Jack McMillan imagines a vegan future “far beyond what we can currently imagine.” Here is Jack’s description, and some back-and-forth we had. It’s lightly edited for readability.
I believe a vegan world, an authentically vegan world, does have a vision that would become a reality, but that vision is currently locked up within our species-wide archetypal memory of “Eden”.
Every culture has a deep yet deeply hidden mythology of our origins in a Garden of Eden. Deep down we know that we once resided in such a realm. A realm of peace and harmony. One where all the ugliness of this current realm simply did not exist. In my opinion, a truly vegan world would recreate that paradisical reality.
When one really thinks about it, how could it not? If we lived with a compassion and a passion for not oppressing or harming any fellow being, just imagine how different our world would be. Everything would change.
We “believe” it is not possible to have our dreams of peace and harmony become a real reality. Thus we give up, as a collective society, before we even try. If everyone would embark on the vegan path, soon we would begin to rediscover, as individuals and as a society, the vision and the possibility of a (return to) an Eden on Earth. Much like we remember via mnemosyne deep within our consciousnesses.
Our mythologies began as realities, which we left behind, and, in our shame over creating a world of such abandonment of love and beauty, we have excused ourselves with the myth that they are mere “myths”.
The themes of “I can’t” or “we can’t” or “it’s not possible” keep us on this downward spiral. And..”that’s just ‘childish’ fantasy”, or “that’s just not reality”. Or any number of other “reasons” why we can never have the world we envision. But a world that takes the chance to step into that possibility, a world that decides to take that first step by going on the vegan path, would quickly see that all things are possible, that all our yearnings for peace on Earth, for all, is not just a pipe dream but easily and naturally attainable.
We can only begin to imagine how it would eventually transform everything in our societies, and in our species.
We have the inkling, the desire, the wish, and even the (faint archetypal) memory of such a world. Why not go with that?
We may not be able to imagine how such a Eden-istic world is possible, but just because we can’t imagine it now doesn’t mean that once on that path the imaginings and the possibilities would be revealed to us. If we could only convince the world to take that leap of faith. And, really, it’s our only chance, our only hope to flip this current terribleness upside-down.
I asked whether Chapter 7 in On Their Own Terms: Animal Liberation poses a challenge to Jack’s Edenic ideal. In Chapter 7, Connecting Dominion’s Dots, I posited that the Eden story is widely understood as the ideal, whereas I think it’s better understood as a social commentary on human dominion.
I’m talking about the archetypal memory in us all, as biological and Earth-based beings, that remembers a true Eden, one with no dominion mentality. Your insightful chapter discusses the perversion of our memory, to serve a post-Eden rationalization of our will to dominate.
And you are perfectly right, how, when seen for what it is (which you reveal), it is a social commentary on our flight from Eden rather than a genuine attempt to return to the eternal truth of it. In no way was I talking of the mythologies that contain only half truths leading to whole lies regarding our relationship with the Earth and Earth’s beings.
The Eden story I was talking about is that which resides in us all, that what we all know deep down as to what it was and can be…instead of, as you say, the stories that “defy messages from the natural world that all is interwoven, overlapping, interdependent…”
Any deep challenge to dominion, I said to Jack, would mean remembering our primate identities. And we then have to understand that we are not superior to the big cats. We’d instead live with the risk their existence presents. This is not everyone’s thought when Eden is invoked! I suppose some would call us traitors to humanity for even suggesting it!
And Jack replied:
Lee, that is spot on.
But remembering our primate identities would in fact liberate us from fear. We have exaggerated the risks of the metaphorical big lion. Way back when, we wanted to escape those minimal fears of nature. We decided to subdue nature to eliminate all risk. But in so doing, by creating an artificial world insulated from nature, we have created risks 1,000 times more risky and dire. Instead of the occasional risk or tragedy befalling one or a few, as is natural, we have created endless tragedies and risks at every turn, befalling all.
We were far safer then.
Then, factor in the risks and tragedies to the more-than human world that flow in the wake of our decision to be at war with nature and life instead of remaining at equality and peace with it, well…all I can say is, how dare we do that, not only to ourselves but to the rest of the natural world.
There are no words in our limited, linear languages to adequately convey the tragedy of it all. And since we do not seem to know how to do that, we will have to leave it up to Gaia to express it for us, as it is doing, with a proper vengeance.
Well, said I, the struggle was real for primates. It was not all sweetness and peace, of course.
Aurochs, the ancestors of cattle, would run over a village, too.
So it wasn’t just the carnivores that kept us running. Most people think of their locked doors and fenced yards and genetically subdued animals and processed foods and pharmaceuticals as the bases of modern safety. But we don’t die well if you ask me.
Is it weird to say I should prefer to die by tooth and claw than on a rented gurney with tubes in my arms and a legal mess on someone’s desk? We are not allowed by civilized society to ask the question. But we might as well ask. We haven’t figured out how to die in harmony with nature or live within the constraints of a planet’s realities.
Not weird at all to rather die by tooth and claw than by modern infirmities. Yet I’m not so sure the dangers then were all that severe. That Red in Tooth and Claw story of nature being just another exaggeration to justify the path we have chosen. As we know, predation only takes a very small percentage of a prey species. And as for all the other dangers, like disease, etc., clearly we have way more of that now than then. And when factoring in quality of life then vs now… well…. game.. set.. match.
So, yeah, we don’t die well or live well or in harmony with nature.
Once prey animals get to a certain age, I said to Jack, if the natural balance exists, they will quite likely get eaten.
I’m not assuming this is pleasant. Yet I do think the final release came more quickly in the the course of nature’s trophic conversion than it does for most of us primates today, when medical ethics oblige our caregivers to keep us contained in the mortal coil for as long as they can possibly stretch the situation out, beyond what we could reasonably be called natural.
I know this is fraught territory, and I’m not making a moral statement. I’m simply noting that we overshoot the line at which quality of life is exhausted in many, many lives thanks to the wonders of modern medicine!
And Jack responded:
Yes and yes. What is better, a life of disconnect, then protracted beyond sensation, or one fully lived then a quick release, by natural expiration or fast flash of nature’s attack? The latter is a life more fully lived. And a life not at war with the rest of life.
Some writers think nature isn’t very nice. David Pearce is one such writer. Pearce told George Dvorsky at the weblog io9 (a daily publication connected with Gawker.com that “covers science, science fiction, and the future”) that re-programming nature so as to eliminate animal habits we don’t like isn’t a new idea: “The Bible prophesies that the wolf and the lion shall lie down with the lamb.”
Conceiving the natural world as pitted against many animals’ interests, Pearce, a utilitarian philosopher, hopes biologists devise ways of reducing suffering in natural habitats as well as in captivity. In “Reprogramming Predators (Blueprint for a Cruelty-Free World)” Pearce discusses “the problem of predation” and proposes that predators be eliminated—either by extinction or genetic engineering. Then, Pearce proposes, buffalo and zebras would be managed with contraception technologies in wildlife parks. “On almost every future scenario, we’re destined to play God, says Pearce. “So let’s aim to be compassionate gods and replace the cruelty of Darwinian life with something better.”
Philosophical grandstanding aside, we’re not going to have an Earth devoid of carnivores. They belong to the natural system of trophic cascades that keeps the whole bio-community functioning. Consider that almost all communities of birds feed their hatchlings insects and worms, and the obvious becomes clear. To wipe out natural predation is an impossible dream that would very quickly lend itself to ethical and environmental nightmares.
It’s a fact of life on Earth as well as a strain on the advocate’s emotions that the world’s animals often have short, stressful lives. Tom Regan acknowledges: “When it comes to interspecies relations, nature is red in tooth and claw.” Regan’s Case for Animal Rights firmly states that the rights view does not, however, urge us to control others; instead, it obliges us to let other animals carve out their own destiny. Animal rights does not boil down to pain relief, and the call to control the lions and bobcats from doing what they do to live shows that at the most striking level. We humans can refrain from killing others; and we’ve developed, and can spread, the ethic of non-violence. But forcing other animals, including obligate carnivores, to subscribe to vegetarianism would bring no challenge to our control over other animals; it is, rather, human dominion on overdrive.
“Reprogramming Predators: Blueprint for a Cruelty-Free World” (2009), published on the BLTC [“Better Living Through Chemistry”] Research website, whose mission statement asserts that “Post-Darwinian superminds” can and should abolish pain. David Pearce has assured me, when I wrote previously about this issue for a book, that the website is not meant to be satire.
Tom Regan, The Case for Animal Rights (1983), at 357.
Thanks to Bernard Jones for bringing George Dvorsky’s piece to my attention.
Polar Bear Family Group Photo Credit: Susanne Miller/USFWS