Thursday, August 30, 2012

Lest You Be Judged

The title of the posting was as inaccurate as it was provocative: Do Vegetarians And Vegans Think They Are Better Than Everyone Else? Is there ever a point in asking a question about such a large and diverse group of people, other than to invite generalizations?

And the end of the article was no better:

It's clear to me that Friedrich and Patrick-Goudreau believe not that they are better people than meat-eaters, but instead that their dietary practices are better for animals, and for our world as a whole, than the habits of meat-eaters. Why do many people so readily confuse these two things?
If Ms. King had set out to invite to groups of people to make generalizations about one another, she couldn't have chosen a better way to do to.

Of course, seemingly in deliberate spite of the many vegetarians and vegans who set out to defend their tolerance of others, many commentators claimed that they didn't see themselves as morally superior, but rather, more intelligent, more compassionate, more ethical, more consistent, et cetera.

But to a certain degree, Ms. King answered her own question within the text of her posting: "In answering my question in the negative, Friedrich and Patrick-Goudreau both point to their own meat-eating past. But they do strongly exhort others, through 'should'-type speech, to choose certain diets over others: diets that don't involve doing violent harm to animals. I understand this. Both work towards a more compassionate world for animals; their goals are just not compatible with an all-embracing 'live and let live' approach, as if one set of food choices were just as okay as another."

People commonly judge others by the choices that they make. To a degree, we exempt children from this - we are often told that there are no bad children, merely children who do bad things or make bad choices. But, once we become adults, that forbearance expires and choices become character. For many people, bad is as bad does, and without a specific exemption, when a choice is considered not okay, the person who makes that choice is viewed as morally lacking at best, and a deliberate agent of evil at worst.

Had Ms. King asked "Do Law-Abiding Citizens Think They Are Better Than Those Who Commit Crimes," despite the fact that this question, too, calls for broad generalizations, many people would have had little compunction about answering "Yes," and proclaiming themselves (likely incorrectly) just the sort of upright citizen who is entitled to understand their own moral superiority to those around them. Even when criminality is thought or even shown to be the result of mental disease or defect, many people are quick to apply the label of "bad person" to a perpetrator.

The simple fact is that as long as people make judgments about people in accordance with their judgments about the choices those persons make, pronouncing a judgment on someone's actions is going to be seen as a judgement of the actor, whether it is intended or not. And a negative judgment of another is often seen as betraying a sense of superiority on the part of the person making the judgement. The chicken-and-egg finger-pointing between vegetarians/vegans and their omnivorous brethren will not change that fact.

Kathryn Schulz's pronouncement that: "Even though we know better, it's remarkably easy to feel as if our own aesthetic judgments reflect reality and that, therefore, anyone of sufficient intelligence and sensitivity should share our view," is just as much in play here as it is in any other arena. People who feel their actions are guided by their knowledge of what is objectively best, rather than what is best for them, or simply what they find to be most appealing, are prone to look down on others, and people who feel judged rarely take the time to discern the judgmental from the tolerant. Hurt people hurt people, as the saying goes, and therefore the chain of anger and bitterness is likely to be eternal, regardless of who you are referring to, or what their habits, culinary or otherwise, are.

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