Wednesday, March 9, 2016

In Search of Lost Loopholes...


I want to say that I fully understand the dazzling allure of a great loophole. Oh, loopholes, so comfortable and safe like a nice, comfortable easy chair you can sink into like it was built for you. In a way that makes sense because it was built for and by you. Loopholes are handy moral clauses that allow you an exit strategy from something that you know you should do but would prefer not to do or a justification for behavior that, in your heart of hearts, you know is immoral. I know all about loopholes as I have been an expert at scoping them out since my earliest recollections. I learned from observing my grandmother, for example, that if you keep cutting slivers off a piece of cheesecake – just a tich, as she liked to say – it doesn’t feel the same as eating a whole slice even if the eventuality is the same amount or even more cheesecake. A loophole is often a way for the mind to deceive itself while knowing full well, or mostly well, that it is being sneaky.

One such moral loophole presented itself during my brief flirtation with kleptomania during the summer of my 14th year, when I justified stealing eye shadow from the local drugstore by telling myself that they’d gotten plenty of my comic book and Bubble Yum dollars over the years and I deserved a little freebie. Oh, also, if I liked the way it looked, I would buy it again from Alpine Pharmacy and my single swiped product might serve to generate many more legitimate sales for them. I was actually helping them if I thought about it and as I pocketed eye shadows, lipsticks and the odd mascara that summer, I did think about it. That loophole quickly dissolved – as did my nascent career as a petty thief – when the owner-pharmacist of Alpine silently sidled up next to me while I was in the cosmetics aisle, put his hand on my shoulder and intimated that he knew what I was up to and he knew my parents as well. Done: I was effectively dissuaded from shoplifting for a lifetime.  

That wasn’t my first or last loophole, though. When I first started down the path of veganism, it wasn’t long before I stumbled upon a really nice loophole when it came to not wanting to give up my favorite raspberry Danishes at Alliance bakery: Well, I don’t know that they aren’t vegan. Just because it didn’t expressly say anywhere in the case that they were vegan – and nor did I ask – it didn’t mean that they weren’t made with soymilk and silken tofu. Never mind that it was 1995 and people weren’t generally baking like that; I had a tidy little loophole that allowed me to keep eating animal products for another year or so until watching a film successfully cut that loop wide open just as the pharmacist at Alpine had done years before. No more raspberry Danishes for me. No more loopholes out of veganism. This time, the personal consequence that I was facing if I’d continued wasn’t that I would be a juvenile delinquent but that I was a hypocrite. I couldn’t live with either of those outcomes.

I understand the seductive enticement of the loophole right away because, like I said, I enjoy an easy out as much as the next person. Our loopholes around veganism arise when people would rather avoid implementing changes than fully face their discomfort about what we do to other animals and what it says about our collusion when we support the industries that kill them. Loopholes materialize like mirages to those overtaken with unease when they would prefer to embrace complicated and crafty excuses than to confront the simple truth that all beings would prefer to live on their own terms and that harming them for personal benefit is unethical. In the process of trying to make peace with something that feels uncomfortable and untenable, we cling to these loopholes like they are life preservers: the loopholes may say, But my family is Italian, or, But what about lions?, or, But I can’t eat soy, or, But what I eat is free-range. When feeling unease about being complicit in an exploitative, cruel and unnecessary system that goes against their values, many would sooner construct a complicated mental gymnastics routine where they collect loopholes rather than lean into the discomfort and ask some penetrating questions of themselves. We are a self-deluding species. I understand that I am just as much as anyone else.

In our search for an out, for a loophole, we reveal that we are not fully comfortable with our decisions. We are saying we’d like to do something but do it without feeling guilty. I remember the pharmacist at Alpine, his hand on my shoulder, his insinuating tone: I resented him, I was intimidated by him, but I also knew that he was right. When we are in that role, when we tell the world that their moral clauses are rubbish and that their loopholes are really just a desperate exit strategy out of facing a deeper truth about living with consistency, we are probably not going to be embraced with open arms by most who feel that they have a handy justification. This is why having options like recipes, living tips and so on will be better received. At the same time, we need to call out the dishonesty of loopholes when we see them and remind people that if they are comfortable with their decisions, no excuses are necessary.

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