Is it our duty NOT to date meat eaters?
Many of us would refuse to date someone who is a persistent racist or an abusive chauvinist, as by partnering with someone we tacitly admit that they are a reasonable person, even if we don’t agree with them.
Given that the unnecessary killing of animals, not to mention the torture involved in factory farming, is wrong, do we have a duty not to date meat-eaters?
Prejudice of any kind is simply unacceptable
Intellectually, racism, chauvinism and speciesism are comparable, but socially they are not. The relationship between these prejudices and their social context is different.
In the West in 2013 there is a general awareness of the immorality of racism and chauvinism: there are constant reminders in pop-culture, much counter-evidence against racist beliefs, laws that help prevent discrimination against women, and very little pro-bigotry social conditioning. I think it’s fair to say that anyone in this context who is fully racist or chauvinistic is a terrible person, or perhaps so old that they are literally unable to change their minds.
Brainwashed from birth
But the social context is different when it comes to speciesism. If anything, the relationship is reversed: the media, parents, religions, authority figures, and friends all constantly reinforce the message that beings of another species are virtually worthless – there to be killed for our taste buds. Opposing this view can result in hostility and ridicule. Children are indoctrinated with speciesist ideology from a young age, almost a decade before their critical reasoning skills have developed enough for them to be able to question it.
These beliefs, instilled at such a young age, are almost impossible to shake off.
The history of progress is not of a single generation being able to shake off their social conditioning, but of a few people managing this in each generation. This minority pass on their progressive values to their children, and so with each generation a greater proportion of society dissents from the orthodox prejudice, until there are enough people challenging the prejudice for society to reach a tipping point. Examples of these tipping points include the civil rights movement of the 1960s, and the feminist uprisings of the 1910s and 1970s. The animal rights movement may be a long way off from this, although I suspect that technological change (laboratory synthesized meat) will accelerate animal liberation in the same way that World War One accelerated women’s liberation.
The best way to view meat eaters in 2013 is to think of them as the racists of the 1800s – products of their upbringing and society. It would be simplistic and incorrect to think of meat eaters as evil, just as it would be foolish to view Charles Dickens as evil because of his racism.
The person vs. the prejudice
In other words, we can make a distinction between the prejudice and the person, and when that person has been intensely culturally brain washed, we shouldn’t hold them fully responsible for their prejudice. A farmer in rural Pakistan may be at once a loving father, gentle husband, and a massive homophobe, but it would be wrong to call him evil.
Western meat eaters are in a similar position, and are not evil. They are good people with cultural blind spots, unlike Western racists who have actively chosen their prejudice.
This is why there’s nothing wrong with dating a meat eater. Some might even argue that it’s a good thing for animal rights supporters to date meat eaters – that way they can help their partners see through their cultural conditioning and help spread the commitment to compassion.
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