Diet is a controversial subject perhaps now more than ever. While everyone seems to have arrived at the consensus that something is severely wrong and that corruption is systemic, pinpointing where that corruption lies seems to prove a bit more difficult.
It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it. -Upton Sinclair
Although more diets are peddled now than ever before in society, virtually none of them are peddled philosophically with logical discourse followed by a secular proof of ethics. Many people outright refuse to discuss diet philosophically because they fear the implications of inescapable conclusions that they have never pondered before. Instead, they attempt to dominate the debate in the arena of health politics and the he-said-she-said of the latest and greatest health guru.
Ignorance Divides, Philosophy Unites
One of the most contentious debates in healthcare is meat-eating versus veganism. There tends to be the greatest polarization between these two nodes on the spectrum. Truthfully, both camps have to work on their posture. Nobody gets a free-pass on this one. The rational man listens to all sides of the issue and tries to find the truest solution that addresses the subject holistically.
The problem with issues of this nature is that they become less and less about philosophy and more and more about the people presenting the information. It becomes politicized. Daniel Vitalis is put up against Gary Yourofsky, who is put up against Ido Portal, who is put up against Freelee the Banana Girl. It becomes about personalities, speaking-styles, mud-slinging… and somewhere in the mix we inevitably detach our psychospiritual connection to nature and existence and fixate on who can best represent how we feel.
We are here for a short time, and those of us who try to understand our place in existence are often divided rather than united. So, let us begin to unite with philosophy as the lantern illuminating our path forward.
Aristotle and “First Principles”
Aristotle, often considered one of the Fathers of Western Philosophy, was the first to speak about First Principles. Let’s establish a definition for First Principles, since it will play a key role in the course of this exploration.
In philosophy “first principles” are also commonly referred to as a priori terms and arguments, which are contrasted to a posteriori terms, reasoning or arguments, in that the former are simply assumed and exist prior to the reasoning process and the latter are “posterior” meaning deduced or inferred in the reasoning process. First Principles are generally treated in the realm of philosophy known as epistemology, but are an important factor in any metaphysical speculation.
In philosophy “First principles” is often somewhat interchangeable and synonymous with a priori, datum and axiom or axiomatic reasoning/method.
The most common First Principles of Reason, or axioms, are:
- The principle of non-contradiction: the same thing cannot both be and not be at the same time and in the same respect. The same proposition cannot be both true and false.
- The principle of excluded middle: Either a thing is or it is not, there is no third possibility. (Tertium non datur: a third is not provided.)
- The principle of the reason of being (the principle of intelligibility): being is intelligible to the human intellect and as an object of intellection it can be explained ontically only through being, and so it cannot be identified with non-being. Every being has a reason of its existence either in itself or in something else.
- The principle of finality: Every agent acts for an end.
- The principle of causality: Every effect has a cause.
- The principle of identity: Every being is that which it is. Each being is separated in its existence from other beings.
Morality & Ethics in Diet
Often, meat-eaters will put forward the argument that plants also have consciousness and vegans cannot claim to be more moral because there is no superiority or inferiority to be ascribed to different types of organisms. They use scientific findings such as the Baxter Effect to prove that plants are also sentient beings. So, let’s start this discussion with Consciousness, since it is established that all living things have Consciousness and we cannot ascribe Morality to a diet based on whether or not the organism (food) is a plant or animal.
With philosophy, we must strive for consistency at all costs. If something is not universally applicable, or true under all conditions, then it is not a First Principle and we must look deeper until we arrive at the least common denominator.
The Free Will Principle
If all living beings are conscious, then all living beings must be subject to the same civil “rules” or the same treatment. When we are discussing Ethics and Morality, what we are really discussing is the Free Will Principle. Free Will is expressed by voluntarily consenting to a choice.
It’s safe to say that animals are not voluntarily consenting to their own murder, enslavement, imprisonment, rape, etc. This is self-evident in their resistance, their non-compliance, their screams, and their fear. The reason that fruit is the ideal food is because fruit is *voluntarily offered* by the plant to be consumed for the very purpose of spreading its seeds. It is a symbiotic relationship. Science textbooks will tell you that the reason plants put so much time, effort, vitamins, minerals, resources, and chi energy into the production of a fruit is not so that it will fall and rot, but so that animals will be lured into eating it so that they can help the plant proliferate since the plant cannot move on its own.
This is the evolutionary purpose of fruit bearing. Again, the plant would not allocate all those resources and effort for it to go to waste. Nature is not wasteful; it is efficient and optimal. We are invited by the plant to enjoy what it offers, but not as a free gift. The plant isn’t that generous. Instead, it is a mutual business transaction, or an energetic exchange. We must in turn offer the favor of spreading its seeds.
If you are still unconvinced that plants want you to consume their fruit (or flowers, seeds, etc.) then I recommend looking into interspecific competition and the Gause Principle. An awesome example is when plants compete with one another to have the best smelling, brightest, most vibrant, and most colorful flowers to attract pollinators.
This mutual consent is a First Principle. When we decide that all organisms share consciousness, we cannot stop there because now we have ascribed Intellect, Emotion, and Choice to these organisms given that they, too, are on their own Journey traveling with Intention.
Virtues & Consistency
There is one other component here, which I believe most on-the-fence vegetarians/vegans don’t consider. It is related to the animal cruelty component – but let’s consider it from the human’s behavioral point of view.
There are meat eaters and vegans alike who claim to strive to be virtuous. If temperance is a virtue, then not eating meat for the sake of the animal is virtuous. Let’s assume for a moment that meat is required for optimal physical performance. Knowing that, I personally would still go without. It’s hard to live by this rigorous philosophy in every aspect of life, believe me. I still drive a car and have a cell phone that was probably made with some degree of unfair wages paid and some degree of environmental damage. My life might be “optimal” with them, but ethically, it isn’t right. In comparison, my health might theoretically be optimal by killing and eating animals, but ethically, it isn’t right.
What certain “extremist” vegans strive for, they often miss. They claim to strive for consistency, philosophically speaking, but then they call for violence on meat-eaters. Where is the compassion and non-violence towards your fellow misinformed humans? I believe that meat-eaters, on the other hand, don’t consider consistency at all. They want one set of rules for themselves, and not for other living-breathing-thinking-feeling creatures.
There is homeostasis to be found in Nature even if we aren’t currently living in Balance. We are invited to rediscover that Balance, the same way we were invited to forget it. Both experiences are “ripe” with Lessons. I, for one, don’t side with the nihilists who say, “It’s all pointless because there is no Balance.” Instead, I agree with Taoists in that Nature is in Balance, but it is we who are imbalanced. Nature offers us hidden Truths that WE must put forward the effort to find and once we do find them, we can experience the “fruits” or our labor. Pardon all the puns.
While certain health gurus are right in some ways with the mentality of “returning to our ancestral roots,” they are missing a huge point. Yes, there are some things we as a species should forego and begin to embrace the “old ways.” That being said, we as a species are meant to progress, to go beyond, to improve, and upgrade. Let’s use technology as an analogy. We should certainly forego atom bombs, but should we give up computers, too?
We may come from a past of meat consumption, but does that mean we must return to it? As with all stepping stones on the Road of Experience, we are presented with the Choice to progress or stagnate. Just food for thought.