Before I get down to share the communications, I feel compelled to make two disclaimers. First this post is far from being an evangelical plea for conversion and I pray that it is not interpreted as innuendo towards non-vegetarians. I believe that there is a certain room for reason and debate without doubt; but considering the spirit of the time I would rather lose friends on differences over something like religious tolerance/societal ethics than differences over food habits. The second disclaimer is slightly more specific. On the occasion of one particular e-mail reply (which shall appear later in the essay), I invoke the theme of evolutionary advantage and briefly touch upon the subject of 'rape' in that context. Since this was meant to be a discussion among close friends, I did not bother to elaborate that part of my response;but posting it here, I fear misinterpretation from my readers. Therefore, I shall briefly elaborate on what I mean by rape as being 'evolutionarily advantageous' in the following paragraph before embarking on the posts.
An action or a characteristic is referred to as evolutionarily advantageous if it is able to aid the propagation of the genes associated with the individual organism involved in the act or possessing the characteristic (Dawkins, Diamond). Therefore, the similarity of appearance of a cuckoo egg or a cuckoo fledgling with the corresponding egg and fledgling of another specie like a crow is evolutionarily advantageous for the genes of a mother cuckoo for she can successfully transfer the maternal responsibility to another and ensure that her progeny survives and thrives (see The Selfish Gene). Moreover, this characteristic is genetically passed down from generation to generation. It may be inferred that a mutant cuckoo not possessing the set of genes responsible for such a camouflage would be unsuccessful in bluffing the crow. Unless the mutant cuckoo changes its maternal habits and realizes the compulsion of tending to its own children, it is likely to perish (and soon the class of mutants will disappear from the gene pool). It is with this understanding of 'evolutionary advantage', that I state my view that 'rape' has evolutionary incentives for the male provided he is capable to escape arrest every time he commits the act. The reason we do not find too many rapists around is because strong social disincentives exist against rape in human society- the possibility of arrest and severe punishment, the possibility of becoming a social outcast forever. With possibilities of abortion (which are distinctly human developments) there is a strong probability that the progeny resulting from a rape might not see the light of the day. Therefore, with these disincentives combined with the so called evolutionary incentives, a man possibly finds it more prudent to assimilate into society than try be an outcast rapist. Here, I feel the need to flash another yellow light. I am not undermining the body of ethics and morals that has evolved over the years in our society and become a part of the human psyche. I do not say that they exist only on paper. It is indeed a fantastic thought to imagine that such sophisticated concepts have assimilated into our consciousness leading to an overall stable society than what might have been possible if everyone was left to purely genetic instincts. With this, I begin the series of correspondences (I have withheld the names of those involved for I haven't taken their permission to post this. With their agreement, the names shall be disclosed :-) ):
The following mail was sent on the group. My request to all the readers is to definitely check it out:
it's a veg propaganda website!!! :-O waise, i've visited a chicken-farm... conditions are nowhere near as bad as portrayed here. this is probably like "the worst" extreme of the whole thing and nowhere near the mean. comments?
Reply 2 (Karthik):
well, whatever it is, the video left me disturbed. The point is such things are happening somewhere; in this phase of our civilization we do not worry about these questions as much as we worry about racism, casteism etc - which I guess were 'not so' important issues a couple of hundred years ago. The zeitgeist (german: spirit of the time) keeps shifting from century to century and I guess this particular issue will become more expedient when our children will be of our age.
@Karthik. that was precisely what i was thinking. i was all the time putting Humans through the same treatment in my head and i was thinking why does this sort of thing not generate the same kind of outrage. I mean they are struggling as much as a human would. There is nothing different about their reaction. only that they cannot speak English or something like it. A bunch of scientists were trying to synthesize muscle tissue in labs. I don't think this sort of thing will stop until we have an alternate. Evolutionarily speaking there is nothing wrong with it. and logically thinking evolution is paramount and our emotions nothing but evolutionary artifacts designed to make the human population thrive. Then speaking memetically can such a mass movement like not eating meat really gain any sort of mass popularity.
@Reply 2: well these are conditions on a Meat farm in the U.S and represent the max in capitalist tendencies where the minutest shreds of humanity are removed. The push towards farms like these in India is not a good sign. i was talking to PD yesterday and i came to the conclusion that it is the capitalist system to blame. Its value system is very skewed and it does not take a lot of things worth consideration into account.
Reply 4 (Karthik):
Your point about evolution is interesting. Allow me to try and elaborate my views on the same. I shall keep away from making moral judgments on veggies and non-veggies and let the moral zeitgeist take its natural course.
(Please refer to the disclaimer paragraph mentioned earlier)
Evolutionarily speaking, one might propose many such cogent arguments. Like I told you the other day, it is of immense evolutionary advantage for a male human to go around raping every other woman that he can set his eyes on, being smart enough to avoid competition with other male competitors of course. And this commonly happens in the animal kingdom. A commonplace situation in the animal kingdom is where a strong male member empowers the female and engages in intercourse against her wishes.
Let me digress and give you another example. Consider an animal such as a lion or a cheetah. Do we see it killing indiscriminately? It is often found in the animal kingdom that predators kill only to feed, and do not indulge in excesses. I am not suggesting that this leads us to believe that the particular lion has evolved to think like a hermit but nonetheless saying that its instincts have evolved in order to avoid excess and wastage; too much indiscriminate killing might lead to the extinction of the prey (Lotka-Volterra predator-prey equation anyone :-)?), natural selection has programmed their genes keeping this in mind. On the other hand one does find examples of genocide and massacre in the animal kingdom not between predators and preys but between two different groups of a particular specie itself. 'Gangwars' are known to happen between two different chimpanzee groups where the victors are even known to indulge in cannibalism. The females of the vanquished are, of course, conveniently assimilated into the new group.
Now why am I saying this? To justify parallel human behaviour? Rather the opposite. The very fact that we are able to rationalize these things suggests something. Humans are probably the only species (probably the foremost among a certain small set of species) where social behaviour has come in such close competition with genetic instincts. Our memes are competing with our genes. In the crudest sense, a rape is probably a great thing for both the male and the female - The male chooses whom to rape (it is likely that he will choose someone with good features) and the average female victim is actually extremely lucky evolutionarily because it is only the powerful male who will be able to overpower her as compared to other midgets. But then we have evolved sophisticated concepts like individual freedom, schools of thought like feminism, non-violence, animal rights that suit our appetite for a life with a much higher degree of complexity in the thinking domain in addition to an already existing inconceivable web at the physiological level. When we help an unknown inconsequential beggar on the street, when we share our food with the needy whom we know are going to be of no use to us if at all we fell in some need of our own in the future, when we talk about animal rights, when we respect the women in our society, when we spend time and money to help the superannuated among us fight deadly diseases, when we adopt a child of someone else's we are in possibly many ways going against evolution (at the micro level). But that's a part of being human; and in that sense we are unique. I cannot say if there is some fantastically universal motive behind all this seemingly irreconcilable behaviour. But it seems we do many things that are contrary to the evolutionary paradigms that are agreed upon today.
To conclude, our moral and ethical evolution seems extremely contrapositive to what should be our genetic instincts. I find it immensely beautiful to think about this. I do agree that there are many gaps in my arguments and we might one day reconcile all kinds of behaviour with a unifying theory. But nonetheless it is interesting to see that we are capable of extending our consciousness to other living things to such a great degree- hence compassion, empathy etc. Let me end here with this open string :-) and leave you with an interesting link about a campaign that had got me intrigued when I read about it first a year ago in "The Devil's Chaplain"- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki
Am totally in agreement with you regarding the fact that memes are probably competing with our genes. in fact in modern human society evolution by natural selection has probably died down. What struck me about that piece was the fact that. Not only are we evolutionarily predisposed to violence, but our qualities which are responsible for us not doing so, like empathy, natural justice etc, are also products of evolution. They exist in some sense to make co-operative living possible and are thus evolutionary artifacts. We might easily have been otherwise. It just made me think that the loudest things in my head are products of accident. which is something i find difficult to wrap my head around. Hopefully the memes will trump the genes on in epic battle. Also i agree with your other points too. Concerning he great apes project, why are they drawing the line at apes? Can not dogs and dolphins also feel the same way?? it's highly plausible that they might.
call that a beginning, I would say :-). A universal evangelical plea might reach deaf years; if one is including dogs, he might as well include poultry, cows and pigs which certainly wont be amenable to many people in this world.
Views of another friend:
This one, a very close friend of mine is incidentally a convert :-). He raises a lot of interesting points in the very short mail that follows. I have highlighted the sentences that I found the most intriguing. At the same time, I believe the second paragraph is something that should be taken notice of.
I still think that food pyramid is a better argument in being a vegetarian. It only appeals to human suffering and not the animal suffering (which many people may not connect to). The thing I find the most disturbing is that meat eating people are not willing to face the cruelty of the killing. Even if the animal is killed in the most decent way, people do not want to see/mention/talk about that, leave alone these farms. I see this as plain hypocrisy. I myself (in an obviously superior position of being a vegetarian :P) always tried to cope up with it and one day decided to quit.
The food pyramid argument is this: The animals we eat are almost at
our level in the food pyramid. If we 'produce' meat on a factory scale, we will require a lot of animals, and in proportion a lot of flora and fauna. It gives a lot of stress on the soil. In short, given 1 hectare, if one can produce 1 tonne of corn, the same hectare in general will be able to produce a mere 100kg of meat. It means that when we produce meat as a commodity, we are depriving the people from using the land for vegetable production and hence...
Also, I do not agree with the 'emotions being driven genetically' part. But Karthik said that already.
I am concluding this post here and I must admit that I am not without a feeling of incompleteness. It has certainly whetted my appetite for a deeper debate on this subject. But I guess that will be for the future :-).