When being vegan gets in the way of happiness
Sometimes my attention to detail makes me terribly slow-paced. How can I go forward with a project, create an elaborate dinner, or press send on an important email, without painstakingly deliberating and debating on how and why it should be done?
Being vegan, or more generally, wanting to reconcile my morality with my daily actions, has a similar, but more profound effect on how I function. It often paralyzes me. I don’t want to be unreasonable in my lifestyle, but sometimes if I’m unable to satisfy my broader ethical questions about whether my individual actions have a positive or negative impact on the world, or cause or not undue harm and suffering to others, I just don’t do it.
Take, for example, my love of cats. As clear from my previous posts on the vegan dilemma surrounding owning a cat, I clearly have issues with the prospect. I agonize over on the one hand, being perfectly able to save an animal from possible suffering (or untimely death) and giving it a good life in my loving home, but on the other hand, compromising my veganism by causing undue harm to other animals by choosing to save another. In a nutshell, I often wonder, when considering all of the surrounding circumstances and implications, what option would be the lesser evil, the greater good, or specifically, would cause less suffering. Without a concrete answer, I have yet to make a decision. Consequently, I don’t act, and I find myself in a perpetual state of inaction (which in and of itself could be considered harmful!).
I’m thinking about this from a very basic level of course. If I saw a person drowning whom I could save, but who I knew ate meat, I would certainly save her, despite knowing that her surviving would cause more suffering to animals. Hell, I’d save a cattle farmer, homophobe, or racist in the same situation. This is the same reason why I am not suicidal, given that my existence arguably causes harm to others with or without me knowing. To not risk going back into detail on the feline fix, I will wrap up this lengthy example just by saying that I do recognize that on a basic level, there appears to be some hypocrisy in contemplating not owning a pet, if we compare it simply to letting it die. But if we do this kind of comparison, we run the risk of equating human and animal morality.
In any case, regardless of your position on the matter, I think we can both agree that my overactive mind and attention to the consequences of my actions, no matter how small, cause me to fear making a decision and so, in a way, I deprive myself (and maybe also a cat) of a pleasure from which I could otherwise benefit thoroughly. (This may be the opposite of hedonism.)
But I’m tiring of this cycle of thoughts: Should I do this? Not sure? Freeze.
E.g., Should I knit with wool? Is there such a thing as humanely-sheared wool? Is recycled wool ok? Do some sheep require shearing? Are these sheep just a terrible result of human sheep farming? Does the answer to that question matter for those sheep? Does the answer to that question matter for the vegan stance? Not sure? Freeze.
I want to be happy, but I also want to make the right decision. I love knitting and sharing my home with a cat, but I can’t do both right now (unless I knit with vegetable or man-made fibres–which may also be considered unethical from an environmental perspective–or discover that vegan cats exist–which is unlikely, or at least, unethical). So I don’t do either and I create my own misery.
When 99% of the population feels one way and you feel another way, how can you easily justify your position? Even vegans among ourselves disagree on these issues. What ends up being the greater good? My misery for the benefit of what? I see no tangible benefit from my lack of decision, so it causes doubt. It’s like if you refuse to fly because you think it’s bad for the environment, but every day millions of people are flying around the world. What is your one international flight every two years going to actually do for the environment? Actually? Nothing. There is probably more net gain to your flying than there is to your abstaining from it. When Canada is still exploiting Albertan oil sands, withdrawing from the Kyoto Protocol, shamelessly obstructing progress in other countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and ignoring the blatant and precarious signs of climate change, what will cancelling your felicitous trip to visit your friends in Spain do for the world?
Perhaps the net gain of happiness that I would feel knitting and owning–nay, saving–a cat would have the positive ripple effect needed to encourage me to act more than wallow in my own paralyzed vegan state. Many of the positive and negative effects of one’s actions are unknown or cumulative. It is possible I am approaching my internalized ethical debates from too simplistic a viewpoint?
What do you think? Am I just trying to rationalize out things I want to do despite their consequences, or am I being unjustly harsh on myself in a world that will be mostly unaffected by my refusing to partake in certain activities?
Your comments are welcome.