Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Draw the Line

Back in my youth, I spent a while -- only a short while, thank somebody -- selling encyclopedia. I wasn't a salesman, but I didn't really need to be: We had a finely-crafted, psychologically-constructed pitch we were taught. If we could get past the door and deliver it, chances of a sale were between one-in-three and half the folks we saw.

The guys who were good at it? Seven, eight of ten, week in, week out. These guys drove new Cadillacs every year.

These were not cheap encyclopedia, my friends, they were Americana, and in today's dollars? Probably a couple grand, U.S. (Except today, you can get online and do better, faster, and waaay cheaper.)

How the pitch worked was simple: If a salesman could get the sucker -- er, customer -- to answer "yes" to the first question he asked, then they were pretty much nailed into answering "yes" to every question that followed. It was a classic example of "Slippery Slope Sales," and once a customer lost his or her footing, they would slide on their ass all the way to a commission in the salesman's pocket.

The first question? "If I gave you these books, for free, would you use them?"

Anything but "No," the sales guys were playing with a stacked deck and somewhere between a third and half of the people upon whom they ran the grift -- ah, made their sales pitch -- would be writing them a check before they left.

Couldn't do it today. Many, of not most states, have a no-questions-asked-you-can-void-the-contract period of three days or longer for such transactions, and rightfully so.

It was a con. Once I got past the ends-justifies-the-means -- hey, it's a great product! they are getting their money's worth! -- I quit, and it didn't take long. Because the next bit started out, "Okay, we are looking for folks to showcase our product in your neighborhood, and so we are going to give them to you for free ..."

After the hook, the catch, which was that the encyclopedia were free, but you had to agree to keep them current by buying a year book for ten years -- at a mere forty bucks a year, and since that was a pittance, why wouldn't you do that ... ?

Of course, you don't want to drag it out for ten years, so you can, you know, just pay it off up front ...

And if the sales guy couldn't get that to happen, he wrote it up, and later somebody from the company would call and allow as how the salesman had made an error and the deal was off.

Now back then I was just out of high school and into college and not wise in the ways of the law, but any way you slice it, that is fraud.

Draw the curtain over the young man so broke he needed to sell encyclopedia to make ends meet, but not so broke he would keep doing it at the cost of his soul. (And if you ever get a chance to see Tin Men, with Richard Dreyfus, Danny Devito, and Barbara Hershey, about aluminum siding salesmen, do so. It was pretty much just like that.)

You can also do it the other way, using a negative response. Say "no," and the slope turns to icy mud beneath your feet.

Which brings us to becoming a vegetarian.

How on Earth, you ask, is he going to make that segue?

Attend -- but forewarned -- you might not like where you wind up:

Most people in a relatively-civilized society don't practice cannibalism. Ask yourself, would you eat long pig? If you would, that pretty much makes you a monster anywhere outside a plane crash in the Andes, so probably most of you don't eat it now, and wouldn't, given a choice of it or shrimp at your neighbor's barbecue. (If you do eat people, I don't want to hear about it. Nor about your neighbor. Go away.)

Now, what other creatures would you have trouble broiling and keeping down? Chimp? Dog? Cat? At least in this country, such diets would be, um, frowned upon, and if you did it, you'd probably not be bringing it up in polite company. (If you do it, go away -- maybe the cannibals will have you, or you can get your own show on The Travel Channel: Eating Weird Shit.)

At some point, when I had German Shepherd Dogs, I looked at them and realized that they were not people in dog suits, but certainly sentient enough that I saw them as individual beings.
They had feelings. They were loyal. They were nicer to be around than a whole lot of people I knew, and I considered them my furry children. They were smart. Watch a herding competition or agility or rally. There's one border collie so bright that when asked to fetch a toy that had never been named before, figured out it by the process of elimination -- he knew the names of all the other toys, and what they wanted wasn't them, so that's what he fetched. I know people who wouldn't figure that out.

They dreamed. I could watch them running in their sleep, barking softly as they went.

I could not conceive of killing and eating one of my dogs even if I were starving. I drew the line there. If you love your dogs and accept them as I did mine, then you understand this. If you don't, I feel sorry for you.

If my dogs were sentient and intelligent critters I wouldn't eat, then I found myself in a place where I couldn't really kill and eat somebody else's dog, either. Not for them, but for the sake of the dog.

Okay, so that's fine, dog-people are still with me, probably cat-people are: We don't eat Tabby and Fido, so what? Where are we going with this?

Ah. But then we come to pigs. Pigs are as smart as some of the primates, some research contends, and as bright as a three-year-old human child, other studies offer. Easily as swift as dogs, and maybe smarter.

Pigs, like dogs, dream.

Well. If I can't eat a dog because I am of the mind that killing something relatively sentient and eating it is, well, not something I feel good about, then how can I continue to chow down on ham and bacon? They don't spring full-born from the aisles of Safeway in a shrink-wrapped plastic tray, but from animals that were shot in the head and then cut up. They aren't as cuddly as Jude and Layla and Ballou, though the pot-bellied ones are cute, but probably as smart and, uh ...

Slope. Slippery. Sliding.

Hmm. What about ... cattle? Do cows dream? Do they feel pain? Care for their young? Not up there in the IQ bracket with pigs, but warm-blooded, bearing their calves alive, suckling them, and probably not thrilled to be herded into the slaughterhouse ...

Yeah, pork chops and sirloin steak and all, and I love them, but all of a sudden, if you start thinking about shit like this, the slope, slope, holy crap, I'm sliding ...

Turkey? Chickens? Fish? The most holy of delicacies ... shrimp?

Well, okay, there the line is a little fuzzier. Having been around turkeys and chickens, we aren't talking about African Grey Parrots here, poultry are not the Einsteins of the avian world. Brain power is dim at best. I don't know if it is true that a turkey can drown looking up at the rain, but certainly the domestic versions of those and chickens are ot-nay oo-tay ight-bray.

Fish? Don't seem too swift. Shrimp. C'mon, they are good-tasting bugs, but I can see that once you start down that path, each step can lead to the next, and pretty soon you are to the don't-eat-nothing-with-a-face-on-it stage.

Which is to say, i.e., a vegetarian.

And, it gets worse. If you believe the way animals are treated to produce eggs, cheese, butter, milk, all like that is passing terrible and you don't want to support it -- and outside free-range critters, the industry is pretty damned awful, and we all know this but don't like to think about it, then you slide right on along to:


And it's the Thanksgiving Tofurkey ...

It's a disturbing path, I warrant you, and most of us stop after people, dogs, cats, and Tarzan's sidekick, Cheetah.

Where you draw the line is, of course, your own business. But it is -- pardon me, but I have to say it -- food for thought. And while Socrates allowed that the unexamined life is not worth living, in some cases the examined life is probably not going to taste as good.

You want fries with that?


Bobbe Edmonds said...

Human flesh, I have on good authority, is stringy and unremarkable. That wasn't a village I spent much time in, and I drank plenty of coffee so I could STAY THE HELL AWAKE.

Although I grant you that sentience is a powerful argument, it's not as slippery a slope to me. I suspect that this is because I don't believe in a "Divine Creator" or prime mover of any sort, so the thought of an afterlife is moot to me as well. This in hand, I believe that this moment, where we are now, is IT.

No do-overs.

That animals may have a soul, or posses the ability to reason and dream, for some reason, doesn't deter me. I'm not a big "manifest destiny" guy either, but I do believe in a modified right of conquest: The higher up the food chain, the broader your choices are on the menu.

I love meat. Steak especially, blood-rare and disgusting to most people. Morality, to me, doesn't come into it.

I wouldn't eat a dog, although I've never been hungry enough to put that to the test. But something just occurred to me; I wouldn't abuse a dog, either. I love dogs. Cats, too. So the idea of kicking one is abhorrent, in my mind. I could easily chop the head off a chicken, though if I knew it was going into the pot with dumplings.

Maybe that's just cultural. I know lots of cultures who would think nothing of eating a dog.

Dunno where I'm going with this. Maybe the recent "Fish have feelings, too" movement has made me a touch cynical.

Steve Perry said...

Thing is, you don't have to be religious to have morality. Not believing in an afterlife doesn't mean you can't decide not to steal stuff, rape, or kill people for ethical reasons.

I know atheists who are more moral in their beliefs and standards than a whole lot of religious folks.

Allah Ackbar-screaming murderer at Fort Hood, case in point.( He was not a good Muslim by the standard measure, since running amok and slaughtering folks is not generally considered good behavior by the bulk of Islam followers. But still, lotta folks been killed in the name of God didn't deserve to die.)

And the notion of sentient beings is from science as much as it is religion. I you come into my house and kick my dog? Bad, bad idea. At the least, that gets you an ass-kicking, and if I can't do it, Dianne will help, and we'll open the gun safe if we can't manage it.

If you kill my dog? You're a dead man.

So that's one of my lines, drawn there and pointed out.

By the logic of being higher up the food chain, you should be able to eat people who can't best you, is that right? If they tasted good, and it was legal, say, in the case of road-kill, would you?

If not, why not? Careful. Your answer is gonna be sharp on both ends ...

Even the Dalai Lama says if all there is to eat is meat, then you eat meat. But I'm well off enough I have a choice, so I have to consider it.

Morality is what you do when nobody is around to know.

It's a moral choice, and not a religious one.( If dogs don't go to Heaven, I wouldn't go if they asked me, and ... they won't ask. )

jks9199 said...

My neighbor was a man of great taste...

Kind of worries you to read that now, huh? LOL

Lame joke out of the way...

I make no bones about liking meat. Especially dead cows. Yep, cows are gentle critters with big brown eyes. And they're what's for dinner.

Dog? I'd have to be very hungry -- and couldn't eat a pet. I suspect I might have problems eating a cow I knew as a pet. But I figure that man is at the top of the food chain for a reason. And that means that I don't have a qualm about the burger that just might be dinner tomorrow.

Though I do try (minimally) to get my food from places that treat my future meals humanely...

Jonathan said...

Maybe being vegan or vegetarian is the only sustainable option.

Bobbe Edmonds said...

Why do you say that?

Steve Perry said...

I'm not trying to talk anybody into or out of anything here, only pointing out how my train of thought got stoked and rolling. I don't think eating meat makes you evil, nor being a vegetarian makes you necessarily virtuous. Or even healthy -- one of the fattest, most out-of-shape people I know is a vegetarian. Probably not usually the case, but I'm just sayin'.

If I go to your house for a visit and it turns out you decide to make dinner and it's steaks on the grill or satay pork skewers, I'm not going to shake my head and get on my high and holy horse and disclaim the eating of flesh -- I'll chow down and enjoy it. The critter is already dead, wasting it wouldn't help, and I do love the taste. I'm not a vegetarian. But I can understand how one could be, for a number of reasons.

And there are a lot of cows and pigs that wouldn't have have any life had they not been bred as food. If this is done in without cruelty, in a humane manner? Not the same as being raise in a pen, force-fed, and filled with antibiotics.

As for sustainable, when you take the high-end food chain critters, it's calorie-inefficient. How much grain it takes to make a pound of beef would fed a lot more people than one guy at the steak house.

We are omnivores, we still have the pointed teeth, and in the middle of life there will always be death.

If somebody came up with a meat-substitute that actually tasted like meat and had the same kind of consistency, it would sell really well. Soypro and rice and mushroom burgers just aren't there yet. They aren't bad, some of them, but they aren't by any means porterhouse or filet mignon ...

You make your choices based on a lot of things, and I'm not taking anybody to task on this one. Just pointing out some things that came to me.

Steve Perry said...

Speaking as an SF&F writer for a moment, and bowing in Damon's direction for "To Serve Man" -- IT'S A COOKBOOK ...!

So if a technologically-advanced race of carnivores drops by Earth and by dint of their superior intelligence, weaponry and intent, take over the slot of top predator, then it would be okay for them to eat us, right? Using the top predator logic and all?

Just wondering ...

Dan Moran said...

The best cheeseburger in Los Angeles is a 3 way tie between the steakburger at the Apple Pan, the Oakwood Cheeseburger at the Crocodile Cafe, and the cheeseburger at the Pie'n'Burger in Pasadena. (Interestingly, two of the three best burgers are on a 3-block stretch of Lake Street in Pasadena ... technically not Los Angeles at all.)

The best vegetarian cheeseburger is the Grilled Cheese sandwich at In'n'Out, which is everything but the beef burger, and surprisingly close to the real thing.

There is no such thing as a vegan cheeseburger, though there are sandwiches which aren't bad and have a round shape.

Master Plan said...

I tend to think more along the lines that these critters we eat would not be alive if we were not going to eat them. Thus they do owe us their lives in some sense.

It costs resources to "make" animals and so they "pay back" in to the system w. their lives. TANSTAAFL. ;-)

Put another way if I was told (pre-birth somehow) that I could either not be born at all or that I could be born, live a less than great life, and end up dead, I think I would choose to have life rather than not.

Rejecting meat raised in conventional superfarms due to the way the animals are treated on the other hand...that actually seems like more of a reason to go vegetarian, at least personally.

Sentient or not, hard to say what the morals of a cow might be, perhaps being raised and dying to feed another creature would be a fine way to martyr yourself for the great cause in cow culture.

Anonymous said...

"So if a technologically-advanced race of carnivores drops by Earth and by dint of their superior intelligence, weaponry and intent, take over the slot of top predator, then it would be okay for them to eat us, right? Using the top predator logic and all?"

1. Morality is relative.
2. Lunch doesn't get a vote.

jks9199 said...

Interesting question about a new top predator...

I figure if they can get me on the table, they deserve to eat me. I ain't gonna make it easy for them...

I respect people who are vegan or vegetarian, whatever their reasoning, so long as they respect me and don't preach at me. I knew one person who was vegetarian due to some sort of allergy; she also had the temerity to look down her nose at those of us who weren't vegetarian. On the other side -- I know people who are vegetarian due to religious belief who will go out of their way to provide meat for a guest that they know eats meat...

I do have the occasional meatless meal, just as I occasionally fast.

Anonymous said...

I think the issue of what the lunch wants is a non starter.

Maybe the Sun "wants" to warm the ground and the pesky plants are stealing that energy.

Does it make it right for plants?

Steve Perry said...

So ... if your jetliner goes down in Borneo and the locals want to invite you for dinner -- you being dinner -- then you don't get a vote?

Or if -- I'm sensing a short story coming on here -- the sharp-toothed alien from Theta IX goes to the new Thetan restaurant down on Main Street and picks you out of the holding pen like you would a lobster for supper, then you don't get a vote there, either?

Yeah, yeah, I'm -- sorry -- stirring the pot here, but I'm not being holier than thou, because I'm not a vegetarian. But curious as to how folks choose their stances.

"Dinner doesn't get a vote." is flip, it's not a real answer.

Stan said...

Interesting thoughts...even though we're not covering much new ground.

It is surprising to read how many illnesses, dysfunctions, and just plain poor health has been directly connected to the carnivore portion of our diet. And yet...there is very little that can match the taste, texture and overall experience of a perfectly prepared prime rib... Other than the fact that the "divine creator" often seems to be a sadistic bully, why is that so much of what we crave is really so bad for us?

Oriental philosophy contends that "food is medicine and medicine is food." Western philo seems to tie many more issues to the simple act of eating...boredom, emotional eating, self-medicating, celebrating, consoling, rewarding, punishing.... It's almost enough to make you lose your appetite!

Turning to the thread about the new "top of the food chain champ," I had a particularly disturbing thought: what if we applied that bend to an "international hot dog eating contest?"

Also the old adage, "you are what you eat," suddenly takes on a little darker message....

Bon Appetite, Folki!!!

Oh! Almost forgot, Happy Veterans Day to those citizens who serve!! (Oh shoot, that could be another tie-in to the original thread...

Dan Moran said...

I think cows and pigs and such are fairly self-aware and we probably shouldn't kill them.

But I'm weak in this area and lack the courage of my convictions, or the conviction of my idea, or something.

jks9199 said...

You're making me think, Steve! Stop it, it hurts! :D

This and the capital punishment issue actually go hand-in-hand. And I freely admit that I, as a human, am a rationalizing animal -- so I rationalize a justification for eating meat, just as I rationalize support for the death penalty!

Steve Perry said...

Yeah, that's the problem with thinking -- it can lead into to some dark corners of your psyche. Often, these treks are hypothetical, and no more than intellectual puzzles: What what you do if A and B were both drowning and you could save only one? If somebody offered you a million dollars just to push a button?

My favorite line from The Big Chill is when Jeff Goldblum's character says that rationalizations are more important than sex. When that raises eyebrows, he offers the question, "When is the last time you went a week without a rationalization ...?"

We all do it.

It's like separating the art from the artist, ala Michael Jackson. He could sing, he could dance, he was a terrific entertainer. But he liked to sleep naked with little boys. A lot of people won't think about the little boys, they only want to remember the moon walk and the dance from Thriller. Now that Jackson is gone, it's easier, but when he was alive?

When you eat the bacon -- my wife the vegetarian misses bacon the most -- you don't think of it as the cute little pig somebody taught to fetch a stick and then roll over to have its tummy scratched. Or who squealed in terror as it was slaughtered. It's just bacon.

Not easy things to think about.

Death can be an end to suffering. I had two dogs put down, and it was the kindest thing I could do for them. I cried like a baby both times. They were just dogs.

But if somebody came into my house and pointed a gun at my wife, I would shoot him right between the eyes in a heartbeat, and never shed a tear. And he's a human being.

Soldiers are taught to deal with enemies. Police with suspects or perpetrators. Because a dehumanized enemy is easier to kill than Hans or Said who has a wife and three children and who is the sole support of his arthritic mother. If your enemy is a man who has hopes and dreams and doesn't want to be in the army but who was drafted and trained to kill the Great Satan's minions to keep them from raping his children and mother and blowing up Mecca?

If it's him or me who survives? I choose me. But if I'm sent to his house to shoot him in his bed because somebody thinks he might be a danger someday and I have to walk past his children and mother to do it?
Not so comfortable a choice.

Sometimes you make the uncomfortable choice because it must be made, but it ought never to be done mindlessly. If you are willing to kill somebody, you should be willing to look into his eyes and watch the light go out and know what you've done.

One functions as one develops, and one of the points of my article was that we draw those lines where we do because of that. We come to decisions about how things work, and we proceed accordingly, and as often as not, we don't open some doors because we don't really want to know what is behind them.

Porky and Elsie aside, the commercial meat industry is a horror, that knowledge has been around a while, they make documentaries about it, write books, it's been on 60 Minutes. If, to avoid supporting that, I can get organic, cage-free, free-range. It costs more (and is healthier for me) but is it just another rationalization? If my belief begins with the phrase "Well, at least it's not as bad as ... " does that sound like somebody trying to convince myself?

I didn't want to open the door leading to pigs. Or see past it to the next door. You just can't unsee some things.

None of us is perfect. Thomas Jefferson was a great man who did much to bring about the Republic, including the statement of the notion that All men are created equal. But he owned slaves, and fathered children upon one. Nothing a slave does is truly consensual. Lot easier to talk the talk than walk the walk.

On balance, I'd rather there was a Jefferson than not. Even a Michael Jackson. But some of these questions don't have nice, easy, pat answers.

And staying down on the farm once you've seen Paree sometimes isn't a real choice any more. When these things come up, I have to think about them. I can't not.

Anonymous said...

In regards to the whole top-predator thing that many of us like to think we are. this exactly why it pisses me off that everyone freaks out when a Cougar naps a jogger or two. Too many people, not that many Mountain Lions anymore, let them have their lunch.