers. He lives in Ithaca, New York.Aside from leaving out his being from Ithaca, that "reviewer" did a nice cut and paste job. True, he also said Nina Planck was "Completely irresposible" but added that even that would be an "understantment" but when he said that the book was for readers "who wish to continue eating the standard american diet responsible for all of our western diseases of affluence" I found myself wondering just how carefully he had read it. (For starters, Planck recommends whole foods, not a diet of Cheetohs.)
I suppose you could say that such a flame war over a book is annoying, and although I did find it amusing, I think it's a good example of the futility of trying to engage in a debate with people who really aren't interested in debates. People who go to Amazon.com to read Nina Planck's book simply aren't going there because they want to become vegans. Whether the vegans like it or not.
The "competing" book's author T. Colin Campbell not only happens to be a vegan, but he's a vegan activist as well as an anti-milk activist:
T. Colin Campbell is a Cornell University professor and an outspoken vegan. He also authored "The China Project," a series of academic papers intended to prove that the Chinese (particularly those who don't eat meat, or rather can't afford it) have a healthier diet than Americans. Raised on a dairy farm, Campbell is now an anti-milk activist as well, arguing -- despite a lack of scientific consensus on the subject and a paucity of evidence -- that milk causes early-onset puberty in young girls.Now, I never would have heard of this man or his theories had the reviewer not been kind enough to butt in and try to steer me to the book. But I will not buy his book, as I am not interested in his point of view. No force on earth can make me.
No, not even his picture. And no force on earth can make my slog through the endless debates like this that views like his generate. I don't care what anyone says about his science, his credentials, or any of that stuff. Veganism simply does not appeal to me. Vegan commenters can lecture me all they want, and I'll simply let them. I don't expect to convert them, and they should not expect to convert me. I don't care whether veganism is opinion, fact, science, religion, or (as I suspect) taste.
Don't get me wrong.
I want T. Colin Campbell to have his opinion!
He can have his opinion any way he wants it -- deeply, passionately, and for as long as he wants. What I don't want is for me to have his opinion. It's kind of a mutual respect thing. I get to have my opinion, and he gets to have his.
Sort of like the old 1970s I'm OK, you're OK, you-do-your-thing-and-I'll-do-mine, hippie dippie karma deal.
In all honesty, I don't want him to hold my opinion, as I wouldn't want the responsibility. In return I'd like him to not want me to hold his opinion.
posted by Eric on 05.22.07 at 08:54 PM
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