Tuesday, October 19, 2010
This imperfect world, full of juicy and poisoned apples...
When I was a twenty-year-old feminist, I was insufferable to all but a select few. That was okay because I was certain that everyone else was a selfish idiot. After that first heady blush of fiercely feral conviction I experienced during my feminist awakening in college (oh, how I tormented the menfolk), I had another wave of intense certainty again when I became vegan at 27. As before, I was insufferable to all but a select few. I was certain that people who didn’t believe what I knew to be true were selfish idiots. That was the only reasonable explanation. Years under the belt and more experience have worked in tandem to smooth over most of those harsh edges: I know now that people who eat meat are not consumed with violent, sadistic bloodlust. Most are simply following customs that are ingrained in them and supported by our culture. Many feel very attached to certain foods – through traditions in their home, associations they have, simply because it tastes good to them – and it is not as easy for some to adopt a new way of living than for others. I was fortunate in that it was a fairly quick process for me once I was ready, accelerated by seeing a film I simultaneously wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy and also wish would be mandatory viewing for anyone who wants to continue to eat animal products. There are so many thoroughly unnecessary tragedies happening at once that it is paralyzing to contemplate. If there’s anything that I’ve learned, it’s that we live in a seriously messed up world created by some seriously messed up people with their seriously messed up ideas, and the idealists among us need to accept these simple truths and try to make the best of it. As vegans, we need to accept that some of the choices we have to make as the result of living in an imperfect world are also going to be imperfect.
Does this sound like cynicism, like giving up? I hope not, because I am not advocating either. It’s simply that there are always going to be compromises we accept that undermine our pure, Utopian beliefs, unless we want to close ourselves off to the rest of the world completely, that is. The thought of living in a non-violent, vegan, feminist paradise (one that manages to be artistic and fun-loving, too!) is deeply appealing but…it’s not here. The deeply idealistic 19-year-old in me wishes that I didn’t think that it could very well never be here. I could go off and live surrounded by those who live, think and feel like I do, but in my heart, I know that that’s not what I want. I am challenged by people who are not vegan all the time: my life is enriched and thoughts are broadened by those who come from different perspectives and experiences. Also, as someone who is cloistered and separate, how much could I really help to change attitudes with my isolation? Yes, I could be more of an unsullied visionary but I would be deluding myself if I thought I could bring positive change by living as a separatist.
So I choose to live in the real world, one that is very flawed. I’ve tried to carve out a place for myself here that works and I think that I’ve largely succeeded. Accepting my place in this temporal world, though, means acknowledging that it is flawed place and requires all kinds of compromises of those who live here. This sort of compromise means that the grocery store I shop at also sells meat. I support them with my money because I don’t know any other way, realistically, unless I were to live completely self-sufficiently. It means that I buy some vegan items from non-vegan companies. I also support them with my dollars because although I’d love to give my money to exclusively vegan companies, there aren’t enough around to have that luxury, and I think it is a very elite, or intentionally isolated, few who can be afforded that privilege. This also means countless other compromises, too many to list, that wear away at the sharply defined edges and reassert that I live in the real world, dwell among people who do not live, think or feel like I do.
I am not a separatist. If that’s what I wanted, and if I thought that was what would do the most positive, lasting effect on the world, that would be what I’d do. Frankly, at times it’d be an easier choice: cut off the stuff I dislike. It is easy to sit on a secluded mountaintop and issue condemnations of how others live, but it is hard to live honestly and engaged in this flawed world with that sense of personal purity intact. Life is messy. Once you put yourself out there – take in a disabled parent who loves to order bacon when she eats out (and more than twenty years of your comments have made no impression), for example, or adopt a cat who loves to eat moths, flies, mice, any creature that moves – you allow for some measure of compromise. This doesn’t mean that you accept the violence of the world. It simply means that you accept the truth that violence exists. When you also have to make decisions that are imperfect because of how this flawed world operates, well, that is life, at least for now. I will do my best to change the things I can but I didn’t become a vegan so I could feel superior to everyone else. I became a vegan because it was consistent with my values and I wanted to do the most good possible. Sometimes the most good possible is still tinged with defects just as I am still tinged with defects.
Maintaining someone else’s standard of perfection is not my goal. My goal is to live a dynamic, compassionate, happy and challenging life. I want to live the hell out of this life I’ve got. Sitting on a metaphoric mountaintop so I can keep my hands clean and issue judgments with impunity? That’s not for me.