Few arguments are more amusing for me to sit back and watch than one between the unashamed omnivore and the fervent vegetarian. For whatever reason, people tend to really dig their heels in on this subject, and pretty well immediately begin digging up the most extreme examples they can to "prove" their point. Meat eaters will offer a pseudo-educated lecture on the nutrients missing in a vegetarian diet, and scream hypocrisy if their opposition has ever been so bold as to take a Tylenol. Vegetarians will put forth an emotional appeal that would make Satan himself weep, describing in gruesome detail the brief and tortured life of the animals that land on your plate. Both will make the occasional valid point, but all in all, it tends to turn into a competition of convincing propaganda.
Here's the thing. Yes, most of the meat that gets to your plate was probably not acquired in an awesome way. Yes, it is possible to get all of your nutrients through a vegetarian diet. Yes, there are many moral and nutritional arguments in favour of limiting your meat intake. Yes, a lot of animal testing facilities and meat manufacturers engage in horrific practices. Yes, there are plenty of perfectly acceptable and equally beneficial animal alternatives. But it is also true that humans are designed to consume meat. It is also true that many of the products we all use and take for granted came by way of animal somehow. It is also true that diseases and infections that would have otherwise killed us can be treated now, thanks to animals. And, believe it or not, it is also true that a middle ground can be sought, here.
The more we all learn about the meat industry, animal testing, and the questionable treatment of many critters, the bigger the moral dilemma we face. More and more people are opting to become vegetarians or vegans, and I, as an (almost) vegetarian myself, greatly appreciate this. But this is no place for extremism, either. When people venture over to either extreme of any issue, the chances of doing overall harm are far greater than doing any great benefit. We have to keep a lot of things in mind here - what are we replacing our meat with? Is that sustainable, and ecologically sound? Is it rational to completely remove animals from everyone's diet, or would it make more sense to force changes in the industry? What alternatives do we have, or must we create, to animal-based medications? What will the economic impact be if we greatly shift our perspective, and what steps are we taking to avoid a collapse? While I'm morally on the side of animal rights activists, I also realise that this isn't just a moral argument. If it were, the right choice would be quite clear: stop doing what we're doing. But there is much more than that to consider. Current hunting and fishing laws make it difficult to sustain ourselves on only what we can catch. Free range farms are a great alternative, but not available to many. Vegetarian alternatives are more ethical, but often difficult to justify ecologically and financially. Many medical treatments involve animal testing/products, and do not currently have a veg-friendly counterpart. The meat industry, for better or worse, generates a lot of income, creates a lot of jobs, and provides a lot of affordable food - if we want to destroy it, we'd damn well better be prepared to replace it.
If we really want to see positive change occur, we cannot come at this with knee-jerk reactions from either side. We have to recognize not just the moral implications of our actions, but also the ecological, economic, and medical. We have to be rational, and not force ourselves into boxes. You don't have to be either a tofuwrappedinlettuceite or a wrapitallinbaconite. You can cut down on meat, but still go fishing. You can be a vegetarian that indulges in cheese now and then. You can eat only free range animals. You can be a vegan that grows your own veg. You can raise your own chickens, and do with them what you will. There's no reason to believe you have to adopt either extreme. If we can at least all agree that the current way of doing things isn't fantastic, and there are better alternatives out there, we can all make a change for the better.
As you've probably figured out by now, one of my favourite pastimes is debate. From the philosophical to the linguistic, from the political to the mundane, any and all topics are worthy of debate, in my eyes. One topic that never gets old for...well...anyone, is religion. And lack of religion. And which versions of which religions are more or less valid. And so on, and so on, and so on. There is no end to the number of possible religious topics, and the internet gives us more than enough podiums from which to rant. One particular debate annoys me, however, on both a linguistic and ideological level.
See, I'm a pedant. And a writer. And a self-taught linguist. I take great interest in words, and how to most efficiently apply them. I'm also, however, vehemently opposed to forcing labels and ideologies onto others. I firmly believe that everyone has the right to define themselves, to take on or reject any label they so desire, and to leave open the option of changing their minds. And so, when the word "agnostic" is used without any additional suffix or context, my brain tends to split off into two diametrically opposed camps. On the one hand, "agnostic" is, by definition, a knowledge claim, not a belief claim. One can be an agnostic-atheist, an agnostic-Christian, an agnostic-Hindu, or any other possible designation. All it means is that one claims no knowledge of whether a literal deity exists or not - it says nothing about what they believe. On the other, I personally self-identify as "agnostic". I don't add atheist or theist or Cthuluist or Flying Spaghetti-ist to that - just regular, lonely ol' agnostic. So I fully understand where others are coming from with that. Yes, technically, if you do not believe in a specific deity/deities, you are an atheist. This is an unavoidable linguistic fact. But, if we are to be honest, words are much more than just cold definitions. Words carry connotations. They give flight to ideals. Stating that one is a theist, or an atheist, carries with it much more than a dictionary definition. It implies an ideology - an ideology not everyone wants to be associated with.
I've often been told that I "can't" be just an agnostic. That I "have to" admit to being either a theist or an atheist. That there is no logical way I can claim to be neither. The pedant half of me agrees - the strictest definitions of these terms demands that everyone be either a theist or an atheist. But the adamant free-thinker in me bucks this idea unabashedly. Sure, we all have our vague beliefs about such concepts, but what is so wrong with sticking with the clearest truth to some of us, which is "I don't know"? Why bother applying terms that we don't feel at all passionate or confident about? Why limit ourselves to a dichotomy that does not adequately sum up our views on the matter? What if I think a higher power is possible, but reject outright the current concepts presented? What if I think a higher power is unlikely, but that a more evolved, unknown species may have influenced our own? What if I think creation is reasonable, but that the proposed creators are not? There are countless ideas one may have on these topics that do not neatly fit into the "theist" or "atheist" models - so why should anyone be required to apply one term or the other to themselves?
Language has a single purpose: to communicate ideas. While creating strict definitions for words is necessary in a functional sense (that is, we all have to come to some sort of agreement on what words mean, otherwise, they lose their purpose), when it comes to vaguer ideologies, abstract concepts, and an expression of hard to define ideas, those strict definitions become a detriment. They force us to apply inadequate labels on ourselves, and limit our own ideas to the words currently available. This is, really, in direct opposition to the purpose of language - it prevents us from communicating our ideas, rather than arming us to do so.
And so, I propose a new definition for the label "agnostic". I propose that, if one chooses to use this label alone, free from any context, we should presume that this is a person that does not feel the terms "atheist" or "theist" sufficiently define their thoughts on the matter. That they have chosen to end the conversation at "I don't know". That they reject the connotations of other terms. That an agnostic is one that does not feel inclined to express vague beliefs, or feels belief is too abstract a concept to cling to. I propose that we loosen the definitions of "middle ground" labels, to communicate the idea that not all ideas can be communicated with a single word.
When I was 18, I lost a lot of weight. I was fed up with being perpetually fat-and-getting-fatter, and had seized the opportunity to break that cycle when I acquired a job at a health-conscious cafe. I began consuming only what was available there, and the weight began falling off. At 21, I quit drinking, after a pretty gross 3 year binge, clinging to coffee as my only salvation. At 23, I quit smoking, cold turkey, after an 8 year pack-a-day habit.
When I was 28, I lost a lot of weight. I was fed up with being perpetually fat-and-getting-fatter, and had seized the opportunity to break that cycle when I acquired a job at an art gallery 2km from my house. I began walking there everyday, and the weight began falling off. At 30, I quit drinking after a pretty gross 2 year binge, clinging to coffee as my only salvation. At 32, I quit smoking, cold turkey, after a 4 year pack-a-day habit.
I'm about to turn 33, and need to lose some weight. I'm not fat, but I am getting fatter. I'm about to turn 33, and drink too much. I'm about to turn 33, and just last week, broke down and had a cigarette. And I'm really, really pissed off at myself.
And I know I'm not alone; this is pretty classic behaviour, in fact. It's a subtle piece of dark humour, that DSM. People that "suffer" (I've never liked that word - I prefer "cope") from major depressive disorder are statistically far more prone to either over-eat or starve themselves, to smoke cigarettes, and to form addictions to drugs or alcohol. They're also more likely to engage in self-destructive behaviour, even when fully aware of the risks. And, in a not at all shocking revelation, they tend to get caught up in cycles that they are perpetually trying to break. I call this cycle "the fear of okay".
As pissed off as I am at myself, and as many times as I have overcome my obstacles (only to fall right back into the same pit), I know, somewhere, in some deep and dark pit of my brain, that I do this on purpose. I know that I sabotage my every accomplishment so that I will...so that I will have something to do later. See, for someone with depression, two things are certain: anxiety about the future (this is what makes many of us suicidal - "the future" is a terrifying and hard to imagine thing), and acceptance of the norm. Our norm, that is. We hate how things are, but we are, at the very least, used to them. We're used to being depressed. We're used to fucking up. We're used to being pissed off at ourselves. "The fear of okay" is the panic we feel when we begin to cross that line between what we're used to, and what may lie ahead. What if I keep the weight off this time? What if I quit drinking for good? What if I really do stop smoking? Then what? If I manage to keep my shit together, what will be left for me to do? I've been many things in my life, but "okay" has never been one of them, and the thought of it is utterly terrifying. I am so used to these cycles, so used to the highs and lows, that the idea of even, solid ground beneath me is completely foreign. If not for those bumps in the road, what could the journey possibly have to offer? Would I still be able to write? To paint? Would I have anything left to say?
If there is anything I fear more than insanity, it's boredom.
And yes, I know this makes very little sense to many of you. I mean, it's pretty simple, right? Stop doing the stuff that makes you feel like shit. Being happy is better than being depressed. This is shit a kindergartener could grasp pretty easily. The problem, however, is not one of understanding. The problem is fear. Fear of the unknown, fear of losing the identity we've worked hard to accept, fear of fading into oblivion. Fear of mediocrity. Fear of normalcy. Fear of okay.
Wherein I say
whatever I want.