Typically I think about Stoic practices in terms of achieving tranquility — which is its primary purpose. However, Stoicism also was from its earliest days concerned with making the world a better place. Along those latter lines, I have recently found that having a Stoic mindset has driven me to look closely at the treatment of animals, in particular the eating of them. How has Stoicism contributed to my finally understanding that I must make a sea change with respect to animals? Because at the heart of Stoicism is reasoned and independent thinking. Stoicism requires thinking for yourself and not basing your views of yourself or other parts of existence on the opinions or dogma of others. If you cannot face a situation and at least attempt to reason it out for yourself, sublimating emotion, applying logical and rational tools to determine the best course, then Stoicism is a nonstarter for you.
When I heard an undeniable voice asking me to consider what eating animals involves, the Stoic approach to life urged me to think it through; it would not allow me any longer to shrug off my concern, but rather encouraged me to question whether eating animals was really the acceptable act that custom and mercenary motives like us to think it is. For all the many years that a concern for animals rattled around in the back of my mind, not until I became a Stoic did I bring it out to the light and reckon that I am not a slave to the accepted idea that animals are to suffer, die, and be eaten. This result of Stoicism is mine alone, perhaps, as there has been (I would imagine) many a Stoic who did not question the treatment of animals and many people who became vegans without any Stoic ideas per se.
Once having arrived on the right side of the question, I had recourse to another Stoic approach. Seneca wrote about facing the disgraceful and cruel state of the world, considering how not to fall into despair about humanity. For him, the question arose after happening upon the forum where an endless and brutal slaughter of man and beasts counted as entertainment for the hordes. He wrote that one should neither cry nor laugh in denigration, but stay away from the masses as much as possible. Perhaps those barbaric spectators at least did not profess any virtues they did not have. Most bacon eaters today would run in horror at the screams of the pigs, much less the sight of their suffering and fear, as those creatures that are smarter than golden retrievers die to provide a side order at breakfast.
Also, in keeping with my literary bent, I relished finding support among great writers, as well as philosophers. I was thrilled to read that Shelley was a vegetarian. How did such an original being happen upon the earth, an atheist and vegetarian in the 18th Century! In addition to Shelley advocating a “vegetable diet,” there are other notables who have summed up the heart of the matter. I have typed a few below because who doesn’t love a good quote? In parting, let me suggest: consider the pig, his intellect and affectionate personality — nobody needs bacon.
To be a vegetarian is to disagree – to disagree with the course of things today… starvation, cruelty – we must make a statement against these things. Vegetarianism is my statement. And I think it’s a strong one.
It is only by softening and disguising dead flesh by culinary preparation, that it is rendered susceptible of mastication or digestion; and that the sight of its bloody juices and raw horror does not excite intolerable loathing and disgust. . . .By all that is sacred in our hope for the human race, I conjure those who love happiness and truth to give a fair trial to the vegetable system!
— Percy Bysshe Shelley
Vegetarianism serves as the criterion by which we know that the pursuit of moral perfection on the part of humanity is genuine and sincere.
— Leo Tolstoy
Animals are my friends-and I don’t eat my friends.
— George Bernard Shaw
Flesh eating is unprovoked murder.
— Ben Franklin
But for the sake of some little mouthful of flesh, we deprive a soul of the sun and light and of that proportion of life and time it had been born into the world to enjoy.”
In all the round world of Utopia there is no meat. There used to be, but now we cannot stand the thought of slaughterhouses. And it is impossible to find anyone who will hew a dead ox or pig. I can still remember as a boy the rejoicings over the closing of the last slaughterhouse.
— H G Wells – A Modern Utopia
Wilbur burst into tears. “I don’t want to die,” he moaned. “I want to stay alive, right here in my comfortable manure pile with all my friends. I want to breathe the beautiful air and lie in the beautiful sun.”
~ E. B. White Charlotte’s Web