(Possibly) unsafe for work
Not since posting the photo of my gigantic blister have I felt compelled to warn you about an image on family-friendly No Meat Athlete being unsafe for work. And really, if something as tame as this PETA ad were unsafe for my work, I wouldn’t be working there for very long. You have been warned.
Disney Channel stuff, right? The woman is Traci Bingham, and I can happily say I’m out-of-touch enough with Hollywood and television to have no idea who that is.
Now, before you go all anti-PETA on me (I have no doubt some of you still will), understand that I don’t give a Traci Bingham’s ass about PETA. I know a lot of people, vegans even, hate them for a lot of reasons. I don’t know much about the issues, but I perceive PETA as extreme enough that I didn’t even consider them when deciding on which animal charity to donate my 2010 advertising revenue to.
I know some of PETA’s opponents dislike their use of sexuality in advertisements, and I get this. The point of the ads is lost on many, and some consider them offensive. But by affixing a message about vegetarianism to a photo of a naked woman (or man), PETA empowers its memes to spread like fungal spores to the far reaches of the internet. Indeed, that is how one ended up on this very blog. (Any how many people might you forward it to?)
But having devoted two paragraphs to PETA, I now assert that this post isn’t about PETA. The ad caught my attention because (besides the obvious) it illustrates the belief that I hold as my primary ethical reason for being vegetarian: that there isn’t a fundamental difference between humans and animals; that what differences exist are merely differences of degree. Sure, our brains are more evolved, but I don’t believe we’re endowed with some special human quality that makes us “better” than them.
The book that first convinced me of this, prompting my initial (failed) attempt at becoming vegetarian, was Douglas Hofstadter’s I am a Strange Loop. In it, Hofstadter (an artificial intelligence researcher) puts forth his hypothesis that consciousness is nothing more than a feedback loop: As beings interact with their environment, they receive feedback from the environment, which affects their interpretation of and interaction with the environment, which sends more feedback, and so on. Hofstadter uses the image of a video camera pointed at a television screen which itself is displaying what the camera sees.
In thinking beings, such a “strange loop” gives rise to a notion of “I” at the center, and “I” varies in complexity, depending on the sophistication of the being. While dogs, for example, undoubtedly have a notion of their own existence (“I want the biscuit!”), such a notion isn’t nearly as complex as our highly-evolved human “I” symbol (“I am really enjoying this biscuit today!”). But that doesn’t mean we should eat dogs, and most of us don’t. Yet we eat pigs, animals on par with dogs when it comes to intelligence, with hardly a second thought.
I am doing little justice to the book, and I encourage you to check it out (my library has it) on your own. Hofstadter, a vegetarian himself, presents these complex ideas in a straightforward but thought-provoking manner. It’s an easy read, even for the non-mathematically-inclined, unlike Hofstadter’s far more artful, more subtle tome, Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, which incidentally is my favorite book in the whole wide world.
The point is that the PETA ad presents a human in a way we normally reserve only for the animals we’re going to eat. And I like it, because I don’t believe that humans are all that different from animals. Our “I” symbols just happen to be a little more complex.