Wrap Up on Moral Superiority
Yesterday, two things happened in addition to Violet coming close to death while I was 770 miles away:
1. Dan reminded me of something I haven’t heard in a while, but is very important to address: that we are "imposing our beliefs" on others by educating, raising awareness, and encouraging people to question why they do what they do. From the vantage point of the vegan, and I submit also from any attempt at objectivity, it is indeed the opposite. Everywhere we go, every time we turn on the radio or the TV, and certainly virtually every time we enter a restaurant, we are bombarded with a specific message with regard to nonhuman animals. That message is: It’s not just okay to eat, wear and use animals–it’s American! And if you’re not with us, you’re against us! There is, in fact, something wrong with you if you don’t use animals. Is there some kind of religion that forces such harsh restrictions on you (yeah, it’s called nonviolence)? What happened to you to make you this way?
The world is a hostile place to vegans, constantly shoving images of dead sentient beings in our faces, constantly lying to us about where food comes from, telling us cows and chickens and pigs live in luxury, making it difficult to purchase a luxury car that doesn’t have the skin of a handful of cows lining it. Our schools don’t have adequate (or any) nonviolent options for children in their cafeterias. We are not the ones imposing our beliefs. We are simply asserting ours and encouraging you to think about yours.
2. Next, Wronald sent a chapter of a book he is writing. The chapter is about animal rights and animal welfare and he has said I may pilfer wildly. What I would like to do is present some of the chapter, verbatim, and welcome you to comment.
We can start by defining righteousness as being morally correct or upright. Self–righteousness, then, at a minimum, means that one is confident of one’s righteousness. It means one believes—or, more strongly—that one is certain or totally correct about one’s opinions, ideas, and behaviors. But most definitions add an extra layer or two, extending the meaning to indicate a moral superiority over and an intolerance of the opinions, ideas, and behaviors of others. Describe that intolerance as smugly or narrow-mindedly moralistic, furthermore to an irritating degree, and you’ve got the whole enchilada.
Does the definition fit? I think generally it doesn’t apply to vegans in their normal interactions with you omnivores. If we talk about ourselves, you take it as a judgment of you. For instance, if you ask Joe Vegan why he doesn’t eat dairy products, and he talks about how they needlessly cause cruelty, death, environmental damage, world hunger, and ill health, you feel judged because you’re still suckling at the bovine teat, as it were. Or you may feel judged by Joe’s very presence if he eats with you, as though there’s something wrong with your food (which there is), although he says nothing about what you’re eating. Just by being there, he reminds you that it is possible for people, including you, to make a conscientious effort to minimize their roles in the web of life as an agency of death. It’s possible, but you’re not doing it. He is a beacon of righteousness in your dark world.
. . .
If I’m self-righteous, I’ve earned it. I have researched all the reasons why my way of life a better way. Veganism is above all a moral imperative. If I seem to write from a place of moral supremacy, it’s because I’m writing about an ethically superior way to relate to our fellow creatures. It is inherently difficult, if not impossible, given that self-righteousness means at its core making a judgment about morality, to discuss the ethics of animal exploitation (I’m using “exploitation” in this sentence in the non-judgmental sense of utilization) without making the exploiters feel that we vegans are passing judgment on them.
Unless, like me, you have fully considered your way of life, you have earned your self-satisfaction with your cruel lifestyle only by sloth. Underlying the accusation of self-righteousness is the assumption that the accused is not morally superior in his actions or beliefs, despite his opinion of his supposed virtues. If you want to call me self-righteous, do your homework so that you can determine whether your way of life stands on firm ground or on a moral foundation of quicksand. Compare the vegan diet and lifestyle I recommend with the way of life to which you have succumbed via the three “shuns,” or have chosen consciously. Examine the evidence for yourself to decide whether consuming animal products is kinder, more environmentally sustainable, more healthful, and feeds more of the world’s hungry than Wronald’s way. Better me: approach the question honestly, endeavoring not to justify your position (as I admit I have done), but neutrally in search of the truth. Or, if you’re going to have a bias, be aware of it, and decide if your bias reflects your values, as mine does for me. I don’t mind my ahimsa bias. Do you mind having a self-serving bias that seeks to justify causing suffering and death because you are habituated to consuming animal products and don’t want to change?
When you’re done with your research, if you determine that your present way of life is better, that my ethical standards are no higher than yours, that people, animals, and the planet benefit from your reliance on animal products, you can state your case, and write your own book if you like, giving all the reasons why I’m all wet. Socrates said, “An unexamined life is not worth living.” I posit that it is of utmost importance to examine this aspect of your life because of the enormous impacts of your choice to be dependent on animal products.
UPDATE: Wronald is not the same person as Ron, and there may have initially been some confusion about that in the comments.