A Really Angry Cow

Thursday, August 31, 2006

The Conveniency of the Absent Referent in Meat and Pornography, Part One

I haven't read The Pornography of Meat by Carol J. Adams yet, so I don't know if this is covered in it; whether or not it is, I'm going to voice my thoughts on this matter.

Pornography and "meat" have a couple things together in common (more than I will list here). There is the insistence of the consumers that it's a personal choice to consume the product; there is the defense that no one is being hurt and exploited in it; and there is the idea that the making of this product is natural.

All of these are misconceptions at best, and a blatant delusion at worst. However, unlike many delusions, this one involves others -- an undeniable fact that, even taken alone, should debunk the "personal choice" excuse. But I don't just wish to debunk these; I also wish to give some insight behind it, and tie the two -- Women's Rights and Animal Rights -- together, just as they are meant to be.

Personal choice cannot be a personal choice if it affects others in a personal way. That is, believing in Jesus is a personal choice (for a deeper reason than you would think, and one I won't go into here); beating someone is not a personal choice.

Is it a choice? Of course it's a choice. All things we do, save involuntary actions like the beating of one's heart or the digestion of one's food, are choices. We can alter them at our will within restrictions that others or nature places on us; that is, if someone is holding you down, you can struggle or you can submit, but you can't do much else. I make that distinction to ward off ideas that if the animals cared enough about their plight, they would do something about it. I also make the distinction that while everything we do is a choice, sometimes we do not have a free choice; that is, mental abuse may teach us to be helpless or to submit to things we would not otherwise submit to.

Violence against others is never a personal choice; nor is exploiting others; nor is paying for them to be exploited. It is vital that we recognise these things.

The thing is, I can't just say "it's not a personal choice" and move on. I have to investigate why someone thinks it's a personal choice in order to combat it better in the future. Saying "you're wrong" is all well and good, but it does essentially nothing to further the rights of nonhuman people or women.

And I think I do know why we think it's a personal choice: we don't recognise that someone's on the other end of the exploitation because we only encounter them in an isolated state. In other words, we don't think that there's really someone there when we eat their flesh because we're alone when we do it. They're dead. And when we consume pornography, we're still alone (save for very rare group or couples situations), the film has already been made, they're not there. You can't recognise either of these people as people because you have had no personal contact with them.

There is another reason, one that goes much deeper than that; they are reduced for us into body parts, and so we learn to follow suit and reduce them into body parts. Enough of this, and we progress into doing it automatically to those we don't know, and compartmentalise those we do know. Carnists can look at a cow out in the field and say "mm, steak," because they don't know that cow. Consumers of pornography can look at a woman and say "mm, that ass."

We do it because we are taught to in a way that we enjoy. Who wouldn't want to spread that enjoyment over the rest of their life? It's very simple positive conditioning started from a very young age.

And the only reason we don't do this to those we know is because we are able to compartmentalise (though this too sometimes fails, in the case of pornography and women we know); we get to know them and we are unable to reconcile their personality with the things that we consume. Simple cognitive dissonance, but if we were to recognise that and bring it to the forefront of our minds, we would be so uncomfortable that we would.. have to change.

Try an experiment for me: next time you eat meat, keep in your mind that this was someone, and let that thought dominate over the flavour. Or, if you don't eat meat but consume pornography, next time you're watching a video let the thought that the woman in that film is a normal person like your mother or your sister sink in. Don't just think of them -- either of them -- as a taste or as an orgasm. It turns out to be a lot less enjoyable once you hold the truth in your mind.


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