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  • The Limits of Reason – pt. 2

    A ridiculously prolific writer, Kierkegaard is often considered the father of existentialism. He eschewed the absolutism of broad philosophical explanatory systems and put the onus on the individual to pursue meaning and truth. In an oversimplification of his works, one could say Kierkegaard believed we looked at life through at least three different frameworks; namely the aesthetic, the ethical, and the religious. For my purposes, I am not interested in the categories, but rather the mechanism of moving from one perspective to the other. This is the context for Kierkegaard’s famous leap of faith. Each stage is broader and truer than the next, but from the perspective of the lower stages, the higher ones look paradoxical and contradictory. Reason cannot be your guide, and Kierkegaard goes as far as to say there has to be a death and denial of your reasoning for the leap to occur into a broader perspective. Once in a higher stage, one can look back in retrospect and see the reason and rationality of what one believes, but this is only after the leap.

    So what is the incentive for the leap? Let me turn to another religious writer who was a mystic at heart. In Orthodoxy G. K. Chesterton writes:

                    “The madman is not the man who has lost his reason. The madman is the man who has lost everything except his reason… [His] explanation of a thing is always complete, and often in a purely rational sense satisfactory. Or, to speak more strictly, the insane explanation, if not conclusive, is at least unanswerable… If a man says (for instance) that men have a conspiracy against him, you cannot dispute it except by saying that all the men deny that they are conspirators; which is exactly what conspirators would do. His explanation covers the facts as much as yours…

                    “Nevertheless he is wrong. But if we attempt to trace error in exact terms, we shall not find it quite so easy as had supposed… his mind moves in a perfect but narrow circle. A small circle is quite as infinite as a large circle; but though it is quite as infinite, it is not so large. In the same way the insane explanation is quite as complete as the sane one, but it is not so large… the strongest and most unmistakable mark of madness is this combination between a logical completeness and a spiritual contraction… I mean that if you or I were dealing with a mind that was growing morbid, we should be chiefly concerned not so much to give it arguments as to give it air, to convince it that there was something cleaner and cooler outside the suffocation of a single argument.

                    “In these cases it is not enough that the unhappy man should desire truth; he must desire health… A man cannot think himself out of mental evil; for it is actually the organ of thought that has become diseased, ungovernable, and, as it were, independent. He can only be saved by will or faith. The moment his mere reason moves, it moves in the old circular rut; he will go round and round his logical circle, just as a man in a third-class carriage on the Inner Circle will go round and round the Inner Circle unless he performs the voluntary, vigorous, and mystical act of getting out at Gower Street.”

    These witty passages speak for themselves, but how might this apply to Mr. Kip Andersen? From my perspective, those who are vegans solely on moral grounds of killing animals have shrunk their world to one that no longer fits in the systems of Nature. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that they place themselves in the wrong niche for reasons that Nature has never acknowledged.  The truth is we are not very efficient vegans. Our protein needs as a vegan are met in creative ways, often requiring products like soy that are almost exclusively grown in unsustainable, monocrop systems. Yet even if you managed to eat vegan in the most responsible way, you will never match the efficiency of a ruminant and her four-chambered stomach who feeds off a perennial ecosystem. Even if only at a subconscious level, I imagine there is some sort of discord felt when in the wrong niche. I felt it keenly in the film when Kip was pleased to present a company that was making meat-like products from vegetable bases for much less energy loss than typical meat production. Great! Not doing as much damage… Yet when in the right niche, Nature is not about mitigating damage, but synergistically creating abundance; like the ruminant in her grass-based ecosystem.

    The other obvious discord is a moral standard that is contrary to Nature’s essential mechanisms. As I have said elsewhere, eating is Nature’s currency. As essential as the ruminant is to keep her ecosystem healthy, if her population is allowed to run rampant and grow out of proper proportion to her ecosystem, she becomes the destructive force that we are all so aware of. This is true from areas of desertification to riparian health in areas of high rainfall. Nature keeps this balance by somebody higher up the food chain eating the ruminant that has thrived off of the abundance of the whole system. Yet if the anti-killing vegan remains consistent, eventually the animals they claim to revere will one day come under their judgement, except for (ironically) ruminants perhaps. From the wolf pack, to the beloved whales, down to the lady bug that eats aphids, these predators, by definition are morally inferior to all plant-life and herbivores. Clearly this is an example of Chesterton’s combination of logical completeness and spiritual contraction. Surely there has to be some uncomfortable disconnect when it is argued that eating animals is wrong because it harms animals that eat animals.

    My strategy, in confronting vegans that proclaim people such as me as addicted killers of sentient beings, would be to emphasize that I’m part of a greater system that has been around since the beginning. They have the freedom and the right to believe Nature does not know what she is doing, but is that healthy? Is it enjoyable? Can you even feel connected to this world outside of man-made communities? The Gnosticism that claims we, with our rational minds, are separate and superior to the world of biology and no longer sees ourselves as animals and thus claims to be exempt from Nature’s patterns and rules, has a long history of producing people that feel existentially bankrupt. Is that really a tradition vegans want to embrace and be a part of? Mind you, veganism is not inherently wrong. There may be many localities where it is the least harmful way of life in our screwed up system. Or even simply because you personally don’t like the thought of killing animals—still not a problem. But to claim its moral superiority by placing a moral injunction against killing strikes me as a classic spiritual contraction.

    I don’t want suffocation, I desire synergy. I don’t want simply mitigation, I desire abundance. I’m not looking to assuage my guilt, I desire health. I don’t even have to have the higher moral ground, I desire connection and a sense of belonging to my world around me. That world does not just include my fellow women and men, but the animals, the grass and the soil as well.