Saturday, October 17, 2009

Eating meat, over-population, and the end of Western and Russian civilizations

In San Jacinto, housing tracts have for some years been replacing dairy farms, but there are several within easy walking distance. My Ridgeback girls are interested in the cows they see there, and the cows in turn are interested in them. These cows have intelligent soulful eyes, and I probably never look in a cow’s eyes without wondering what sort of person could kill such a creature and turn it into hamburger. Of course the cows whom I look at are raised for their milk . . . or are they? I see tags on the ears of young ones from time to time and Imagine lines of people and unsmiling uniformed men ushering those to the left who will be used for work and those to the right who will be sent to the ovens.

We might ask, why are (many of us) so squeamish when we look into a cow’s eyes, but have little difficulty stopping on the way home and buying a couple of hamburgers from Carl’s? If we were to try and invoke Kant, what sort of principle could we create so that right and wrong could be clearly established – if not for everyone, at least for us.

We know from anthropological and historical studies that for all but a tiny sliver of our specie’s history we were quite content to war with each other and kill and eat almost anything that came to hand. So what changed us?

Surely this newfound (relatively) squeamishness regarding the killing and eating of meat is related to our newfound (relatively) desire to end war. Most of those on the Right and Left genuinely wish to end war. On the Right they think the best way to avoid war (if not for everyone, at least for us) is to be prepared so that no nation will wish to attack us. On the left there is hope that some new social structure, perhaps a universal Government can end war. But in the meantime we still war, and we still eat meat.

When did this squeamishness begin? Radical Islam is laying all sorts of bizarre fabrications at the feet of the Jews and the West, but this may be one thing that genuinely belongs there. From the Judaic-Christian tradition, we have learned to desire a time when we will have beaten our spears into ploughshares and our swords into pruning hooks. In that serene future, the lion, we are told, will lie down with the lamb. Surely if the lion will do it, we will as well, and if we lie down with him, will we later rise up again and eat him?

The spear and sword metaphor works well for the ending of war, and yet many Christian theologians would argue that it is God who will create that condition (the cessation of war) and not man. Even so, the desire to do it ourselves, or at least reduce the numbers and severity of wars, is strong.

Perhaps the desire to stop eating meat is becoming strong as well, but we can’t as good stewards of the earth allow animals to breed without control. In our newfound squeamishness we eliminated the wolf from Yosemite so that bison, elk, and deer could have a paradise there. But the horrors of overpopulation and subsequent starvation were shocking to those striving to manage the region. In the end they decided that their solution did more harm than good and let the wolf return. Leave it the way God (or “nature” the atheists would say) intended, for we know that way works.

But what did God intend in regard to humans? Human population was being controlled quite nicely with famines and diseases and war, but we moderns have “improved” our lot. We have nearly eliminated famine -- we have enabled ourselves to produce more food than Thomas Malthus could ever have dreamed of. And if we think about this at all nowadays, we feel guilty because we haven’t eliminated all famine everywhere.

In regard to disease, we have research facilities working diligently to find solutions to all diseases everywhere. Research for the most serious diseases such as heart disease, cancer and AIDS are funded more generously than the lesser diseases, but funding is available for many of them as well. Do we worry about what happens if we eliminate all disease; so that all the people who die off early, especially before bearing a child are saved?

Some people do worry about that. In China, with the worst over-population problem, they practice abortion religiously. In Europe, perhaps the most sophisticated region (in these regards), they have abandoned over-production of children. No government edict forced them to do that, they just did it. They were so successful that we have writers like Bat Ye’or worrying about Muslims pouring into Europe and waxing while the Europeans wane. They fear the loss of sophisticated Western Europe and Russia to the more primitive the less sophisticated Muslims.

Believers in Islam do not seem to have, let it be said, the same squeamishness about war, the eating of meat, and over-population that the more sophisticated civilizations have.

Many of us would argue that Pacifism can never work because as soon as one nation gives up its fighting ability, it creates an overwhelming temptation for some neighbor who has not. Something like that is occurring in Europe and Russia. Not the abandoning of self-defense, but they are not producing enough children to sustain their current populations. To see Muslims coming into these regions with excellent child-producing habits, alarms many in Europe and Russia

It is a knotty problem. Europeans and Russians can’t in good conscience overpopulate their nations like Yosemite once was. They would be content with abstinence. They do not feel the need for the reintroduction of the wolf. They want to go on eliminating disease and famine. But the wolf is at their door anyway. War in a new sense is being waged. Radical Islam is engaged in a new “soft” war where it out-produces European and Russian children and infiltrates them into the old, decadent (the Radical Islamists would say) populations.

In the past we sometimes worried about things that never happened. Malthus is an example of that. But it is never wrong to worry about war. Go back anthropologically as far as the scientists will let you and you will find our species, and our species predecessors engaged in war. It is a modern dream that war can be eliminated, but surely we shouldn’t act as though that dream were a reality. While theories abound, no one has demonstrated beyond doubt that war can be eliminated. In the meantime we must strive to keep the wolf from our particular door. He is still out there.

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