I just read your response to my email, and want to elaborate the reasoning
behind my argument.
My Hitler comment was only aimed at those, such as apparently the writer to
whom I was responding, who equate meat eating with murder, and who hold
their vegetarian position with extraordinary self-righteousness. It aint that
simple. I agree with you that Hitler's being a vegetarian in no way
constitutes a criticism of vegetarianism. But it does, I hope, give
self-righteous vegetarians pause when they simplemindedly equate eating meat
with the ability, and even the inclination, to murder.
With regard to comparing human and animal predators, frequently human killing
is far more efficient and less conducive to suffering than what happens in
the wild. A well placed shot brings death almost immediately. A wolf pack
does so far more slowly. And when confronted by truly abundant prey, some
carnivores kill to excess. Nature is beautiful, wild, and sacred enough not
to need romanticizing (a word?)
You write of excesses in eating meat. Speaking solely for myself, I eat very
little. A meal or two a week. And my reasons are in part the ones you give.
When I do buy meat, I try to buy that which has been raised humanely, and
presumably killed humanely. I do not support factory farming in any way.
But if I knew someone who was almost a total carnivore, I would not criticize
him or her on that account. Primarily because for me what is important is
our mindfulness as we consume, not what we consume. I think it is far less
objectionable to eat beef with gratitude than to eat tofu thoughtlessly. On
ethics and hunting, I recommend Richard Nelson's The Island Within. You may
find it thought provoking. He also had an interview in Parabola, summer
My experience in nature, and in shamanic practices, has convinced me that
plants are aware beings. They experience life, and so presumably experience
death. I admit that is a spiritual conclusion, but it is one I find well
grounded in experience, not dogma. In my view, everything in nature
possesses awareness to some extent. And so nothing can ever be appropriately
treated simply as a means to our ends.
I honestly do not see death as a sign of a fallen nature, a sad mistake by
nature, a punishment for some shortcoming, or a sign that the universe is
uncaring. It is a stage in life, and I have had sufficient experiences in my
spiritual practice to believe that death is not annihilation. But neither is
it to be taken lightly.
I cannot prove that this view is true to people who have not had experiences
similar to mine, and those who have do not need the point proven to them. So
I do not set my ethic out as one everyone should follow. But one thing many
of us can agree on is that to deliberately cause death without concern,
respect, or compassion for what passes from the scene is to act
thoughtlessly. It is inappropriate for human beings to act that way.
You write you are "somewhat flummoxed" by my claim that applying the
abstraction to kill as little as possible is not as easy to do as it seems.
I had hoped my examples would illustrate my point. I will try again. We
must eat. If we eat meat that we hunted, we kill a relatively small number
of animals. If we eat vegetables that we raise it is quite possible that we
kill more animals numerically, because of the need to protect our crop from
rabbits, gophers, birds, deer, and the like. Often farmers have a far more
deleterious impact upon the natural world than hunters, and seek far more to
subject it to their control. It is significant, I think, that the
mythologies of hunting and gathering peoples often see the natural world as
more well disposed towards people than the mythologies of many farming
peoples. If a person in, say, Alaska can hunt for much of his or her
sustenance, it is not immediately obvious to me that they have more negative
impact on nature than a vegetarian who eats organic produce here in
California. Further, if we raise meat animals, and do so with a modicum of
decency, many of the individuals we eat will have lived longer, and in less
fear, than if their equivalents had been born in the wild. If the meat
animals are raised in the plains or similar country, they are raised on land
that should not be farmed for vegetables anyway. The climate is frequently
too dry and unpredictable.
I go into all this to make one point: the ethically best solution does not
simply unambiguously jump out at us. It is difficult to decide sometimes
what is best. And whatever we decide, we may be wrong. That is why I am so
put off by self-righteousness in these cases. That is also why I argue
mindfulness is important.
With regard to excess, actually traditional Inuit people are probably among
the world's most carnivorous. Far more so than us Westerners. It is hard to
grow vegetables in the arctic. If vegetables are imported, as they are
today, it is by means of a technology which has plenty of blood on its hands.
And even among Westerners, Americans are far from the most carnivorous. I
think the Argentines have us beat by a mile.
I once asked myself what I could eat if I were to kill nothing. Milk, honey,
and unfertile eggs were all that came to mind. No woman could survive long
on such a diet (no iron) and men wouldn't do well with it either. Some
people physically need meat. Going on to a high meat low carbohydrate diet
can lead to loss of obesity for some, when low fat diets fail. Certain
people have physical problems being vegetarians. Metabolisms differ among
people more than many think. We have no morally simple solutions here, and I
believe each person should decide for him or herself without having to be
subjected to a self-righteous attack such as accompanied the posting to which
To tread even more on controversial ground, it seems to me that our society
tends to be in denial about death. And so, often enormous energy is expended
denouncing it except in cases when there is truly no choice. The most
passionate vegetarian types who denounce others' eating meat seem similar in
this respect to the anti-abortion types. Both simplify morally ambiguous
situations into simple contests between good and evil. I wish it were so
Which brings me to your last point, about passion. When I said moral passion
was not in itself an argument, I did not say that it was unnecessary. Only
that it was insufficient. To refer again to the abortion issue, there is
plenty of moral passion on both sides. But that passion has not, and will
not, lead to a resolution because the loudest voices on both sides are so
sure that all virtue rests on only one view. Only arguments will decide, and
given the nature of the issue, I think that different people will be
persuaded by different, and often opposing, arguments. Which is why it
should be a matter of choice. The same point holds with eating meat.
I hope at this point my point of view appears to be neither so alien nor so
perplexing as it may have first appeared.