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Reinforcing Beliefs 11/08/10

What are some of the ideas, philosophies or beliefs that have reinforced your vegetarianism?


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For those who become vegetarians or vegans later in life, once your initial decision is made, it can sometimes be difficult to maintain your steadfast pursuit towards the goal of becoming a veggie*. Whether your choice to become a veggie rests with your beliefs regarding ethics, cultural norms, environmental concerns and/or health issues, the heart of the decision is still a belief.

Your belief is often sourced from a combination of different factors. Some people have even mentioned that it was a fad at the time. When your belief is buffeted from all sides by sceptics, opinionistas or even yourself, it is important to reinforce the belief as much as possible. For some, the transition is smooth and natural, but I am sure for many, it can be a fraught with doubt.

As you encounter reinforcements along the way, you will often change or maintain your beliefs as new information comes to light. How one reinforces your belief in the veggie way is possibly an ad infinitum list of ideas. It all depends on why you decided to go veggie in the first place and what arguments or feelings affect you. The reason why I add in the word feeling is because some people choose to become a veggie because they empathise with animals. When faced with the fact that animals are made to suffer, instead of shrugging their shoulders like others might, they are more inclined toward the “I-Thou relationship”, philosophised by Martin Buber in 1923 in his book, Ich and Du.

This concept of the I-Thou relationship does much to explain why some people choose the veggie way. When I first heard of the philosophy I got very excited. It helped me to explain the way I feel when I told people that it felt right. It also made me understand better why the series, Lassie, caused me endless tears when I was a toddler.

The basic premise of the philosophy is that you get two types of relationships; the I-It relationship and the I-Thou relationship. At a very simple level this means that some objects or persons can fit into your “it” category, while others fit into your “thou” category. Your connection to the “it” category of objects allows you to separate the object from your feelings, even if you value the objects for its aesthetic, use or other values. In contrast, if you establish an I-Thou relationship with an object or person, there is a deeper, possibly spiritual, connection. You experience the object or person as something of value despite what it can or can’t give you. It is important in itself, rather than because it is, for instance, useful.

What is important in the veggie debate is this; having an I-Thou relationship with something or someone does not require you to have direct contact with it. In fact, I would go so far as to say that you do not need to know of its existence, the way it looks or where it is. Hence, a veggie who bases his or her belief on animal ethics, has assigned an I-Thou relationship to the entire animal world. Their existence and their feelings matter to you. This to me, is just one way of explaining why some people are inclined towards vegetarianism.

From my own understanding of the argument, it shows that some people are veggies because they just are; there is something innate and, therefore, permanent about their beliefs. No smirking cynic is about to change how they relate to the world and the creatures within it. However, not being a Buber scholar, I am not going to profess to say whether this is true or not.

However, it does result in the question of whether the capacity to have an I-Thou relationship with the animal kingdom is, in itself, an inherent capacity. If we open ourselves up to the idea that some people are incapable of such action, we will have to contend that the vegetarian belief system will never be shared by everyone. It may explain why, even when faced with both a logical and emotional argument, some people will still shrug their shoulders and carry on with the status quo.

Do you think that the I-Thou philosophy has any value in the vegetarian belief structure?

Have you ever had a moment where something said or shown to you is like an epiphany? What are some of the arguments or evidence that reinforce your belief in the veggie way?

* I use the word veggie as an all-encompassing terminology for vegans and various types of vegetarians.

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