Sunday, February 8, 2015

Soy Calculus? Hypocrisy and Ethics

Do you ever feel like your vegan or vegetarian friends are a little touchy sometimes? Ever feel like someone is being curious, and your friend is acting like they are personally under attack?
Well, one of the reasons is that we are constantly bombarded by bad faith arguments, that are laughably bad, and that we are expected to take seriously. Here is an article that I recently saw on my facebook wall.
In the article, the argument is made that after America, soy production is the highest in Brazil, and that it often involves destroying rain forests to produce land for soy production. And that further, vegans and vegetarians eat a lot of soy, so our dietary needs are not pure and innocent. All true.
But the article itself is totally absurd. It admits that only 6% of all soy produced is consummed directly by humans. Only six percent. The article admits that most of the soy produced is feed directly to livestock. Indeed, in the same article that claims 6% is consumed directly by humans, it points out that 85% is consumed by livestock. So, in an article when all of the facts points to a strong pro-vegetarian/vegan argument, somehow the article furthers an anti-vegetarian/vegan. Straightforwardly the argument should go: Soy production sometimes destroys rain forests. 85% of soy is produced to give to livestock. We should become vegans to significantly lower soy production and demands. But rather somehow this becomes an argument is the opposite direction. This is perplexing, until you realize that these sorts of arguments have absolutely nothing to do with figuring out hard ethical truths, or advancing a vision of a better world, or even figuring out reality. Rather, these arguments are about alleviating guilt, about creating the thinest form of excuse for someone to give in to their addictive and harmful life habits. Once we understand this, the arguments make sense. They are a game of ethical tag, in which the person advancing them is able to prove that the vegan or vegetarian are not pure. It matters not at all if purity or innocence has ever been brought up in these discussions. This is because the arguments being advanced are not concerned with attacking vegetarianism or veganism per se, but rather with attacking the vegan or the vegetarian. They are aimed at delegitimizing the vegan and vegetarian as ethical actors, aimed at erasing our being. This is why vegans and vegetarians are so defensive when arguments are being made, because almost all of the arguments being advanced are meant to be attacks on the vegetarian or vegan as such. It is about turning us into hypocrites so the one attacking can feel better about themselves.
I know I am an hypocrite. My guess is that you (whoever you are) know you are, too. One of the great evils of systemic violences is that those of us who are privileged from such violence (whites with racism, humans with speciesism, men with sexism, straights with heterosexism, etc, always the etc). To care, to give a damn, to try and be ethical or political, requires being a hypocrite. Because the individual cannot singularly overcome the contradictions of the systemic. While we cannot overcome the contradictions, our twinned tasks of short circuiting the systemic violences while building alternative communities and worlds are still left to us.

(h/t to Robert S. for the title of the blog post. But I really liked Dianne B's suggested other title: What are my shoes made of? Why don't you bite me?).