Sunday, March 18, 2012

Meat-Eating Vegans

I think one thing people generally agree with is that people should be consistent to their own values. Even in a world where The Good has been deconstructed and the only common standard people are given is to pursue maximal private personal fulfillment (as long as you don't hurt anyone else)...I think people still have this sort of existentialist meta-value that (by the very nature of what "values" are) people should live by their own.

This is true even if we disagree with people's values. For example, I think even a pro-choicer would think it monstrous for a pro-life person who did believe the unborn were human participate in an abortion. The pro-choicer may not believe this himself, and may think absolutely speaking abortion is fine, but I think they'd still find it evil seeming for someone who believed otherwise to nevertheless participate in one.

We might also use the example of a vegan who believes animals are persons. I am not a vegan and eat meat myself just fine. But if someone who claimed to be a vegan or big animal rights person was caught eating meat, I would think subjectively that they were morally as bad as a murderer, because by their own stated values they should conclude that what they did was participate in murder.

However, some people in these situations use tricky mental gymnastics to justify themselves. For example, I could imagine this meat-eating vegan making an argument something along the lines of: "I personally value animal life as equivalent to human life. However, other people in our pluralistic society do not. As such, I cannot call them murderers for eating meat. But if they aren't murderers for eating meat...that must mean that meat-eating is not intrinsically murder, and if it's not intrinsically murder then ultimately I can do it too!!"

Of course, the hypocrisy and self-justifying delusion here is incredible, and this vegan would rightly be held in contempt by both other vegans who did try to live up to their own standards, but also by meat-eaters who saw the attempt to "have the cake" (of whatever mental or emotional utility claiming to value animal life gives) but also "eat it too" (by also getting the enjoyment of eating meat without the guilt of "murder" by using the non-culpability of meat-eaters based on their values as and excuse for the violation of his own.)

I bring up this hypothetical, because I think this is the form that many moral arguments in pluralism end up taking. Pluralism claims to allow for multiple notions of the good, but in the end by this sort of logic everything gets reduced to lowest common denominators, because most people still instinctively understand that morality really does have to be conceived of as universal, at least objectively, to be considered binding at all.

We might take the example of different sorts of people commit objective sins. The first person, following their natural good instincts, buys into the standard of private self-fulfillment which is the only sort of common unitary standard of the good that our society offers (as I discussed in my last post, the common standard is the lack of a common standard). This person then follows their private maximalization of desire-fulfillment to some sort of objective sin. While misguided, I am not terribly "worried" about this person spiritually, because the "conclusion" they reach is ultimately founded on a fundamentally good orientation. They are doing what they think The Good is, because modern society has "confused" them (and many others) into thinking that The Good = the [private] good, and so in pursuing this thing as a private good, they think they are pursuing The Good, which is at least a good intent, and so subjectively they are probably not culpable.

As a second type, you might have a Marxist or Existentialist academic who understands that The Good and the good are different, and that when our society suggests the private good in place of The Good, when it replaces a standard with the very lack of a standard, when the only rule is "there are no rules" (at least as long as you're not limiting anyone else), it is really only offering a void. This radical academic, however, thinks this is a good thing. They think that The Good was long used to oppress the individual and self-fulfillment and actualization tyrannically, caused alienation or whatever, and therefore embraces the void, embraces the deconstruction of The Good in favor of private goods, and so promotes or pursues things that would be sins according to the standard of The Good on these very grounds. The state of this person's soul worries me more by the fact of their philosophy being subversive and "revolutionary" in a self-aware way, but nevertheless by thinking deconstruction of "The Good" (which they are likely to believe was not objective or natural, anyway, but just an illusion that the powers-that-be created) is a good thing, they are (perhaps ironically) appealing to a meta-value (of Freedom or whatever) that still betrays the basic human instinct to uphold some type of transcendent Good in that form.

However, there is a third type of person who knows that the ideas of the transcendent unitary Good, on the one hand, and the void which only advocates the non-standard of individual private good, on the other, are different...and who, in fact, claims to love The Good (even if in our society it is only possible to do so privately as one good on the idea-market among others)...but who then uses the same sort of logic as our meat-eating vegan from above to justify not living up to that standard. Who says, "Yes, The Good means that I value Reason and meaning and virtue. However, The Good has been reduced to simply one possibility among many in our society, as the only common standard our society offers is the void of having no common standard, the good is now privatized and individualistic. Therefore all those people acting against The Good that I hold cannot be said to be actually sinning, because by the standard of their private good, which they think is the Good...they aren't. However, if this thing isn't a sin for them for that reason, then that means it can't be said to be intrinsically a sin, and if it isn't intrinsically a sin, then it can't really be one for me either, and so therefore I can love The Good while living against it."

Of course, this involves a huge self-justifying leap in the form of assuming that the fact that other people, living consistently within their own value systems, cannot be held culpable for a type of action (because it doesn't contradict those value systems) means that no one can be held culpable for that type of action (even when it is a contradiction by the logic of your own value system). As if the fact that people's own (wrong or misguided) values makes them subjectively unculpable means that we cannot judge the type of action objectively according to our own values. As if pluralism means we can't hold that our Truth is the real one, just because it happens to currently be just one idea among many in a marketplace full of false "truths."

In truth, there is a moral "double standard," inasmuch as even a Relativism that allows a variety of value systems, and thus won't condemn any action absolutely, still is supposed to condemn acting out of accord with the logical implications of ones own value system. Saying that "Society is relativistic, therefore these things can't be condemned absolutely, therefore I can't be condemned at all" is to misunderstand that notion of even just private values. Even a private and relativistic notion of "values" assumes that the person who holds them is supposed to follow them consistently (even if that person doesn't have to hold those particular values).

This leads us to the "lowest common denominator" of consensus in pluralist societies, however, as the law, for example, will only criminalize things that everyone agrees are bad. In a Muslim country pork might be illegal, and the very illegality would help uphold the value system of opposing it. In a pluralist country, however, the idea is that the Muslim might personally oppose pork, but can't impose this value on people who don't, so pork won't be illegal. However, someone who bought into the philosophical implications of pluralism, who understood that under pluralism Islam is only one notion of the good among many, would then see that the fact that pork was not condemned for everyone (ie, those who had different value systems or notions of the good), but only relative to Islam as a value system (but an ultimately "optional" value system)...implies that it is not absolutely or intrinsically wrong.

And the implication of that is that it isn't "really" wrong at all, because most people, even operating in this relativist/pluralist framework, instinctively have an absolute notion of the Good, and so if they are exposed to the attitude that something is only wrong relative to one system of values (but a system of values that is optional in the sense of being one among many possibilities, since society offers no unifying value other than this diversity itself)...soon enough they'll come to conclude that it isn't even wrong relative to that system of values either because, heck, how can something be truly wrong if it isn't absolutely or intrinsically wrong (ie, for everyone)? But without a unitary notion of The Good that one does believe applies "to everyone," very few things will be considered wrong for everyone, and because many people can't make the objective/subjective distinction, soon enough very few things will be considered wrong for anyone.

No comments: