In response to my own feeble attempts at a vegetarian lifestyle, many of you have shared your views on eating. From these conversations, online and off, it occurs to me that there are two primary approaches to consumption:
- Individual morality.
- Consideration of impact.
The two are by no means exclusive, and most people seem to use some combination of the two. The first strikes me as idealistic, and the latter as essentially pragmatic. One is more concerned with the personal act, and the other with the ultimate outcome. Applying these categories to vegetarianism, the former may apply to people who are strict vegans or vegetarians, who see eating meat as their complicity in the needless taking of another life to sustain their own. The latter may include flexitarians who try to minimize meat-eating because they feel it is better for their health and for the environment.
I suspect that the latter will ultimately have the greater impact on the ultimate reduction of animal lives taken, though the pragmatists would probably not have the influence that they could without the leadership of the idealists. And I suspect that this is generally the case in history. I think that Marxism ultimately failed in Europe and North America because corporations gave in to many of the demands of the proletariat: a wide-range of labor laws and protections were enacted, labor unions became new power centers, and a social safety net was established by social-democratic governments. Not the ideal worker’s paradise, but a vast improvement on the unfettered capitalism of the white world in the 1800s. But none of these gains would’ve been possible without the hot-blooded visionaries. This is why I can forgive all the jet fuel Al Gore burned promoting an Inconvenient Truth. The ripple effect of his message compensates thousands of times for any moral transgression caused by his greatly enlarged carbon footprint.
I have strong idealistic and practical tendencies, but as I get older and more cynical, the pragmatist becomes more likely to win out. I mistrust dogmatism of any type, even my own (though I hold stubbornly to my pacifism, in the hope that some small gains will be made as history marches on). What am I afraid of? Getting burned again. Of swinging from one extreme to another. Of unintended consequences that defeat the very aims of my idealistic motives.
It’s funny and disturbing to me that I can’t approach something as simple as going vegetarian without diving deep into myself this way. As much as I’d like to draw the line in the sand that some of my friends and family have done, and say, “I will not consciously and willingly take an animal life to feed my own,” I see far too many exceptions. Sure, I’ve all but eliminated meat from my diet and I let wolf spiders on my desk live and I don’t eat even vegetarian fast food, but: I send my cats after tasty little critters. I eliminate fruit fly and boll weevil infestations in my home without hesitation or remorse. The painful deaths of countless small critters is a horrible price to pay for the huge drop in human infant mortality rate, the near eradication of certain horrible diseases, and progress on everything from heart and organ transplants to fighting cancer, but it’s one that I think I’m willing to pay if it saves the lives of more (human) children and reduces the number of excruciating (human) deaths. I’m willing to look into alternatives to those lab deaths, but if I’m convinced that it’s a zero-sum game, and it’s either a dozen rabbits or, say, my daughter, you can bet that I’m going to choose my child’s life. But fortunately or no, we rarely get to make those kinds of stark decisions.
So, this is the cynic in me. I believe that to some extent, my life is predicated on the deaths of others. Remember, I’m not arguing against vegetarianism–I’m moving in that direction myself. But as I embark on this path, I have to examine my fundamental assumptions and values with starkness and brutal honesty.
And by doing so publicly, I count on you to keep me brutally honest in my endeavors.
The Vermont Senate, finding (correctly) that Civil Unions for gay couples fall short of providing equal rights, voted overwhelmingly to approve Civil Marriage for gay couples. The matter still has to go before the Vermont House (and since I’m late to this, may already have gone), where it is expected to pass. The margin by which it was approved is too great for the governor to veto (if he were to try).
As others have said before me, This Is How We Do It!
As I’m sure you’ve already heard, it’s a two-for-one celebration: the 200th anniversary of the day when both Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin were squeezed out of their mothers’ wombs and into this cold world. I live in a world of ideas, words and algorithms, and these two humans, more than most, demonstrated through their lives the power of the intangible on the material. Hallelujah! Glory be to democracy and science!
Clicking on the following will get you to the xkcd store:
said the friend sitting next to me at Christmas Eve dinner, with a vague look of disgust on her face, like I’d just admitted to enjoying self-flagellation. I was in the company of a number of people who had escaped Western religion (all some form of Christianity) and landed firmly in Eastern religion (all some form of Buddhism). With three beautiful dogs wandering about, Deva, Metta, and Gaia, this was a decidedly religious environment. And yet, there was no prayer before dinner, no implicit religion anywhere. There were buddha heads, mala, and yes, even crosses hung on the walls and displayed on shelves. But this was a place I felt at ease enough to say something atheistic enough to “out” me.
Later, another attendee told a story about a different dinner to which an atheist was inadvertently invited. One who waxed lyrical about the evils of religion and the stupidity of the people engaged in it. He was quieted with a “Yes, fundamentalism of all kinds is horrible,” and a glass of alcohol. This may or may not have been aimed at me, but was accompanied by shock that anyone could presume to know for sure what is or is not.
It is true, however, that my particular brand of atheism is less anti-Divine and more anti-Religion. As far as I am concerned, religion is objectively fucked up. But I believe that there is in all beings something special. Something worthy of awe, respect, love, acknowledgment, and equality. As a feminist, I can believe nothing else. I strive toward treating everyone with a namaste attitude. I feel filled with a sense of wonder when I walk in the forest, talk with good friends, or meditate. There is something out there, which name I give “the Divine”, that I cannot deny. Nor do I wish to.
And so I call myself an atheist to distinguish myself from any religionist who might make you uncomfortable by trying to convert you (or even just by talking too much about it). And while I have a great deal of respect for the hard-core, dyed-in-the-wool, fundamentalist atheists, I also don’t consider myself one of them. DH calls himself a “humanist”, though I’m not certain how he defines this, in order to avoid the atheism label (although he is the only person I’ve ever met who grew up completely outside of any religious influence).
I’m a dualist, a pantheist, a pagan, a feminist (in the religious sense, though not a Dianic), a meditator, a yogini, a post-Christian, an ex-Catholic, a Jino (Jew in name only); a pray-er to Bastet, Au-Set, Gaia, & Luna; a talker-with-animal-spirits and to trees; a student of Fire, a daughter of Earth, a foe of Water, a student of Wind; and an atheist. I meditate, I cook, I swim, I do yoga, I ski. I pray to the deities that strike me at the time, be they Mary or Skadi, Ra or Thor. I pray to the animals whose flesh I consume. I cast spells to help and to harm. And I reject the effect of prayer (whether as meditation, as supplication, or as spell) on anyone or anything other than the one who prays. I’ve seen and touched things that cannot be explained and which I cannot deny. But having no desire to foist them upon you, or to congregate with others in an effort to gain favor with a being who we cannot hope to affect, I reject the labels of religion. I refuse to allow anyone’s religion into my government and hope for a secular society, where all practice whatever they believe in their homes; whether that means meditation or family dinners.
“Yes,” I should have said, “I really am an atheist. But that makes me just like you.”
I’m sorry I’ve not been posting recently, law school has finally caught up with me and consumed my life. I had to cancel the event that makes the holidays bearable for me (a goose-filled gamer fest) because I simply hadn’t the time to prepare and plan it. One of the prospective attendants told me that, while she wasn’t glad to miss it, she was glad that I couldn’t handle it because it made me seem more human. I’ll send her a card when I fail my first semester: “from xJane, now officially a Human.”
I have, however, been reading blogs mostly regularly (I didn’t yesterday, what has happened to me?!) and have compiled a bunch of links that I
wanted to share wanted to dedicate a whole post to each one. I haven’t the time to do so, so this is effectively a link-dump. I’m sorry, but Safari thanks you (“There are 7 windows open in Safari, with a total of 32 tabs.”).
Read more >>
or, xJane gets mushy
Yesterday was DH’s and my 3rd anniversary. It gave me a chance to reflect on love, marriage, and rights. Specifically on why I did (and did not) get married & what that makes me think about the rights of others.
I did not get married so that I could bear DH’s children. I did not get married so that his father’s name would be carried on. I did not get married because it was a “respected social institution” that I desperately wanted to be a part of. I did not get married so that I could be a “wife”, nor did DH because he wanted to be a “husband” (whatever those words are supposed to mean). I didn’t get married because my religion told me that marriage was good. I didn’t get married because marriage was the only way for me, as a woman, to be completed or live a full life.
I married DH because I love being around him. I got married because when I am with him, I feel like I’m with only myself—that I don’t need to be anyone else but the true me. I got married because his presence makes me smile. I got married because, when I come home & find him there, the tensions of the day disappear. I got married because I love waking up next to him & watching him sleep (in a totally non-creepy way). I got married because DH is a great cook and I’m a great baker. I got married because we are equal partners in life—each supporting the other. I got married because we love playing video games (separately and together), camping, judo, and computers. I got married because even when he pisses me off, I love him. I got married because even when I piss him off, he loves me. I got married because DH makes me happy.
I got married so we could own property together. I got married so that we would have enforceable rights if anything happened to either of us. I got married because he’s got great insurance benefits & I’ve got a great credit union. I got married because when we weren’t married, the world seemed to look at us differently, like we weren’t really in love. I got married because it made everything (taxes, renting, car ownership, illness, life insurance, nearly everything) easier. Just one document & so many issues simply evaporated.
And that surprised me. Social issues, family issues, governmental issues—completely resolved simply because I had a different last name, a legal document, and a [white] gold ring.
For these reasons and for all the reasons I didn’t list, I cannot condone restrictions on marriage between consenting adults of any gender. Nor can I sit idly by while bigots and homophobes attempt to restrict rights on the basis of religion at best and ill-articulated arguments at worst.
Marriage is not an institution I like. I think it’s misogynistic, religious, and unequal. I think it has been hijacked by people who still believe that women should be property and held in too high esteem by people who think a wedding means white dresses & expensive blood jewelry. I think it needs to be reformed or dismantled. But it’s what we’ve got. And it’s powerful—powerful enough to get my parents to talk to DH, powerful enough to allow me to speak for DH in forums where he is uncomfortable (and he for me), powerful enough to change part of my name for no good reason (but not his). And because of that power, it cannot be denied to people who want it.
It was sponsored by the J. Reuben Clark Society, who described its mission as exploring how religious belief influences practice of the law. Proposition 8, the student representative told us, is just such an intersection of religion and the law. I don’t know about you but that freaks me the fuck out.
After appropriate ego stroking (student saying how honored he felt to host this forum, Starr how honored he was to introduce Stewart, and Stewart how honored he was to be introduced by Starr), he began argument. One of the things that concerned me the most about his tone and some of his arguments was that it sounded exactly like my father. Overly calm but with an undertone that these are vitally important issues and that life as we know it will cease to exist if we don’t do [whatever they tell us to].
He started with an argument that the “man-woman” definition of marriage is completely compatible with the constitutional requriements for equality. He did not, however, expand this point, he merely asserted it. He did refer us to some papers he had written, which are conveniently available online! I’m not in any emotional state right now to read through them, but I’m calming down.
He continued by stating that he was going to present an institutional, or “wholly secular” (which I thought was an interesting choice of phrase) argument, not because he believes that faith is illegitimate in the public square but because some people do believe that religious perspectives ought to be excluded from the public square and these people demand a wholly secular argument. He wishes to address these people in such a way as to influence them as well as to provide arguments that can transcend faith for supports to discuss with those against the proposition.
He began by defining his terms and discussing social institutions. The “big five” social institutions in all societies are: politics, including government, law, & elections; education; religion; economy, including markets & money; and, of course, marriage & family). They are constituted by a unique web of interrelated public meanings. They teach, form and transform individuals in the society in an unconscious manner. He gave the example of two pieces of paper: a $20 bill and a blank printer sheet; he then invited an audience member to the state in order to choose one or the other (of course, the $20 bill was taken). The point being, of course, that social institutions teach us what things society values over what other things—and people. Social institutions, however, can change or even end (with scary voice “end!”). For example sometimes money loses its social value (as expressed economically) or private property ceases to be an accepted social institution (like in Russia).
When he brought marriage into the equation, he said it with the same scary “end” voice and immediately linked it to scary Russia, who apparently made a conscious effort to delegitimize marriage as an institution but found that the social costs were too great. Social institutions, he reminded us, provide social goods (like money, like law, like marriage) and in “all societies” man-woman marriage is a “universal social institution”.
He then indicated that he was going to list some social goods provided by man-woman marriage (but presumably not by same-sex marriage). He only, however got to two and referred us to his articles for more.
The first was “the child’s bonding right”, an internationally recognized human right that “a child has a right to know and be raised by his or her own mother & father with exceptions made only in the best interests of the child (not in response to the interests or desires of any adult).” So now we hear a different child-centered argument against gay marriage. Rather than that only one man and one woman may raise a child, that a child has a right to be raised by both of them. Again, I would like to play the adoption card—given that same-sex couples cannot accidentally procreate, they must intentionally do so. If they choose to adopt a child who has already been denied his or her own parents, are they adequate parents? If not, why not? Given that the child has a chance now to have two parents who love him or her, what are the arguments against allowing a same-sex couple to be those parents?
The second social good provided by man-woman marriage were the words “husband” and “wife”. He did not expand what exactly is “good” about those words. But he seemed to think that it was extremely important that they would no longer be the parties to a marriage. I don’t know if the thinks that “husband and husband” or “wife and wife” are poor substitutes or if we will all start calling each other “spouse” (I can’t see anything bad about that).
In California, he said, we have the opportunity to decide whether the meaning of marriage will be “the union of a man and a woman” or “the union of any two persons”. He went on to say that it cannot be both at the same time: that one meaning necessarily displaces the other meaning. He claimed that “genderless marriage” is the correct term, as same-sex marriage is a misnomer—”marriage” is always defined as either of the above. “Genderless marriage” will be the same marriage entered into by opposite-sex couples as by same-sex couples. And again, I fail to see what’s bad about that…
There is another alternative, however, to the two definitions above: no normative marriage institution. He alleged that many proponents of genderless marriage hope that it will lead to “no normative marriage institution”. Once again, I’m part of that group & don’t see anything wrong with it. All that will be left for him and his hangers on to “traditional marriage” is “a motley crew of lifestyle options” which “are to marriage what a Monopoly bill is to a $1000 bill”. Of course, “genderless marriage is radically different from man-woman marriage. There is some overlap but the radical divergence is evidenced by a difference in social goods that each will provide.” For example, the child bonding right.
He stated that, on the day of his marriage, the law did not make him a husband, a social institution did. “Socially positive statutes and identities will be desiccated, turning a husband into any male party to a legal marriage” (although again he does not define what other meanings for “husband” might be might be “positive”). “Equality for homosexuals will not come about by allowing genderless marriage.” This is quite an entertaining assertion, especially, coming as it does with absolutely no evidence. Apparently, “there is a price tag for allowing genderless marriage” and harm will result to man-woman marriages if genderless marriage exists. Future children will no longer be able to understand what the difference between genderless marriage and man-woman marriages. And that’s…bad?
Since the law is powerful, the law will suppress the current meaning of marriage and “we will lose the social goods it uniquely provides.” We take the definitions given us by social institutions for granted. A genderless marriage regime will have three powerful messages:
Enshrinement of genderless marriage will have “very negative consequences for religious liberties”. A fact that is not widely disputed by either side—but the pro-genderless marriage proponents think that it is a price that we should all be willing to pay. He ended by hoping that none of us is so blind to choose a genderless marriage regime because it will have no cost.
He then opened the floor to questions. I didn’t really catch a lot of them, so I’m not going to get into that.
UPDATE: the video is available online but only to students of Pepperdine through iTunesU. If there is interest, I’ll create & post a transcript. However, his arguments are just as well (or poorly) laid out in the articles available on his website.
By giving a girl’s family [...] financial benefits worth around $5,000, including health insurance, until she is 18, if she is sent to school and remains unmarried.I think this is a great idea, but I’m sure that the anti-feminists will spin it (they think that girls are more valuable than boys!!!). I also find it interesting that it tacitly incentivizes educating female children and delaying marriage (till, you know, she’s an adult…).
My father was recently interviewed again (mp3 link, will start playing as soon as it loads; somewhat confusing page it is hosted on here), promoting his position regarding a proposed ballot initiative in the State of Washington which concerns what he would call “Assisted Suicide” or “Right to Life” but which I would call “Death with Dignity”. I’ve previously discussed my feelings about my father politicizing his illness (and the fact that it drags into the media my personal pain as well as that of my family) but honestly, in a similar position, I would do the same. We’re cut from the same cloth and neither of us is the quiet type; neither do we suffer from a lack of strong opinions. But something he says in this new interview struck me as post-worthy:
There is a suit against Right to Life groups in Washington who would oppose this [ballot proposition], claiming that they are really engaging in political activity, instead of in Pro-Life activity.
Which got me thinking. Of course “pro-life activity” is political in nature, as it is “of or relating to the government or the public affairs of a country”. But it is, of course, also religious activity, since it seeks to uphold religious ideals/laws. Now, part of me wants to say that “pro-life activity” is a-religious, since membership in a particular religion is in no way necessary to be part of their cadre. But it’s a fine line between preaching from the pulpit to support life in accordance with a religious text and preaching from the pulpit that a religious text dictates that you vote for or against a proposition or politician.
Non-religious may have an easier time of it, since there is no fear that they might lose their tax-exempt status by preaching, opening with prayer, or refusing association with non-religious (or non-correct-religious). So I see where he’s coming from (which is a big step, for me), but still disagree (which is also a big step, in another way). The church he attends has every right to conduct a sermon based upon certain commandments or passages that may correspond to a ballot proposition, but ought not blatantly state that the religion demands that they vote a certain way. (Similarly, political parties ought not demand that their members vote a certain way: voting should be up to the person.) The political groups he associates with have every right to donate time, resources, and money to defeating ballot measures and candidates, but no right to promote religion. The person caught in the middle, perhaps driving between one meeting and the other, holds values that do not change when he steps (or, now, wheels) over the threshold. So, to that person, it may seem an injustice that the law keeps the one from bleeding over into the other. But standing on the outside, I’m grateful for the laws that state that religion should still be kept from politics (although I also think that religions should pay taxes like everyone else…).
We make sense of the world and our relation to it through the stories we tell. Back in my young and wild Mormon days (riding bikes with the gang down the street of Japan, doing drive by conversions), I told the story of Joseph Smith to anyone who would listen. The cool thing was that I was a character in that same story, and an important one (in fact, one of the great ones that Abraham saw!). I knew that there was a plan, and I knew my place in the universe–someday I could be hovering invisibly over my own planet if I played all my cards right. I also knew what all of your parts in the story were–but it’s cool. In Mormonism, there’s a place for everyone (I hear that even the less valiant get their own frozen dwarf planets.)
So what tales do I tell now that I’ve checked out of the Book o’ Mormon? The romantic in me envisions kind of a noiresque scene: it’s black and white, through the haze you can see an old typewriter and shot of weak bourbon on the desk. You assume that there’s a wastepaper basket under that pile of crumpled drafts. And there I am, clackety-clacking away, staring at blank sheets and scribbling out sentences on full ones. Writing and revising, sometimes pleased, but more often not. At least I’m not a ghost writer. This baby’s all my own.
There’s no story without conflict and tension, and if nothing out, I think I’ve worked out what some of my life’s defining conflicts are. I’ll share them with you over the next couple of weeks. Let me know if they mesh with any of your storymaking. The first one I like to call Pragmatism v. Idealism. Here’s how they manifest themselves in my life:
The Idealistic John is motivated primarily by a need to be sincere, true to my own intentions, to be a person of integrity. Damn the consequences, and especially fuck what others may think. This is the part of me that swung from near-libertarian dittohead Mo to Green Party peace activisting Quaker. Not a whole lot of room for compromise there.
Then there’s another part of me that cares about impact, about the effects of my actions in the real world. This is the part of me that deeply regrets supporting Ralph Nader in 2000 (I don’t want to argue whether or not he lost the election for Gore–it’s what he symbolizes to me that’s important here). Supporting Gore’s campaign would have been a concession on my part, but in retrospect Mr. Inconvenient Truth would have been infinitely preferable to the criminal conspiracy currently ruling the U.S. Sometimes doing something out of integrity may have greater negative impact than making a practical compromise. This pragmatic part of me wants results. Which action feeds/frees more people?
Gandhi, a pragmatic idealist if there ever was one (and one of the shrewdest manipulators of public opinion in the 20th century), once said something to the effect of, “Practically anything you do will be insignificant, but it is important that you do it.” The idealist in me takes comfort in this quote. The utilitarian pragmatist in me chafes against it.
Fortunately, I don’t feel like I have to choose between the two (which pleases the indecisive part of me, which we will leave for another post). There’s a creative tension in being as harmless as doves, as wise as serpents. There’s a creative tension that comes from trying to maintain ones ideals while working towards maximum impact. It also helps to have a long view. It’s one reason I’m a Quaker–those crazy radicals were anti-slavery, pro-suffrage, and pacifist decades before those ideas mainstreamed. What’s that you say? Pacifism isn’t mainstreamed yet? In due time, my friend, in due time.
I did some bad things during my stint as a Mormon missionary in Japan. I’d like to repent of one of them right now.
Some of my Japanese friends confided deep, personal spiritual experiences with me. In several cases I coopted their experiences for my own ends, and using my words, contorted them so that they fit perfectly into the LDS worldview.
Looking back, it seems almost a violent act.
I shouldn’t be too hard on myself. After all, I was only trying to understand their experiences using my dominant perspective at the time. It’s only after getting beat up when my experiences didn’t fit my LDS leaders’ and teachers’ paradigms do I fully understand my own complicity.
There is power in naming something. And when someone came to me as an expert in spiritual matters after experiencing deep sense of connectedness to the universe/humanity/etc. and asked for some help in understanding this strange and frightening moment, I called that event the Spirit, and then said that that Spirit was God the Father’s communication to them that they needed to read the translation of some old golden plates, believe in Joseph Smith and Ezra Taft Benson as having the Red Phone to The Big White House in the Sky, and put on white clothes and get dunked while I say some mumbo jumbo over them so that they can join an organization and get married in Masonic-inspired cermonies, and now I’m thinking, WTF!?
Was I really that unthinkingly manipulative? Did I bludgeon their sweet experiences with my well-trained, well-intentioned I believes and I testifies and I knows?
Which is why I struggle sometimes with atheist discourse. I don’t want atheists (or believers) to write off my cravings and reverence for the oceanic, the mystical, the “spiritual.” I don’t always want to know what chemical reactions or evolutionary mechanisms or social indoctrination triggered my desire to appeal to something outside of myself. I don’t want to label it projection or insecurity or ritual impulse. Sometimes this is too dismissive. I just want to be. I want the wordless to remain so. I don’t want to F the ineffable.
Which is why I think I’m comfortable in the Quaker mode. There are some words to describe experience, but they are gentle, intended to convey that the experience in minimal terms: the light, that of God, seeking within, etc., but there are no real attempts made to explain or to force those experiences into Christian or Buddhist or Skeptical language. Also, when personal experience is conveyed to others, such as when someone in meeting for worship breaks the silence with words, they talk of their own personal experience.
It’s ironic that I have to convey my frustration with the limits of words through words. I guess you can only say so much via blogging.
So I’ll slip into…silence.
focus on self improvement, introspection, and achieving eudaimonia. They gather to meditate or contemplate in a serene setting, offer mutual moral support in meeting personal challenges, experience the profound in the arts, and share new ideas and traditional inspirations on spirituality in a naturalistic context. The tone of a Contemplative gathering is compassionate, patient, and listening rather than academic, boisterous, or debating. Social issues, politics, and religious criticism are avoided to concentrate on personal enlightenment and development.
Sounds a lot like something I’ve been trying to do in Boston, in a small way. In the winter and early spring I organized a few meditation sittings, essentially a liberal Quaker meeting minus the few remainders of religion. Moving and going on vacation, among other things, have distracted me from organizing more since then, but it looks like another might happen soon, and hopefully on a regular basis going forward.
The group I’ve been organizing (which is on Facebook) hasn’t been straightforwardly humanist with a capital H, because I’ve wanted reasonable religious people to feel welcome to come and sit too. But it’s been a queer balancing act, and I envy the comparative clarity and simplicity of the Houston group’s approach.
Perhaps one could have cake and eat it too by organizing as a humanist group, but not describing the meditation sittings themselves as humanistic – or at least not so prominently that it scares all others away. There’s a subtle but real difference between saying, “This is a meditation meeting of the Springfield Humanists,” and saying, “This is a meditation meeting” plus indicating that it happens to be organized by the same.