Everyone is opinionated. We all know that. Some are opinionated by not being opinionated. What I have seen most of my friends do, even myself, is to have an explanation for everything we do. What generally happens is that we commit to an act because we want to, and then defend it by setting it up in an environment of reason. I could obviously be wrong here because this is not an articulate case of cause and effect, but both these acts are intricately linked. Why this is on my mind is because I took some important decisions in the past few months.
I remember the numerous Facebook arguments about vegetarianism. It is such an over-discussed topic that all these arguments settle at the tip of your fingers. So I got to the edge of my seat, folded my sleeves and began to fight a horrific typing battle with a lot of my vegetarian friends. Obviously, I was against them. I grew up in a Jain family, so I am a vegetarian myself, but I always made it a point to stress that it was a matter of choice. I put up the worst argument, claiming that no one will accuse a lion of aberrant behaviour when it devours another animal to satisfy itself. To be clear, their argument that a lion has no other choice never really satisfied me. It still doesn’t. I disrespected the animal rights activists, as I was never a supporter of animal rights per se.
Then one day, a friend suggested that I watch “If slaughterhouses had glass doors…” which had been narrated by Paul McCartney. That video is available on YouTube. It is barely ten minutes long, but I ended up more moved than I have rarely ever been. I had only started eating eggs when I came to college, and no one really stopped me. I had only tried chicken once, and I did not like it, probably because I had it in a sandwich (at least that’s what my friends said). But this video made me speechless for a few minutes, to say the least. I realized what I had been guilty of: Ignorance. Day after day, I read and watched more of the meat industry and its cruelty to animals. Before the reader realizes how much of a cliché I have been drawn into, take ten minutes to watch the aforementioned video. Later, I watched “Earthlings”, another documentary about the cruelty to animals. What really happens has escaped the media since such a long time that all we have been misinformed about what animal rights’ activists are probably fighting for. I may or may not support PETA, I truly do not know enough about them, but I do have a sense of empathy to the creatures that share the planet with us. I am not being overly sensitive; you would realize that if you watch pigs being hanged upside down and dipped in boiling hot water alive, or cows so stunted in growth (because of not being given enough space to move and caged in a cage barely the size of your bed for their lifetime) that they cannot support their own weight (fattened for the meat). Poultry has not escaped this torture.
My idea here is not to criticize non-vegetarian people. There are many sociological impressions behind food habits. But it is the hypocrisy that I have seen in people. There have been people I know who refused to watch the video at all. This is ignorance. There were people, who, in spite of watching the videos, have turned a blind eye to them and refused to change. This, I assume, shows the most dangerous characteristic of us humans. Apathy. Apathy has always been considered the sentiment that separates “humans” from psychopaths. The friend who first brought all of this to my notice recently told me to convince him not to buy a leather case for one of his gadgets. I was surprised to say the least. I understand the temptation, but I did not have to think twice when I refused to buy shoes (that I had loved at first sight) as soon as I realized they were made of leather. I am guilty of many crimes too. Cows (in USA) are tortured horribly for their milk. I reckon that does not really happen in India, because milk production is not in the hands of dairy corporate, but local herdsmen and women. Vegan diet consists of no dairy products as well. If there is a time in our country that mass production overruns the local milk production units, and the cows are tortured here as well, I will be force to reconsider my choices. Most vegetarian friends I know who are in the States have not given up drinking milk, I doubt it is as easy as I think. Probably, I wouldn’t either. I would clarify that I would never condemn the dietary choices of anyone who chooses to eat meat, I do not have the moral superiority to, but that there are people who will choose to be ignorant and apathetic rather than make a decision that will change a very fundamental aspect of their life. Granted, I have no idea how hard that choice might be, I have not had to deal with it as much as a non-vegetarian person has to.
What disturbs me is this – my principles will boil down to what is convenient for me. As someone on the way to moral nihilism, I should be the last person to be worried. But it worries me that there are more nihilists in the world than I thought; there are more immoral people in the world than I thought. And no, I am not calling non-vegetarianism immoral. I am calling lethargy immoral. The willingness to sit back and not act is immoral. I do not need assurance from a cynic that the world is a sad place; I think everyone must be aware of it by now. I also do not need naïve assurance to know that the world is still a beautiful place with good people still working to be their best.
Unfortunately, I am as guilty as the butcher who hanged an animal upside down, slit its throat and let it bleed dry, while it was still alive, if not more.