Featured image: We're destroying the planet.
October 30th, 2012—the date I became a fully fledged vegetarian following years of excuse-laden deliberation. In the time that has passed since my life has been fantastically rewarding; I can’t recommend making a similarly positive change to your life enough. However, it makes wonder why it took me so long.
I think I was being willingly naïve to the facts regarding animal ethics and the environment. Life was more convenient that way. At the heart of the problem, then, I think, is the prevalence of systems that sell convenience.
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. Consumerism, in this sense, serves a purpose. But it’s perniciously controlling. it panders to selfishness and greed. While it makes things easier, life becomes less fulfilling. Meanwhile, we are gradually destroying the planet.
Yet we’re happy with each piece of consumption because this serves to satisfy us in the short-term. If I enjoy eating chicken, and can choose to ignore how they arrived at my plate, then who cares? What’s the harm of my gain? The reality is that you just have to look; and you have to be touched by what you find out.
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 them slightly disconcerting. But the method of force-feeding us inhumane videos depicting animal slaughter clearly isn’t effective at making us act upon those feelings. Morally speaking, we need to change the way in which we think if we are to be efficacious at providing the right kind of moral content to people.
My favourite video on this topic, ‘Holocaust on a Conveyor Belt - Assembly Line of Death’—an excerpt from the film Samsara (2011)—exemplifies good content by conveying cultural aspects of our society rather well. This enables people to reach out to things they don’t routinely see by sensually connecting their daily decisions with the impact they have. This acts to ignite feelings they didn’t know they had. I suggest you watch ‘Holocaust on a Conveyor Belt - Assembly Line of Death’ (below). With no gore throughout, it cinematically depicts the extent of our greed and the numbing of our senses in a minimalist, 6-minute compilation of a slaughterhouse at work.
Despite all the negativity emanating from my words so far, I think there is a potential to revolutionise the way we think. We are inherently compassionate and intelligent beings but the current state of apathy and pessimism has turned us into intellectual slaves—in many contexts, not just with regards to vegetarianism.
Specifically, I think if we foster more independent thinking by questioning norms, we will become more accountable for our actions. That may entail acting in a way that doesn’t suit the people at the top (i.e. politicians, journalists) by trusting our own intelligence and addressing the topic at hand with what we’ve ascertained to be unbiased facts and statistics.
Ignorance is not always bliss.
I do, however, appreciate that acting morally would be more appealing if there was an incentive. But there is one! It’s in a human’s very nature to be compassionate: we are psychologically rewarded when we are kind (that reward being 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. 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. It’s empowering.
Our culture may have paralysed our innate sense of empathy but, if look beyond what we consume and materially possess to each other, we can make a better kind of difference. For that we will continuously be rewarded.