03 December 2003

Morality Makes for Strange Bedfellows

One of our readers, I believe from Australia, wrote a poignant e-mail message to me the other day. He says he read Mylan Engel's essay "The Immorality of Eating Meat" (see the link to the left), which got him to thinking. He says he would like to try "veg. living" but believes that doing so would support organizations such as PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), whose ends or means (or both) he rejects.

I know exactly what the reader is talking about. It was hard for me to call myself a conservative, in part because it might give people the wrong impression. I differ very much from the people one thinks of as conservative, such as Tom DeLay and Jerry Falwell. I'm not religious, for example. I don't view nonhuman animals as resources for human use. But then I asked myself, "Why does it matter?" People will know what I mean by "conservative" by listening to me or reading what I write. Why should I care that other conservatives have views or values I don't share? If anything, I should welcome this sort of confusion, for it helps distinguish that which is essential to conservatism from that which is accidental. I believe that religiosity and speciesism are accidental to conservatism. I'm living proof of it.

Our reader can live a "veg. life" without subscribing to anything PETA stands for other than concern for animals. That the reader and the members of PETA have that in common doesn't imply that they have other things in common. I, too, am deeply troubled by many of PETA's tactics (about which more in subsequent posts), but wouldn't it be the height of selfishness for me to make animals suffer in order to dissociate myself from the group? I would be cutting off my nose to spite my face.

It's often said that politics makes for strange bedfellows. Both Jerry Falwell, the Baptist minister, and Catharine MacKinnon, the radical feminist, oppose pornography, but for very different reasons. Falwell thinks it's shameful and immoral; MacKinnon thinks it harms women. Should MacKinnon change her view about pornography because it puts her in "bed" with Falwell, with whom she differs on most issues? No. She should go about her work for her own reasons, pausing to explain her differences with Falwell to anyone who asks.

This is what I do with my conservatism, and it's what our reader should do about his "veg. life." Do what you think is right. Ignore the fact that it puts you in "bed" with PETA or other groups you despise because of their tactics. Don't make the animals suffer for what is, in the end, a trivial matter.