A Taste for Violence

August 2008

Saul Williams again, talking about his vegan diet:

Some might argue that artists are a race or species apart from the common person. Yet we all identify with the teachings of Gandhi, the genius of Einstein, the art of Leonardo Da Vinci, Picasso, Rembrandt and the talent and compassion of living artists like Alice Walker, Will Smith, The Mars Volta, Dead Prez, Prince and countless others. Some of us choose to emulate their styles, their fashion, their career choices, but why not their diets? If our brightest most celebrated stars all have this one thing in common why are we so slow in connecting the dots for ourselves? Perhaps the biggest issue at hand is not what our cars run on, but essentially what do we run on? The fact is that factory farms are the number one users of crude oil, not cars. That's basically what it takes to kill approximately one million chickens per hour (just in the US). More than half of our water supply goes to feed animals being fattened for slaughter. The methane gases that contribute to global warming are produced majorly by cow farts in factory farms, not to mention the amount of fossil fuels needed to create just one pound of beef.

Yep. You doing the math? Basically if we shifted our compassion towards animals, the domino effect would heal the planet. We'd no longer be cutting down rain forests to create more space for cows to graze, we'd stop depleting the ocean of the necessary (keyword: necessary) food chains that our eco system depends on, diseases including many cancers, heart disease, obesity, and others which find their root in the food/toxins we ingest would slowly disappear as would our taste for violence.

(See also Wikipedia's list of notable people who are vegans or vegetarians. It's pretty huge.)

Jody commented:

I can't believe Steve Pavlina didn't make the wikipedia notable vegan list. Who leaves "one of the most intensely growth-oriented individuals you'll ever know" off their list?!

"Basically if we shifted our compassion towards animals, the domino effect would heal the planet." I'd find it hard to look a Sudanese refugee in the eye and tell them to give up cow's milk so that the world could be healed...

Matt commented:

On the domino effect:

Everyday, our species participates in the mass genocide of other species without care or concern or even questioning whether the violence that we ingest and condone plays any role in our apathetic support of the war machine we have become. How is it that we as human beings can represent both the highest and most developed and lowest and least concerned forms of intelligence of any living species? Are we simply glued to age-old barbaric traditions that cloud our senses and render us inhumane in our dependence on comfort foods and practices?

His point being, maybe the problems in Sudan (and elsewhere where humans are mistreated) are related to – or spring from – the way we mistreat animals every single day. If everyone stopped killing animals for food, what would happen to our (collective) willingness to kill humans?

Jody commented:

I do agree with that. I think how we treat what's around us (friends, strangers, animals and buildings) says a lot about us, and overall I think respect and reverence breed respect and reverence.

I guess I am just cautious of being an arrogant asshole chewing on my imported organic cashews, wanting people in desperate need of nutrition to stop killing animals because they might be breeding violence. Ultimately, yes, it would be awesome. But I think the first step is probably not advocating of global veganism. Maybe MY respect for life should get me doing things to reduce violence as the first step?

I'm not too sure. I think this is a really good topic Matt.

KT commented:

Hm, there's something not right in there. While I agree with many of his ideas, he's clearly an artist and not a philosopher :) Some of his arguments are very emotive, which means all you have to do to flip them around is question the appropriateness of the emotions they arouse.

'Barbaric' is a strange word to use. I mean, are any of the methods we have of killing our food more grotesque and painful than rounding them up in packs, chasing them till they're exhausted, leaping for their necks and ripping them apart with our bare teeth while they're still alive? But we don't call lions barbaric. The really troubling thing about our practices is surely their scale. And that has to do with how many of us there are, and our beliefs that we and our loved ones have a right to be spared from suffering and death, whatever it takes - rather than what it is in particular that we kill to eat (plants or animals).

Maybe (in response to your rhetorical question above) we're heading into a time when the death of humans will no longer be seen as the ultimate evil. Maybe pragmatic considerations will force us to reassess that doctrine, and revise our interpretation of the hippocratic oath, etc.

I don't know - there's a lot in this subject, and I can't quite get my head around it. Or maybe I don't want to, because I know it's not going to come out very comfortable. I think largely it's back to the question of whether humans are/should be gods or beasts.