Eating Animals and Magical Thinking
Guest Post by Bill Tara
Magical thinking has found a new home in the resistance to veganism. When cognitive dissonance raises its uncomfortable head, many proceed directly to the land of make-believe for relief. One escape hatch I have been aware of over the years has recently come to the surface again. I call it “romancing the kill”.
The most recent example of this is from Jason Mark, the editor of Sierra, the journal of the respected environmental organization, The Sierra Club. Mark has written an editorial called “Toward A Moral Case for Meat Eating”. I am sure many of their members celebrated this reprieve with a sigh of relief. No more worries about killing animals, it’s all part of a mind-full return to a long forgotten past when humans and animals shared the planet in harmony.
In Marks fantasy land, “the conscientious carnivore can re-establish our moral obligations to the other species with whom we share this planet.” This obligation is fulfilled by using appreciation and respecting the animals that we kill for their sacrifice. This view, however strange you may think it, is not unique it may even have a specific origin in modern American poetry.
One of the most respected poets of Western America is Gary Snyder. Snyder is (in my view) an excellent and unique poet. His work is grounded in his Buddhism and environmentalism and study of Native American tradition. He is a folk hero for many. For decades he has rebelled against what he considers the puritan aspects of vegetarianism and veganism. This is a sample of his ideas about eating animals – “If we do eat meat it is the life, the bounce, the swish, of a great alert being with keen ears and lovely eyes, with four square feet and a huge beating heart that we eat, let us not deceive ourselves. We too will be offerings – we are all edible.” In other words, it is poetic killing. This is the magic of taking on the spirit of what we eat. If we don’t eat animals we lose our animal spirit, our vitality.
The environmental movement on a whole is caught between wanting to clean up the environment and put a halt to polluting technologies and a desire to not give much up. It is the work of entitled and affluent men and women with great ideas and emotional turmoil but still figuring out how to rationalize the SUV in the driveway or give up the artisanal cheese.
The simple fact that the most effective action that an individual can make in daily life to halt climate change is to stop using animal products is irritating. This is particularly true when the imagery of hunter-gather people strongly influences the “eco-minded”. Tribal people have an iconic value to environmentalists for good reason.
Hunter gather people had a unique and powerful relationship with the environment. Their lives depended on understanding the habits and migration of animals, the signs of seasonal change and the burden of material goods. They lived lightly on the earth and represent a simpler way of living for many. Having respect for those indigenous cultures is one thing, romanticizing them and using them as a model for modern living is absurd. There are two types of evolution, biological and cultural.
I doubt that anyone would argue that there is further biological evolution on the horizon. In fact, there is a good case to be made for the observation that we may be devolving as a species. Cultural evolution is the only path to improvement and even survival. This process is only possible through the creation of a revolutionary secular morality. Veganism is a key part of that evolution.
Marks’ says, “By eating animals, we can remind ourselves of our animal natures. That recognition of our corporeal reality—the fact that we are flesh and blood and bones and skin, each of us ever on the way to very likely an unpleasant end—can, like few other things, keep us connected to the living earth.” Quite frankly this is sentimental bullshit. If he wants to recognize the reality that he is flesh and blood all he needs to do is slam his finger in the car door.
To say that the connection between the shepherd and the sheep is based on reciprocal debts. “It is an exchange in which the sheep receives security (and the possibility of a longer life, though one capped by slaughter) and the shepherd receives sustenance. This might be confirmation bias talking, but I think such a relationship goes deeper than the eating of a broccoli spear.” I would say that his appreciation of “reciprocal debts” shows exactly how shallow his ecology really is and is an indication of the bankrupt thinking of many who pride themselves as eco-warriors.