I have at times reflected on that old adage that ignorance is bliss in connection with my fairly recent understanding of the horrors perpetrated by humans against other creatures. I have even stated to a friend in conversation that never was the phrase “ignorance is bliss” more true than for me in facing the reality of animal food (and nota bene that is a matter of knowledge and not belief; I don’t believe animals suffer; they do — empirically provable). At some point, I succeeded in drawing back the heavy, opaque, and vast curtain of culture, and behold . . .the horror. Oh! the happiness of being a part of the mainstream, fitting right in, arm and arm with my fellow humans eating steak and thinking yum, isn’t this tasty. Not fitting in with the majority is difficulty; the price for awareness is a calm and complacent mind. Should I not lament the knowledge I have acquired? Should I not wish to turn back the clock to the time when I could sit down with people without disgust and amazement? I would not be at odds with my family, who persist in believing that turning a blind eye is an acceptable way to live; I would have my choice of items from menus based on cruelty;my tolerance for human beings would be much higher. That would be the bliss of ignorance.
None of these questions of the value and cost of knowledge arise because I miss the steak or any of the animal food—not in the least. Foregoing animal flesh as a matter of sustenance and taste is easy. Good things to eat abound (as long as I don’t seek them in a restaurant). As a Stoic, I would agree with Seneca that caring greatly what one eats is excessive and elevates the trivial. Looking at everyone going after meat without a thought, slicing up the dead pigs, and tossing out the pieces of uneaten cow that they couldn’t finish is the hard part. Knowing that some animal suffered horribly and died a frightful death so some overweight human with a bulging belly could chew it up is repulsive. Should I then lament my knowledge and awareness and shield others to preserve their ignorance?
Maybe an indication that a thought is moral is that it is not necessarily tranquility-producing; it is indeed disturbing, troubling, and a through challenge to tranquility (which, as a Stoic, is my goal to make me bearable to myself and others). I propose as a touchstone for morality, then, this test: does taking a certain course of action make things more difficult? If it does, one is probably doing the right thing.