“The gods have done me a great disfavor. They have called me the smartest man in Athens.” – Socrates (allegedly)
If there’s one piece of philosophy every human being should read and understand, it’s The Apologia, the first Socratic dialogue.
For those who never studied Plato, a quick sketch: the Apologia is Socrates “defending” himself in a trial in front of all of Athens. The essential thrust of the Apologia is that the only thing we can be sure of is our ignorance; Socrates is the smartest man in Athens not because of his profound knowledge but because he knows he doesn’t know anything. There is almost nothing that we know for certain, and much of our problems come when we claim otherwise.
I love the Apologia and try, in my own clumsy and not entirely successful way, to abide by its core message. I don’t know everything, my opinions are not always right (although my friends and anybody who runs into me on the Internet could be forgiven for thinking I believe otherwise; like I said, clumsy and not entirely successful), and above all, I need to keep my mind open.
But oh Lord, it is hard sometimes. So very, very hard.
Take veganism. Personally, veganism isn’t for me. Part of this is simply experience; I tried it for a week and quite frankly it was extremely unpleasant. My mood was terrible, I was breaking wind constantly, and I felt absolutely miserable for a straight week. I’m pretty sure the emotional problems would have just gotten worse. Said experiment was enough to put me off tofu for good; I have zero interest in it as a foodstuff now. I’ll eat it to be polite if I’m at a gathering, and I’ve had some good tofu dishes since, but I can’t eat it as a main course.
That said, just because it isn’t for me doesn’t mean it isn’t for other people. I firmly believe, to be honest, that everybody’s got a diet that’s best for themI know plenty of well-adjusted vegans who I get along with. I’m not the best at accomodating their needs sometimes, but at least I’m making an effort. And likewise, they respect my choices.
This brings us to the vegans who make vegans look bad. Yes, here we come to the political angle. Or, more specifically, one political angle. The “help, help, I’m being oppressed” routine, that in fact I just dealt with elsewhere on the Internet.
There’s little more sickening to me as a human being than the behavior of some aspects of the far left when it comes to minority chic. I have a problem with political correctness in general because I feel that it’s a system largely constructed by white middle-and-upper-middle-class liberals to reassure themselves that they’re OK and they’re not racist. In particular, I think considerations of class have been largely left out of the equation…but that’s another post.
It’s worth noting that the entire far left isn’t like this, but it is one of the far left’s main weaknesses; a godawful eagerness to fetishize minorities instead of treating them as people, or an attempt to claim some sort of minority status. But nowhere, to me, is this more outrageous than vegans trying to pull this shit.
If we’re going in the strict sense of the word, sure, vegans are a minority. But we’re not talking about numbers. We’re talking about how society treats people. And that’s where it doesn’t scale.
Whether black or gay or Latino or what have you, maltreatment in the hands of a society is almost inevitably about biology. That’s the key injustice. No, it’s not a good thing to force a person to undo a personal choice, or to block a personal choice from happening. In fact, it’s scary and horrible. But it’s considerably worse to say to a person, “Sure, we’ll treat you great if you’ll just change your biology. Oh, you can’t? TOO BAD!”
Almost inevitably, the self-righteous vegans lose track of this. Part of making choices is living with the fact that not everybody approves of them, but to be quite honest, unless somebody’s actively trying to violate your human rights by force-feeding you beef, that should be a fairly simple thing to deal with. But inevitably, they claim to oppressed because people are mean to them.
Where does Socrates come in? Again, that knowledge that you have no knowledge. I was born in Washington D.C. and lived there until I was ten, and spent summers in the South until I was eighteen or so, so my experience dealing with race growing up is substantially different from a lot of white people’s. I was introduced to concepts like biracialism and Black Power fairly early on in my development. My parents weren’t particularly political, but it was there in the environment. Many of my schoolmates were black. The power structure of the city I lived in was entirely black, reflecting the majority of people who lived there. My mom and dad both had black coworkers and supervisors who I met regularly.
None of this is to claim profound racial sensitivity, however. Quite the opposite. If you ask me point-blank if I have a great understanding of the black experience in America, the answer is “no.” Full stop. I have a secondhand understanding. I’ve read histories, I’ve been to important historical locations, I’ve thought hard about race in America, and have some pretty distinct opinions.
But that doesn’t mean I know what it’s like to be black in America, and barring some bizarre “Watermelon Man” scenario, I never will. And I respect that. I know that, on a very important fundamental level, I am ignorant of what it’s like to be black in America, and I always will be.
The thing is: I admit that. The vegan who says “all prejudice is the same” and calling him a fucking asshole is the same as the suffering black people go through? That guy needs to reread his Socrates.
I admit, I’ve offered my share of abuse to vegans, or at least the self-serious side of veganism. But you know what? It’s not prejudice or oppression. I’m not advocating vegans be hanged, or deported, or be treated as second-class citizens. I’m not saying vegans shouldn’t be allowed to get married or have kids. I’m saying some of them, not all by a long shot, are self-righteous and far too self-satisfied white people who read “Invisible Man” once and think they know everything about racial oppression.
To be honest, whenever I see somebody on the far left do this, kind of a modern “but my best friends are black people!”, I feel a slow, painful naseua arising, a realization that even the people supposedly trying to help the oppressed think they get it and really, really don’t. But, again, that’s another post.