Coerced Morality

Is it good enough for a person to stop doing an immoral act at the request of another if he does not believe that the act is wrong? That is the general articulation of the following question that I came across on Facebook recently: my fiancé will stop eating meat because I have told him I cannot marry him if he doesn’t become vegan, but he says that he doesn’t agree that there is anything wrong with eating meat and is abstaining just for my sake. Is that good enough?

First, I want to leave out any considerations of whether he will resent his “sacrifice” and take it out in other ways because such possible consequences depend entirely on his personality and the dynamic of that relationship, which are not pertinent to the general discussion of the morality of doing something when your heart isn’t in it.

The first premise to establish is that giving up meat is a moral action: it is a refusal to participate in or perpetuate the misery, suffering, and terrifying death of conscious, sentient creatures who are animals just as humans are animals. Anyone who doubts the misery, suffering, and terrible death can easily come to understand that reality by the most cursory research and application of imagination.

Desisting from acts of cruelty is moral under any of the following notions of morality, deontological or utilitarian. As for the former, refusing to participate in cruelty constitutes doing unto others as you would have them do unto you, which is the Golden Rule.  Not participating in cruelty is also a maxim (in the terminology of Emmanuel Kant) that you would want as a universal law: you would want everyone, universally, to do the same action and therefore the action is moral. Also, another way of seeing the immorality of participating in the cruelty of meat and dairy production is by evaluating whether a powerful group is pursuing a self-serving action to the severe detriment of a less powerful one. Clearly that is the case because the meat and dairy industries benefit financially from the suffering and death of scores on nonhumans every day.  From a utilitarian standpoint, with its focus on the consequential amount of suffering, the enormity of suffering to nonhumans caused by the meat and dairy industries show the actions of those industries to be immoral as is perpetuating them by consuming  meat and dairy.

Therefore, the fiancé in giving up meat is willy-nilly acting morally; however, is that morality undermined by his state of mind? One response would be a resounding “no” from the Existentialist school of thought. According to Existentialists we are the sum of our actions—the only thing that matters is actions, thus the maxim, “existence before essence.” When applied to everyday examples, the truth of that position appears. If I sat around claiming that I cared greatly about the homeless, couldn’t sleep at night for thinking about them on the sidewalk, and with every bite of food wished I could share with them, but I do nothing at all, my state of mind is morally meaningless. I have to do something or abstain from something, not just think, because morality deals with actions (as seen from the above statements of how to judge morality). Conversely, if I sacrifice my time, money, and comfort to achieve some result that does not directly serve my aggrandizement I am acting morally. (Note, on the topic of whether an action can be moral if you derive some benefit, such as satisfaction, from doing it, Kant argued that any act that is motivated by the desire to achieve a result or is consistent with an inclination is not moral because the only really moral act comes purely from duty.  I think he then went on to conclude that there was no action in reality that could be divorced entirely from self-interest, so I won’t delve into the degree to which giving up meat and dairy is not self-interested in some way).  All of the above ideas about the necessity of an action finds expression in the adage: actions speak louder than words or, in this case more precisely, thoughts.

Last, the fiancé who foregoes meat upon request is acting morally as opposed to hypocritically. Peter Singer wrote that “Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.”  That bit of philosophical poetry expresses the central fact of hypocrisy that the hypocrite knows what is virtuous and what is bad because he gives lip service to the first and acts in accord with the latter; thus, in Singer’s phrase, the hypocrite even while acting badly acknowledges verbally, i.e. pays tribute virtue to, the right action. Every hypocritical action entails words versus deeds, good words and bad deeds — it is never the other way around, bad thoughts or words and good action. The inconsistency between words and deeds runs only one way – why? Because words / thoughts are not important – actions are. In our example at hand, it would be hypocritical if the fiancé voiced his thoughts on animals to express his love for them and concern about their treatment and then ordered the cheeseburger.  It is not hypocritical to say or think whatever he thinks he might believe at some point in time while refusing to participate in animal cruelty.

That digression into the nature of hypocrisy brings us back to morality and the nature of it as something concerned with actions, doing to others, acting as you would have the world act, acting so as not to contribute to the suffering of others.  Where nonhumans are concerned, just get it straight who “the others” are—all sentient beings.

Philosophy aside, there is still the “Dear Abbey” aspect of the question, and in that regard, I have to say that I would like a fiancé who would give up meat and dairy for me. He is really smitten with me, flexible-minded, or maybe even Stoic enough not to think that his palette is of the highest importance; he possibly knows that far from being hungry, he will eat delicious food and be in better shape and health than before. Over time our tastes can change, and the action will become a self-fulfilling prophecy — a moral vegan will be born.

I, Animal

It is a well-established fact that language perpetuates the agenda of the powerful because the group in control creates language just as it creates society. Take, for example, men as the group in control. Our language reflects male dominance at every turn. “Man” is the name given to the species; alternatively there is “homo sapiens” and “homo” itself denotes the male not the female. I will not go into gender in language, as that topic could support a symposium of essays. My quarrel is with the speciesism of our language that serves to continue in the most pervasive and insidious ways the ideas that human beings enjoy a special privilege and have moral obligations only to other human beings. Just as euphemisms allow humans to hide their atrocities behind words, as George Orwell pointed out in “Politics and the English Language,” so do terms and phrases support our depraved treatment of nonhuman animals.

The first and overarching instance of human bias comes with the use of the word “animal.” There on the front page of the New York Times today is a statement “They Are Slaughtering Us Like Animals.” Clearly there is something horrible going on (and of course I would say that no creature should be “slaughtered”), but the linguistic subtext is that humans are not animals. Has anyone disproven the validity of Carlos Linnaeus’s taxonomy of animal, vegetable, and mineral? There, in that first category is the species homo sapiens. Does anyone doubt that we are animal? Why is that derogatory?  Our language has made “animal” a handy insult.  “You are acting like an animal” is so common that it reinforces the idea that humans are not animal and that non-humans are depraved and beneath “us.”

Then there are the euphemisms, which are as bad as the political ones that Orwell denounced. We do not have a dead cow for dinner, or ground up cow, or the flesh of a pig for dinner, we have beef and pork.  The worst of all is the marketing phrase, “grass feed beef.” Beef does not eat grass, cows do. Also, there are a slew of colloquial expressions like, “I have my own fish to fry,” “There is more than one way to skin a cat,” and “Filthy as a pig.”

Culture, informed by religious tradition and a myriad of insecurities that lead to the human need to feel superior by all means to something, have subjugated animals and created a language to support that endeavor. The more we identify ourselves in our speech accurately, as animals, the more difficult it would be to accept the atrocities that we heap upon them.

We are animals. We do have instinct. We are mammals who are born, suffer, and die just like all the other animals. Why must we feel the need to be above?  Why the recurring drive to put things in a hierarchy with the most powerful at the self -designated top, giving license for any kind of deplorable behavior?

Lucius Annaeus Seneca, the parent of modern Stoicism, classed humans and the other species as one in considering that we all have a special talent. Man, he said, has a special talent and so do each of the other species. Seneca said that Man’s special talent was reason. With all due respect, I beg to differ (which questioning Seneca would endorse because he did not think anyone should follow the views of others without applying one’s own power of reason). I think, and the many recent studies of “animal” (non-human) cognition support my view, that other species do have reasoning ability even if it is not identical to Man’s. As a second basis to differ, sadly, there is more evidence of hypocrisy and cruelty as Man’s unique talents.

Shelley, Wish You Were Here


Vegetarian or vegan statements in literature are rare, just as they are rare in everyday life (which does not include Facebook where like-minded people seek each other out). Reading literature frequently serves up one dead animal after the other, akin to the quotidian reality of driving down the road and passing the meat truck and turning on the radio to hear that politicians are cramming down dead pigs in Iowa. Case in point is All Quiet on The Western Front, where hardly a page goes by without canned meat, a dead fowl, some occasion to find and kill an animal as if vegetables and grains do not exist. Maybe there is a thematic link between the ubiquity of animal slaughter and the horrors of WWI, as the novel depicts to the veganistically aware reader the notion that one insensate carnage deserves the other.

How thrilling then to meet the anti-speciesist philosophy of Percy Bysshe Shelley inhabiting the lines of his lofty poetry. Over two hundred years before Peter Singer helped us out by clarifying speciesism, Shelley had the concept down pat: he saw all animals (humans included in that category) as kindred and abhorred the cruelty of raising animals for slaughter whether in the name of religion, sport, or food. He gave up meat, as did Mary Shelley, his second wife. Mary Shelley, by the way, created one of the most famous characters in literature, the creature in Frankenstein, who is a vegetarian; existing in a natural and childlike state, he is innately good and therefore does not eat animals. He only turns to vengeful acts after suffering cruelty and isolation.

In Shelley’s philosophical poem “Queen Mab,” a fairy leads a spirit on a tour of humanity — past, present, and future. (I wonder if Dickens got the idea of his various ghosts taking Scrooge on tours from this poem.) The future constitutes his utopia of which one feature is that animals are no longer subjected to the cruelty of Man.

“. . .no longer now
He slays the lamb that looks him in the face,
And horribly devours his mangled flesh,
Which still avenging nature’s broken law,
Kindled all putrid humours in his frame,
All evil passions, and all vain belief,
Hatred, despair, and loathing in his mind,
The germs of misery, death, disease, and crime.”

Also, in “Alastor,” the narrator/poet avows that he has not injured any “bright bird, insect, or gentle beast . . .but still loved and cherished these my kindred.”

Aside from the feeling of serendipity that discovering such lines brings, can any importance attach to the fact that one or two random literary geniuses from the past share in my beliefs? Shelly’s veganism has importance to some degree as inspiration for others, those English majors who take a course in Romantic poetry and pay attention to what Shelley says. For me personally, Shelley’s magnanimity of spirit endears him to me, attracting me even more to his work. However, just as I have to associate with nonvegans in daily life, I still must and will read non vegan writers and will still revere my household gods, Emily Bronte and John Keats, who were not vegan. (By the way, I do believe that Emily Bronte would have been if circumstances had been different.)

Beyond serving as possible inspiration to the select few and a kindred link to my world, his conviction against cruelty to nonhuman animals illustrates what I, as a Stoic, value most among Stoic ideals: self-sufficient thinking and the application of reason. How odd he was at the time, not eating meat (and not believing in god, an avowed atheist). He knew of Pythagoras as a vegetarian forerunner, but his decision to quit meat made him a renegade and activist facing a culture notable for an extremely callous attitude toward nonhuman animals, fueled by a religion that insisted that Man, of all the species, was the only to have the all-important soul. He arrived at his principles through the exercise of his own reason and he had no qualms about living in accordance with his principles.  Although I might value my own independent judgment and don’t need Shelley’s example to endorse what I know is right, I suppose there is nothing wrong in harboring a hero or two and feeling slightly smug that I am in good company.


I think therefore I’m vegan

Most people might assume that being a vegan is about food; however, I, as a vegan, think about food very little. One reason is that what is generally considered food, images of which bombard me relentlessly, is not an edible substance but chunks and shreds and pieces of dead animals—a blatant fact that meat eaters like to ignore. As for edible stuff, I am happy about what I consume, but thoughts of it do not consume me. (That approach to food happens also to be part of Stoicism 101.)  Eating is the easy part. There are lots of tasty things to eat without inflicting cruelty and death on any creature, and once one adopts that approach, the culturally programmed desire for a meat product vanishes and leaves in its wake a sense of the repulsiveness of putting a part of a dead animal into one’s mouth.

Rather than dwelling on food, then, I think a great deal about philosophical and social issues: morality, human selfishness, human cruelty, evil, culture, the extent to which culture will inure humans to any atrocity, nonhuman suffering, hypocrisy, intellectual dishonesty, religion, and why some people develop compassion, while others don’t.

For example, one vegan-related thought I have frequently is that humans generally have it really good and should stop complaining about their petty troubles because unless they are among the truly oppressed (enslaved, held captive by a sexual predator in a basement, etc.) any trouble in their lives pales in comparison to the lot of all the sentient creatures we forcibly impregnate, confine, deprive of their young, and drag to a horrifying death. (Putting our own lives in perspective and stopping the whining about whether or not we are satisfied, happy, having a good time etc. is also an idea imported from my adopted philosophical  system of Roman Stoicism). Along those same lines, when I heard that the Boston Marathon bomber was condemned to death, I thought, okay, I am not going to get worked up about that even though I am against the death penalty (yet another manifestation of our love to-kill society) because how many other creatures who are innocent suffer the same fate.

On the level of the day-to-day, I think about how to live with and maintain respect for people , some very near and dear, who so willfully disregard the reality of meat that they seem to revel in their ability to be ignorant. I grapple with disgust at people who have huge incomes and can’t think of anything to do with it other than buy a bigger house or another car when great wealth could fund a campaign of awareness.

I hope that all my thinking will be productive, since as a Stoic I know there is nothing more pointless than pointless thinking. We are the sum of our actions not our thoughts, so I need to figure out more ways to do and justly deserve the epigram: “I am vegan therefore I act.”

Discovering Cosmic Consciousness

Most nights I resort to my Transcendental Meditation mantra to help me sleep – not that meditating is supposed to be a sleep aid.  The purpose of TM, as I recall from the instruction and group meditating sessions of years ago in high school, is to bring tranquility and to further one along toward cosmic consciousness. Nonethless, I am making good use of  my mantra. Each night, I plump up my two dense tempurpedics and lie on my left side for starters. I hear my mantra in my mind; then I ease onto my back. As I exercise my mantra, I am continually amazed at how quickly and constantly it slips away and I have to start it up again. Finally I fall asleep because, even with the digressions from the mantra, by forcing myself to keep it going in my head, I do avoid thinking  about the sleep-depriving topic that plagues me.

Usually, when intrusive thoughts over which I have no control crop up, I can reason with myself to dispense with them. I tell myself like a Stoic coach that things could always be worse, that I cannot know what other bad thing might have occurred, that an outlook of acceptance and emotional detachment actually feels good, that I can give myself permission to not engage with such a topic or to forgive myself, that everything is pretty trivial, and that the brevity of life puts things in perspective, etc.  However, that rationalization approach falls short of mitigating my monolithic concern that creeps in with the night; I cannot reason away the thought of the constant and extreme suffering of farm animals. Why does this disturb me? The simple fact (understood by anyone who rejects “speciesism” or is otherwise an ethical vegan) is that we are all animals (there are three categories: animal, vegetable, and mineral). Humans are a species of animal. There are differences among species, but all species of animal have interests, innate behaviors, emotions, a love for life, and the ability to suffer.  If anyone doubts this, he should consider the family dog who gets upset when left alone, has joys and sorrows, feels pain and loss, and suffers when hurt; such a rich emotional life and ability to suffer applies to other animals as well. So, getting into bed is clicking on the video, and I must imagine all of the innocent peaceful animals subjected to cruelty on a daily basis and killed in a storm of terror.

The thought of all this suffering has another layer that adds to its centrality in my life: the nagging question about why other people, assuming they are aware, don’t find such a heinous reality too horrible to condone and participate in.  If nighttime is reserved for images of suffering baby pigs and other horrors, day time prompts that human aspect of the question, as I must face at every turn the results of human action: dead animal parts (aka food), the finished product of the assembly line of cruelty, ground out relentlessly by the money-meat machine. I feel a divide between me and all the dog-loving, animal eaters.  However alienating that divide might be or disturbing the images of suffering, I embrace the truth with devotion. It is a boon to know that, as Leonardo Da Vinci said, my body will not be a tomb for other creatures.

The gurus of TM might or might not have been right about meditating as a way to achieve cosmic consciousness. Regardless, they had some good ideas about repetitive words and enlightenment. I use my mantra for sleep, and I revel in achieving the certain first step to cosmic consciousness – the knowledge that we should be kind to all sentient creatures.

Hip Undertakers, Seneca, and Emily Bronte

Did anyone read the article in The New Yorker “Or Bodies, Ourselves”? As a Stoic, I am drawn to reading anything that brings death forward for our consideration.  Stoics use thoughts of death to appreciate life, to remind themselves to make the most of time with loved ones, and to remember that most things in life are trivial.  I think death, in addition to being the catalyst for the carpe diem mentality just described, is the great equalizer; we humans are quite smug in the superiority of our species, but we are animals and, like all the other species, we will die and become nothing more than that which we were before we were born. Some may question the latter part of that assertion, unable to accept such finality, but at least it is true that our bodies (if not cremated) will rot just like the bodies of our dogs, cats, and other animals great and small. Seneca exhorted his readers to study death up close in order not to fear it. Given the times and situation of living under the gaze of a crazed emperor, Seneca and his friends needed to be prepared at all times to dispatch themselves at his command.

The article acquaints us with a young, hip undertaker named Caitlin Doughty, who runs L.A. Undertaking.  She is a proponent of returning to the old-fashioned way of handling our dead. Similar to the at-home birth, she advocates an at-home death, complete with participation in corpse preparation.  Returning to the good old days in this regard is worth doing only if we stand to benefit by it.  If by handing over the corpse, we are somehow depriving ourselves because doing so fosters our fear of death or complicates or worsens our grief, then we should take her up on this idea.  If not, then keeping the corpse around is no better than returning to a lot of old fashioned things that ranged from very inconvenient to miserable. Women used to get this task.  Read Wuthering Heights: Nelly Dean is routinely called upon to deal with a dead body. On the topic of women and death, a subtopic of the article is the infusion of women into the undertaking field, which was traditionally male.

One thing that strikes me right away about our having a more involved role with our dead is that bathing and dressing a body is not something we do for each other generally dead or alive. That thought leads me to suppose that I might actually feel that tending the body would be more natural and better if it was that of my own child, but even then, only if he or she were young. However, body preparation is not the sole aspect of the return to the old way of doing things; another is the suggestion to have death occur at home and keep the body there for a while. I have gotten close to that proposed situation to evaluate. I had Gentle Goodbyes euthanize my golden retriever in my home for a backyard burial, which approximates the death experience Doughty endorses. I would hope nobody scoffs at the notion that love of a nonhuman is profound and that the loss can be as great as a human death. I am pretty normal (who isn’t or who is) and have experienced both.  In familiar surroundings, without subjecting Katie to the pain of getting into the car, we remained at home, and a veterinarian of trust-inspiring calm and tangible empathy (a woman) made Katie comfortable with drugs, let me take my time, and ended her suffering. I think Katie had a better end, but did I suffer less? Did having her die at home help me? After all, right behind me will forever be the place where she last lay. My memoires of the room and this house must include her death and the ineffable sight of her dead body, on the floor, then in the blanket that we wrapped her in to place her in the grave dug outside.  My conclusion: it was better that way, so maybe Doughty is on to something, with a large qualifier that I find expressed (again) in Wuthering Heights.  In that novel, Brontë expresses her realization that grief is a personal experience of which the severity or nature depends on the survivor’s particular feelings for and level of dependence on the deceased and not at all on the relationship per se. This is not something Doughty mentions – that dealing with grief is not one-size-fits-all and sorrow does not result in the same ways even for the same kind of losses.

I wonder if Doughty has ever read Wuthering Heights, that death-infused prose-poem, or read it carefully enough to notice all the scenes involving corpses and how some of her words describing her own experiences in dealing with death echo lines from that book.  In particular Ellen Dean’s: “I don’t know if it be a peculiarity in me, but I am seldom otherwise than happy while watching in the chamber of death should no frenzied or despairing mourner share the duty with me. I see a repose that neither earth nor hell can break; and feel an assurance of the endless and shadowless hereafter.”

Calculated Anger

Fundamental to Stoicism is the idea that our negative or excessive emotions do us more harm than good; that includes the “good” emotions if they are immoderately felt or indulged. Regarding the negative emotions, anger concerned Seneca probably more than any of the others, given that he analyzed and wrote about it particularly at great length.  He refuted the idea that anger at times has a useful purpose, such as spurring us to action or giving us a sense of courage. He concluded from his exploration of the topic that it was never beneficial to let anger overwhelm reason.

I know what Seneca wrote and I completely agree, so I have to ask myself why I keep indulging my anger in situations where I have calculated that I can get angry, express it, and not suffer any consequences.  Oh boy! Here is a situation where I can really let loose without any else knowing, without losing a friend, alienating a family member, ruining a business deal, being barred from an establishment, or so on in a list of consequences that would make me forego a gleeful vituperative tirade. As I write that, I sound like a rather ill-humored hand grenade. I am to an extent and that personality trait, along with other faults, makes me a prime candidate for Stoicism, which has helped me enormously identify the problem and remedy it.

Upon due reflection, the idea that I can unleash my anger in certain circumstances without negative consequences is a fallacy that overlooks the cost to myself in several ways. For one, the act itself undermines the development of the practice of resorting to reason rather than emotion. The more I make exceptions, the more I will deviate from the Stoicism that I know makes my life better. Like all selfishly indulged exceptions, too many exceptions, and they will take on a life of their own.  More importantly, during every episode of anger indulgence I realize there is indeed a cost to me. Feeling angry is not a good sensation; it lingers and occupies my mind. Even if I am not exactly feeling guilty about the slip, anger is in and of itself such a detrimental emotion that it takes a toll for some period of time, sometimes several days. Last, I have made a bad bargain between myself and that other person. I have handed over to another person control of my state of mind; that person, whom I don’t even want in the car, I have placed in the driver’s seat.

In honor of Stoic Week, conceived of by Patrick Usher at Exeter University, I am going to make my pledge to quit making this insidious exception. Reason should never be pushed to the side.

Ignorance is Bliss and What Else?

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.

Letter to the Editor

I write letters to the edtiors of “The New York Times” and “The New Yorker” from time to time as an exercise of self-espression, remembering that Stoic truth that when it comes to having an audiance or readership, “Few are enough, one is enough, none is enough.” What one writes might matter a little, but who is writing counts the most, and I like most people, as Emily Dickenson said, “am noboday, are you nobody too?”

To the Editor:

Roxanne Gay’s editorial piece, “Of Lions and Men,” uses the killing of Cecil the lion and the resulting grief and outrage to propose that we extend those sentiments to the death of all human beings, particularly black lives lost at the hands of the police.  There could be no disagreement there; and even though the tragedy of police racial bias persists, I think no one but the most depraved would take issue with her plea.  There is another lesson, less obvious to most, to take from our sadness and outrage at the senseless slaughter of Cecil.

Every now and then we are surprised at how we can grieve the death of a non-human being, such as Cecil the lion.  That was also the case with Barbaro the race horse a few years ago. Such sadness leads to confused questioning; how can we mourn an animal’s death, or as Ms. Gay noted, even cry at that death while not giving way to such emotion for a fellow human being? On such occasions we overcome our pervasive and deeply rooted bias toward the human species. That emotional connection to an animal perplexes us, although many do know the feeling, having experienced it before; anyone who has had a companion animal, such as a family dog, die knows the grief a non-human death can bring, although many would labor at grieving less at that death than at a human death and wonder why the recovery from it is so long and painful. In such cases we humans slam into our cultural, ingrained bias toward our own species.  We are indoctrinated with the idea that the human species matters most, the other species differ so much from us that our sentiments cannot extend to them, and therefore we humans enjoy the privilege over all the other species to do as we will. Humans live according to the code with regard to non-humans that “might makes right.” We can kill them, we can hunt them, we can imprison them, we can use them for experiments, we can eat them without regard to their interests or their lives because it serves our interests and nothing is stopping us.  The contradiction, or cynically stated, hypocrisy, of mourning one dead animal within that cultural background is striking.  That contradiction should not lead us to suppress out sadness for Cecil or Barbaro or the family dog.  The reality of that sadness should open our eyes to the worth of the lives of other creatures who cling to life, have interests, and no more deserve what the human species inflicts on them than Cecil deserved to suffer and die for the human joy of having his head on a dentist’s trophy wall.

The Tyranny of our Passionate Interests

As all Stoics know, excessive emotions, such as passion, are detrimental because they set us up for a fall, either from the aftermath once the thrill is gone or from disappointment in not having the thrill.  Avoiding passionate emotion, such as irrational love (perhaps lust is the better word), anger, high pitched excitement, etc… makes sense in the Stoic ethos, and I have no quarrel there. I see a slight difference, however, between passion in its adjectival form and “a passion,” meaning a pursuit or interest to which one invests a great deal of time, effort, self- esteem, and other costs.  Although less obviously detrimental, such passions do have a side that threatens tranquility (the Stoic goal).  The easy answer is to pursue an interest but avoid going to extremes and allowing it to assume too big a part of one’s life. That certainly sounds like the reasonable (and therefore Stoic) approach. I have identified for myself another problem: the difficulty lies not in my excessive love for the pursuit, but rather in how much of the burden of my life the pursuit is shouldering.  Stated otherwise, it is not so much a question of loving too much the particular pursuit, but in how much I am asking that pursuit to fill voids, take up slack, and otherwise make up for the shortcomings or difficulties in life. When that burden lands on an interest, the interest can become a love/ hate experience.  Not only might I love doing something—maybe I don’t at all — but I place an undue amount of energy and focus on it because I am running away from some very troubling realities.  I can start to even feel somewhat a victim of my passion—the safe harbor I have created has thorns, but where else can I sleep?