The Morality of Eating Meat, or Why Vegetarianism is a Disease of Civilization

 

 

This is my 600 word essay I submitted to the New York Times Essay Contest on why eating meat is moral. 

 

ld argue that getting eaten by humans is the greatest thing that has ever happened to the species we consume. There are 19 billion chickens, 1.5 billion cows, and over a billion pigs and goats in the world. The fact that we farm and eat these animals has made their species and ours the five most successful vertebrate species ever to walk on land.

But to do so would miss the point of why eating meat is ethical, or better put-it is not unethical.  Any decision about ethics needs to be wrapped in a framework of an ethical theory that makes rational sense.  Unfortunately, none do.  As philosopher Richard Joyce has effectively argued, morality is a myth. Evolutionary psychology reigns.

If a great white shark has a twin, he will eat his brother in the womb. Is this shark unethical for doing so? In a gene-centered view of evolution, this kind of cannibalism is in the shark’s genetic interests.  Not as self-sufficient as our gill-bearing distant cousins, our biology dictates that we are better served to survive and pass on our genes with help of others. Our innate moral preferences are really just the encoded set of behaviors and emotions that helped our ancestors survive and replicate in the millions of years humanoids roamed the earth in a hunter-gatherer existence. We do not eat our brothers when we are young because we need them to help hunt woolly mammoths when we grow up.

This is not to say that humans can’t have subjective wishes for their own life. Like to be happy and healthy. Or make rational choices to increase our well being with other’s we share society with. But it does mean that there is no objective binding force that requires us to live our lives in such a way. And subsequently, there is no binding force that would require humans to devote their efforts to the emotions of non-human animals who can’t reciprocate in the social contract.

Visit any extant hunter-gatherer society in Africa or the Amazon and you will find the happiest, healthiest, and psychologically well-adjusted people on earth. You will also see they have absolutely no qualms about killing animals.  They innately know that humans in their group are to be loved and respected and other animals are food.  Pygmy children will start hunting small game around the camp as early as age three.

The vast majority of people living in modern society today have never killed a creature larger than an insect.  This discord between modern society and the environment of our evolutionary adaptation has led to a situation where we have become overly sensitized to the cycle of life.  While our ancestors shot wildlife with arrows, the majority of our interactions with animals today comes in form of having pets. In vegetarians, the mechanisms in the human brain designed to feel empathy for fellow tribesman has become misplaced and spilled over to mammals once relegated to things we eat.

From the perspective of raising our own subjective well-being, it is hard to see how this misplaced empathy is anything but a psychological defect.  The meat eater feels plenty of joy while eating a nice cut of steak. The vegetarian, ostensibly feels disgust at this same action. Perhaps one day vegetarianism will be placed alongside heart disease, cancer and the other diseases of civilization.  As Nietzsche famously put it over a century ago, the moralists say little about objective ethics, but revealed much of their own psychology.

Video of the Happy Tribal Islanders of Tanna

Here is a video I edited from the television show “Meet the Natives” (both the UK and US version).  The premise of the show was to go a remote Island in the South Pacific to meet a bunch of tribal people still living in ignorance of the modern world. The show’s producers would then fly these natives around the U.S and U.K and see what they thought about our modern life.

While they obviously learned a lot about our culture, I think we learned even more from them, and what they had to say about the way we live is FASCINATING.

 

 

Here are just a few of the many things that I love about this video..

0:45  – The infectious excitement of this old man.  “Ehh seoo seoo deooo! Ehh seoo seoo deoo!!”

0:57 – The village has a designated ‘Happy Man’, whose job is to go around and make sure everyone is in a good mood.

1:36 – Their one piece of clothing is called a ‘penis sheath’.

3:05 – Their absolute shock that people in modern times don’t walk around smiling and happy. This is telling, they find it shocking that people aren’t friendly and happy? Like..What is going on here? Just goes to show that their normal day is filled with good cheer.

4:50 – Kuai jokes that he is only helping his friend build a house so that they can drink the psychedelic root Kava afterwards.

6:35 – Tribal man reveals his secret of happiness.

7:10 – After seeing all the wonders of modern technology, their final conclusion is that the English should go back to living a more traditional life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Purpose of Your Life

In this post: You will learn the way of life that would bring you the maximum amount of meaning and purpose imaginable. But I don’t want to give you false hopes, you won’t be be able to achieve it.  Although, ironically, this way of life was the default for the vast majority of human existence.

First let us distinguish between two separate questions.

1.What is the purpose of life; why is there anything living at all?

and..

2. How do you find purpose and meaning in your life?

The first question was answered around 150 years ago when a man named Charles Darwin developed the Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection. For a mindblowing and lucid account of the purpose of life, especially the purpose of human life check out the chapter “Why are people?” in Richard Dawkins seminal book “The Selfish Gene”.

Since the tag team of Darwin and Dawkins has already handled that question so magically I want to move on to what is a more personal if not more important question.

How do you find purpose and meaning in your life?

When people ask how do they find purpose and meaning in life, they are asking something akin to – what should I do with my life? What could I being doing that would make me excited to get up in the morning? What career path would give me satisfaction at a deep psychological level?

Here is your answer. It will also be the answer to almost every health and happiness question that will come up in your life.

You are designed to do what is needed to survive and replicate your genes. Your body has a built in reward system that gives you the feelings of purpose, meaning, health, and happiness by accomplishing the tasks that increase your ability to survive and replicate.

The problem with finding meaning and purpose in life in modern society is two-fold. 1)We have too many choices about what to do for work that we are caught up in a paradox of choice. 2)The activities that we engage in are hardly recognized by our body as contributing to our survival and replicating value (SRV).

Our hunter-gatherer ancestors had no decision to make about what they were going to do for their ‘careers’.  They didn’t have to decide whether they wanted to be insurance salesmen, writers, lawyers, accountants, or strippers. While we often think having a number of options to choose from is a good thing, psychologists have recently shown that when faced with too many choices, people actually get stressed out. See psychologist Barry Schwartz ‘s excellent book The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less for an in depth analysis of the topic.

Gonga, a living member of the Hadzabe tribe Africa had this to say about who he was. “Only when I am sleeping, I am not a hunter. I am a hunter all the time I am awake. That is what I am and who I am. I kill animals for meat.”

Hunting (or gathering for women) is the original career choice of human life.  There is a direct connection between the necessity to hunt and the end goal of eating food.  With any other job in modern society the degrees of separation take away from it’s meaning. This is problem number 2. The reward system to motivate us towards actions that are beneficial for our SRV evolved during our days in the African Savannah, not for our complex modern world where the work you do today is far removed from what your body knows to be beneficial for your SRV.

Imagine you are a bank teller. You help people withdraw and deposit money from their accounts. You sit behind a counter, press buttons on a computer.  You don’t particularly enjoy this job, you do this so that you can get paid, so that you can have money to buy food at a market that you can go home and eat.  Although by being a bank teller you are increasing your SRV you body hardly recognizes it as such.

Being a bank teller in order to earn funds to go to the store to buy food with is not as visceral a purpose as hunting. I am hungry, I must find an animal, engage in a life or death battle with it. Kill it, then eat it. I’ll bring it home to the tribe, where the women will be grateful for the danger I have put myself in to bring them this delicious source of protein, and they will sleep with me for it.

We are all searching for a job,  a purpose that replicates hunting and gathering. We just aren’t aware of it.  People often say things like “I want to do something meaningful.” Jobs that are often described as meaningful are jobs that help other people, being a nurse or a teacher, running a non-profit organization.

What could be more meaningful than feeding your hungry tribe? Your family and friends who you have known your entire life? To put food in your hungry belly and theirs? There cannot be a job more meaningful than hunting or gathering.

Imagine a conversation on finding purpose and meaning in life between you and Gonga.

You: “I want to do something exciting,”

Gonga: “What could be more exciting than fighting a wild animal in a game of life or death?”

You: “I want to do something that is intellectually challenging.”

Gonga: “Have you ever learned how to track game? Can you tell where that antelope will be by footprint he left in the dirt?”

You: “I can’t handle the monotony of my job!”

Gonga: “Today we hike into the forests for wild boar, in a few days we will fish by the river, than we will set traps to catch these birds.”

You: “I don’t like my co-workers or my boss.”

Gonga: “I hunt with my friends and cousins. My wife gathers food with her sisters and friends. They will laugh and gossip. “

You: “I spend most of my day sitting in front of a computer screen. Ruining my eyes and getting fat.”

Gonga: “I hike everyday in beautiful nature. I often stare out in the distant horizon, I am lean and muscular.”

You: “Work is stressful. I want to do something different, but I can’t risk losing my paycheck.”

Gonga: “I love to hunt. I don’t even have a word in my vocabulary that corresponds to work.”

….. So now you have your answer. You want your life to be infused with meaning and purpose? Become a hunter-gatherer in a remote tribe in the African bush.

Easier said than done of course.