I’m a vegetarian. I have been my whole life. My entire family is vegetarian: sisters, cousins, uncles, aunts, and so on. The only thing that has changed for myself and a lot of family members (but not all) is that we did not eat eggs or any egg products growing up, but we do now. So I’m what is called a lacto-ovo vegetarian. I have, accidentally, tried some butter chicken, thinking it was some creamy, fantastic-tasting paneer. But, other than that, I’m “clean”. So those are my pre-existing contextual biases, now lets start the blabber.
When vegetarianism comes to mind, as we’ve discussed a plenty of times, one obvious overlaying principle comes into mind and that is non-violence. To put it in simple terms, I define this principle of nonviolence as a moral stance to not commit any intentional actions that hurt other sentient, living beings. It’s a little wordy, and not really simple, but you get the point. But even before getting into the real meat of that discussion, I think it’s important to backtrack and discuss morality from a higher abstracted layer, and ask how we form our moral universes. Do these universes come from an “absolute” sense or does it exist relative to each contextual situation? So let’s do that first, Valentin. And to make it relevant to the topic at hand, we can use ‘non-violence’ as our guiding example.
If we take the stance that “nonviolence” is an absolute principle, as I defined above, what are the repercussions of this? Is it even possible for something to be absolute? This is where my initial internal struggles with the topic of vegetarianism arose. I quickly realized that any kind of moral statement can be broken down into a contextual or morally relative world, where it would not hold true for me. With non-violence for example, it can devolve as a result of a wide-range of reasons. Let’s go through a few.
1) The principle is contextually dependent on being a rationally functioning human being. And this is not just true for nonviolence as a principle, but for all moral constructs — they developed as a result of our evolutionary history of emotions evolving in our oldest ancestors before our rational conscious brain, which formed later down the evolutionary chain. This, along with all the other random evolutionary occurrences that framed our cognitive minds to exist the way they do, influence every moral principle we hold true today. For some people, it absolutely feels wrong to intentionally harm animals. But this is only true in the human frame of thought, given the way that our brains evolved. Hypothetically speaking, it may not be true for another form of conscious, rational life because they evolved emotional thought at a later stage of evolution, or not at all — or because of any number of cognitive divergences. And in this case, and in all cases of moral claims, this ‘moral relativity blueprint’ breaks down any claim to an absolutely true moral principle.
So I lied. We didn’t need to go through a few reasons. I know you had your hopes up, so you have my sincerest apologies. But it was at this point in my thought process where it sorta hit me — I was really fooling myself all along. Growing up, that’s the way things worked in my mind. You didn’t eat meat because it was wrong to hurt animals. Period. It was simple. And then I realized it wasn’t. And I never really recovered to a point where my moral bubble could be re-inflated. With the question of why I still am a vegetarian, my answer became: it’s simply the way I was raised. As documented by the Rock Paper Scissors (RPS) Society — yes that exists — rule #1 is to not play rock. Rock is the default position of your hand before you choose from the three moves on your arsenal. This default is what humans tend to do, because it’s easy. And you know what, I think I’m still choosing rock right now.