Monday, March 07, 2011

Choices

I had a conversation with someone a few days ago (let's call him Joe) that slipped into a discussion about hunting. He was a friend of a friend's and as a few of us sat over coffee, someone brought up a story about an uncle's annual obsession with tracking down and killing deer. I noticed a change in his facial expression as he listened: his nose wrinkled just ever so perceptibly and a slight frown manifested itself as he crossed his arms. I asked Joe if he was against hunting and he said "no". A little surprised after having watched his facial expression and body language seem to indicate otherwise, I asked him if he hunted, himself. He told me that he hadn't in almost thirty years and that the last time he'd gone he'd been a teenager accompanying his grandfather. He told me that he's since had no interest in owning or using firearms of any sort and that even though many friends had invited him over the years to join them on hunting trips that he's declined. He told me that the story our table-mate had shared had disgusted him because "people who get off on killing are sick" and that he could never take pleasure in doing that. I paused, then told him that I was a bit befuddled over his fairly obvious reaction to our table-mate's hunting story and assertions of his own apparent disapproval of hunting, and yet of how he'd replied that he wasn't against hunting.

I had already been identified by our mutual friend as vegan, since my ordering soy for my coffee instead of the dairy default seemed to have warranted an explanation. I clarified my own stance for Joe briefly, stating that there's really no justification to treat a non-human animal as a thing existing for our use or pleasure, whether it involves hunting or other uses.
"Wow. That's really judgmental of you. It's the height of arrogance for you to think that just because you feel a certain way about something that you have any right to extend that to others' behaviours or actions," he replied. "We all have freedom of choice and neither you nor I have a right to interfere with anyone else's freedom of choice just because we disagree with what they're doing."

Uh huh.

I pointed out to Joe that we all, each and every one of us, engage in extending our own ethical beliefs--even our less important simple likes and dislikes--to the people around us every day in every other aspect of our lives. "I don't," he insisted. "You animal rights types may try to do it, but you have no right to impose your will on everyone else."

So I asked him if he thought it was wrong to physically strike young children across the face. "Of course!" he replied indignantly. I asked him what he would do if he were walking down the street and saw an adult strike a three-year-old hard across the face--whether he'd do or say anything. "I'd give that person a talking to and try hard not to give him a taste of his own medicine," he insisted. I asked, gingerly, if he did not think that this would count as his extending guidelines he'd set for his own behaviour (i.e. to not strike young children across the face since he believes that doing so is wrong) to the actions of others. "That's different! It's hitting a kid," he explained. I asked, then, how he'd react if he saw a man walking a dog on a leash and then turning to kick the dog really hard. "Well, I'd say something there, too. It's not right to hurt animals like that." I asked him, then, why he thought that extending his own view of hunting to others amounted to merely interfering with their freedom of choice and as his imposing his will on others, when over and above causing physical harm to another, it involved taking that other's very life.

"Wow. You're really militant," Joe replied (with an emotional knee-jerk non-response). "You're obviously carrying a lot of hate towards other people if you're this aggressive about promoting your animal rights agenda." Our mutual friend and our other table-mate had long since stopped their own discussion to listen to us, and our mutual friend laughed, saying "Ha ha! She got you, Joe!" upon noting Joe's agitation over having gotten tripped up.

The thing is that it hadn't been an attempt at a "gotcha" moment. A conversation had evolved after I'd expressed curiosity about what had seemed like a contradiction and had tried to tease that contradiction out a bit so that we could both examine it. I regretted that others had overheard the discussion and had then poked fun at him, since my intent had not been to ridicule.
I found it unfortunate that though Joe and I both recognized some of the same basic actions as inherently wrong that the fact that I did so as a vegan who felt no qualms about voicing that they weren't just wrong things for me to do--but that they were wrong in and of themselves--left Joe choosing to label me judgmental. The truth is that although he's kept it to himself, he's been doing a fair amount of judging of others who hunt, as well. Hopefully, taking it out of his bubble and placing it within a larger context will bring him around to understanding this and to his giving the whole matter of all animal use further thought. The choice, after all, is his.

9 comments:

Kerry said...

Absolutely spot on, Mylène -- as usual.

LiseyDuck said...

The 'militant' thing is a strange one. I entered into a similar discussion a while back with (to make it that bit more 'interesting') my partner's ex, who used the expression 'militant vegetarians are the worst thing' on a note he'd posted on the ethics of eating meat. Her initial comment included the line 'I really respect meat-eaters', which others had questioned - I responded to these others with my own point of view, that I can respect people at a basic level as sentient beings and respect that they hold different opinions from me, without respecting the actions I disagree with. Exey lady seemed to decide this was a 'militant' attacking her, and went to great lengths to explain how she respects people FOR eating meat. I guess what she doesn't respect is moral consistency...

MO said...

Thanks Kerry! The funny thing is that it could have been a conversation about absolutely anything; it just happened to get triggered by the topic of hunting. What puzzled me was his insistence on his own purportedly never externalizing his own ethical beliefs and then his outright condemnation of those who do, when it's so obvious that we all do this to some extent in our daily lives and to deny it is just plain foolishness. We just have a harder time processing it--from ourselves as well as from others--when the value or stance in question is something that's not widely accepted (i.e. when it's a minority view).

Cassidy said...

It's always interesting how non-vegans will assert that vegans are imposing their opinions or ethics on others...I see it much more the opposite way. As a vegan, I have the non-vegan world consistently imposing their animal-using ways on me, via friends, family, the media, the supermarket, billboards, the school cafeteria...
It's equally amusing how non-vegans act as though using animals is not on the ethics spectrum. It's just "the way it is". Well if not not using animals is a decision based on a type of ethics, than using animals is also a decision based on a type of ethics, just very different ethics.

Sherylcatmom said...

The very word "vegan" triggers defensiveness in some folks. A discussion on my Facebook page about a Brave Birds blog post (http://bit.ly/e0MHbo) was respectful, until someone jumped in with all-caps exclamations about vegans. At least the unfortunate tit for tat was brief.

ReneeMBM said...

Odd how offering an explanation is "militant" merely due to challenging subject matter. I've pointed out I don't get labelled a "militant writer" for explaining my different interpretation of texts or correcting grammar as an editor... Seems to trip people up for a moment, at least!

ReneeMBM said...

Odd how offering an explanation is "militant" merely due to challenging subject matter. I've pointed out I don't get labelled a "militant writer" for explaining my different interpretation of texts or correcting grammar as an editor... Seems to trip people up for a moment, at least!

Vanilla Rose said...

My guess is that he misinterpreted your comments as an attack on the grandfather with whom he had gone hunting. Irrational of him, but we have to beware these hidden minefields.

Abby Bean said...

It's always interesting to me that people who live a compassionate lifestyle are negatively accused of being militant. I guess most people have a compassion threshold?