Saturday, March 21, 2009

Torrential Downpour

Animal Rights and “Righteousness:” further exploration on reason and faith in the secular
Another bit not intended as a developed argument, but an attempted articulation of swirling thoughts. This is why I write (even for a little read blog): working out ideas in writing helps me feel more grounded.

In an earlier exploration of Animal Rights, I suggested that even in this secular argument, it is irrational leaps of faith that guide thought and action (I don’t see a good rational argument that animals should be regarded as equal to humans, though I’m also not sure there’s a rational argument that humans are superior and can thus use animals in any way we see fit). I think the residue of religious sensibilities in this secular argument run deeper than that. From reading the writing of some vegans, vegetarians, and animal rights activists, I get the sense there is a belief in and desire for a secular version of “Righteousness,” an inner purity that separates one from the impure.

For Gary Francione, the demarcation for purity runs between vegans and everybody else; to be vegan is to be “pure,” and to consume any animal products at all puts you on the other side of the purity line (Francione: "There is no morally significant difference between meat and dairy [...] There is as much (if not more) suffering in a glass of milk as in a pound of steak "). I obviously think there is a morally significant difference, and I would put that line between meat eaters and vegetarians: I see a fundamental difference between consuming the flesh of killed animals, and not consuming the flesh of killed animals. On the issue of animal treatment in this society, I think vegetarians and vegans share more in common than vegetarians and meat eaters. But maybe that sentence itself betrays the fallacy of such a "line" of fundamental separation; the better graphic symbol is probably a set of intersecting circles.

I recognize a religious desire for Righteousness in my own vegetarianism; it is more about avoiding complicity than bringing about change (and thus if I ever do go completely vegan, it will be because my own conscience demands it, not a desire to fulfill somebody else's standard of moral purity), though I doubt other vegans and vegetarians have the same view. But the desire for inner Righteousness, an inner purity, is not exclusively religious and drives many secular conflicts. Republicans and Democrats sometimes seem to demand "ideological purity" from their members on particular issues (notably abortion). Whenever we ask a question like "Is So-And-So racist/sexist/anythingist?" we're assuming a line of demarcation between the pure and the impure (and perhaps implicitly overshadowing unconscious assumptions of racism/sexism/anythingism, and of institutional racism/sexism/anythingism). Again, I see the residues of religious issues in secular arguments.

Review of The Face on Your Plate: The Truth About Food, by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson (LA Times).

Christopher Hitchens on Karl Marx today (The Atlantic).

Eric Margolis on war in Afghanistan (Common Dreams).

I generally don't like audience interaction/participation in theater; I've got the weird feeling the actors are treating me like a rube and they think they're better than me (The Onion).


  1. J'Rod6:55 PM

    I would like to read about Karl Marx, not faces on my plate. (The links go to the same article)

    I laughed out loud at The Onion article. I've had the same feelings before. "Oh god- are they going to talk to us?"

  2. Thanks for the heads up--the link is fixed so you can go read about Marx.