If Vegetarians eat Vegetables, do Humanitarians eat Humans?
If not, why not?
BY Frater Bovious
In Christology class the other day, my professor offered the following quote (I missed the attribution): “Some people say, if animals could talk, we would all be vegetarians. But, I disagree. If animals could talk, they would tell us which beasts taste best.” What has that got to do with Christology? I am so glad that you asked!
Now and then I have run across those who style themselves as vegetarians. Over the years I have learned there is a hierarchy to vegetarianism. From The Veggie Table:
|1.||Semi-Vegetarians aka Flexitarians|
Now, I say hierarchy because it is my understanding, for instance, that Vegans consider themselves the true pure vegetarians, and the rest to be dabblers and wannabes. I’m going to cast caution to the winds and use the term “vegetarian” without differentiating for what follows, but this idea of hierarchy will surface toward the end of this post.
I am interested in the reasoning behind why it is OK to eat some living things and not others. With the common understanding of vegetarian, it is NOT OK to eat living things that are animals. Stricter types won’t even wear things made from animals, even things like wool or silk, which don’t involve the destruction of the animal. The professed reason has to do largely with the concept of cruelty to animals. (I think there is some self-deceit/conceit involved in this position, but I can’t actually support that. I do offer some further thoughts on this farther on. And we’ll leave alone for this post the idea of cruelty to plants…)
This idea that we shouldn’t harm animals has become somewhat radicalized, with some folks advocating that humans should just all kill themselves in order to “save the planet”. You can see and hear arguments and rebuttals of this here.
I could not help but notice that the folks advocating a drastic reduction of the population don’t seem to have themselves in mind. But, I will say, just like euthanizing children is a logical step following upon the utilitarian philosophy behind contraception/abortion, killing yourself to prevent killing animals also follows logically from the idea that animals have an equal or superior claim to existence than humans (there are, for example, those that will object when a mountain lion, for example attacks a human. Not that the human was attacked, rather, that the humans want to put down the big cat. Because, you see, animals gotta eat.) Please note, logic is a process of thought entirely dependent on the premise of the argument. Like they used to say in the early days of computer programming, Garbage In, Garbage Out. No amount of logic can fix a broken premise.
But, setting aside a line of thought about vegetables which leads inexorably to not being able to eat them (at least not without government oversight to make sure you aren’t simply eating them for your own good, or something), if you can eat a vegetable why can’t you eat an animal? I think the reason people draw the line at animals and not vegetables is clearly due to self-interest. I mean, you have to eat something in order to stay alive, right? But is staying alive selfish? I’m going to say “no” as it relates to eating, and move on. Vegetarians (broadly speaking) clearly feel no moral compunction against eating vegetables. At least not when they are hungry.
But, if one can eat one living thing because one believes they can provide a moral defense of that, what is the basis for drawing the line at vegetables? In other words, if one can eat a plant, why not an animal? And if you can eat an animal, why can’t you eat a human?
My premise, from where I draw my conclusions, has to do with the Dignity of the Human Person, and what that means in terms of our interaction with other humans, with plants and animals, and with the planet. It seems logical to me that if we have the dignity of plants, and the dignity of dolphins and chimps, there should be no argument about the dignity of the human. The argument would be about the relative value or hierarchy of those different dignities.
To take a sudden left turn here, I once told someone that my dog and the tree in my backyard had more in common with each other than I had with either of them. My reason has not to do with their appearance or physical makeup. It has to do with orders of being.
It is a stylish conceit (referring back to my above comment about self deceit/conceit) today to pretend that there is no hierarchy of being. However, in our day to day interactions, we do not live as if there is no hiearchy of being. Just think, for a moment, of what happens when one sits a moment too long after the light has changed. Or of someone throwing paint on another because they are wearing a fur coat. Or the derision heaped on vegetarians by omnivores, and vice versa. We all live with a sort of basic hierarchy in our minds –
Some of the same people who would claim it is a conceit to think in terms of human exceptionalism carry their own hierarchies around with them regardless. For example, it’s OK to eat vegetables, and not cows. I ask again, OK based on what, exactly. Whence your hierarchy? That’s really the question. What is the basis for decisions about eating Cows or Cucumbers or Caucasians?
My positions on vegetarianism and humanitarianism are based on Christology and what Christology tells me about the dignity of the Human Person, about God, about me, and about my fellow humans.
In the forecourt of the Oracle of Delphi was the inscription, “Know Thyself”.
So, what “ology” is the basis for your world view?