31 December 2017

Moral economies and madness

I stopped eating meat in December of 2014 – I had to think what year it was when a room full of people were quizzing me last night. I had wanted to go for thirty days or six weeks, I forget what I had decided, and when the time was up, I ate a sausage at dinner with the family, thinking that would be the end of it. I don’t remember if I finished the sausage or not, but something had changed and whatever switch I had been able to flip to not think about meat in terms of a moral economy, was gone and I couldn’t do it. Something about avoiding violence, sure, but also something about the environment, and something about my health. At the time, I appreciated the insufferability of it all, but there was nothing I could do. It was like when I stopped having faith: I wasn’t scamming anyone, it just was what it was. I looked at the meat in the freezer and could only think, that is a dead thing that doesn’t need to be dead.

I've never been comfortable being called a vegetarian due to the complaints of a roster of cynics in my head who are responsible for overthinking everything. They like to hector me about this label, though they have a variety of different reasons. For example, American Stephen, the voice in me that understands Donald Trump on a basic level and has been looking with covert lust at SUVs, hates Vegetarian Stephen for thinking he’s better than everyone, for how much trouble he causes at dinner parties, the way he implicitly judges everyone who eats meat. American Stephen has Vegetarian Stephen’s number: he’s just a hipster, a fraud, a bullshit artist. He doesn’t actually believe in avoiding violence, he just wants to be perceived that way so his liberal friends like him. When pressed, American Stephen is full of whataboutism that goes on and on, about air travel and plastics and bottled water, an endless list of things that culminates with him throwing his hands in the air and eating half a bag of Doritos because he can. American Stephen has worked hard and he deserves what he has.

American Stephen can sometimes tag team with Aspirational Vegan Stephen, the one who hates Vegetarian Stephen for some of the same reasons as American Stephen, for his hypocrisy and his trendiness and his leather, but also his lack of vigilance and passivity. Whereas American Stephen wants to throw up his hands and give up, Aspirational Vegan Stephen wants to try harder, to be more ethical. Aspirational Vegan Stephen wants Vegetarian Stephen to give up his boots and to stop lying by saying he bought them before he was serious about animal products. He wants Vegetarian Stephen to stop drinking milk and eating cheese like that is somehow not any worse that killing an animal – newsflash, asshole, they do kill those dairy cows too.

The moral economy makes for hard living in 2017, almost 2018. We took the kids shopping with their Christmas money and I thought I too might buy something, but just hated myself after five hours of walking through racks and racks of things to buy. I finally found a jumper on sale that I wanted and pathetically showed it to Yoko like I needed some special dispensation for buying it. It was money I had gotten as a gift, it was for me to spend on anything I liked, and although I already have three jumpers (four, if you count my dad’s wool fleece that I brought back from the States), but I want this one too. Is that okay? I put it back on the rack and left the store and then went back to buy it, feeling heavy as I took it home and then guilty for how good I felt wearing it.

I'm unhappy with how this has turned out, the meaningless moral choices and hypocrisies. I'm unhappy with my own unhappiness. The jumper is just a foil. We got back to the car and Nihilist Stephen suddenly, saying we could give up, forget about all of this and head out into the woods by myself. Forage for nuts and berries like a bear and be whatever animal we are. What does any of this matter, why all the confession. It's madness. This lasted for a full quarter of a minute while the kids strapped in, but then real life started again. The car key needed to be turned  and someone, Daddy Stephen, had to push our way into the jammed traffic of the strip mall. So it goes, I end up thinking: the traffic moves and another year ticks by. I guess I am a vegetarian, I say, when it comes up again. It's complicated; I don't really like talking about it. I'll just not have the cocktail sausages, but please, enjoy yourselves. Really, they look delicious.