‘I could definitely kill one of those’

by Tovar on April 30, 2010 · 39 comments

The timing was dead-on.

Just as I walked past the table, the woman said, “My rule is, ‘I’ll only eat it if I could kill it.’ And I could definitely kill one of those.”

I left the restaurant chuckling. I was thinking how the line echoed one of my reasons for taking up hunting: to face the killing of the fellow vertebrates I had begun eating after a decade of abstention. There would, I felt, be a lesson in that confrontation.

But the line also reminded me how complex our eating is.

As a vegan, my rule had been like hers. I was unwilling to kill animals or keep them penned up—or to have someone else do the killing or penning for me—so I didn’t eat their flesh or even their eggs or milk. I was okay with the killing of vegetables, grains, and legumes. Whether I grew it myself or bought it, the question seemed simple: Was I willing to behead broccoli?

Eventually, though, I came to the uncomfortable realization that harvesting individual plants was not all it took to put vegetarian meals on my plate.

  • Was I willing to remove wild plants (trees, grasses, and wildflowers) from a given area, to make room for domesticated plants? Was I willing to evict the wild mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians who lived there?
  • Was I willing to keep marauding insects and herbivores at bay? If deterrents and repellents didn’t work—if fences were breached or unaffordable—was I willing to kill beetles, woodchucks, and deer so I could eat?
  • If not, was I willing to do all of the above by proxy, knowing someone else had done it for me?

Faced with these questions, I had to (A) stop eating, (B) stick my head back in the sand, or (C) make peace with a far more complex picture of what it meant to be alive. I opted for C.

Yet I do still find value in posing the woman’s simpler question, especially when I’m about to eat flesh: Could I kill one of those?

And I still find myself wishing I had seen what was on her plate.

© 2010 Tovar Cerulli

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Suburban Bushwacker April 30, 2010 at 6:37 am

no one writes about this stuff better, your blog is required reading for the mindful foodie.

SBW

Arthur April 30, 2010 at 7:52 am

Very well written, Tovar. And I’m curious as to what was on her plate, too.

John Wooldridge April 30, 2010 at 9:13 am

Hi Tovar,
Extremely well written piece which certainly gave me some ‘food for thought’ (no pun intended). I’m fast becoming addicted to your posts and the way they make me pause and mull over my own reasons, excuses and needs for what I eat.
Best regards,
John

Terry Scoville April 30, 2010 at 11:22 am

Excellent post, as to just how complex our world is and a sample of the rationale behind our choices.

Tovar April 30, 2010 at 3:37 pm

SBW and All: Thanks for such high praise!

Arthur: Yeah, I wish I’d had the presence of mind to get a look without being obvious about it.

John: I hope I can keep your new addiction satisfied. :-)

Terry: As you suggest, there is much more complexity to the world, and to the reasoning we use to engage with it.

Casey Harn April 30, 2010 at 7:02 pm

Nice choice in option C. My guess as to what was on her plate: monkfish. Those things are scary ugly.

kmurray May 1, 2010 at 5:18 am

Great post Tovar! It is just amazing how we (animals and nature) are all so connected and how most everything we do as people affects the other creatures of the earth. It is mind boggling sometimes.

Tovar May 2, 2010 at 7:47 am

Casey: Yeah, option B didn’t feel right, and option A was downright unappealing. Monkfish, eh? Interesting. It hadn’t occurred to me that the creature’s looks might have been part of her logic!

KM: Thanks! It is amazing, for sure. And our minds are easily boggled! We may be incapable of comprehending all the connections and relationships, but I think we do well to remind ourselves that they exist.

Bill May 2, 2010 at 9:55 am

An excellent read and thought provoking as well.

Envirocapitalist May 2, 2010 at 10:06 pm

I love logic. I wish others could see that no matter what path is chosen we are still consumers and should not point the finger of judgement less we be judged. your pal the Envirocapitalist. Thanks for your thoughtfulness.

Deus Ex Machina May 3, 2010 at 7:31 am

I have always been a carnivore. I did come to terms with this naturally and have been raising our own rabbits (we harvest these ourselves) and chickens for food. It certainly makes one more respectful of your food.

Tovar May 3, 2010 at 2:58 pm

Bill: Glad you enjoyed it!

Envirocapitalist: It’s true. As much as some of us would like to achieve complete harmlessness, there’s no escaping the fact that our living has an impact on other creatures. I do still feel there’s value in making what choices we can about the form that impact takes, and in minimizing the harm (especially in ecological terms). But when I was a vegan, I’m afraid I found it easy to “point the finger of judgment.”

DEM: Thanks for stopping by. From what I hear and read, there seems to be a real wave of backyard-chicken-and-rabbit-raising sweeping the country. That direct kind of “coming to terms” does make us think about our food differently, doesn’t it?

Josh May 3, 2010 at 5:26 pm

Tovar, I’ve brought up this very topic on my blog, too. In fact, it is one of the main reasons I started a blog; people’s relationship with nature needs to be natural, and it needs to include an honest, clear-eyed and mature view of our place. We can never ‘leave no trace,’ but our trace ain’t all bad, either. Many folks mistakenly believe that the wild should be like a glorified television experience, where we come, observe, and then leave, but are never really there. “Should” implies “can”, and we simply cannot become disembodied phantasms. Nor should we.

Death is sad, but it is rarely evil.

Great post, man.

Add ducks to that backyard raising movement! I have three.

Long-time vegan May 3, 2010 at 6:23 pm

I’m a vegan, and a domesticated human to be sure (it is the honest truth), but I appreciate the care you put into your thoughts here. I feel a lot more overlap here than with some other veg blogs. I get frustrated when people pick on honey and whey, while ignoring the method of growing the plants.

As far as removing wild plants to expand agriculture–would I do this myself? Not at this point. How much food can I grow for myself in areas near me, that have already been cleared (even a domesticated human can do intensive gardening)? Will using agro-ecological methods be effective enough, to give me the food I need? What can, and am I willing to do, against pests and predators? All good food-for-thought. I am chewing on it all. And I think there is lots of room for both vegans and hunters in this transitioning world.

Tovar May 4, 2010 at 6:45 am

Josh: “Disembodied phantasms” who “are never really there”; I like it! That closely echoes things I’ve been thinking and writing about, especially concerning my experience of the transition back from vegetarianism. Glad you enjoyed the post. Ducks: check.

LTV: Thanks for your comment. I’m glad you feel resonance here and find thoughts worth chewing on. I agree that there is “room for both vegans and hunters” and I think it’s important to remember to leave that room for each other. It’s all too easy to get caught up in trying to convert each other instead. I’ll be writing more on such topics and I hope to have your voice in the conversation.

Ingrid May 7, 2010 at 3:45 am

I’m guessing Casey’s right, that a person making that kind of comment is likely to base the decision on the food’s appearance.

I would take exception to Josh’s comment, “Death is sad, but it is rarely evil.”

Although I tend to avoid rigid terms like “good” and “evil,” I do think human methods of killing animals are often evil, particularly when you look at some of the unnecessary horrors involved in factory farming, fur farms, sport killing like pigeon shoots and “varmint” extermination. There are so many cases when the death of the animal is undertaken in such a way that it’s difficult to label it as anything but evil — well, it’s certainly not good. Let’s say it’s not value-free, based on our general, societal understandings of compassion and humanity and human choices. My experience suggests this type of death is anything but rare.

And I believe this is also the justifiable starting point for many vegetarians and vegans who reject their participation in that harm. I don’t think being a vegetarian necessitates having your head in the sand about the effects of commercial agriculture on habitat and wildlife. I do think our industrialized system — and our earth, probably already beyond carrying capacity with an exponentially growing human population — make all of these choices much more difficult.

Tovar May 7, 2010 at 11:29 am

Thanks for your thoughts, Ingrid.

For the moment, I’ll leave the “evil” question for Josh to respond to, if he has a chance to get back here.

You’re right that being a vegetarian doesn’t necessitate having your head in the sand about the effects of agriculture, industrial or otherwise. I’m not thinking just of the former. Even local organic farms—even small family gardens—often have impacts of the kind I’ve suggested (land-use conversion, the need to deal with beetles and mammals when crop damage gets severe, etc). That’s not to say that those impacts are on the same scale, nor to say that they are wrong. It’s just to say that my vegetarian diet was not nearly so removed from such impacts as I had once believed.

After realizing these things, I did remain a vegetarian for some time. But it was with a less righteous and more complex “picture of what it meant to be alive.”

Long-time vegan May 7, 2010 at 12:05 pm

Spot on! Understanding the complexity of the situation has been a grace for me, because it did force me to be less righteous. And honestly, it’s much easier to live trying to do my best but not judging those who make different choices from me. Easier for me, easier for everyone.

Joshua May 7, 2010 at 1:50 pm

Thanks for the thoughtful comments, LTV.

My “evil” comment refers to death, whereas your comment refers to method. The method, intent, and justifications for killing may, indeed, be evil. Death itself, however, is not.

It is unnatural (and therefore, I posit, unethical) to pretend that humans can be removed from the cycles of life and death that support the entire system. It is absolutely imperative that humans do all they can to ensure that their actions are not unnaturally inhumane, either. In that sense, I completely agree with you.

As conscious beings with conscience, we are obligated to consider our impacts, and many run away when they see the suffering and sorrow caused by their impacts. Some run away viscerally, and just ask somebody else to do the killing for their meat; I believe that others run away with a conscience, trying to remove their impacts completely. But, the latter is impossible, and causes consequential deaths that lead, not to sustenance, but just merely bodies in the field as a result of doing business (farming, driving, etc.), at times in very inhumane ways (pesticides and harvesting are two methods that come to mind).

If, therefore one cannot help but cause death in order to live, there then can be no ethical imperative to not cause death (as “ought” implies “can”).

That leaves but one road (again, in my opinion): to try to come to an honest understanding of our real impacts; to take responsibility for those sacrifices that sustain us; to be sad for it, but also respectful and happy (as we get to live and sustain those we love); to hone our skills and understanding of our physical presence to lessen the inhumanity and to improve our humanity and understanding – to hunt, to farm properly, and to know the animals and plants and places that sustain you.

Ingrid May 8, 2010 at 1:10 am

Nicely put, Josh, and thanks for the response.

Tovar May 8, 2010 at 8:33 am

LTV and Josh: Thanks for the fine reflections!

Ingrid May 8, 2010 at 3:49 pm

Tovar said, “It’s just to say that my vegetarian diet was not nearly so removed from such impacts as I had once believed. After realizing these things, I did remain a vegetarian for some time. But it was with a less righteous and more complex ‘picture of what it meant to be alive.'”
————————–

That’s a great and important observation, Tovar. It goes way beyond the issue of being a vegetarian or a carnivore. I’ve had similar milestones — although if I’m to be completely honest, I am not nearly as reconciled as you are — to your credit! That is a genuine compliment. I’m still grappling with ways to deal with the awfulness I’ve seen in my work with animals. And that can, indeed, affect my judgment and equanimity if I’m not super careful. A pitcher of Tommy’s margaritas is a great antidote. (I think I mention tequila far too often.)

I think a lot of people begin any passionate quest with a righteousness born of new knowledge and new resolve. (I’ve met new backyard chicken people who would have me put a chicken tractor on my apartment balcony, if they had their way. :))

I know for many of us (I won’t speak for everyone) there’s a tendency to want to share, to educate, to pass along what we, ourselves, have learned — which, unfortunately, often becomes proselytizing. Because the underlying agenda is probably, in the beginning, “I’ve seen the light and you haven’t.” I think it is hard to distinguish genuine personal passion and commitment, from outright coercion. That should be a dramatic distinction but sometimes it’s not, especially if one is blinded by that light (to paraphrase Springsteen).

I think it’s particularly tough to draw that line when the well-being of living entities and our existence on this planet is involved. For instance, would most people argue today that it was okay to accept the racial horrors that marred the early history of this country? There are so many causes in this world today that match the magnitude of that injustice, and I think it’s agonizingly difficult to ascertain whether acceptance or “righteous” anger are appropriate responses to one situation or the other. Some people draw that line with humans — if it’s happening to humans, then it’s wrong. I wish I had such definitive clarity on life.

I’d be very interested in your thoughts on this.

The perspective to which you allude, having the “picture of what it meant to be alive” is truly a mature perspective. And knowing you as I’ve come to know you in this short time, I get precisely what you’re saying. This life can be one big crap shoot, full of simultaneous horror and beauty. The trick, for those of us who care about this planet and the life on it, is finding a way, as LTV and you both suggested in your own ways, to balance our own ideals with the understanding that not all people share our ideals. And then still have a beneficial effect on this earth and on the injustices we wish to correct. For me, that’s a life-long quest.

Ingrid May 8, 2010 at 5:01 pm

p.s. and btw — I’m well aware that my love for tequila (in the aforementioned note) must be weighed against the problems facing wild agave plants. Even drinking sustainably harvested agave nectar and supporting fair trade economics isn’t a perfect solution. Which is to say that, ultimately, Tovar is right in asserting that no lifestyle is free of harm. I totally agree.

Joshua May 8, 2010 at 9:15 pm

Ingrid, that was amazing. Simply amazing.

On a side note:

“I’ve met new backyard chicken people who would have me put a chicken tractor on my apartment balcony, if they had their way.” That’s me about backyard farm animals, in general…

Tovar May 9, 2010 at 8:13 pm

I agree, Ingrid. It goes way beyond being a vegetarian or a carnivore. I’m still in the process of becoming “reconciled.” Hunting is, of course, a part of that becoming, a recurrent grappling with what Barry Lopez called “the blood, the horror inherent in all life” and, yes, with the beauty, too.

True, the question of righteousness is a hard one. Where do we draw the line between the horrors against which we speak and act, and the things we must accept despite our discomfort?

I don’t draw the line simply at “what happens to humans.” There are plenty of things done to nature and to animals—including some done in the name of hunting—against which I feel we should speak and act.

I have no simple answer here. For me, part of the answer stems from the fact that life and death and predation are inherent in all life. We can live and eat in better and worse ways, but there is no escape from the basic reality: even insects and herbivores harm the organisms they eat, and healthy ecosystems include predators of all sizes.

As for tequila and agave-hunting, I have no relevant experience and will have to leave such musings to you. ;)

Joshua May 9, 2010 at 9:29 pm

I’d like to address the human vs. nonhuman issue just a little bit. I do draw the line at humans, and I think that many vertebrate species share my reasoning. It is natural, especially among herd or group mammals, to have a particular empathy within species.

Another way to approach it is the rights-as-concept. Rights must, by definition, first include an equality in freedom, but they also must include obligation, and therefore entertain the notion, under general circumstances, of choice. For example, children are not considered capable of exercising their rights, but they do have rights (protected by adults) because, again in general, there is the notion that at some point they will be able to buy into the concept. The Preamble to our Constitution provides a good example of the social contract inherent in rights. Yet, this cannot apply to, say, mountain lions. No mountain lion can ever buy into the social contract, and so it shouldn’t be considered obligated to do so.

Since rights don’t work, therefore, then probably the notions closest to the world’s realities are religious notions (which are not rights-based, and also differ greatly), and Aristotelian concepts (treating likes alike, and unlikes differently, because it isn’t fair to do otherwise).

This is just a short set of notions, but it’s pretty much where I find myself.

By the way, I love this stuff, and I really appreciate everybody’s input – I definitely don’t consider myself an expert in any sense.

Ingrid May 10, 2010 at 12:23 am

It might be obvious, Josh, that I don’t draw the line at humans. :)

I realize the word “rights” is loaded with historical, philosophical and legal context. I would just add that a definition like the one you provide early in your comment is also problematic for the obvious reason that there are humans (some mentally disabled) who would never qualify for “rights” under this agreement. I realize all of this has been argued long before I entered the fray. Unfortunately, in spite of arguable inconsistencies, this common notion of rights has long been used to justify exploitation of those who don’t possess the agreed-upon criteria (human and non-human alike).

** I realize, from your comment, that you are not arguing for this. I just wanted to tack on that idea.

I personally, in my own behavior, err on the side of sentience as a measure of how we treat each other and how we treat “the other.” I would argue (against many who would disagree) that just because we possess rights that we deny others, doesn’t mean that we should use that disempowerment to treat them as we wish. It’s a double-edged conundrum in that we claim a superior consciousness which allows us some measure of dominion (non-Biblical usage). And yet, a superior consciousness would presume to relegate to the helpless or the dispossessed, a large measure compassion and empathy befitting that superior awareness.

The most tragic aspect of discussions involving animals is that we simply don’t know what they think and we don’t know all of the faculties they genuinely possess. I would swear on my life that animals share many of our feelings, based on my life-long experience in working with them. But I can’t “prove” it scientifically. It would take a new language, a new paradigm altogether to effectively grasp the intangible aspects of other species that do not share our verbal language. Some recent research IS giving us greater insight into those capacities. Absent scientific proclamation, I fear that when the issue of how we treat others is left to the variability of religious views, all manner of behavior toward others emerges.

Josh May 10, 2010 at 2:04 pm

Ingrid, I completely agree with everything you’ve said here. However, I also know we wind up with different conclusions, and that’s alright by me. Here is where I come from:

First, I do have an answer for the exceptions you give, but of course, that’s for another conversation.

Second, “sentience” as the line is also an arbitrary notion, (some would argue even more arbitrary than “humans” as the line) it runs into the same problems you give for mentally disabled humans, and it is also indefinable. For example, the sierra currant I planted in my back yard last week moved to face the new direction of the sunlight. Did it do so because of a pain stimulus? Hope? I don’t know (and I’m not being facetious, either, I think about this). These problems, coupled with the problem you provide about not being able to ‘prove’ others’ feelings (which can also be applied to other humans, this being the big Cartesian conundrum), then added to that the understanding that death is a part of our ecosystem’s existence, and you can probably understand why I haven’t wound up in the same place.

Really, though, I think it is because of where I start, which is with death. Death is inevitable among the living, it is a vital part of our place, and it must occur for our sustenance. However, it is sad, and causing pain is, generally, wrong for a conscious being with conscience. Therefore, I looked at what I was doing (because I hunted and fished before I started thinking about these things), and I thought: How can I be responsible for this powerful conclusion, and therefore lessen the impacts I know to be wrong? Well, that means I must stop eating inhumanely treated animals and using their products. I wanted to know that the animals that sustain me were able to “be” themselves, to live as they were meant to live, to exercise their existence.

But then I thought, if I became a vegetarian, what would that entail? It would entail others killing for me, not to sustain myself from those who died for me, but as a matter of doing business, a “negative externality” as the economists put it. That, to me, was far, far more abhorrent than eating what I killed. This was a natural thought for me, as I had been raised surrounded by hundreds of thousands of farm acres, marshlands, and rivers. I knew what was going on out there.

I do appreciate your attempts to lessen your bad impacts, and I do appreciate your insights. Thanks for listening (or reading), and Tovar, thanks for bringing up such a powerful subject.

Tovar May 10, 2010 at 3:14 pm

Josh and Ingrid: Fine thoughts all around. Thank you! By somewhat different paths, we have arrived at somewhat different places, yet we see eye-to-eye in many ways.

I don’t have much to add at the moment.

I agree, Josh, that having “a particular empathy within species” is natural and appropriate. When I say I don’t draw the lines at what is done to humans, I simply mean that there are ways of treating animals (and other parts of the larger-than-human natural world) to which I do respond with righteous outrage.

To turn this on its head a bit, I do draw a line at what is done by humans. I don’t extend judgment to what non-human animals do.

The animal “rights” versus “welfare” argument is another tangle, one I usually find less than illuminating. I wonder if the various positions in it are examples of the kind of after-the-fact rationalizations that so many of us cast about for, in the effort to explain conclusions we have reached by non-rational, “intuitive” means.

Josh May 10, 2010 at 4:03 pm

Tovar, Phillip over at Hog Blog had a great line, that, “man is the only animal that rationalizes.”

I don’t know if we are merely rationalizing here, though. I think we are all people here who actually did alter their behaviors trying to lessen their bad impacts.

Tovar May 10, 2010 at 4:50 pm

Oh, I agree, Josh. To me, what folks say here feels much more honest than “merely rationalizing,” which is why I value these exchanges.

I was simply noting that, in my view, the conclusions we come to—about what a “bad impact” is, or what “good behavior” is—are often rooted deeper than rational thought. Nothing at all wrong with that. Despite our idealization of it in this culture, the rational mind isn’t always all it’s cracked up to be.

I was noting, too, that the convoluted logic puzzles spawned in many animal-rights vs. animal-welfare debates often seem to me like attempts to rationally justify what folks have already decided, on very different grounds, grounds that may not be as honored in our culture as logic is.

Sorry if my last comment wasn’t clear, or if this one isn’t. My brain is on the fuzzy side at the moment!

By the way, the last few paragraphs in your comment from earlier this afternoon were right on the mark for me. Very resonant.

Ingrid May 10, 2010 at 5:18 pm

Josh wrote: “I don’t know if we are merely rationalizing here, though. I think we are all people here who actually did alter their behaviors trying to lessen their bad impacts.”

I like that, Josh. I think we probably have many more points of agreement than disagreement. But the points of disagreement are a bear, aren’t they? (pardon the pun) Issues of rights, consciousness, and sentience are not easily resolved. Like you and Tovar, I also ponder plant sentience. However we define “sentience,” plants have a life force that I do not diminish. To me, the rampant “abuse” of plant life on this planet is as troubling as what we see happen to animals.

I struggle with the same conundrum that brought Tovar to hunting: No matter the lifestyle, death and suffering are inevitable in a corporeal existence. For me, the question was, “how do I reduce my impact and my contribution to that suffering?” My answer continues to modulate over the years which is, perhaps, why I’m okay entertaining the various points at a hunting blog.

Being “No Impact Man” is inordinately difficult in a modern world. I’ve touched on this in my blog many times, using the term “ahimsa” (least harm) to best describe my spiritual inclinations, though I’m neither a Buddhist nor a Jain. Don’t even get me started on Descartes, btw.

I grew up in an environment where I was never removed from the cycle of life (farm killing, hunting, trapping). I also lived close to a big, international city which muddled my ideology. I was neither rural nor urban, and not quite suburban. Furthermore, my mother exercised her animist ancestry in treating kindly, every living thing that crossed our threshold.

This is another one of those things I can’t “prove,” but I’ve wondered if the inclination to hunt or fish is constitutional. I was exposed to it all. But I cannot recall a time when I enjoyed such things, even though other members of my family didn’t share my hyper-sensitivity. I couldn’t bear the slaughter and again, that loaded word, suffering. What I’ve witnessed throughout my life will haunt me to the end of my days.

All of that appears to be part of my constitution. So, understanding this — that I could not bear to knowingly take a life in my hands — I had to find other ways. And then admit, as we’ve all discussed, that any lifestyle is imperfect when you look at the extended benefit or harm of that lifestyle, beyond what we ourselves do or see.

Here’s the thing: Where you are at philosophically . . . where Tovar is at . . . I believe that if more people were contemplating these issues in earnest, most lifestyles, whether they included meat or not, whether they included hunting or purchasing agricultural meats, would be — by virtue of this “consciousness” — moving in the right direction.

Unfortunately, the gross negligence (as I see it) where we have such unconscious “dominion” over other living things makes it tougher to embrace the cycle of life. The cycle we’ve created includes so much wanton waste and, sometimes, malice. And yes, it is a cycle of our creation. The “natural” cycle does not much resemble the model we’ve construed.

Thanks for the discussion, you two.

shotgunner May 10, 2010 at 6:14 pm

Many animals die in the growing of vegetables. Both invertebrates and vertebrates. The only “renewable” foods would be fruits, nuts and seeds. The seeds (wheat) are from a plant that will die after seeds mature so we are not the cause of death. I do not believe a human can live very long on only fruits, nuts and seeds.

One does decapitate a lettuce for every salad. Why did it have to die? Because we have to eat. It is a fact of life.

If one does not wish to have anything die on their behalf, then likely they themselves will die. It’s a hard choice.

Tovar May 12, 2010 at 9:09 pm

True, shotgunner, a lot of animals do die in the growing of vegetables. More in some forms of agriculture than others, but a degree of harm to non-plant life is inescapable.

That inevitability of killing—both animals and plants—can be a bitter pill to swallow when, as I once did, you invest so much value and belief in the harmlessness of how you’re living and eating.

shotgunner May 12, 2010 at 9:24 pm

Tovar;

thanks for your thoughtful response. I’d like to add a couple of points:

A) I do not understand the idea behind “living harmlessly”. Since it is unavoidable, why is it a goal? It is akin to being human but never making an error. It is impossible. No organism has zero impact. The only way for humans to have zero impact is extinction.

B) I see no separation between eating vegetation that was grown at the “accidental” ** expense of many lives lost and the loss of a single life so I and perhaps many others can eat meat. None.

** since we know it will happen how is it an accident?

May I make a suggestion? You eat the foods you like and make you healthy, I’ll do the same. We each agree not to judge the other for their choices and hopefully we can all do it in a fashion that allows our grandchildren to do the same.

Joshua May 12, 2010 at 10:36 pm

Shotgunner, you make some interesting points, and I’d like to address a couple:

Many people set unachievable goals, at times for good reason. The attempt at doing no harm comes from our conscience, and I think it is a fine goal. With wisdom, one can come to accept both that they must try to avoid unnecessary harm, and accept responsibility for the necessary harm. But to throw out the notion, altogether, I think would be a step backwards. With regards to zero impact, I completely agree with you (and Tovar, and Ingrid) – zero impact shouldn’t be a goal. But, zero bad impact should be a goal, even if unachievable.

Ingrid May 12, 2010 at 11:25 pm

Josh, we must have posted at the same time. Your response wasn’t up as I was writing mine. Otherwise, I might have left well enough alone with your answer.

Ingrid May 12, 2010 at 10:44 pm

Shotgunner wrote: “I do not understand the idea behind “living harmlessly”. Since it is unavoidable, why is it a goal?”

I’m obviously not speaking for Tovar. I realize you are responding to his comments. I like to use the term “least harm,” because, as you say, living harmlessly is an impossibility. The fact that we invariably harm by existing — even in treading upon soil — doesn’t mean that we should use “we all cause harm” as a rationalization to do as we see fit. For one thing, I don’t believe we have that luxury in this over-populated world . . . to not think about our impacts and our outcomes on others. Our choices affect not just our individual pleasures and pains, but the well-being of the world at large. If more people endeavored to reduce their impact or level of “harm,” it would, indeed, have an effect on the world at large. I think that does matter. And it certainly will matter to all grandchildren born today, who inherit this planet.

You ask why is living harmlessly a goal? That’s obviously an idea born of a personal belief system. There is a lot suffering on this planet and from my perspective, if I have a choice, why not choose to diffuse some of it? It may not constitute a sea change to save one human life or one animal life. But it does matter to that human or or that animal who was spared. And I tend to believe that little gestures of compassion build a greater whole.

So, perhaps not for you, but for some of us, the world is a tough enough place. And the idea of harmlessness to me speaks of a desire to tread lightly upon this place, and simultaneously make life a bit more palatable and compassionate for others with whom we share it for this short time.

Tovar May 13, 2010 at 3:51 pm

Shotgunner: Josh and Ingrid’s thoughts are resonant with mine. By living, I have an impact. The question for me here is: What kind of impact? An herbivore who browses on plants injures (and sometimes kills) those plants; unless out of ecological balance, though, that herbivore does no ecological harm and fertilizes the soil in return. Likewise, a predator harms and kills its prey; but it, too, is part of the cycle and the balance. To whatever degree possible, that inevitable impact is the kind I want to have. I’d rather not inflict gratuitous harm or cause lasting ecological damage.

Josh and Ingrid: The idea of you two, a hunter and a vegetarian, simultaneously typing similar comments tickles me to no end!

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