When I was a kid my parents gave me a logic game for my birthday. It came with a little hourglass (so players could actually time how logical they were) and an instruction book that was a couple of hundred pages long and read like a computer programming manual. I think the purpose of the game was to hone the minds of the younger generation so we would be equipped to deal with the communist threat.
Anyway, after ten minutes with this game, I found out I wasn't very good at logic. I was better at sleeping. If the free world depended on the likes of me, we'd all be eating blintzes and borscht by lunchtime.
As I've grown older—living as a vegetarian in a meat-eating world—I've been constantly reminded of how bad I am at this logic stuff. Sometimes it seems that, when it comes to diet and the way we treat animals, almost everyone is living by a whole different set of rules. I can't figure them out. (If you're a vegetarian, I bet you've got the same problem!)
One thing I have noticed over the years, though, is that the incomprehensible logic as practiced by our meat-eating society manifests itself in certain recognizable patterns—certain omnivorous "rules of logic," if you will. Here are a few of my favorites.
- We should pay folks to do things we don't like. Whether the debate is about controlling the onslaught of waste from hog "farms" in Colorado, or limiting fishing to protect salmon populations in the Northwest, the arguments against taking action are always the same: "If we do this, we'll lose jobs." Okay, I hate to see people unemployed as much as the next guy (I have intimate experience with this myself!), but why should we continue to pay these folks to do something destructive. Is this logical?
- The reason we do it this way is because we've always done it this way. Let's see… people eat cottage cheese when they're on a diet, "chicken" soup when they're sick, hot-dogs (with none of the fixings) at the ballpark, a ham for Easter dinner, and cow's milk when they need something "healthy." Has anyone really given any thought to this? Do people really enjoy this stuff, or are they just going through the motions???
- It's what you think, not what you do—good intentions are all that matters. We vegetarians are tired of hearing about the good intentions of the meat-eaters around us. By their logic, they all have the healthiest and most compassionate diets in the world. Sure.
[…Hey, wait a second. I had some good intentions myself. Wasn't I going to get up at five every morning to ride my exercise bicycle, read Milton, and iron my socks? And didn't I sleep in today and eat chocolate for breakfast? Okay, so maybe this is one perverted rule of logic that isn't unique to meat-eaters.]
- It doesn't count unless people are involved. I found a great example of this on the radio news the other day. There was an environmental story about the dwindling population of salmon in an Idaho river. The activist they interviewed was very upset. Her concern: she wanted fish in the river so her son could get out the old rod and reel—and kill them.
- Meat-eating is good—this is beyond question. Even a knot-head like me can figure this one out. It goes like this: "Meat-eating is humankind's most barbaric behavior. Meat-eating is okay by definition. Ergo, everything else must be okay too!" (The logic guys love to use Latin words like ergo.)
For a classic example of this look no further than the current debate over "xenotransplantation" (Logicians like Greek too!), the raising of animals to supply replacement body parts for transplantation into humans. I was amazed the other day when I read the results of a CNN poll, finding that only 17% of the people responding found any ethical problem with this practice. And what about those ethical problems? They were analyzed for us in a recent article by Jeffrey P. Kahn, the Director of the University of Minnesota's Center for Bioethics.
According to Dr. Kahn, there may be some humanitarian concerns if the "xenotransplanted" organs come from fun animals like dogs and chimpanzees, but those problems magically go away if they come from the kinds of animals we eat. If we can, say, genetically alter pigs that are raised for food to also produce the kinds of organs we humans need, that makes it all okay. At that point the only "ethical" issues remaining are how safe the procedures will be (Safe for the humans, that is—i.e., can we get mad cow disease?) and how people will feel about eating genetically-altered "bacon."
Let me see if I've got this straight. We might care a little bit about the animals if we're only killing them to save a human life, but we don't have to care at all about killing them for the pure pleasure of putting something supremely unhealthy on our BLTs?
I'm sure the good folks at the University of Minnesota pay Dr. Kahn a lot of money for these insights. As for me though… well, I just don't understand the logic.