You know what we haven’t had in a good, long while? A proper rant. So never fear, intrepid reader, I have come to complain about something which has almost no bearing upon your life and, likewise, will not leave you the better for reading. We are to embark upon sweet Apollo’s curses which seem to serve as nothing more than petty time wasters.
Or something. The Ancient Greek Pantheon moves in mysterious ways. But mostly it’s just a lot of gods turning into animals in order to tempt humans into inter-species intercourse.
As a speculative fiction writer, I often spend my thoughts on the future and potential directions it may take. I wonder of the impact of certain new trends or technologies and the complex relationship humans have with the world. On the inverse side, I am also interested in retroactive perceptions and how we got to this very moment in society, how things may have advanced differently and whether past trends could have led to alternative outcomes. There are a lot of ‘what if’ scenarios and deep consideration of one idea or philosophy and the cascading effect it may have on everything else.
I know I’m not alone in these musings for I have read discussions of other people debating these topics. Invariably, one is drawn to the concept of cultural relativism wherein a person’s beliefs and attitudes should be accounted for within the environment they inhabited. This isn’t a rant against cultural relativism, however. It is, instead, a rant against the hilariously misappropriation of cultural relativistic thought in one very specific application.
I’m going to discuss how incredibly asinine it is to argue that eating meat is somehow a great moral failing that will be harshly judged by future societies.
So if you’re an ethical vegan, I’m sorry I’m going to offend you right now. Take that apology for what it’s worth. I appreciate your dedication to your own moral code but your visions of the future are, simply put, absurd.
I do appreciate the attempt at self-reflection. It’s a mental exercise that I feel is sorely underused by many people. To try and picture what a future will look like then apply those later value judgements back on yourself can be a worthy thought experiment for identifying potential behaviours or feelings that are problematic now and can be thusly addressed. For example, I think it’s fair to say that transgender issues will be far better received in the future than they are now while they break into the general public consciousness. As such, I think it’s equally fair to say that future generations will look back and be baffled why we struggled with acceptance towards this issue much like we look back and are aghast how prior generations viewed race relationships.
I also think our relationship between capital and labour will shift as economic theories and practices adjust for new technologies and modes of life. In a similar vein, I’m certain teens will read textbooks and be confused about our consumerist culture just as we are equally baffled the mercantilism and the need to hoard silver and gold.
I don’t, however, think future peoples are going to wonder how it was that we ever dared put the flesh of other living creatures in our mouths. Largely because I don’t believe that future societies are going to be stupid. Or, at the very least, they won’t be that stupid.
I feel this idea that meat eating will someday be vilified arises from a person’s own personal feelings clouding their ability to forecast the feelings of others. I know I’m constantly surprised people don’t think like me but that spurs me to try and understand why perspectives and feelings differ not double down that my vision is right and everyone else will eventually reach its inevitable conclusion.
Now, I recognize this rant is levied against an obvious minority opinion but maybe it can provide insight into why other views may not be adopted by future societies as well. But there’s a clear difference between something like Transgender Rights and veganism. The largest being the one is based solely on communal acceptance and the second requires a large change of society’s functioning with regards to technological development.
No vegan thinks that humans are naturally herbivores. To be educated enough to balance your diet solely based on macro and micro-nutrients derived from plant matter necessitates a great amount of dietary restraint plus a heavy investment in time and commitment. You won’t survive simply chowing down on nothing but carrots and lettuce. Furthermore, the variety of plant matter is clearly not naturally found in one location and if you know all the minute plants that carry the necessary iron and protein (or heavens if you’re taking obvious supplements) then you know our bodies simply are not adapted to a plant-based diet.
Can it be done? Of course. Do I think it’ll be done more prominently in the future on a large, industrial scale? Actually, to a degree, I do. I think there is a valid argument towards the lower environmental impact of a plant based diet compared to one heavily based around meat. But such a widespread transition isn’t going to be based on the complete lack of understanding of why meat eating existed prior. I also think that the only way to get wide scale adaptation of this kind of diet will require laboratory produced protein replacements.
In this way, we don’t have the technology to change people’s diets to a healthier alternative on such a massive scale yet. When it happens it’ll be like the implementation of the car in society. I’m sure it’ll have a large impact on the agricultural industry and climate. It might even change society so it’s entirely unrecognisable to us now. But it won’t render those who live in it the inability to understand that, prior to the widespread infrastructure for lab grown meat, people had to make do without such benefits.
Ask someone now how life might have looked like without a car and they’ll probably accurately predict that people moved around a whole lot less than we do now. They might not be able to imagine living without such convenience but it’s not like they can’t imagine a society existing without it.
This is contrasted with, say, slavery. For a lot of us, the absolute cruelty and inhumanity of enslaving people is so foreign that even conceiving of it is impossible. Movies recounting the barbarism and brutality of the slave trade sounds unbelievable. We may have the documents and artists may attempt to recapture the conditions but even with the evidence and visual aids, it’s still inconceivable to think that one in five of the people brought onto slave ships ended up dead and pitched overboard.
I can understand conflating meat eating to something like slavery if you object on the former due to moral grounds. They seem like similar issues derived simply from the inhuman philosophies of the people who perform them. But whereas humans have evolved to eat meat, humans didn’t evolve to enslave each other. One action is pretty instinctive to the point where blame would not be levied against a vegan if, say, she were stranded in the wilderness and had catch small game or steal eggs to keep herself alive. Humans may have developed conscience enough to consider the moral impacts of their diet but it doesn’t change the fact that it requires going against the requirements of their body.
This isn’t to say just because we’re adapted to it we should do it. As I’ve said, there’s good reasons for a wide scale adoption of vegan diets. But if such a change comes, it will be with an understanding of why such changes hadn’t been implemented before. Wherein the justifications for the cruelty to one another based solely on differences that do neither harm to others or society are less empathetic. In this way, the discrimination of our fellows stands apart. Just as we struggle to accept LGBT individuals into society now due systemic harmful ideology, so too will future generations be baffled by cruel punishment to other sentient entities with, perhaps, the development of true artificial intelligence.
Ultimately, while our empathy stretches far, the struggle to get it to encompass all of humanity makes it extremely unlikely for people to fail to understand why it didn’t at one time extend to fish.