Integral World: Exploring Theories of Everything
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
David Christopher LaneDavid Christopher Lane, Ph.D. Professor of Philosophy, Mt. San Antonio College Lecturer in Religious Studies, California State University, Long Beach Author of Exposing Cults: When the Skeptical Mind Confronts the Mystical (New York and London: Garland Publishers, 1994) and The Radhasoami Tradition: A Critical History of Guru Succession (New York and London: Garland Publishers, 1992).


The Unity of Life

David Lane

Question: “How do you know who the vegan is at a dinner party?

Answer: Don't worry, they'll tell you.”

Being and living the example we want others to follow is more powerful than all the preaching we may do.

I turned vegetarian forty-eight years ago, when I was just a young teenager. I have never deviated from that self-chosen lifestyle, though my youngest son, Kelly, convinced me that I needed to up my game and turn vegan, which I did by following his example.[1] Being a vegetarian for so long I have noticed a variety of reactions to my eating habits, ranging from “don't you crave meat?” to “that's weird” to “I wanted to try that too,” to “why don't you eat eggs?—and so on.

But these days, the vegan option has gone more or less mainstream, and the variety of choices is growing almost exponentially each year. Yet, meat-eating isn't disappearing any time soon, particularly in certain countries around the world. There are many reasons for this—ranging from economic to cultural to religious to traditional—but primary among them is that human beings are an omnivorous species. We have developed the ability to eat almost anything, within certain limits, and this has fueled (for better or worse) our survival over thousands of years. Turning vegetarian or vegan is not always an easy decision and for many it may seem to be a luxury that is unaffordable and undesirable.

The problem is that far too often those who have picked a specific dietary plan can become self-righteous about their choices and then attempt to aggressively proselytize their new-found path to others who are “less” enlightened. I think most of us have experienced those awkward moments when one of our family members or friends have “seen the light” and ended up preaching their new-fangled gospel to us heathens. It is irritating and off-putting. Ironically, such strident advocacy tends to have the opposite effect; instead of converting us right there and then, we become more entrenched in our positions, realizing anew that if such dietary restrictions make people turn in to moralistic zealots we want nothing to do with them and what they are selling.

I know from which I speak because though I have been a strict non-meater eater for decades, I never liked pushing my ideas on others who were carnivores. For instance, I never tried (or even desired) to change my sister or brothers to my way of thinking. Because what I really wanted was to be allowed to enjoy my alternative food choices without being overly hassled about it, which was more typical of what happened back in the early days.

Must it be stated so bluntly? Preachy vegans can be obnoxious, so much so that I have on occasion come to the defense of my meat-eating friends simply to defuse a very uncomfortable and non-productive debate. Once, back in high school, I remember Sean Kelly, who was famous among our coterie for being a child actor in the John Wayne movie, The Cowboys, and I were at a party when he came up to me (not knowing I was a vegetarian) and he was in an argument with another senior who was quite animated and heated in pushing his non-animal agenda. Sean, exasperated, asked for my help. Because I liked and admired Sean (he was friendly to everyone he met), and finding his sparring partner to be somewhat of a jerk, I did my best to give him some intellectual ammunition. Not sure if it helped, but Sean seemed appreciative for the effort.

I bring this up because just a few years ago my wife Dr. Andrea Diem was asked by a colleague to invite Gary Yourofsky, a controversial animal activist, to give a talk to her Ethics class at Mt. San Antonio College. Although Andrea was herself a longtime vegetarian, she was not prepared for Gary Yourofsky's unhinged and militant presentation. He called Andrea's students rapists and murderers because they ate meat, apparently forgetting that he was there to inform and educate students and not intimidate and bully them instead. In fact, it got so heated that after the lecture Yourofsky walked over to one of the female students on the second floor and threatened to throw her off the balcony which would have meant certain death. In the meantime, Andrea contacted the campus police and tried to intervene when Gary Yourofsky bolted and ran away before being arrested. Needless to say, he was barred from ever coming to Mt. San Antonio College again. He has subsequently been arrested repeatedly and even spent time in a maximum-security prison. Gary Yourofsky has reportedly been permanently banned from entering Britain and Canada.

After hearing from my wife Andrea about the incident I was appalled and flabbergasted that a person advocating the high ideal of not killing animals would become so angry that he would resort to threatening the life of another human being. Such actions are the height of hypocrisy and the very opposite of the Jain precept of ahimsa (non-violence and non-injury).

Yes, we can be strong advocates for our chosen moral positions, but when we contradict those by violent sermonizing we have completely upended those very values. My own position is that it is far better to be an example of what we desire than endlessly bantering about our own supposed ethical superiority.

Now, of course, this doesn't mean that we can't be hard-edged in our writing, but that in discussing our ideas in person we would be well advised to try and emulate the Jain virtues of: Anekāntavāda (अनेकान्तवाद), Syādvāda (स्याद्वाद), and Ahimsā (अहिंसा).

As the illustrated book, The Many-Sided Brain, elaborates:

The first concept, Anekāntavāda, which means “many-sidedness,” states that truth, like an ocean, has varying features and that our approaches to understand reality are inevitably partial or limited. Thus, whatever stance or position we take must be bracketed, keeping in mind that others may have perceived what we ourselves have not. It engenders an openness to listen to other points of view and seriously take them into consideration.
The second concept, Syādvāda, is generally translated to mean that all final appraisements or judgements are tentative since what is theoretically proffered is understood to be potentially uncertain, as in it “may be” or “perhaps could be” or “let's wait and see.” As in the famous parable of the blind men and an elephant, each believes that what they touch reveals the true nature of the animal. But each man, by their limited feeling, only grasp a small part of the totality of the animal. Likewise, humans in their quest for knowledge always come up short and thus should hold back on any final adjudication, lest they like the blind man confuse a trunk for an entire head, or a twig for a tree, or a wave for an ocean.
The third concept, Ahimsā, which literally translated means “not to injure or harm,” is the most widely known Jain ideal and has far reaching implications. While it is generally viewed as not hurting other sentient beings, Ahimsā also applies to how we treat the thoughts and ideas of others. Do we in sharing our ideas give wide berth to what others believe and do we engage with them in a respectful and considered fashion?

The following book is a scattered collection of essays and articles and notes about vegetarianism, veganism, and why we now have the privilege to not eat animals in most countries across the globe. Some of the writings are quite pointed and rhetorically charged, but that is how it should be in a medium that always allow the reader to turn the page or close the text altogether.

I long ago realized that one can be much harsher in writing whereas in personal actions one should be much more polite and engaging. A good example of this that comes immediately to mind is the work of Friedrich Nietzsche which is anything but mild. He could be quite over the top as when he prophesized, “I know my fate. One day my name will be associated with the memory of something tremendous — a crisis without equal on earth, the most profound collision of conscience, a decision that was conjured up against everything that had been believed, demanded, hallowed so far. I am no man, I am dynamite.”

Yet, in personal relations and in the company of others, we are told by those who knew him that Nietzsche was exceptionally gracious, polite, and well-mannered, not interested in giving undue offense.

I have a friend who I only see very rarely who is extremely personable and who you never imagine would say a harsh word against anything or person. However, when he is at home posting on the Internet he is a mercurial and acerbic critic who, as the cliché' goes, “takes no prisoners.”

I say this as a preface to the essays in this volume, since I realize too well that in order to drive home a point that is contrarian to one's long held belief system, it is vital (on occasion) to draw hyperbolic examples which one might at first glance find disconcerting or even offensive.

Education is often an irritant, and it is difficult to change our lifelong habits, even if we may philosophically or ethically agree with our opponent's point of view.

I know from my own life that I certainly resisted turning vegan out of stubbornness since I didn't want to give up cheese products, for the simple (but not very profound) reason that I liked pizza too much. But once I got over that tiny hurdle, it wasn't hard at all to give it up. Being vegan today versus in years past is light years easier. Indeed, when I think back on the food options we had in the 1970s in supermarkets and compare it to what is accessible today I am genuinely stunned at the wide variety of foodstuffs.

Finally, I am reminded of how differing approaches on vegetarianism can facilitate differing responses. Back in the 1990s an exceptionally bright student of mine, Paul O'Brien, desired to write a book about atheism that was not obstreperous in its tone. He wanted the text to be a welcoming invite to religious believers so that they might get a better insight into how a young atheist thinks and why they shouldn't be scared of him or his views. Paul came up with a great title for his book, Gentle Godlessness: A Compassionate Introduction to Atheism. He released it on my neuralsurfer website on the world wide web in the early days of the Internet and it became distributed worldwide and read by thousands. This was years before the more impassioned (and sometimes angry) neo-atheist books of Richard Dawkins and the late Christopher Hitchens. Paul realized something early on that perhaps some atheists didn't and that one can be edgy and persuasive without being angry or self-righteous.

Of course, it can also be argued that any new movement which is trying to make headway is often led by the loudest and most radical of voices, since only then can the bullhead amongst us can actually hear them.

On this issue I am of two minds and I can well understand each side championing their own methodological approaches. The first is to be intellectually confrontational (and emotionally charged) in order to drive home a salient point. The second is to be solicitous and welcoming, but all along holding a firm position with the hopes that having a kinder and gentler voice can be more persuasive. These are not necessarily mutually exclusive purviews. They depend on several factors, not the least of which is context, time-period, and the targeted audience.

But no matter what route we take (one, the other, or both), I do think that living by example is more valuable than all the words we may banter forth for this or that. I know from my own life, seeing my young son, Kelly, consciously choosing to be vegan at the age of 13 (even though none of his friends are) was much more persuasive in turning me in that direction than all the books I had read previously on the subject.

Being and living the example we want others to follow is more powerful than all the preaching we may do. A good illustration of this truth comes from a story that is often repeated about Mohandas K. Gandhi and a young boy who loved eating sugar.

While the retelling has the earmarks of hagiography, the moral of the story is powerful nevertheless. As Nagesh Belludi explains,

“One of Mahatma Gandhi's most popular quotations is, 'You must be the change you wish to see in the world.' Here is a widely believed—although unverified—story of the origin of this quotation.
During the 1930s, a young boy had become obsessed with eating sugar. His mother failed to convince him to kick the habit. She decided to take him to Gandhi. The Mahatma (Great Soul) was highly revered across the country—perhaps his instruction could convince her son to cut back on sugar.
At Gandhi's ashram (hermitage,) the mother recounted her difficulty and requested Gandhi to direct her son. Gandhi deliberated for a minute and replied, 'Please come back after a week. I will talk to your son.'
The mother and her son revisited Gandhi the following week. Gandhi smiled at the boy and directed him, 'You must stop eating sugar.' The boy admitted, 'Forgive me, bapu (father.) I will follow your advice.'
The mother was puzzled. She enquired, 'Bapu, you could have asked my son to stop eating sugar when we visited you last week. Why did you ask us to come back this week?' Gandhi answered, 'Ben (Sister,) last week, I, too, was eating a lot of sugar. … You must be the change you wish to see in the world.'”

In sum being compassionate to animals is more important than arguing about it.


[1] I must confess that I never knew that milk made out of oats could taste so good! Though I have always been a big fan of pizza, and feared that I would miss it too much, I found to my delight that certain places can still make an awesome pie with vegan cheese. I am specifically thinking of the famous Cheeseboard restaurant in Berkeley, California, which provides amazing vegan options.

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