Confessions of a Meat-Eater

December 12, 2008

This is my second column from the Humanist Society of Scotland’s magazine, Humanitie. It should be read side by side with this column from The Friendly Humanist.

I don’t hate animals (from now on by ‘animals’ I mean non-human animals). I’d never describe myself as an animal lover, but I’m not at all unsympathetic to the suffering of other species. Conversely, I’ve never really questioned why I have little problem eating them. The issue only really came to mind during the Edinburgh Science Festival this year, when I heard Richard Holloway remark to Richard Dawkins in a sterile lecture theatre which they’d failed to make homely with a coffee table and a couple of armchairs, that he considered speciesism “the greatest moral crisis of our time”, following insights from humanists and animal rights activists like Peter Singer.

I’ve started to notice there are plenty of vegetarian humanists (I admit that I used to associate it with those I dismissed as hippies). Indeed many object to the label ‘humanist’ because it is exclusive of animals. If humanism is the pursuit of knowledge and morality through reason and rationality however, it seems to me it’s not the name that’s excluding the non-rational animals, it’s humanism itself. Animals can’t be humanists, whether we change the name or not.

The time when Jamie Oliver and others were trying to expose the widespread barbaric practices used in processing non-free range meat was a good time to consider the issue, even if it meant I had to endure a few hours of that horrific combination of accent, speech impediment and gross bastardization of the English language. Let me say from the outset that I don’t have a big problem with animals dying so I can have something to eat. It happens in nature, we are obviously evolved to do so, and our species wouldn’t be where it is now if it we hadn’t (I recall an Edinburgh HSS group talk on neuroscience where Roger Redondo confidently announced that vegetarians are less intelligent than meat-eaters. I’m sure he meant vegetarian species, really). And I know if a bear decided to have me for lunch, no amount of rationality would convince it otherwise. I know that’s speciesist, but for the moment it seems an acceptable position.

So the moral problem I have is not with eating meat in itself, it’s with the unethical farming practices and abhorrent cruelty shown towards some animals on their way to my plate. The moral arguments against eating meat are just as effective in favour of veganism. After all, dairy cows and egg-laying hens are still killed when they’re no longer productive. And arguably vegetarianism alone doesn’t solve the problem, since you can still buy eggs from caged hens or milk from badly treated cows. So I decided, as a compromise between my moral conscience and my lack of enthusiasm for veganism, to only eat free range meat and animal products. This is difficult considering pork, beef, milk and cheese aren’t as well labelled as eggs and chicken, so you can’t tell if they’re free range or not, but the balance of conscience and practicality works well.

Humanists in Education

April 23, 2008

One thing that a lot of humanists like to get worked up about is education. I don’t know if it’s the terrifying thought of all those little kiddies being brainwashed in faith schools or what, but something about it makes our blood boil. But as one of the key functions of the state, the education system is something secularists of all types like to concentrate on.

This year education has become a big feature of Scottish humanism. The Humanist Academy has been slogging at the issue for a while under the enthusiastic June Maxwell, and has a humanism course available for the national curriculum for 16 year olds in the Scottish education system.

Seeing her getting things done, the HSS have doubled their efforts to outdo her (for some reason I don’t fully understand the HSS and the HA don’t get along too well) and are making education their prime target, launching their education programme this weekend at Our Dynamic Earth (what a venue) which, as an officer of the Student Humanist Society, I’ve been invited to.

And whilst these two heavyweights battle it out, the rest of the humanists in Scotland sit back and reap the benefits. Magic!

Hopefully the BHA will get moving on it so these benefits can be nationwide. What they need is an arch-rival counter organisation right on their patch to motivate them. Maybe we should start a fake one just to annoy them. We’ll call it… the People’s Front of Judea! Even better, the Judean People’s Front! Maybe not.

Humanist Society AGM

April 10, 2008

This time of year appears to be AGM season. The Edinburgh HSS had theirs on Monday, the National HSS is having theirs on the 26th, and the student Humanist Society had ours last night. First of all I’m proud to announce that I’ve been voted in as the Secretary of the society, stepping into Stuart’s shoes, who is now Society President. This means I’ll be doing such things as the Monday newsletter (which may well change day depending on my timetable next year). If anyone reading here would like to be added to the mailing list, drop me a line and I’ll see what I can do. Lucy will be continuing as Treasurer, and we also announced the creation of several new officer positions, namely the Publicity officer which has been temporarily filled by Jo and Daniel, the Webmaster taken by Nick, and the Library officer which Gareth has kindly agreed to take on, as well as Ordinary Member positions (aka Minions), taken up by Roger, Dave and Amy (IIRC).

One of the things we wanted to do at the meeting was inform everyone about the activities at, and the upcoming conference which will be taking place in Edinburgh over the summer, and to formulate a makeshift programme for the event, which is shaping up to look pretty good. We also had a plethora (I’m using that word too often) of ideas for events next term, which is fantastic, and I’m sure we’ll be able to get a lot of them off the ground.

Anywho, a very fulfilling evening for the society, methinks.