A few years ago, I interviewed Erim Bilgin. After subsisting on a low-fat raw vegan diet for three years, Erim turned his back on 30 Bananas a Day and objective morality for meat, nihilism and anti-civ primitivist thinking. Though he still ate plenty of fruit, he disdainfully saw veganism an inevitable extension of society’s drive to impose order and crush passion, to erect more limits and further civilize humanity and nature.
Erim got in touch with me to update us on his perspective – where he still agrees with his angry, fresh-out-of-veganism self, how he’s changed, and whether veganism is still the inevitable path of human society.
Vegans and meat eaters alike usually think it’s weird when ex-vegans don’t immediately stop thinking and talking about veganism once they start eating meat again. It’s been over two years since you quit veganism. Why are you still interested in this?
Yeah, it is weird. My brain just keeps telling me, “Dude, it’s just food. You’re treating it like a high school crush. I mean move on, jeez.” And part of me does want to move on, to no longer spend energy on these bizarre topics like whether or not morals exist independently of individuals, the social value and feelings of a cow or the level of sentience of a plant — and spend that energy more productively. I mean sure, you go through that initial phase of, “What the fuck was I thinking, oh god,” and you start attacking veganism because it’s just your new outlook attacking on your now “outdated” old identity. That’s natural. To keep at it for years afterwards, though, you need something more. The last two years presented me with a lot of real life challenges, and I feel like going through those made me more practicality oriented, and I was like, “What does debating on all this stuff even accomplish? We can figure out EVERYTHING about veganism and still it’s not like when the time comes for the world to turn a major eye on this deal and try to figure out an ultimate answer, it’s not like they’ll turn to us and say, ‘Oh hey look, these guys have been debating this stuff for years and they know all about it, let’s consult them!’” No. Ultimately it’ll be left to the preference of individuals and the influence of the media above anything else, so it felt kinda pointless.
Enter fanaticism. After our interview, I did of course get a lot of emails and such from both vegans and meat eaters about a lot of things. What I wasn’t expecting was to see the vegan emails keep coming, even after two years. I still get contacted at least once a week. I even figured out a kind of accurate system of how it tends to work: a semi-intellectual commentary once a week, something at least mentally stimulating once a month, death threat every two months and if I’m a really good boy, every three months or so I’ll get my favorite kind: the ones with the weird spelling and the voodoo language talking about the universe and peace and our chakras where even the email smells like marijuana. At first I was trying to reply to the more intellectual ones, but it got tiresome. I was also at first getting some emails from anarcho-primitivists, but quickly realized most of those guys were total weirdos and idiots who just seemed mostly interested in buying a whole lot of guns and shooting at stuff in the woods. All in all it was pretty bizarre. What it did though was it kept some of these issues on my radar.
So every once in a while I’d still think about objectivity, ethics, social systems, ideologies, violence etc. And of course I myself have come a long way from the angry, foolish adolescent I was back then. Now I’m just angry and foolish. So some of my views changed. And I’ve found that veganism is sort of a very effective “beacon” for philosophizing; you can start with vegan topics and think on them to get deeper insights into various aspects of existence. It’s certainly very fertile ground for discussion to blossom.
Do you still believe nihilism is the best argument for meat eating?
This is complex, and it was a blind spot in my original argument. I still believe, objectively, that nihilism is the way the universe operates. There is no such thing as inherent meaning; it’s our primate brains that brand things good and bad. So when you’re going for ultimate truth; yeah, you can always argue that there’s nothing “wrong”, or rather, “false”, about eating meat. From an objective standpoint, all you can say is — it’s possible to eat meat, so it’s possible. We can do it. It’s doable.
But that’s about all you can get from an objective viewpoint like nihilism. You can’t really use it in human discussions. Because what I didn’t realize back then was that we humans have an “alternate reality” that we live in. We’re not fully rational, objective creatures. We’re mostly emotional animals. That’s not a good or a bad thing, that’s just what is. Our brains are hard-wired to experience reality that way. So telling someone that eating meat is okay because nothing ultimately matters in the universe is not considered an effective strategy. It’s true, but it does nothing. Because it’s almost like you’re not telling the truth in “the human language”. You’re arguing on facts, not human values. And society isn’t really built on facts. It’s built on human values. Nihilism is the truth, but it’s not our truth. It’s the truth of galaxies, solar systems, elements and energies. But it doesn’t apply to a system of neurons and hormones.
The discussion needs to happen within the human parameters. Which is exactly where everything gets murky. But we have to go there. Otherwise it’s just ivory tower philosophizing.
What are some ways in which your views on veganism, ethics or whatever else have changed over these two and a half years?
This question covers a lot of ground. Let’s get started.
For veganism; I’m no longer angry at vegans, I no longer feel used or anything. I’m over it. No bad blood between me and veganism anymore. I don’t partake in it, but I have no problems with it. I also no longer consider myself “anti-vegan”. I think it’s better to define yourself by what you love, not what you hate. What you’re for and not what you’re against. I’m a meat eater, not a vegan. And I’m not even “against” veganism anymore. I just do happen to eat some meat. Simple.
Now, probably the biggest change I went through was in regard to primitivism. In my original argument, I sided with the primitivists. Not with their methods (bombing and sabotaging shit and murdering people), but with their idea that human nature is too complex for us to claim we can understand it completely, so we shouldn’t try to change our nature, and instead allow our nature to tell us how to live. I personally preached more of a “passive primitivism,” so instead of forcing the whole world to “follow their nature” with us, I said let’s just do it ourselves and let everyone else do their thing.
I later realized something: My rationale for siding with primitivism was that experimentation let us down, so we should quit trying all together. That was wrong. I think the main thing that got me there was the feeling of failure with veganism, and me showing that veganism’s value system is in accordance with the core values of the modern human society. What I said was, the core values of veganism don’t actually go against the core values of modern society, even though it seems like a fringe movement from the outside; and since veganism — a product of human ideology trying to replace human nature — let us down, it’s a good example of why our whole social evolution will let us down. This view was too simplistic. I guess in my anger towards veganism and myself for being dumb enough to believe in it, and my excitement about finding new stuff out, I didn’t consider the whole picture.
What helped to broaden your view?
Some time after our first interview, I was climbing a mountain, and had an accident. I ended up with some serious injuries. At this point, I was living an extremely high octane lifestyle, and exercising heavily and regularly was a major part of how I kept myself happy and functional. When I got the injuries, it was like a kiss of death to me and my dreams. I got really depressed.
It seems that unfortunate events in life always lead to one of two things: defeat or growth. After a brief period of useless self-pity, I decided to tackle my situation. The first thing I realized was that my body most likely wouldn’t heal from all the injuries by itself. There goes the illusion of trusting your nature to always do the optimal thing; out the window. I quickly learned that my biology could very well betray me when the situation became dire enough. I remembered what I had learned before: the human body, like anything else in the universe, is no more than a bunch of molecules put together in a specific fashion. If one part fails, you can, in theory, replace it with external stuff. There’s no shame in using technology to help you achieve what you will.
While I was going to physical therapy, I met some new people. Amputees. Injured. Sick. Old athletes who had to leave their careers because their bodies betrayed them one way or another. As I met these people, saw how amazing some of them were, and saw the tricks mother nature had played on them, how their bodies broke down and betrayed their will, I started to feel like one of them. My nature had betrayed me. My dreams were too much for nature to accept. Nature had rejected us. But how? I previously held the view that we were our animal bodies; and whatever happens to our body or mind was just what we deserved! So why was I feeling like something was wrong now? If all was well with the universe (one primate made a mistake climbing a mountain and physics happened), why did it all feel so wrong?
I came to a new realization: We are not our bodies. We’re not our minds either.
We are the will.
The idea, the raw desire that makes the mind think; the inner thirst that makes the body run. We are the courage that stands up to fear, the discipline that can rise above bodily urges, the hopes that keep the whole system motivated. The only thing within us that’s unchangeably “us” is that little will that drives us. Anything else is replaceable. You can disregard ideologies that don’t serve you. You can drop entire identities in a day. You can change your name, change your body, change your mind patterns. The body isn’t you; “the animal” isn’t you.
So I stopped following “my nature”. I focused solely on my will. Everything else was changeable. For my amputee friends, sometimes this meant replacing their natural useless legs with inorganic prosthetics that sometimes allowed them to sprint faster than “healthy” humans. This was fine for them, because ultimately it was serving them. You can see how this kind of thing shaped my philosophy into something else.
The “human condition” was no longer something final for me. No longer stable. It was free to change as we wanted as much as we could. Nature was a joke. I started identifying more and more with transhumanists. I went back to my medical textbooks to try and cure myself. It took about half a year, but with the right concentrated disciplines, I managed to heal myself until I was finally even better than how I was before the accident. Today I’m fine, but I owe that to the findings of the hundreds of thousands of brilliant scientists that worked to gather the information I used to better myself. I don’t owe it to nature.
So the biggest thing was I dropped the primitivism. Intelligence is one of humanity’s greatest gifts, and all throughout our evolution this is what we’ve been doing — taking control. Instead of letting the universe handle things chaotically, the human force has been trying to control nature, reshape it into its will, rearrange things more to its liking. And this isn’t even going against nature since humanity itself is a force of nature. We are just another manifestation of the universe, so even if we end up destroying everything, a naturalist can’t really argue with things because that’s just like when a sun goes supernova and fucks shit up around it. It’s just the ebb and flow of nature. Humanity’s just another cool and interesting form of the same deal.
What does this mean for your take on veganism and meat eating?
Well, another mindset I’ve dropped since our last talk was the “just kill em all, who cares” mindset. I was very pro-hunting, and I still am, but now for very different reasons. I think I used to be pro-hunting mostly just to spite vegans and show them that one can, in fact, enjoy murdering their precious little animals and pay no price for it. I could taste the delicious vegan tears every time I saw an animal get killed, so turning that activity into a hobby was perfect for an anti-vegan like me.
Once the anger washed away though, I could see more clearly. Yeah I know, vegans are lame and so are their arguments most of the time, but screw veganism, we really are hurting these animals, and they DO feel pain. There’s really no glory in enjoying hurting them. So now I still support hunting, but only because most of the time it provides the least painful death for the animals. I’m still going to kill them and eat their meat, but I want them to suffer as little as possible.
Which is also why I’d support this whole 3D-printed meat deal, if it was perfected. If I can get a steak that is absolutely the same as the real thing nutrition and taste-wise, and I didn’t have to cause any pain to get it, of course I’d prefer that.
So in terms of outlooks, those are what has changed. I still want to eat meat, I still value individual freedoms over anything else, but I want as little pain caused as possible getting there.
Still eating a lot of fruit?
I do, but not nearly as much as I used to. Through much experimentation I’ve finally figured out how my body works best: I increase my carbohydrate intake as I increase my level of physical exertion. The more intense my workouts, the higher the percentage of fuel coming from fruit.
Otherwise it’s animal foods and vegetables. Works like a charm, and you don’t need supplements. My physical performance is higher than it’s ever been, and I have zero health problems. I also enjoy the fruits I eat way more this way, when I’m not stuffing my face with them 24/7. I’ve also benefited greatly from intermittent fasting. If anyone out there’s thinking about giving that a try, I say go for it, see how you do with it.
You were vegan for health, not ethical reasons. Have you started thinking more about the ethics of animal killing and exploitation since quitting veganism?
Interestingly, that’s exactly what’s happened. I think I care about animals more genuinely now than I ever did as a vegan. I don’t know why exactly that is. A vegan would say it’s because I’m trying to deal with the subconscious guilt I must be feeling for eating all that sinful meat of eternal pain and universal suffering. Some people would say it’s because I can think and feel more healthfully now because a meat-based diet is better for your brain neurotransmitters and so on. I personally think it’s because I matured a bit and let go of the anger I felt towards veganism for “betraying” me. So now, my attitude towards animals is no longer an extension of my relationship with veganism, but just a genuine, direct realization of being a part of this planet.
When you’re hurting an animal, you’re not hurting veganism, you’re not spiting vegans, as much as you’re just hurting an animal who did nothing to you. So that’s fucked, from a human perspective. From my more “objective” perspective in our last interview, I put it more like, “Be it plant or animal, everything’s ultimately alive, so you’re always killing. And from an even more objective perspective, nothing really IS alive, so fuck it, nothing matters.” But as I said I believe now, that objective view, while that is the truth, it isn’t how we humans operate. So compassion IS a real thing for us; it is an actual feeling and it’s not that you MUST feel it towards everything — compassion has degrees, I suppose — but I feel like my personal “outer” desire in life is to reduce overall suffering for people and creatures I interact with. That must be balanced with the “inner” wants like various ego gratifications and bodily needs. These are all subjective values and considerations that each individual has to decide for themselves. Most people have it decided for them by society, but yeah, that’s how it works.
Most people try to find some balance in their lives between caring for themselves and caring about others, and veganism is one way that some people choose to balance their selfishness and altruism. Some vegans think that it’s an objectively correct and necessary way, because of “logical consistency,” anti-speciesism, “intent” or whatever else. It sounds like you’ve got your own balance, with hunting being the ideal way to get meat. Do you see your approach as being on an ethical continuum with veganism, or is it something totally different?
Over the years, you’ve done an amazing job on your site of deconstructing those various reasons vegans presented for claiming veganism is necessary and showing how they all fall short one way or another. This is because reality IS there, and it’s not good or bad or right or wrong, but it just IS. So when people try to say one thing is “logically” and “objectively” correct or necessary and it’s not already happening, there’s got to be a reason. Anything that really is “objectively correct” must already be occurring in the universe. Because from an objective standpoint; “correct” can only mean “true, real”. When you say “correct” from an ethical standpoint, you’re no longer arguing objectively, so there’s no point in arguing at all since any interaction between two different minds is never going to be like your subjective perception of the universe.
I’ve got my own personal balance, yes, but I don’t see it as anything that must apply to anyone else. Because it’s not an objective thing. I still don’t believe in objective ethics. Ethics is not like some sort of universal system that we each tap into. I always communicate this best with a computer analogy: It’s not like ethics are a server somewhere away and each individual is a different computer with a connection to that “outside” ethical system. It’s more like each individual’s own ethical system is in their mind only — part of their own “hard drive” and not something external. You can get ideas from the external, sure, but once you get them they are, again, in your head.
Because think about this: What if I snapped my magic finger and every individual in the universe, including me, died this instant? Would there be any “right” or “wrong” then? Would it be “wrong” or “beautiful” for a tree to shake and bend in the wind? Would an erupting volcano be a natural “disaster” anymore? Would it be “horrible” anymore when a bear, ultimately a system of chemicals, kills a fish — another system of chemicals — and eats it?
Things would be stripped of all meaning, labels, definitions, collections. That’s because those don’t exist externally from the individual mind. Whatever exists does exist, but that objective information is not perfectly available to us. So there can never be “objective ethics”. We can still have social rules and mutual respect and all that, but let’s not fool ourselves into thinking any of it reflects objective facts of how the universe operates.
Therefore I don’t believe there can ever be an “ethical continuum”. My approach is my approach, and veganism is its own approach. The ONLY problem with veganism here is that IT doesn’t realize this, and tries to enforce its approach on all of us. It’s not right or wrong or deluded in itself. It’s just trying to dictate external things that’s the problem.
But I do think that we as humans would do well to find some new methods to obtain our meat. Like I mentioned, some of the “fake meat” ideas aren’t half bad, but we’ll see how all that turns out. In the meantime we can also work on making it easier for farm animals to both live and die, by not treating them as products without feelings as they live, and killing them extremely swiftly and painlessly when the time comes. We have the means to do both of these things, so why not do it.
Overall I think I take a more humanist approach in practice. I still think it’s foolish to be working to make life better for animals when we still have humans suffering in the world, and ultimately I place human freedom above the happiness of animals. But if there are methods that can make life easier for animals without taking much away from humanity, I have no qualms about meeting veganism somewhere there in the middle.
Once I removed my stupid primitivism mindset out of the picture, things became a lot easier in my mind. We can use technology cleverly to make more parties happy and reduce suffering. So why not? Because we want to live up to some arbitrary ideal of “nature”? Thing about nature is that it’s consistently changing. So there’s no “human default” we can revert back to anyway. The only human default is perpetual change and increasing freedom. It’s been like that all throughout our history. Increasingly, we’ve become more free from our environment, free from kings and queens, free from our own biological limitations, from our mental barriers. It’s cold? Invent fire. Can’t reach the fruit? Use sticks. Can’t see in the dark? Invent the light bulb. Death? Put your brain in a fucking robot and live forever, I don’t know! All I know for sure is that nothing is going to be a permanent “problem” as long as we stick to our human curiosity and ingenuity.
Is the world becoming more vegan?
Yes, without a doubt. My original views on this still stand; veganism is “modern” and “in”, and meat eating is soooo 8000 BC. Veganism appears to be for compassionate, intelligent people who care about animals, care about suffering and care about the environment more than their own carnal desires. In the mainstream view, the concept of “veganism” evokes images of upper-class white people with perfect teeth and perfect lives biting into that fresh green apple that makes that crunching sound which translates into English as “My life is perfect”. Viewed from that perspective, meat eating is bizarre; we kill animals and there’s blood and guts everywhere then we skin them, burn them and eat their charred corpse, and the corpse “clogs our arteries” for revenge. That versus the green apple. You can easily tell which one’s going to appear more feasible to a mainstream society of people who don’t know what the heck’s going on behind the curtains. I actually think that with all these considerations and meat’s public image nowadays, that all well-read, thoughtful people consider some form of vegetarianism at least once in their lifetimes. I’ve seen this more often than not.
As an example, I think it was last year when a friend convinced me to watch the Scott Pilgrim movie and it had a character in it that had “vegan powers,” which basically made him cooler for being vegan. I couldn’t help but think that was a pretty good example of how veganism works socially nowadays.
Heck, in the three years since we did that first interview, even Turkey started to see its first few vegan organizations and restaurants and whatnot. Someday, these issues WILL be talked about in senates. Someday, we might be prosecuting people for “murdering and eating the corpse of mooey the cow”. It will sound horrible to the socially-conditioned ears of our children. And, dare I say it, perhaps it should. But only if we find better alternatives, and solutions to the possible problems such changes may bring.
Our social values nowadays support veganism so well that even the most dedicated meat-eaters, when you ask them about it, will still say things like, “yeah I know it’s not good for me, BUT I JUST CAN’T STOP EATING IT”, so even those who defend it only defend it as an addiction and not as a choice. Health or personal freedom are rarely mentioned as reasons. Let alone questioning the very idea of having to defend meat eating as a habit.
One thing I’ve noticed lately though is that the “paleo” movement seems to be growing. So that may be a major opponent to veganism in the near future, but it’s hard to say. If I were to guess though, I’d say the world’s probably going to end up eating 3D printed meat or some kind of product of science instead of real meat in the end. This, if perfected, would make everyone happy, I think. Except hunters. Meat eaters get something that’s identical to real meat, vegans get… "people not eating meat", and, uh, major corporations get to control our food supply even more strongly, I guess. But yeah, everyone who’s into these issues knows the current system’s not sustainable long-term so something's going to have to give. It's just difficult to predict how exactly things will play out.
A lot of the world seems to be becoming less religious. Could that help veganism become more popular?
That’s a very interesting question. I do agree that religion is becoming less popular as science and rationality are on the rise. Personally, I’m very happy about this. But ultimately I think it can help veganism’s cause.
A lot of meat eaters will be quick to use the argument “because god says it’s okay” to defend meat eating. I’m not going to waste any time explaining why that’s an invalid statement. I think it does help the majority uneducated of meat eaters be okay with their meat eating if they ever do tend to question it, so ultimately it creates the same result with understanding the complex logical facts behind meat eating and “eating meat with an informed attitude” so to speak, like you and I do. Though I’d actually rather see someone think logically, even if they think without all the facts and end up thinking meat eating is logically incorrect, I’d still prefer hanging out with a vegan who doesn’t eat meat because he has half a brain and can think critically about things than with a meat eater who doesn’t give a fuck either way because he just follows what god tells him to do.
All that said, I don’t think the abolishment of religion will be the final nail in meat eating’s coffin. There are plenty of us non-religious meat eaters. A lot of us still use other shitty arguments to defend our meat-eating, and in time veganism will defuse those arguments as well, until ultimately the discussion will be stripped down to just the basic facts.
The world becoming less religious WILL help veganism, but if we had to use religion to keep veganism at bay, I’d rather let veganism take over. Thankfully we don’t have to.
In the last interview, you said you were neither a speciesist nor an anti-speciesist. What are your thoughts on speciesism now?
I don’t believe in species. Now, let’s get some stuff out of the way: I do understand the concept of species. I know it’s a useful system of categorization that we need in order to understand the world around us. I’ve read my stuff, count on it.
So what do I mean?
Let’s say I’m a geneticist. And I’ve got a machine here, we’ll call it Erim’s Machine. Now Erim’s Machine has the capacity to change a creature’s genetic makeup into any sequence I want. So I can take, say, a monkey, and edit its genes until I get a human. I can edit the genes of a human zygote and make it grow into a banana instead.
So draw a continuum. One one end, place a chimpanzee. On the other end, place a human. Some readers will pick up on what I’m getting at here just by this mental image. Let’s say I use my nifty little machine and start editing the chimpanzee and bring him closer and closer to human, inch by inch.
The question is, at what point would the “chimp” end and the “human” begin?
Now luckily, when I first came up with this crazy idea and I was discussing this with a friend, he recognized it and guided me towards further reading. Apparently other people are aware of this “issue” we have with the concept of “species”. It’s a bit of an arbitrary concept.
One point that comes up in some debates about racism is that race is a social construct, and not one that can clearly be defined. Ta-Nehisi Coates talks about that here. Yet racism still exists, based on socially constructed concepts of race. Since you don’t believe in species, you might consider species a social construct as well, but that doesn’t necessarily tell us what to do about this social construct. It would still be possible to be speciesist or anti-speciesist in reaction to the concept of species, even if it’s an artifice. What are the implications for meat eating and veganism if we do away with species as a valid concept?
Yes, I do view species as a social construct. And, like I said, it is a useful one for sure. I’m not saying we should STOP using this concept, I’m just saying that we need to be aware that it’s not hard reality. But if we hypothetically did away with it? Then the entire ideas of “veganism” and “meat eating” would also be gone. Because, what even IS “meat eating” when you can’t define what meat is? Is meat the dead body of an animal? What is an animal? Why is the dead body of a plant, then? Cellulose meat? If we go strictly by facts and not human categorizations, then everything we see around us, the entire universe, is just a bunch of molecules. Some of those are gathered up in a fashion that create what we call “animals”, some of it as “plants”. But those are both species, reliant on more human constructs. Remove the philosophically arbitrary separations between animals and plants, and you no longer have a “vegan” ideal to live up to.
It seems that a lot of people only manage to stay meat eaters because they don’t think about the death, gore and suffering involved in meat production. Do you talk to other meat eaters about meat eating? If so, does your perspective on it ever disturb them? Are there any vegan arguments that you would throw at them?
I do think that most meat eaters, especially in first world countries, would stop eating meat if they were more in touch with how they get it. I find it almost infuriating when my meat eater friends say hunting is cruel and don’t see supermarket meat as an actual dead body of an animal but just another “product” that they buy – neatly packaged, cleaned of all the blood and the nastiness, up to your hygienic standards. Even the meat itself they eat is the “nice” stuff. People rarely eat organ meats anymore. It’s all just white, clean, bloodless chicken breasts and tuna. Nice, clean muscle fibers and vibrant colors. Compare that to bone marrow, heart, brains etc. Even I’m squeamish about eating some of that stuff, and I’m not a very squeamish guy. Compare ripping open supermarket plastic to ripping open the dying body of an animal. I bet most people couldn’t do it.
Is this a sign that humans weren’t designed to eat meat? I don’t think so. I think it’s mostly just a sign that we’re living too protected lives nowadays. Even a house cat will be hesitant when you present it with a live mouse. I remember when I had a cat who had lived his entire life feeding on packaged cat food, and when he saw prey of any kind, he maybe toyed with it a bit but he rarely killed it, let alone eat it. And a cat is supposed to be like the epitome of predatory viciousness.
In any case, what we were “designed to be” doesn’t matter one iota. We weren’t “designed” for a lot of things. But the thing about humanity is that we’ve pretty much broken free from nature to an extent where we can now decide how we live and how we eat, and we’re progressively becoming more free as we gain understanding and control of the universe around us. What nature dictates has no bearing on us, at least on the subject of food.
But yeah, meat IS murder. If you’re a meat eater and you’re not okay with that, then you gotta either be okay with being a hypocrite, redefine your sense of “murder”, or stop eating meat. I think most people fall into that second category; they simply don’t care about animals, or they’re aware of how they get their meat but choose to create a selective mental blind spot there to be okay with it. I can’t really blame them. We have so much shit we deal with every day, people don’t want the added stress of having to think about the ethics of what they eat. That’s why I pointed out that you tend to see this stuff more in first world countries. People starving in Africa don’t care about the global moral implications of what they feed their kids to make their ribcage less visible on their torso; but us bored well-off folks sitting under our anti-bacterially filtered ion-enhanced a/c units with an electrical blanket to keep us from getting too cold behind a computer screen waiting for a new facebook notification to pop up to entertain us, we tend to wonder whether meat is murder or not. That’s not something wrong about us specifically though. Put the starving man in Africa in our position and in a few years he’ll be doing the same, and put us in his position and the morals of meat eating will quickly become less important as we hear our stomachs grumble. I know many vegans who say they’d rather starve than eat meat; I could respect that view if only I just once actually saw them make that choice.
What does it mean for a meat eater to be okay with meat being murder? Does this require devaluing human life too?
I don’t kid myself. One thing I did retain from veganism has been the realization that the meat we eat is, undeniably, the dead body of an animal. We killed the animal to consume that meat. For me personally, I feel better to acknowledge that and make an informed decision, rather than just see the supermarket product of meat, that distanced product, that idea of meat. But once I allow myself to accept the realization, I’m not bothered by the rest of it. Yes, the meat I eat is the result of an animal’s death. The animal had a consciousness, and I killed it. I consider that murder. It’s merely accepting a fact rather than trying to avoid it.
The value thing is subjective. If you could ask an animal, I think all of them would say that from their subjective view, their lives are at least as important as any human on the planet, if not more. What they think doesn’t matter though, what matters is what each of us thinks. Personally, I roll with the good old individuality here. Just because I decide I care little enough about one animal to kill it, doesn’t mean I have to feel that way about the rest of the species, or about other species. It’s just like how it is with humans. There are some humans I love dearly, and other humans I wish would just die. That doesn’t make me a hypocrite, it just means that I deal with creatures individually. I don’t have a right to kill the human I don’t care for, because he’s still part of my society, and I have empathy towards him. Right now, cows aren’t part of our society, and vegans want them to be. That’s the whole issue here. Meat eaters want to keep considering animals “the others”, and vegans do not.
Practically it makes no difference. But that’s why devaluing animal life doesn’t necessarily require devaluing human life. Because we choose not to. It’s not a logical inconsistency, when you realize that you CAN choose to act on an individual or group basis. It’s not illogical, just possibly unethical. And that’s what the vegan argument should stick to. My point is that something rational and objective like logic cannot be a point in an argument like this that’s really all about emotions and morals. There’s no “right” or “wrong” in logic, only “true” and “false”. You can’t start with society’s drive for human preservation and then “logically take the next step” and extend it towards how bad animal suffering is.
You’re in favor of reducing suffering, but allow your personal desires for freedom to ultimately trump the interests of other animals when there’s a conflict between the two. Some utilitarians might say that selfishness of this sort is arbitrary, since there’s no reason to think of your own life and suffering as more important than the lives and suffering of other animals. Why care more about yourself than animals? Simply because you’re you and you can?
Exactly. The same reason we don’t directly apply the objective facts of the universe to our daily lives, we also don’t just submit our own life to simply be subject to the checks and balances of existence. What we understand and what we do can APPEAR to be two different things, but not if you see the whole picture. The key is to realize the difference between objective and subjective understanding. We talk objectively when discussing social issues, because society is comprised of many individuals, so we cannot depend on subjectivity. Subjectivity is only a valid way of thinking for issues only concerning one individual. Objectively, I can understand that ethics exist only in each individual’s mind, that categorizations are human constructs, that there’s no such thing as justice or rights. At the same time, I can acknowledge that I am me, that I consider myself belonging to a group of other individuals categorizing ourselves as “humans”, that we form a society, that the society operates within certain established rules. So why do I care about myself or humanis in general more than other animals? Because I am me, so of course I will have a bias. Animals are not part of human society. My subjective consciousness is what rules my actions. Recognizing that I am me, I can do the things I can do.
So in human terms, of course we care about animals. But they will have to come second. We want to help them, we want to reduce their suffering – but not at the expense of humans. Those of us who disagree and see humans and animals having the same value are vegans!
If you had the possibility of being born into a vegan world or a non-vegan one, and didn’t know what sort of lifeform you would be, would you vote for a vegan or for a non-vegan human society?
A vegan society of course! No need to overthink that one. With all the different species in the world, what are the chances of me ever being born human? Very little. Any species other than humans is going to prefer a vegan world. And the benefit for choosing a non-vegan world for the off chance of being born a human is slim compared to the danger of being born anything other than human in a vegan world. I wouldn’t risk that gamble. And sure, you’d look at that and say, “Well there you go then, you’ve just said the benefit you get from meat eating is very small compared to cost animals pay for you to get that little benefit. If you realize this and still choose meat eating, you’re just, to put it simply, selfish.”
But these kinds of “what if?” questions rarely represent how the real world actually works. Actually, we DON’T have a sense of being anything other than a human, we don’t have that objective approach to making such choices. You were born a human, so that’s all you are, all you were, and all you’ll ever be. All that matters once you’re born is your subjective perception of things. I think this whole “what if you were something else” idea is just a remnant of the old idea of “spirit” or “soul”. It implies that the “you” that you identify as yourself is something separate from the body it’s in. When actually it’s a manifestation of the body that IT IS. I happen to be a subjective perception that has a sense of myself because of a particular arrangement of molecules formed a brain and now the tissues they formed create a sense of self within them.
It’s not like “I” happened to inhabit a human body. Rather it’s the other way around; the human body gave birth to the sense of “I”. Without this body, “I” wouldn’t be assigned to the role of something else. I wouldn’t be a cow. I simply wouldn’t be. It would be a different “I”. Existence does not function via eeny meeny miny moe.
A few answers back, you said, “Meat eaters want to keep considering animals ‘the others’, and vegans do not.” Why should we – in contrast to vegans – want to keep non-humans out of our in group?
I’m not sure that we’d want to keep them out. Like I said, if we had the option, I think we’d all prefer not hurting animals, to be one with them, to be “earthlings” – one big happy family, a perfect reflection of an entire generation brought up on advertisements. But there are complications in the real world. For instance, animals cannot understand the rights of others, nor can they understand their own. How will that work?
If a dog comes into my house and he’s trespassing and I shoot him, what will society’s stance be on that? I’m sorry, but things just aren’t so simple, as much as I wish they were. These are the kinds of questions that inevitably come up, because as much as we philosophize and we think that everything must be determinable with clear-cut solutions if only we had enough debate, or education, or whatever you want to say, the fact remains that we’re trying to fit something chatoic and uncaring like nature into rigid structures such as laws and these kinda big public opinions. Throughout history, humans just intuitively knew “beasts” were to be controlled, fought against, or used. Much of our modern lifestyle is built on values and ideologies that, while nice, sometimes don’t fit with nature. This doesn’t mean that we should throw them away. It means that we’re sometimes going to have to fight nature to uphold these values. I’m all for that, but it will require effort.
When we ask questions like “how can we still keep eating meat in the face of rising social awareness towards the ethical invalidity of meat eating”, it’s obvious that we on some level acknowledge that meat eating may not be a perfect practice. Again I think the best solution would be the perfection of lab-made meat. As long as it’s healthy, cheap, and perhaps even healthier and cheaper than conventional meat, really the only valid objection anyone could have would be regarding personal freedoms. Someone could say, “animals aren’t part of human society and I want my right to be able to hunt animal meat”, and right now, until we find better answers, I could respect that opinion.
Animals simply do not fit in well into human society, for the same reasons they didn’t fit in the past millions of years. But with technology and culture comes change. And it is in this change that we can hopefully create a new kind of social structure where we can both not harm animals, and not suffer for it ourselves. But it’s going to take ingenuity, effort, and cultural shift. It won’t happen overnight, and perhaps humanity will just end up deciding it’s not worth all the effort.
Some vegans or quasi vegans are okay with eating non-sentient animals like oysters. This follows the same ethical logic of veganism, but offers more options. Are you more sympathetic with this sort of veganism than the zero animal product sort?
I’m sympathetic to both equally. They both start off with good intentions. To not hurt sentient beings. That’s admirable, even when it’s a bit uninformed. I’d certainly prefer eating some non-sentient animals if I were a vegan.
The only thing that truly matters in the entire veganism debate is the concept of “sentience”. The only real problem with meat eating is the sense of pain we inflict on the consciousness of the animals we kill. Without sentience, anything that ever happens in the universe is just good ol’ molecules changing arrangement. Sentience is what makes the act of killing an animal a questionable thing rather than just a mechanical act. Cutting a tree is a mechanical act. Peeling an orange is a mechanical act. Cutting horse’s head off is more.
This however brings up another question: If sentience is what makes an act “morally questionable”, then what if we could remove sentience before it has a chance to register the removal?
Since all we have is our perception of existence, if the only bad part of killing a cow is the pain we inflict on the cow’s perception, then what if we could do it so fast, so instantly that it never even has a chance to register? Then the consciousness is removed instantly, and from the cow’s subjective standpoint, which is the only one that matters to the cow, it would be like it never existed. There is no lingering suffering. There are no afterthoughts. It just was, and now it isn’t, and it won’t be around to feel bad about it. We have the technology to be able to do this. To kill animals instantly, to shock the brain into not registering the perception. That’s what I currently advocate doing, until we can manufacture meat in labs that’s on par with the real thing. And when you look at history, you’ll find that a lot of tribes did try doing this to the extent that they could. I think very few people would actually PREFER to inflict pain unnecessarily. Ironically, that’s exactly what a lot of the animals we’re obsessed with trying to protect have no problem with.
As uncool as it sounds, face it, the stinky humans that everyone loves to talk shit about nowadays are the only ones who actually have moral codes. We only seem more destructive and cruel than other animals because we have more power. So any moral choice we make is magnified in its effects. When we decide to destroy, we can really fuck shit up. But when we decide to build, we can also turn pain and starvation into ease and abundance. People always say animals would never do things like holocausts and torture, but let’s not forget that humans are nothing more than just another species of animal. If lions were in power, would THEY even consider having these arguments about whether they should eat weaker species? The problem is that folks look at the damage and destruction some humans cause and then label the entirety of humanity evil, when in fact MOST people are actually quite nice and don’t want to hurt anyone or anything needlessly.
I’m on team human. Go humans!
In some ways veganism is forward looking, in that a lot of vegans are in favor of technologies that could replace animal husbandry by creating meat from non-sentient material. But animal rights philosophy still is in essence a restriction, something to rein in human freedom. Could you see animal rights philosophy being a problem for technological and human progress in some ways? Could it end up clashing with transhumanism and futurism and this sort of thing down the line? And could it be worth worrying about animal rights philosophy now for that reason?
Absolutely. For instance, animal testing. People have no idea how useful it is to be able to test drugs and such things on animals. It is useful, and it is painful. Again, I don’t want to be running away from the truth. It’s a painful truth, and this is one of the burdens of humanity: To know what we need to do, and to know what we must do. I don’t want animals to be hurt, but if someone I loved had a terminal illness and I had to kill a million cute pink bunnies to get to the cure, I would do it with my bare hands without batting an eye. One thing I aimed to focus on in this interview is that things are not always as clear-cut as we’d like them to be. And this is just another one of those points where we’ll all have differing value judgements. I personally think that we need to take care of humans before we turn to animals, but it doesn’t mean that we’re doomed to choose between one or the other. I think the ultimate would be a situation where maybe we could simulate life and run our tests there.
The issue is one of sentience and structure. And in existence, there is always a way. The universe is such that any structure can be created, you just need to find a way. Animal testing will not always be the only way to test substances. Perhaps some day we’ll be able to simulate structures and creatures at the molecular level, and just run all sorts of tests in those computer generated environments just as effectively, without hurting a single sentient thing. In theory, it seems possible, so who knows.
The point is that the world simply isn’t at that place yet. As our technology, information and education increase, so will prosperity, peace, and understanding. I believe that we will leave animals alone as soon as we get the chance. Because honestly, I don’t think humanity is doing it just to be cruel. We test drugs on animals because we need the results. We eat them because we need their meat. But it doesn’t mean we’re not open to alternatives. Give humans a pain-free way to get the same meat, and the majority will want to switch to that and end the needless suffering.
See, this is what I mean when I say that the majority of the world is already in the vegan mindset. The majority of us DO have empathy towards animals. And I know this is hard for vegans to see, but if you’re a vegan reading this, think back to when you weren’t vegan. Were you walking around and kicking dogs in the face for no reason all day? Were you mean to animals all the time just because you ate meat? Of course not, and neither are the majority of the meat eaters you see out there. We care, we do love animals. Every meat eater I know, when they have seen cows, either pet them, joke around with them, or at least say, “hey cow!”. Most people, if they saw a cow in pain, would feel for it and try to help. But right now, we are able to live with the fact that we both empathize with animals and also end their lives and eat them. It’s not something we love, it’s not something we don’t think we can improve, but it is what it is. And I think we ARE looking for a change. But the world isn’t changed by taking things away from people. It’s changed by giving people better alternatives.
Things like lab-made meat, algae products, simulated scientific experiments – these are those alternatives. But we need to arrive at those points in development to be able to enjoy their benefits. The problem with a lot of forward-thinking people, including most vegans, is that they get disturbed – and understandably so – at the gap between what they know is possible, and what they live in right now. We don’t have worldwide respect for animal life yet, because we’re just not at that stage of human development yet. We don’t have 100 percent green technology everywhere, because it simply hasn’t become the best choice yet, in a general sense. But they will come. Respect for animal life WILL grow, but you can’t expect that awareness to jump out of nowhere. We need to accomplish some milestones so change can become commonplace. Once we can have lab-made or 3D-printed meat that’s exactly the same as the real thing, but only cheaper, how many more people will never want to kill animals to eat meat again? That would have a better vegan conversion rate than all the overblown factory farming videos combined!
So the future you dream of IS coming. It will be good. But it will not come out of nowhere. It will not come out of people’s love and understanding. It will not come out of smoking joints and dreadlocks in your hair. It will come out of hard science and efficient, useful technology. So if you truly care about animals, if you truly want to help them no matter what, then help create better alternatives for people. That 3D printed meat is going to save a million times more animals than any stupid PETA ad. The people who are vegans by “not consuming animal products” don’t change anything. It’s good that they don’t contradict their ethics with their lifestyle, I can respect that, but they don’t change anything significant in the world by doing it. If you just want to be a vegan for yourself, then, to be honest, I think you’re just doing it to feel morally at ease. If you’re doing it because you honestly, truly care about saving the lives of animals, then you need to be more active.
And as a meat eater, I think the world of tomorrow needs you to be active. But in the right way. Don’t try to take people’s choices from them. That’s not going to work, and even if it does, I will fight you if you do that, because you’d be opposing freedom. Instead, give people MORE choices, BETTER choices. The world WANTS that. The world is READY for that. Let’s all work on developing alternatives that are just as good, if not BETTER than the current choices.
What haven’t I brought up that I should have?
I think these kinds of discussions usually forget to bring up two things: Some civil and intelligent dialogue and unification between vegans and meat eaters, and, some practical ideas on what we can do with our newly discussed issues.
First, the unification thing. Because, come on, let’s get the cutesy stuff out of the way. I know everyone wants to fight and chew on each other’s intellectual gristle.
But if someone’s reading sites like yours, be they vegan, vegetarian, meatatarian, or whatever they put in their faces, they probably care. I know vegans want to point fingers at the meat eaters and say they’re ignorant – and most of them are! – and the meat eaters want to call vegans dirt worshipping hippies – and some of them are! – the fact is that probably those who read discussions on these issues rather than just spamming simple-minded propaganda on facebook, and instead arguing about ethics, social issues, rights, the very definition of species and the like, are part of the solution. If you’re one of the vegans or meat eaters who are currently reading this and thinking about such issues, then what the hell, RELAX! The people you’re arguing with are probably very similar to you! The guy who pissed you off on some internet forum because you disagreed with him on how pets should be defined legally is probably someone you’d really enjoy hanging out with in real life! Seriously, I’ve had stuff like this happen to me, that’s why I know!
If we’re gonna get anywhere with this whole thing, without half-witted politicians and special interest groups who don’t know what the hell they’re on about making the decisions for us, we gotta put our damn heads together and figure something out. We gotta get some friendly dialogue instead of all these “vegan haven” and “meat haven” websites and meetups and all this shit where we just ban the opposing view and stay in our closed little comfort zone. Stay in an intellectually closed loop and you’ll never challenge your ideas. That’s not a smart, confident thing to do.
So the person you’re arguing with, unless their screen name is “Sunshine_Peacegoddess139” or “xXx_BaldEagleWarHero_xXx,” they’re probably a decent human being, like you. Be open to the possibility that they may not be a stereotypical redneck barbecue dude shooting shotguns into the air or a crystal chakra lady with veins on her neck. Perhaps they’re just normal people. Be nice to them, try to understand them, and even befriend them. You may find much to learn. I myself am certainly open to meeting all kinds of new people, hearing new ideas, first hand experiences, and most importantly, ideas about what we can do.
Which brings me to the second point: We talk about all this, but what can we do? All the discussion in the world won’t do us any good if we just use it to sit back and eat our diet of choice in peace for ourselves. We gotta discuss, agree, and take action on these issues.
I think one thing each of us can do is first of all really get to know our personal sense of values intimately. Do you care for hunting or do you think we’re ready to move past that? Where do you think animals should stand in society? What do you think about the concept of species? Do you have any problems with killing and eating an animal? Don’t let propaganda decide these things for you, decide for yourself. Ask yourself these questions.
Then, we can see if there are others who think like us. For instance, I support the idea of choosing 3D printed meat that’s virtually the same as the real thing over animal meat. So I can find various ways I can support 3D printing. Just something simple as letting my friends know about these brilliant new technologies is something. I can donate to science, study, offer opinions, bring people together to work on these issues.
I don’t like what factory farms are doing, so I can decide not to buy any of their products. I can spread awareness.
On the other hand, I don’t like it when laws and governments get involved in upholding people’s ideals, so I wouldn’t be taking any actions to get legislation or anything regarding any of these issues. I’d much rather just inform and let everyone make their own decisions.
So we should do more real-world, human-to-human, heart to heart TALKING. Let’s talk about these things, understand what everyone wants, let’s not consider our own ideals superior to those of others. For a while, let us all consider ourselves an ignorant pupil, and the people we’re talking to wise teachers – because they are. If someone’s arguing with you and trying to get you to understand their point of view – be they right or wrong – the simple fact that they’re trying to make you understand, rather than just ignoring you and your conflicting views and just going their own way anyways, shows that they’re probably a person worth talking to.
Humanity will be facing difficult questions as technology changes more and more how we exist, and what it means to exist as we do. The answers won’t always be clear cut – they rarely are. The worthwhile answers are usually difficult to come up with, but hey, I guess that’s why we’re all here, huh?