There are two kinds of vegetarians in this world. The first are what I call “conscious vegetarians”, those that think it is wrong to eat other sentient beings and hence stop eating the meat of those living things that they think of as sentient. There appear to be all kinds of gradations among conscious vegetarians. Some of these people think fish is OK to eat (it is harvested in some sense?) while at the other end of the spectrum, some others think dairy products should be excluded as well. I even met this one crazy Belgian guy who was a vegetarian most of the time because he said he only ate those animals that he killed himself! The second kind of vegetarians I call “absent minded vegetarians” (a breed special to South India?), to which category I belong. We are vegetarians because we have always been and have enough inertia built into our systems that we stay that way and we borrow the “it is wrong to eat animals” idea from the conscious vegetarians whenever the need arises to justify our lifestyle.
One fine day, I woke up and said to myself I will not be an “absent minded” anything anymore and I will associate a logical reason or a contextual rationale with everything I do from this time forward. So, I thought I will start with something simple, I will come up with a rationale for why I eat what I eat and not other things. As it turned out, this was easier said than done. I realized that one can look at vegetarianism from all kinds of points of view. The most obvious one is ethical, but ethics is such a poorly defined quantity that I did not want to start there. So, I first considered some other examples. One point of view could be economics. You can feed more people off a given amount of land if you used the land to grow grains rather than to grow animals. So, a theory could be promulgated stating that if everybody became vegetarians, we could eliminate hunger in the world. But this is an oversimplification of such great magnitude that I did not even want to get into it. Another point of view could be biology. Are human beings by nature meant to be carnivores or herbivores? Since this looks like a question with a clear cut answer, I asked Google to see what the consensus was. As it turns out there are clearly demarcated camps, one of which thinks we are herbivores (don’t have the right teeth or claws to be carnivores) and the other thinks we are carnivores (don’t have the right digestive system to be herbivores). And even if you wanted to go with “the majority is right” kind of thing, both camps appear to be equal in terms of number of campers and the quality of campers! So, I had to give up on that as well.
So, finally I had to come back to the ethics point of view for the rationale I was in the quest for. Hence I formulated the following Sophistry (as you will see, it does not deserve the dignity of being called an argument). Right up to the point at which human civilization came about, there was only what we now call the natural world. And in the natural world the governing principle was and is “survival of the mightiest”, yes? What sets the civilized world apart from the natural world is that here apparently the governing principle is “One for all and All for one”, to quote the The Three Musketeers. Well, may be it is not the governing principle yet. But it is clearly the goal towards which we are evolving, right? We try to take care of the old, the infirm and the underprivileged in our society. And with the passage of time we have gone on broadening our definition of what constitutes our society, from “my family” to “my country” to eventually “all human beings”. If you agree with the above, then the natural next step is to extend this consideration to animals as well and not eat them, right? So, this sophistry says that vegetarianism is the natural next step in our social evolution and incidentally some of us are already there!
I was fascinated with the above “argument”! It even explained the fact that I drink milk (in
But in the process of revisiting the argument I noticed something. If you take the argument all the way then you must eventually include plants in your society right? This in itself is not fatal because unlike animals, plants want us to eat them. We are supposed to eat the fruit so that it can be dispersed properly for example. But then, we must limit ourselves to “plants that want to be eaten”, namely fruit. You can’t possibly live like that! So then I said may be the rationale is that you can eat what you grow. But then you grow cows and pigs and chicken as well. How are they different from eggplants and cucumbers and potatoes? That they can walk and make noise? That I can look them in the eye while I cannot do that to an eggplant? All the lines were blurring and I was getting dizzy! And all this in quest of rationale in the simplest aspect of my existence, eating! What is going to happen when I try to address the logic behind the more complicated aspects like love, suffering and so on?
So, by the end of the day (that day on which I woke up and said I wanted “logic” to govern my every action), I decided that life is much simpler if you did not analyze it and tried to make sense out of it. Just be. And so now I just am!