Saturday, August 1, 2009

Why I Am NOT Vegetarian

(Inspired by posts on The Corner in National Review)

Ask any vegetarian WHY he is so, and the answer's likely to vary. Some people decide to swear off meat for health reasons, or perhaps on doctor's orders, in which case I can only salute and wish them the best. Others say that they have no particular reason, they just prefer the taste of soybeans and vegetables or don't like the tastes of meat--fair enough. A few, though, will probably turn the matter into a question of morals, citing something about "protecting animals" or "preserving life" or "it's natural for life to be non-destructive", etc. I'm not entirely certain I can get behind this, and here's why:

Thanks to the biological definition of "life" including everything from bacteria to various single-cell organisms (euglena, etc.) to plant life to mushrooms to sponges to sea cucumbers *deep breath* to cockroaches to chicken to cows to us, and the fact that the Earth is a limited sphere with attendent limited resources (even if humanity didn't exist), all life must invariably thrive on the destruction of other life. Plants, given the same area of land to exist in, will attempt to choke each other out and gain dominance. Predator-prey relationships provide an even more obvious example; as the predator thrives, its numbers demand more prey animals be sacrificed to hunger, until there isn't sufficient prey to get eaten and the predators start starving to death, which allows the prey to start reproducing again with reduced threat, which prompts the predators to eat, get healthy, and start growing again, and so on. Two predators with one prey will result in the predators killing each other, or at least forcing the other to starve, to monopolize access to the prey. One we add decidedly nonstandard relationships (single-cell parasites attacking plant life, or various diseases attacking the predators, for example) and get up to ecosystem levels, nature becomes a metaphorical bloodbath of species, each attempting to assure their own survival, usually at the expense of other species (there are a few symbiotic exceptions, but they're rare). What some romantic authors call the "balance of nature" is a very unstable equilibrium, likely to be driven out into massive cycles of starvation and overproduction by the next rabbit baby boom.

But we're sentient creatures, say the moralist-vegetarians, and certainly we have an obligation, moral, religious or otherwise, to avoid such destructive orgies. Perhaps so, but (a) that pesky biology definition means you're destroying life anyway to sustain yourself (and, in the case of nuts, seeds, fruits, and legumes, metaphorically ripping out plant unborn from their wombs for consumption, possibly eating the womb, too), and (b) your immune system is on autopilot and is killing everything that's not you on the off chance one of them will cause the unfortunate side effect of causing you to get sick and die.

It may be a beneficial or logical choice to kill our meat animals humanely (by executing them quickly and getting all the meat available to maximize investments rather than tearing off a piece with our knifes and leaving the bellowing creature for the scavengers), or perhaps to raise our own animals expressly for the purpose of slaughter so we don't have to go into nature and kill an elephant or mountain goat or gazelle or whatever to get food (which is how civilization got off the ground). Since life requires the destruction of other life, however, to assert that vegetarianism is inherently more "moral" or "closer to nature/natural instincts" than meat eating is absurd.

(Also, an anecdote from a colleague in college regarding Mongolian spiritual mediations on the matter:

A story from when I was hitchhiking across the Mongolian border: Mongolians it turns out pretty much only eat meat. The explanation is that every time you eat something you're taking on a karmic debt of killing a soul. A goat can feed you for a couple weeks and you've only killed one soul. It's completely mind boggling to them why anyone would want to be a vegetarian - the number of plants you're killing in such a lifestyle is way more than the number of goats they're eating.)

(Oh yes, I never answered the question in the title, did I? It's because, like the vegetarian who does not like the taste of meat, and thus chooses to be so, I do like the taste of well-prepared chicken, fish, beef, pork, etc. [well-prepared anything really], and choose to eat according to my tastes.)

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Constructing a Mythos

For a number of years now, a story--perhaps a world with a number of stories in it--has been bouncing around in my head. Characters have been designed, re-designed and analysed, other elements have been reshaped to make more internal sense. Of course, the problem is, I never set anything to paper, because both my drawing and creative writing skills are pretty cruddy. But since I have all this virtual paper to write with, why not follow the example of Rutskarn and use this blog for the purposes of world creation? So, expect random ramblings on completely fictional passing parades now, under the tag "Complete Fiction".

"The world" is rather close to the present, only with time advanced to 2045. Science and engineering have made remarkable advances, and, while inequalities still exist, quality of life has improved across the board, at least partially. The primary political powers in this world are the Global Union (G.U.), essentially the bastard offspring of today's United Nations and European Union, and the Nations Against Totalitarian Oligarchism (NATO 2), which opposes the G.U. The United States and a number of its allies, like Britain, Japan, Iraq, India, Canada, Australia, Ethiopia, and a few others, belong in the latter category.

The "viewpoint character" (or at least one of them) is living on Kadena AFB, Okinawa, currently joint Japanese Self-Defense Force/United States Air Force following a bilateral agreement between the U.S. and Japan. He's Captain Davin Valkri, USAF, 18th Wing, 44th Fighter Squadron (Vampires). Yes, that name sounds familiar, but I've been pretty adamant about using that name for that character since before I got involved on most of the internet. Physically, he doesn't look all that imposing--sure he's tall, around 6'7" (200 cm), but he's also really skinny and doesn't have much muscular build, with stupidly pale skin and a somewhat boyish, borderline-effeminate jawline, even though he's twenty-nine years old. And since his clothing choices tend towards the somewhat androgynous, like USAF flight suits on duty and build-concealing long sleeves, thin jackets and long pants with the legs stuffed down his high-ankled shoes off duty (no matter the temperature), he doesn't really look like much of a threat.

And that's too bad for whoever opposes him, because not only does he carry a combat knife and a .45 pistol in his civilian clothing (with another .45 and knife in the flight suit), he's also very avid at unarmed or improvisational combat. He won't hesitate to take any opportunity in a fight, including using his handgun, and attacks with speed and ferocity reminicient of a jet-fighter dogfight. He's also really annoyed that no matter what he tries, he always looks like a wimpy pushover, since it draws him into fights. Sure he usually WINS said fights, but he remembers his Sun Tzu and would like to see his opponents surrender without a fight, and he figures the best way to do that is to put on an imposing image. He also likes to intimidate people, and taunt those he considers idiots (or defeated opponents, but since he's very much a combat pragmatist, he only does this if the man opposing him will not get up).

He's very well read, wolfing down books on Japanese history, military history and strategy, current affairs, and historical tragedies like the Holocaust and the Gulag system. This has, combined with a somewhat turbulent family history (thanks to events in 2025, he's pretty much the only member of his family line left), given him a somewhat morose and cynical outlook on human nature. He's extremely distrustful of almost everybody, the only exceptions being people close to him in the Air Force. Davin's not much of a fan of rhetoric, either, as most of the speech makers of his time love to appeal to pathos (emotion), and he invariably picks it up as bathos (failed attempts to evoke sympathy).

Both in the air and on the ground, Davin fights like he believes a jet-dogfighter should--with lots and lots of speed and fast attacks. To borrow from TV Tropes, he's something of a fragile speedster, in that he'll be disabled, or even killed, if you can land one or two good solid hits on his midsection, but he refuses to let you, sending your fists to hit empty air while he nails you in the windpipe and solar plexus. Give him the opportunity, and he WILL hit you there. Possibly with his knife.