Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Eating meat

There's a slight buzz in some quarters of the internet over a recent post by George Dvorsky, a man I hadn't previously heard of but who seems untroubled by false modesty: he describes himself as "Canada's leading futurist, activist and award winning blogger".

He is, however, troubled by omnivores. George's post begins with the unmistakable sound of little feet being stamped:

Meat eaters are bad people

That's right -- you heard me, bitch.

If you eat meat you're a bad person.
I don't want to approach this on an ad hominem basis, but there are some aspects of George's work that cast a light on his argument, so I will refer to them where relevant. In passing, I like the fastidious punctuation of "That's right -- you heard me, bitch." but feel it detracts a bit from the crossness of the line.

OK, what's his argument? The following is edited down to the bone, as it were. His argument is basically negative, he identifies then counters points he has heard advanced in favour of meat eating:
Fallacy #1: “Humans evolved the capacity to eat meat, so it’s justified”
Fallacy #2: “Humans evolved the capacity to eat meat, so it’s a necessary part of a healthy diet”
Fallacy #3: “Being a vegetarian is too difficult and I’d never find anything to eat”
Fallacy #4: “Taking the life of an animal isn’t cruel because they’re worthless, stupid and probably not even self-aware”
Fallacy #5: “Livestock aren’t treated poorly”
Fallacy #6: “Eating meat isn’t that bad for the environment”
Fallacy #7: “Eating meat is my personal choice, and since I respect your desire not to eat animals, I would appreciate your respecting my preference”
I have to agree, broadly, that most of these are fallacies, with the exception of number 6, in which George is advancing a fallacy: he begs a question. 1 and 2 are non sequiturs (though, oddly, that doesn't in itself make them false), 3 is a whinge, 4 is disgusting, as is 5, 6 depends on how it comes about (if I establish a huge nature reserve and hunt in it, that isn't bad for the environment) and 7 would excuse everything evil: "Conducting medical experiments on prisoners is my personal choice...".

But these are arguments George has chosen to present then counter. That they are not entirely straw men is apparent from the comments, but that doesn't make them forceful arguments; people often advance crap arguments in support of assertions that are reasonable. But then, not everyone has the pool of infinite wisdom to draw on that comes from sitting in front of a laptop, in boxer shorts, typing away in splendid isolation.

He ends:
But at least I’m trying; I'm making an effort to live a life in which I mete out as little suffering as possible to other living creatures. I'm also trying to reduce my global footprint. And if that means giving up meat, which I used to eat with great delight, then so be it.
Well, I'm trying too - I mean I'm making an attempt to mete out little suffering, not that I'm testing your patience, though that might also be true. My version of trying is different to that of George and, given that I gave up being vegetarian on ethical grounds, my reasons are different too.

The basic difference is that I am a part of this world, and I embrace that, whereas George wants this world to be a part of him. The intrinsic egotism of his position is apparent in the line "But at least I’m trying". Who gives a shit what you are doing? Isn't this about animals?

No, it's about George, and about remaking the world in His image. This is a characteristic of his arguments. In this post, for example, he argues that:
Your gender is a constraint. This is an inalienable truism, regardless of whether you’re a man or a woman.

We can no longer deny that males and females are profoundly different. The hallucination is over. Scientists and behaviorists are discovering that men and women differ not just physically, but cognitively and emotionally as well.
But that isn't just a fact, it's a problem:
At the social level, the broader suppressive and controlling social megastructure that exists and thrives on gender differences will be undermined by the postgenderist agenda. It will mark the end of sexual politics.

Thus, it is through the application of substantive and real biological interventions that the problem that is gender will most meaningfully be addressed. Postgender-tech will be an integral component to the larger collaborative struggle to achieve a genetically egalitarian, posthuman, and postbiological condition that works to the betterment of both individuals and society in general.
George is keen on the idea of biological interventions, but note the word "posthuman". He is making my case for me: he is not of this world, but of the next: "postgenderist", "postbiological", and, undoubtedly, "postbullshit". Because this is a radical, new type of bullshit that consists of prefixing words with "post" as though that in itself confers legitimacy on his thoughts. But it isn't Luddite, and it certainly isn't Bio-Luddite. Click through. George wants to live forever and anyone who has reservations about that is... You guessed it: best dismissed with a marketing slogan rather than argument. But then:
He is the Director of Operations for Commune Media, an advertising and marketing firm that specializes in marketing science.
But this is marketing science.

The immediate result of everyone becoming vegetarian would be the extinction of hundreds of species. This isn't about animals, it's about people like George who want to feel virtuous. Predation is essential for the survival of animal life on this planet. We are animals, we're a part of that loop, and anyone who can't understand that needs, before trying to be "post" anything, to go back and try to understand Victorian insights, not least those of Darwin. We are animals. We are a species of African ape. We do not float above the ground wearing shimmering robes.

Fishermen - and they are almost entirely men - have brought back clean waters and abundant fish to our rivers. Wildfowlers rebuilt the bird stocks on the flat marshes where I live, since the Second World War. Rare breeds are alive only because people eat them, not because people keep them as pets. Ethical meat consumption has preserved biodiversity; vegetarianism destroys it. George has a prescription for monoculture crop deserts. I despise that prescription.

The challenge we face is to make a difference through our personal consumption, and that's what I try to do. Predation is a tragedy for the individual, and the essence of life itself for the group. We can make a positive difference - if we consume meat responsibly. If we don't - either way, buying shrink-wrapped cuts or being vegetarian - we make a negative difference.

Predation - hunting, but also farming - helps life continue. It's the catalyst for evolution. It drives change, adaptation. George lives in a world of the imagined future. He isn't so much a futurist as a fantasist. I live in the world as it is. And that's the only world we have.


dearieme said...

Feed him to the bears.

Eric Van said...

Hmm, regular reader and poster here, posting under a pseudonym... You'll understand why in a second.

You see, I've made my own addition elsewhere in the great vegetarianism debate, and I'd really rather it not get associated with my main username... It's just a bit too - disgusting. read it here.

I have to say I don't have much faith in your "preserving species" argument, show us some real evidence to back it up and I might swing with you. I will agree that increasing arable farming is likely to decrease useable "wilderness" land for species survival, but I think it's a hell of a forced argument to suggest one substitutes straight for the other.

Still, I find few people more irritating that evangelical veggies. Their very existance serves to undermine my own life choices.

SnoopyTheGoon said...

Posthuman postgenderist of unlimited lifespan. My imagination is oscillating between a pharao's mummy and a luminescent ball of sentient energy. Ball... yes.