Ethical understanding - VeggieBoards
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#1 Old 06-10-2008, 12:15 PM
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Hi,

I have 2 children, 12 and 8. We have been a vegetarian family since before they arrived. Both children are healthy and active.



The 12 year old girl is appalled by meat and has never wanted to even try it. She is disgusted by it and understands the inherent cruelty.



The 8 year boy loves most meat and eats it whenever he visits a family who serves it. He is a sensitive child who cares for other people but is compeletely indifferent to the suffering of animals.



How can I help him expand his compassion to include animals?

Someone suggested showing him images of abbatoirs. Does anyone have any other suggestions? Is 8 simply too young to have the understanding?

Thanks for your help.



Leslie
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#2 Old 06-10-2008, 12:41 PM
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Hmm. Showing him videos of the slaughterhouse might not be the best idea at his age. Can you explain to him that killing animals for food is mean, just like killing a dog is mean? Maybe you can help please his stomach by high calorie foods - his body does need a lot of energy to grow.
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#3 Old 06-10-2008, 02:02 PM
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There are a lot of compasionate teaching sources out there that are geared more towards children. They include stories about farm animals (one I remember in particular was about a veal calf) and their sadness. Look around on peta kids, they have a lot of stuff for children.



I actually showed my little brother "Meet Your Meat" when he was seven or eight. I guess it really depends on how mature your child is and what your comfort levels are.
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#4 Old 06-11-2008, 12:39 PM
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Hi,

Thanks for your thoughtful replies.

Yes, I agree - Mean is a concept that kids understand. I'll try using that term.



I'll also check out what they have on the PETA site.



Best wishes everyone,

Leslie
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#5 Old 06-11-2008, 02:15 PM
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I would refrain from judgmental-type language such as "...is mean," "...is wrong," etc., since it's not as cut-and-dry as some moral issues. There are many, many, many meat eaters in this world that are not mean nor are they wrong, so we shouldn't plant the prejudice in the minds of our children. I don't want my kids to think that someone is mean just because he eats a steak.



With my kids, I tell them just the facts, sans the judgment. I tell them meat is dead animals. I tell them an animal had to die for that meat. As they get older, I'll probably go into more detail about the lives of these food animals. (I'm not sure I'd ever intentionally show them meet your meat, though.) However, I let them figure out if eating meat will be part of their diet. And hopefully, if I've given them enough facts and information, they will choose to be vegetarian, but if not, that's fine, too.



As parents, it's important for us to give our kids the tools to make their own decisions and judgments, not to make their decisions for them. Being a parent should be about giving your kids the power and independence to choose to be their own person.
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#6 Old 06-11-2008, 02:50 PM
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Do you have pets? Compassion for animals begins at home.



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#7 Old 06-11-2008, 02:55 PM
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I would refrain from judgmental-type language such as "...is mean," "...is wrong," etc., since it's not as cut-and-dry as some moral issues. There are many, many, many meat eaters in this world that are not mean nor are they wrong, so we shouldn't plant the prejudice in the minds of our children. I don't want my kids to think that someone is mean just because he eats a steak.



With my kids, I tell them just the facts, sans the judgment. I tell them meat is dead animals. I tell them an animal had to die for that meat. As they get older, I'll probably go into more detail about the lives of these food animals. (I'm not sure I'd ever intentionally show them meet your meat, though.) However, I let them figure out if eating meat will be part of their diet. And hopefully, if I've given them enough facts and information, they will choose to be vegetarian, but if not, that's fine, too.



As parents, it's important for us to give our kids the tools to make their own decisions and judgments, not to make their decisions for them. Being a parent should be about giving your kids the power and independence to choose to be their own person.



I so agree with your entire post. My whole family went vegetarian at the same time. I have a 15 and 4 y/o daughter. My oldest one has the capacity to understand and is on board with this. My youngest does not. I just basically told her what you told yours. She is taking in more vegetarian meals, but does occasionally get to eat the meat products that are left from before we went vegetarian. Once it is gone, it is gone, which isn't much at all anymore. She understands very small bits of it, but is not able to fully put the connection together that the meat she is eating is actually a dead animal. By her being younger, she will just naturally follow suit and the rhythm of the household. I control that. I am currently buying a few items to supplement those times when a child just wants a hot dog or burger.



I think this is the better option to educate your son and help him to get clarity about why the family does not and chooses not to eat meat. Choice is very powerful and empowering. Let him know that by making the choice not to consume meat is greater for the common good. I have found that most kids are also natural humanitarians. And maybe taking him to an animal rescue sanctuary may help him see it in a different light. It is hard to tell them that something is wrong with eating meat, when 99% of the population eats and schools perpetuate that it is a good thing and good for him.



Just a few thoughts more to add to the fire.
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#8 Old 06-13-2008, 08:05 AM
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Lots of interesting comments. Thanks a lot.

Friteware said I actually showed my little brother "Meet Your Meat" when he was seven or eight.

What was his response?



I haven't had a discussion about it lately with my son. But I found an interesting video on PETA kids about how animals are like people and suggested to my daughter that she might want to watch it with my son.



About the word "mean" - right, its a very loaded word. But its a word kids use. Are people who eat meat mean? I think some of us feel they are. At this point I think I would just say to him that I think its mean to kill animals.



I think in general the suggestions I'm getting are to focus on the positive and encourage empathy toward all creatures. With kids, its often a matter of giving things time to evolve, isn't it?



Thanks again for everyone's thoughtful replies.

Leslie
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#9 Old 06-17-2008, 02:45 PM
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I don't believe 8 is too young to understand. My son is 5 now, but he totally understood why we are vegetarian at the age of 3. He had asked to try meat, and I told him I was OK with that, but I wanted to make sure he understood where it came from. I asked him where he thought it came from, and he said "from an animal, you just pick a piece off and eat it." I then explained that the animal had to die in order for a person to get the meat (I then had to remind him of the spider he accidentally killed, to remind him of what death is) and his reaction was "that's not nice." So, in the end, he decided that he didn't want to try meat, because he didn't want an animal to die. I was also able to relate it to our pet. I asked him how he would feel if we killed our cat, and ate him. That really drove the point home.
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#10 Old 06-17-2008, 07:22 PM
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I would refrain from judgmental-type language such as [...] "...is wrong,"


"and I stand

upon a mountain

made of weak and useless men"

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#11 Old 06-17-2008, 07:42 PM
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My kids watched meat your meat, well, three of them, they're 8, 10 and 10. There were a few parts where I told them to stop looking for a few seconds, but they didn't get spastic and upset or anything. They wanted to watch it, so I let them.
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#12 Old 06-19-2008, 09:50 AM
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Trouble understanding?
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#13 Old 06-19-2008, 11:10 AM
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Trouble understanding?

Yeah, I have trouble understanding what the function of such words as 'wrong', 'cruel', 'bad' etc. is in our language, if they cannot be used for fear of being "judgemental". Bringing up our children with a clear set of moral values is very important. Certainly, they should not be taught to adopt those values dogmatically etc., but you can teach them to be critical without adopting extreme forms of moral relativism.

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made of weak and useless men"

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#14 Old 06-19-2008, 12:07 PM
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Yeah, I have trouble understanding what the function of such words as 'wrong', 'cruel', 'bad' etc. is in our language, if they cannot be used for fear of being "judgemental". Bringing up our children with a clear set of moral values is very important. Certainly, they should not be taught to adopt those values dogmatically etc., but you can teach them to be critical without adopting extreme forms of moral relativism.



Agreed. You know, it's hard for me to understand what could possibly be "wrong" if causing unnecessary harm towards conscious, sensitive creatures is not deemed "wrong". If we're going to be fair about defining "unnecessary", surely meat eating is not necessary for most humans' survival. If "necessary" only means what is necessary to continue pleasurable habits, then I'm afraid there's little force to the word.



ETA: Also, children can be taught (as can some adults), that just because values (or "rights") often conflict in the real world, does not mean we permanently throw out the values that in some circumstances lose out. If my "right to life" conflicts with another human's "right to life", and I'm the first to kill the other human because I'm stranded on a desert island with nothing else to eat, how can this mean that the other human's "right to life" was less real than my own?
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#15 Old 06-19-2008, 02:13 PM
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I don't agree with the use of the phrase is wrong when referring to eating meat or meat eaters. Not all people that eat meat do so for pleasure or just because they "want to." For some, it is a necessity for survival. Sure, the majority of the Western world is more than capable of surviving on a plant-based diet, but a large percentage of these lack any sort of education or support to do so, not to mention the monetary means to choose their food source. They're not wrong, nor are they mean, and I think it's irresponsible of parents to teach their children that meat eaters are wrong and mean.
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#16 Old 06-19-2008, 04:46 PM
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I don't agree with the use of the phrase is wrong when referring to eating meat or meat eaters. Not all people that eat meat do so for pleasure or just because they "want to." For some, it is a necessity for survival. Sure, the majority of the Western world is more than capable of surviving on a plant-based diet, but a large percentage of these lack any sort of education or support to do so, not to mention the monetary means to choose their food source. They're not wrong, nor are they mean, and I think it's irresponsible of parents to teach their children that meat eaters are wrong and mean.



Omnis' intentions may not be wrong and/or mean, and that can easily be due to ignorance of what really goes on "on the farm". How wealthy does one have to be to be made aware of factory farms and to seek healthy, plant-based foods?



When parents "protect" children from the realities of killing for food, on one level that is understandable, but on another level I question that type of protection. A child can slowly be made aware of the realities that go on, without having to shock or terrify the child. After all, there comes a point in every child's life where it's the duty of a good parent to educate about the harsh realities of life - whether that involves humans or non-humans. Of course, most parents give almost all attention towards the welfare of other humans (and perhaps their own pets). And that is just the point and the problem...



When we see "others" as "only other humans", everything else will naturally be reduced to material for humans' taking. And there will be a million excuses, and perhaps some good reasons, as to why these other non-humans need to be used/abused. Yes, I freely admit there are some people who honestly don't know that a plant-based diet can be sufficient for them, and don't know what foods need to be eaten to provide a balanced, healthy diet. I also admit that there are peoples who have little choice but to "eat off the land", and perhaps that involves hunting "animals". But this is what I want to stress: when most of the world sees little wrong with treating non-humans only as a means to our welfare, and promotes and reinforces this attitude every day, why should most people even care to change? Or to feel obliged to seek better ways of living, even if that requires a total transformation of their lives?



The poor could be assisted by others who care enough for them and non-humans. And they will be assisted, if some of us care enough to do so. But are we saying that not until all humans are comfortable enough with their own lives, their own standard of living, not until then are we to begin to improve the lives of farm and lab animals who almost surely suffer more than at least some poor, or isolated, peoples? If preventable suffering is wrong for humans, I am interested in why it's not wrong for non-humans.



But perhaps I am misguided and harsh to my own species.
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#17 Old 06-19-2008, 07:14 PM
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I'm with you ajax. If killing our fellow beings isn't cruel and wrong, then nothing is.

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Omnis' intentions may not be wrong and/or mean, and that can easily be due to ignorance of what really goes on "on the farm".

I wonder how far thoughtlessness can be stretched as an excuse for cruelty? Since we humans proclaim that our minds make us superior to all other life, does not each and every individual human have therefore a duty to use that mind to its fullest extent? How convincing an argument is ignorance, when its being used by the most intelligent creature on Earth?



I don't tend to frame the question of harm in terms of the intent of the perpetrator. The only valid viewpoint is the viewpoint of the victim, when it comes to evaluating whether an action is wrong and cruel. Since animals can't tell us their viewpoint directly, we must give them the benefit of the doubt that they consider being killed by humans as wrong and mean, just as we would consider being killed ourselves as wrong and mean.



I honestly don't see how a parent can instill the idea of refraining from harming animals in a child's mind without characterizing such harm as wrong. What other compelling reason is there to refrain from killing others, if such killing is not seen as wrong?

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#18 Old 06-19-2008, 09:01 PM
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I wonder how far thoughtlessness can be stretched as an excuse for cruelty? Since we humans proclaim that our minds make us superior to all other life, does not each and every individual human have therefore a duty to use that mind to its fullest extent? How convincing an argument is ignorance, when its being used by the most intelligent creature on Earth?



I suppose thoughtlessness can be stretched to the same degree that most humans typically stretch it if the results of their actions are not close by. But yes, there must come a point when ignorance turns into willed ignorance and some amount of blame makes sense.



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I don't tend to frame the question of harm in terms of the intent of the perpetrator. The only valid viewpoint is the viewpoint of the victim, when it comes to evaluating whether an action is wrong and cruel. Since animals can't tell us their viewpoint directly, we must give them the benefit of the doubt that they consider being killed by humans as wrong and mean, just as we would consider being killed ourselves as wrong and mean.



I would only add that, at least with some animals, giving them the benefit of the doubt isn't even required. Their desperate attempts at escape and cries of agony are direct enough for me to know they consider what's done to them wrong.
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#19 Old 06-20-2008, 10:25 AM
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I don't agree with the use of the phrase is wrong when referring to eating meat or meat eaters. Not all people that eat meat do so for pleasure or just because they "want to." For some, it is a necessity for survival. Sure, the majority of the Western world is more than capable of surviving on a plant-based diet, but a large percentage of these lack any sort of education or support to do so, not to mention the monetary means to choose their food source. They're not wrong, nor are they mean, and I think it's irresponsible of parents to teach their children that meat eaters are wrong and mean.

I think the poor starving folk who you think eat meat out of necessity are a red herring.



I think it is convoluted to justify (not call wrong; leave in the vague area of "personal choice") the billions of animals that suffer and die for Westerners living in abundance by invoking the people who live in poor rural areas etc.



It is beyond me that someone living in the West, having available to him/her countless animal products to gorge on when driving his/her car to the nearest store, can discuss his/her meat-eating in the same context with some dirt-poor people or indigenous peoples. It betrays an ignorance about the privilege that the former group of people have compared to the latter.

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#20 Old 06-20-2008, 10:31 AM
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I wonder how far thoughtlessness can be stretched as an excuse for cruelty? Since we humans proclaim that our minds make us superior to all other life, does not each and every individual human have therefore a duty to use that mind to its fullest extent? How convincing an argument is ignorance, when its being used by the most intelligent creature on Earth?



Thoughtlessness is one thing, but survival is another. Not everyone has the means, knowledge, or health to survive on a plant-based diet.



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I don't tend to frame the question of harm in terms of the intent of the perpetrator. The only valid viewpoint is the viewpoint of the victim, when it comes to evaluating whether an action is wrong and cruel. Since animals can't tell us their viewpoint directly, we must give them the benefit of the doubt that they consider being killed by humans as wrong and mean, just as we would consider being killed ourselves as wrong and mean.



Is it considered wrong and cruel when nonhuman animals kill other nonhuman animals for food? I'm sure the one being killed and eaten would think so, but in reality it's not.



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I honestly don't see how a parent can instill the idea of refraining from harming animals in a child's mind without characterizing such harm as wrong. What other compelling reason is there to refrain from killing others, if such killing is not seen as wrong?



A parent can easily instill the ethics of compassion and refraining from harming other living beings without labeling. In fact, it's actually better to do it this way, since it allows the child to develop her own sense of what's right and wrong. If the world were a black and white place, sure, labeling would be appropriate; however, the world is most definitely not black and white, just as our children are surely not our clones.
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#21 Old 06-20-2008, 10:35 AM
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ETA: Also, children can be taught (as can some adults), that just because values (or "rights") often conflict in the real world, does not mean we permanently throw out the values that in some circumstances lose out. If my "right to life" conflicts with another human's "right to life", and I'm the first to kill the other human because I'm stranded on a desert island with nothing else to eat, how can this mean that the other human's "right to life" was less real than my own?

Yeah, you can take many norms -- such as "do not steal", "do not kill", "do not lie" -- and you will find circumstances in which it is morally acceptable, sometimes even required, to break those norms. That doesn't mean none of those norms should be taught -- which teaching involves saying things like "stealing is wrong".



You teach your kids some basic moral rules and values, and as they face different circumstances and think for themselves, they will find out the exceptions to those rules by themselves -- exceptions on which they may disagree with you (you may think it was okay to break the do-not-kill rule in WWII, but your kid may become a strong pacifist, etc.).

"and I stand

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made of weak and useless men"

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#22 Old 06-20-2008, 10:40 AM
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If the world were a black and white place, sure, labeling would be appropriate; however, the world is most definitely not black and white, just as our children are surely not our clones.

But your own comments presuppose a black-and-white view of the world!



Because you are presupposing that either eating meat is wrong universally, always, everywhere, all the time, or the word 'wrong' cannot be used at all when discussing meat-eating. Black or white, either-or.



You do not recognize the "shades of gray" (gosh, I hate this rhetoric but I use it to illustrate my point): the idea that eating meat can be seen as generally wrong and unjustified because most of us exist in a privileged Western context, even if there are some exceptional circumstances in which someone can see it as justified.

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#23 Old 06-20-2008, 10:45 AM
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I think the poor starving folk who you think eat meat out of necessity are a red herring.



How are they a red herring? My point is that they exist...even in the Western world. And because they exist, it is irresponsible for me to tell my kids that people that eat meat are mean and wrong.



Plus, there are also people that eat meat out of necessity because of health issues. They aren't mean or wrong, either. Again, it would be irresponsible for me to tell my kids that these people are mean and wrong.



Not everyone can exist on a plant-based diet. It isn't black and white. Therefore, I shouldn't teach my kids it's a black and white issue by labeling all meat eaters as mean and wrong.
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#24 Old 06-20-2008, 10:48 AM
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How are they a red herring? My point is that they exist...even in the Western world. And because they exist, it is irresponsible for me to tell my kids that people that eat meat are mean and wrong.

They are a red herring in the same way that this argument involves a red herring:



"I don't tell my kids that it's wrong to stab people. Because situations exist in which people have to defend their lives and their families against attackers by using knives or other sharp tools."



Quote:
Not everyone can exist on a plant-based diet. It isn't black and white. Therefore, I shouldn't teach my kids it's a black and white issue by labeling all meat eaters as mean and wrong.

I think here is one source of our disagreement:



when I say or hear a statement like "X is wrong", I do not interpret that as "there exist no situations in which X is acceptable". I interpret it as a statement of a general moral principle which may face some exceptions along the way. Your interpretation of moral words is too categorical and extreme to correspond to people's actual moral thought and speech, IMO.

"and I stand

upon a mountain

made of weak and useless men"

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#25 Old 06-20-2008, 10:50 AM
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Philosophical rhetoric aside, I'm talking about teaching kids. Kids take at face value what you tell them. They tend to only think in black and white. If you tell them someone is bad or mean or a poo-poo head, they take it and save it and use it. They don't think about whether it applies to everyone. They just absorb it. This is why I'm against using this type of language with my kids. Instead, it's much, much more effective for me to give them the facts instead of the judgments.
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#26 Old 06-20-2008, 11:34 AM
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Wow - what a limited view of children.



Can you add more to the discussion besides your negative judgment? Or maybe just being judgmental is easier for you because you don't have to think?



Maybe this will go over your head, or maybe not. Maybe I'm wasting my time typing this, but I'll try anyway.



My three- and four-year olds right now only understand in black and white terms. They're getting to the point that they're beginning to understand that not everything is either black and white, but it'll be a few years before that occurs. If I tell them that so-and-so is not nice, they tend to believe it. If I tell them that teachers are mean, they tend to believe it. They don't think about whether I'm referring to all teachers. They haven't gotten to that point yet, so that's why I don't make judgments to them like those above. Their mother has severe health issues that have worsened over time. The vegetarian that I married is no longer vegetarian because of these health issues. Now, even if I believe that it's generally mean and wrong for the portly Western world to gorge on the cruelty of the meat industry, I cannot even possibly think for one moment of poisoning the minds of my children by telling them that their mother is mean and wrong because she now eats meat. Instead, I can tell them that I continue to not eat meat and my reasons for doing so. I can instill in and teach them every ounce of my compassion. But I cannot and will not label their mother as mean or wrong.



But I really shouldn't have had to write that out. It seems you're only interested in lazily judging others.
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#27 Old 06-20-2008, 11:46 AM
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After staring this discussion, I'm amazed at the deep philosophical concepts we have gotten into. Thanks everyone for your amazing insights and suggestions.



Another thing I have been thinking about since initiating this topic is what my parents told me about animals when I was a child. I was concerned about a group of cows standing outside huddled in a snow storm in a cold blinding wind. They said that animals don't feel pain the way we do. Even then I thought - well, how do we know what they feel? And later, I came to see that kind of thinking as a way of justifying to ourselves what we know deep down is wrong.



But I think with all the work that animal rights people and vegetarian movements are doing, its harder and harder for people to keep ignoring what's going on. Now, when I tell people we are vegetarian they invariably seem to react guiltily and tell me that they only eat meat once or twice a week. (!)



Do you notice a change in people's reactions?
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#28 Old 06-20-2008, 05:38 PM
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... Is it considered wrong and cruel when nonhuman animals kill other nonhuman animals for food? I'm sure the one being killed and eaten would think so, but in reality it's not.



Reality from whose perspective? A perspective from nowhere? I didn't realize our own subjective realities meant so little. I'm also curious as to what you consider wrong.



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A parent can easily instill the ethics of compassion and refraining from harming other living beings without labeling. In fact, it's actually better to do it this way, since it allows the child to develop her own sense of what's right and wrong. If the world were a black and white place, sure, labeling would be appropriate; however, the world is most definitely not black and white, just as our children are surely not our clones.[/



But instilling an ethic of compassion greatly determines what the child will see as right and wrong. Compassion leads to kind actions (even if that sometimes means putting an end to suffering), and shows us what is wrong with wanton killing and harming (i.e. how would you feel if you were the victim?).



You seem to be claiming that right and wrong is only determined by each individual. I'm going to throw this out there: no one learns morals from a void; no one just creates moral values ex nihilo; people (cultures) do often place greater importance on certain moral principles than other people (cultures), but I don't believe this entails extreme moral relativism. I submit there are basic moral principles that underlie most people's lives. To override one during certain circumstances, again, does not show that the principle is not real, or not shared to some extent by a great many people.



Does the fact that a person is required to eat meat, because of health reasons, mean that that person never regrets that necessity has forced that upon her or him? And if the person feels regret, doesn't that show that a basic moral principle is shared, that being it's better to cause as little harm as possible?
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#29 Old 06-20-2008, 07:28 PM
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Originally Posted by TrailMix View Post

Plus, there are also people that eat meat out of necessity because of health issues. They aren't mean or wrong, either. Again, it would be irresponsible for me to tell my kids that these people are mean and wrong.

The arbitrary needs of individuals to engage in any given action aren't what determines the morality of that action. For example, it is almost universally accepted that cannibalism is wrong. But if you are in a plane that crashes over the Andes, and all there is for you to eat is the flesh of your fellow passengers, your need temporarily excuses your cannibalism. Your need does not, however, make cannibalism right.

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#30 Old 06-20-2008, 11:46 PM
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Originally Posted by TrailMix View Post

Is it considered wrong and cruel when nonhuman animals kill other nonhuman animals for food? I'm sure the one being killed and eaten would think so, but in reality it's not.



Wow, I largely missed your point in my first response to your statement. The victim of nonhuman predation surely feels wronged, and that may be reality enough. I don't know how much moral agency exists in the rest of the world, outside of humans. I'm not claiming (absurdly?) that we hold predators responsible for killing. I do think it's dishonest for vegans to claim they're not at least somewhat bothered by nonhuman predation.
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