Politics can be frustrating. Indeed, it was during the last Presidential election that I heard a number of my friends complain, "How can anyone vote for that guy?!" Now, while I won't disclose exactly which candidate "that guy" was, I am pretty sure that a lot of people on the other side of the fence were saying, "How can anyone vote for that other guy?!"
The fact of the matter is that in American politics some people are going to vote for the conservative candidate every time, and some other people are going to vote for the liberals, and there's nothing that anyone is going to be able to do to change either of their minds. Using computer terminology, you might say that people are "hardwired" to favor one position or the other.
I've found that the same principle applies to the age-old debate between meat-eaters and vegetarians. Some people think it's right and good to eat the flesh of other animals, and there's nothing we vegetarians are going to do to change their minds. Pleas for the rights of the animals eaten, or even for mercy to save them from pain, will go unheeded. Arguments about the effect of diet on the global environment will be ignored. And even attempts to address their self-centered interest in their own health will be scoffed at by these meat-eaters. They're "hardwired" to eat meat, and no amount of "software" programming can change that.
I must say that this frustrates me and my vegetarian friends to no end. "How can they be this way?" we ask. "How can they 'not get it'?" "Don't they care at all???"
It's certainly tempting for us vegetarians to make value judgments about "hardwired" meat-eaters. It's easy for us to see them as unfeeling, selfish and anthropocentric. But, of course, all of this totally ignores their viewpoint.
From a hardwired meat-eater's perspective vegetarianism makes no sense at all. They think it's ridiculous to deny oneself the pleasure of eating meat. Moreover, it's antisocial, impolite, and generally makes a big fuss over something trivial. As much as we vegetarians think meat eating is wrong, hardwired meat-eaters think vegetarianism is just plain stupid.
Where does "hardwiring" to one point of view or the other begin? Well, while there may well be a genetic component, I have to think that most of the process happens after birth. What you end up believing will in all likelihood be greatly influenced by what your parents teach you.
Recently, I participated in an animal rights rally that required me to hold up a sign depicting an animal in some human-induced distress. (To be more specific, it was a calf taking part in a rodeo. Let's just say this poor guy's neck—with a rope around it—was headed in a different direction than his body!) It was interesting to see the reaction of children to this sign. I saw uniform expressions of shock and disapproval on their faces, while at the same time their parents had the equally uniform reaction of hurrying them away from my presence. Will most of these kids grow up hardwired against vegetarianism? You can bet on it.
So, which side is right—the hardwired vegetarians, or the hardwired meat-eaters? Of course we all like to think we're right. And certainly from a vegetarian perspective there are some compelling scientific and ethical arguments to support our point of view. But, to tell you the truth, I'm not certain. Meat-eaters certainly believe that the human pleasure that comes from eating meat outweighs the cruelty to animals, destruction of the environment and human health consequences that meat-eating necessarily causes. I can't say they're wrong, because I simply can't understand their viewpoint, any more than they can understand mine. We're hardwired in opposite polarities.
Of course, in vegetarianism, just like politics, there's a big middle ground of people who aren't necessarily hardwired in one direction or the other. Like most vegetarians, I've had plenty of experience with meat-eaters who were more than happy to espouse vegetarian principles and eat a vegetarian diet in my presence, while going back to their omnivorous ways among others. Actually, I think most people are probably this way. Our battles, just like their political counterparts, will be won or lost by who commands this vast undecided group.
Right now we're losing. Actually, we're losing horribly. But we shouldn't give up the fight. If we concentrate on the undecided voter—or rather, eater—we have a chance to eventually win over the majority. But there's no sense in trying to appeal to those who are hardwired against us. Sadly, they simply can't, and will never be able to, understand our position. We may as well agree to disagree—at least until we can find a brain surgeon with a very large pair of wire cutters.