By James Clark Ross
October 30th, 2012 – the date I became a fully-fledged vegetarian following years of tentative deliberation and flawed excuses. The past year or so has been fantastically rewarding – I can’t recommend making a similarly positive change to your life enough – but it makes me wonder why it took me so long.
I think I was being willingly naïve to the facts regarding animal ethics and the environment. It was more convenient for me that way. At the heart of the problem for us all, though, I think, is the prevalence of consumerism, selfishness and credulity. Greed is divisive and is gradually destroying the planet, but we’re happy because it serves to satisfy us in the short-term. As a society that consumes and consumes, we no longer care about where our goods come from as long as there is some desire fulfilled or some form of materialistic gain. If I enjoy eating chicken, and can choose to ignore how they arrived at my plate, then why should I care?
You’ve probably seen videos of cruel animal slaughter at some point in your life and, unless you’re a particularly callous individual, you probably found that slightly disconcerting. But this method of force-feeding you inhumane videos of slaughter clearly isn’t effective at making you act upon those feelings, which is why we need to change the way we think.
One of my favourite videos, ‘Holocaust on a conveyor belt’, on the other hand, conveys these cultural aspects of our society very well. I suggest you watch it. With no gore throughout, it cinematically represents the extent of our greed and the numbing of our senses through a simple six-minute depiction of a slaughterhouse at work. (It forms part of a documentary film called Samsara.)
Despite all of this negativity, I think there is a potential to revolutionise the way we think. We are inherently compassionate and intelligent beings after all, but the current state of apathy and pessimism has turned us into intellectual slaves – in many contexts, not just with regards to vegetarianism. We should encourage independent thinking, stop accepting the norms, and become more accountable for our actions. That will entail acting in a way that doesn’t suit the people at the top (i.e. politicians, journalists), trusting our own intelligence and addressing the topic at hand with unbiased facts and statistics. Ignorance is not bliss.
I do, however, appreciate that acting morally would be more appealing if there was an incentive – and there is one! It’s in a human’s very nature to be compassionate and to be psychologically rewarded when we are kind, where that reward is a feeling. One particular campaign I love is the ‘My Give Just One Thing’ kindness campaign, which I can’t advocate enough. Kindness will make you happy in the long-term. First, though, people need to be trusted with their own minds. After all, someone’s more likely to stick to a moral pledge if it was their decision in the first place.
I’ve adopted a similar approach to my own life. It started off with simple things like setting up standing orders to charities and signing up to the organ register. I then became a vegetarian, acknowledging that not doing so was both cruel and unsustainable. Giving blood and quitting dairy soon followed. (The dairy industry is truly awful and in many respects worse than the meat industry.) Furthermore, working in the NHS has filled me a sense of value and purpose. (We should all ask ourselves how society values our work.) The rewards of benevolence are so great that I always want to offer more. In terms of being proactive, I have found writing to my MP and funding pressure groups particularly rewarding. Being represented and listened to, to whatever degree, is empowering.
Our culture may have paralysed our innate sense of empathy, but we must look beyond what we materially possess and look to how we can make a difference. For that, we will continuously be rewarded.