Sam Harris is one of my favorite modern philosophers. I respect his depth and breadth of work to the highest degree. I was given pause for thought to reconsider my respect for Mr. Harris when I discovered that he has argued for reasons to support his meat consumption.
I am not going to write off my favorite philosopher because of his consumption of meat. I am going to urge my favorite philosopher to use his immense brain power, reason, rationale, and moral landscape, to change his mind, just like he discusses in his most recent essay, “The Pleasure of Changing My Mind.”
In his essay, he illustrates a handful of scenarios wherein he has indeed changed his mind about certain issues that he had not originally thought a change of mind to be possible. Though the essay largely addresses another powerful thinker, Jonathan Haidt, the majority of the final paragraph can be applied to just about any scientific, moral, or philosophical debate. Harris writes:
Clearly, this won’t be the last time I’ll be obliged to change my mind. In fact, I’m sure of it. Some things one just knows because they are altogether obvious—and, well, undeniable. At least, one always denies them at one’s peril. So I remain committed to discovering my own biases. And whether they are blatant, or merely implicit, I will work extremely hard to correct them. I’m also confident that if I don’t do this, my readers will inevitably notice. It’s necessary that I proceed under an assurance of my own fallibility—never infallibility!—because it has proven itself to be entirely accurate, again and again. I’m certain this would remain true were I to live forever. Some things are just guaranteed. I think that self-doubt is wholly appropriate—essential, frankly—whenever one attempts to think precisely and factually about anything—or, indeed, about everything. [Emphasis his.]
Clearly, Sam Harris is a powerful thinker dedicated to the constant improvement if his own mental and existential prowess. I know that if anyone can use reason to change his mind for the better, it’s Sam Harris. In fact, he is the perfect person to change his mind due to rationale thought, analysis, and in light of sufficient evidence. He urges people, as he does in this essay, to change their minds all the time.
And, thousands of people have done it, are doing it, and will do it.
As a scientifically-minded human and as a vegan, I am not interested in forcing my views on others. I always want to hear why people believe they cannot remove meat from their diet. I want to hear their experiences with being vegan, learn the reasons why they failed, and then see if I can offer some rational reasons why they can succeed if they choose to do so. Because in the end, choosing to make a compassionate, moral choice not to eat meat is, simply, a choice. You are capable, but you have to choose to be.
All reasons that people explain to me why they cannot be vegan are usually based in myth, assumption, addiction, misunderstanding, or, in other words, a lack of sufficient knowledge or evidence.
And luckily, all of these states of being above are curable through education, nutrition education, engaging in inner dialogue with oneself, or in other words, changing one’s mind based on sufficient evidence.
Once you have made your decision, it’s a constant choice to succeed as a vegan—or anything you set your mind to. We no longer have the luxury of refraining from making zero impact on ourselves and the world around us. As Colleen Patrick-Goudreau says,
“There are no neutral actions. We get to choose not whether we want to make a difference, but whether we want to make a positive or negative difference.”
Part of being a vegan is choosing daily to cause as little harm as humanly possible given our modern world context.
And to the cow, or chicken, or turkey, or pig on your plate—the evidence of your decision to eat their bodies—is a directly negative effect on those specific animals. You, as a rational, intelligent, reasonable human being cannot deny that fact. You bought the bodies. You cooked them. And you used your knife to cut them into bite sized pieces and swallow them. You can’t use the argument you did not know you were causing harm.
As someone who no longer wants to consume the maimed carcass of a tortured being, you have to dedicate yourself to making sure you get ENOUGH calories from fruits and vegetables, and making sure you get enough nutrients by eating more voluminous amounts of food—plain and simple.
The excellent site Oops! I’m A Vegan is a perfect example of someone who had not planned on becoming vegan, but all the facts, coupled with a burgeoning sense of wanting to tread lightly on the earth “made” her go vegan. That’s why it’s an “Oops” moment—it was unintentional, but she could not deny the facts, the rationale, the evidence. So she changed her mind.
I urge Sam Harris to change his mind just like our girl over at Oops, I’m A Vegan did. I urge you, Sam, not to use “taking care of people first” as a valid argument for eating meat. It takes 108 gallons of water to produce a pound of corn, and it takes 2,500 gallons of water, if not more, to produce a pound of meat. All that water could go directly into planting enough crops for humans AND domesticated animals to thrive on a vegan diet. The consumption of animal products and animals directly contributes to human starvation near and far. If you really need some coercing, check out Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret.
Use your sharp wits, reason, and undeniable mental tenacity to encourage a more moral, compassionate world for everyone, Sam. Help demonstrate how logical thought and reason can help us achieve a more peaceful world. And if nothing else, recall the words of your philosophical predecessor, Pythagoras:
“As long as man continues to be the ruthless destroyer of lower living beings, he will never know health or peace. For as long as men massacre animals, they will kill each other.”
Use your noodle, Sam, and choose tubers, not turkey.