Sunday, April 18, 2010

The conversation with Tim Gier continues. As in my previous entry I explained, I took Tim's blog entry Saving the World in a kind of interview/dialogue. It was mind flexing and fun, but I ran out of steam before I ran out of Tim's questions and thoughtful responses.

TG's Question: Is there another reason that would obligate you to try to convince others to stop using animals?

TG: Perhaps it is the case that since human beings have created the problem relative to the misuse of animals, we are all obligated to work to solve the problem.
I don’t think this is true either. You did not personally create the systems that misuse animals. If you are currently abstaining from all uses of animals, then you are not now contributing to the continued misuse of animals. You cannot be required to ameliorate the harms that are caused by others, when you have had no part in their perpetuation.

Otherwise, for example, it could just as easily be said that since you had a home mortgage once that benefited you greatly, and even though you no longer have any mortgage at all, because you are part of a system that still uses mortgages, you are obligated to personally assist any current mortgage holders who are in crisis. That makes no sense.

SW: Tim, I'm finding it difficult to apply that analogy. That said, can I have permission to rephrase the analogy to something I think might make it clearer for me to answer?

Take the case of those who call themselves homeless. I see them at the base of the Interstate exit three or four times a day. One guy has a sign with "Visa & Mastercard accepted here" on one side, and on the other, "Try and hit me with a quarter. EYE dare you too."

Do I have an obligation to sling a quarter or two at him? Did he not have the same opportunities for making life decisions that I do? Did he perhaps make some really bad selections? Who knows? But just because I have a job am I obligated to give him  some of my money? I don't, not because I don't think he needs it, or because I'm judging him. I don't because I see the same group eating fried chicken under the overpass.

The way I see it is that the current animal production "system" has morphed over the last hundred or so years, with the most far reaching negative impacts in the last fifty or so. Maybe I am not "obligated" to ameliorate the harm by abstaining from animal use, but I am obligated to the collective soul of all beings to try to improve the planet so it can continue to support any/all life forms.

TG: So, again, while maybe it would be a good thing that you take it upon yourself to work for the cause of animal rights, you are not obligated to.

SW: Let me interrupt for a second, Tim. Perhaps I'm overlooking the use of obligation as you mean it. Perhaps I'm choosing to take on the mantle of obligation as an act of restitution for all those years that I was not vegan. I would agree with you then, that many may think the simple act of being vegan is enough, and there is no obligation to perform any activism other than representing the animals when walking into the lunchroom, at least that is my experience in our break room.

TG: Another source of confusion with regard to our obligations to others is the result of our political system. For example, you might think that we have an obligation to provide at least basic health care to every person in the country. Do you mean that you personally accept an obligation to provide such care? No. What you actually mean is that you think we should all, collectively and through the mechanisms of government, provide such care. As members of a democracy, we agree to be bound by the decisions reached in our political process. There is a difference between being a voluntary part of a system and being obligated by moral imperative.

SW: Good point. But please also consider the amount of disease and illness directly connected with the consumption of animals and their products. I have no desire to withhold necessary medical care to any one. However, like insurance companies charging higher premiums for smokers, I'd prefer more vegans (well, all vegans in a perfect world) so the world would be a healthier one and easier to provide medical care to those who needed it as there'd be fewer sick and dying people.

Additionally consider this: If I don't consume flesh, I will not be exposed to BSE. As you and I both know, our meat producers cannot be trusted to follow the most basic laws in place and there is very little policing done to be sure they're not violating WRT both human and non-human rights. BUT (and it is a very huge but) if a class 5 hurricane goes spinning up the coast and enters pig country - well I'm going to try to resist fan references, but you get my drift. That said, the risk of vegans getting sick from airborne diseases like Swine flu - and I am NOT going to call it H1N1 to protect the guilty, is a risk I'd like to not take. So it is indeed in my best interest to actively promote veganism for that reason. Am I obligated to do so? No, but I see a piano falling down from that great height and I am getting out of Dodge.

TG: Finally, since the basis for you accepting your obligations toward animals is that they should not be treated as just a means to an end, then you have a right to the same consideration for yourself. In other words, even though the end result of the cessation of the use of animals as things is a noble one, you cannot be used by others as merely a way to achieve that end. You get to decide what you will do, no one gets to decide that for you. While it might be a good thing for you to try to convince others to accept their own obligations towards animals, you are not obligated to do so.

SW: But it is in my best interest to move away from the piano falling and if you are beside me reading your Kindle, I'm going to shove you too. If you drop your Kindle and it breaks, I'll hope you see my actions as still in your best interests.

TG's Question: So why is any of this important?

TG: It is important because when one person has made a commitment to veganism, they have done all that is required of them. Vegans are not obligated to change the minds of other people, whether those people are perfect strangers or significant others. Vegans are not required to take part in campaigns, or put bumper stickers on their cars, or proselytize their views in every possible forum. Maybe it would be a better world if they did, but they are not obligated to.
The process of educating others about veganism, and the questions about whether to do it, when to do it, and how to do it, are personal matters beyond the reach of the obligations that each of us have to other sentient beings.
Our obligation to animals is to stop using them, to stop treating them as things. As each of us does that, our individual obligation has been met. Accept that obligation, and your work is done.

SW: Nicely done. I agree that I don't want anyone threatening to take away my vegan card if I don't go to meetups and try to change the mind of every omnivore I know. I'm not sure, however that it is a personal matter beyond what I owe to non-human persons.  If I don't speak up, then am I not complicit? I'm reminded of the poem

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I completely disagree with vegans choices. I believe is so unhealthy to live in that condition . We are part of the food web , and we are mammals. animals always eat other animals all the time,there is nothing you can do about it. there for we can eat animals. The skin of dead animals should be put to good use. But then again this is my opinion, please not take this negatively/personally. But I do believe we should not abuse animals, or torture them. if they should die it should be a quick death .