In this post I am writing about how I have deceived myself through language in understanding reality. More specifically how I discovered that language is greatly misused in ‘covering up’ the meaning of ‘life’. First off I want to thank the parsley plants on the terrace outside my window ‘who’ has been instrumental in waking me up ‘in fact’ from the deception I will explain in this post.
In my early teens I realised that humans were the cruelest beings on this planet. I wanted to be a better person, I did not want to be like everyone else, and I wanted to make a difference. I thought modesty, vegetarianism and political activity would get me there. I never wanted to own much, or consume much, I thought if I minimise my needs and abstain from eating meat, poultry and fish – that’s the best thing I could do – I’d have a clean record. I was quite the moralist, no kidding – while everyone is bad, I am going to be good.
This attitude is also what brought me to the white light, the positive thinking and the Buddhist meditation, the Sanskrit scriptures and so forth. I was going to save the world, or even I couldn’t do that I’d save myself, come hell or high water. So in my early teens I decided to stop eating all meat. This was 31 years ago and most people did not even know the word vegetarianism. It was something literally unheard of – …not eating meat? I would hear: “… what about your protein intake? What about your brain development, you are a young person in development, you are going to get sick, you may die if you don’t eat meat…or may incur serious damage to your health…”. Wherever I went I was being grilled about the whys…and most frequently the answer was…”but it’s natural to eat meat, look at nature, animals eat animals – that’s how it works”. Usually my answer was “but we can think, the animal does not have a choice, we do”.
Well, none of this holds true for me today. After not eating meat for 31 years, not eating poultry and fish for 21 years- I would eat anything today that my body can eat and digest, whatever is here.
When I began to be a vegetarian, I wanted to express my dislike towards human arrogance and treatment of animals. At that time, 31 years ago, the whole meat production process was not as streamlined as it is today. You could still get meat from small farmers – in other words, there was not just yet the kind of “cruelty awareness” that the system likes to propagate these days. What influenced me was that animals fascinated me and that killing them was a horrible thought. Logically it followed, let’s not kill them because we are killing life, if we can live as vegetarians than we don’t need to kill animals.
I made a distinction between animals and plants: where animals were equated with humans, which we should also not kill – especially not for ideological reasons, such as religion or political opinions, not even for murdering another human being, because the person is a product of his or her environment. Clearly I saw life as being identified by ‘beings’ that could show expressions similar to humans, you can see and hear an animal suffer. If you slaughter a cow you can hear her scream. This is life, you are killing life – this is what I have been taught. I have been taught that life is that which is identified through certain external characteristics, which in essence is saying that I have used language to describe life, through naming the qualities and properties of what I can perceive through my senses. Looking at this again, I have been taught that life is identified through language classes and descriptors.
Let me illustrate on an example what I mean. Let’s say someone sees a spider, a large spider, and this person is afraid of spiders, the person is ‘plagued’ by arachnophobia. When exposed to a spider he or she will likely scream or at least try to get away. Thus, the person is reacting to the picture he or she has identified through what he or she “knows” a spider to be: an insect with eight legs, moving in rapid ways, dark in colour, a small body with long legs and so forth. This is what he or she is reacting to rather than that these descriptors that have been internalised through the picture are just a physical manifestation of life. Now seeing a spider being killed is probably a relief to this arachnophobic person, but what if they animal in front of the person killed were a cute cuddly rabbit? Would he or she react with the same relief? Probably not. In both instances though we are killing life. We justify killing one life versus another life through it’s outer appearance, we are judging it based on the descriptions we have for it.
I want to take this a step further and say that we use language in the same way in how we pass judgements on others. For some people relevant descriptors can be skin colour, or the type of clothes someone wears, the hair cut someone has and so forth. Based on the descriptive language we have that fits the picture we see, we think we have knowledge on the who and what we are dealing with.
When I was a vegetarian, I thought of myself as being “aware” regarding to how we use language to better enable ourselves to eat cow or pig – we turn it into ham or pork. Carol Adams in her book “The politics of meat” has a whole list of “after-killing” language that we use to the drive the deception of the definitions of life even deeper. Today I see that I was thinking I was “aware” but really I was blinded even further into the deceptive use of language because I was justifying my perceived “choices” from a moralistic stance through language, not from what was in front of me physically. What about plants, insects, and other ‘lesser’ life forms, we do not “really” consider them life as we understand more complex life forms to be, because killing a fly, a mosquito, a spider, or broccoli does not count – or does it?
I have no doubt that many like myself have intellectualised the idea that even a fly is life and it should not be killed but that is again the moralistic judgement, that is not what I am talking about – what I am talking about is an “in fact” understanding that my life is equal to all life, equal to a fly, to a spider to a mosquito, to the broccoli. Life itself is not open to categorisation, life is life regardless to the descriptors that are used to judge life. It is a deception to label life into higher and lower forms because it gives us permission to disregard one life versus another because of the labels we give it. This is the original arrogance I tried to address but was too blind to see through the inherent use of language.
Choosing to eat no meat, yet eating plants and everything else that “does not have a face” is buying into the same judgement as all of those who eat meat, who would consider that an animal life is higher life than the broccoli on my plate. It is even less an argument for the horrifying conditions of animals who are raised and live catastrophic lives until slaughter. Again, the basic distinction of that we should not abuse animal but are free to abuse plants brings us back to the point that one life form is of lesser value to humans and another.
It wasn’t until last year that this understanding became part of me not through my intellect which is separated from me as the person, but through the observation of this parsley plant I have already mentioned. I used to dream of living in the country side, having my own little garden, where I could watch the grass grow. The reality is I never pursued a life in the country although it was always on my agenda because it represented the “grass is greener on the other side” phenomenon we all have to escape our daily routines. Inside the confines of an apartment I keep houseplants. My current apartment has given me the opportunity to plant some outdoor plants because of a terrace with some old planter pots that I can use. Last year I started to grow some flowers and that was fun. It certainly cheered up the sad looking terrace that I share with some commercial business that uses these areas mostly to get rid of stuff they don’t want inside.
Late summer I found some parsley seeds that I have had for years packed away, and I decided to plant them. The season for planting was already over but I thought I would try it any way. Within a month parsley plants began to grow. There was no doubt that these plants liked their spot. As with the flowers, now with the parsley plants, I would check on them every morning and see how they grew bigger. By now it was October and I thought to cut all the leaves of the plants and just let it die. According to wikipedia: the common parsley likes a temperate climate with temperatures between 22–30 °C , it is an annual herb that grows in sub-tropical and tropical areas.
So I cut it down but not completely, I left a few areas for no particular reason. Maybe I did not want to look at the dead plant in the morning. I was however expecting for it to die. November came and the temperatures dropped below 0 °C – when I checked on the plants in the mornings, I thought “any day now will be the last for this parsley”- the water in the cells with freeze and with the defrosting of the ground they will explode and kill the plant. The temperatures dropped and we had snow for several days. Still the parsley remained, and it kept growing. When I cut it down in October the stems where long and skinny, now throughout the winter it had become short and stocky, a reaction similar to humans. You see the Inuit in Alaska, a short people, live in a cold climate and many Africans like the Masai, are tall, living in a hot climate.
I contributed nothing to the life of these parsley plants- it was life itself that transformed the physical manifestation of this plant so that it could survive freezing temperatures, snow, ice, wind and rain – all of which is unlike our linguistic classification and characteristics of the parsley plant. We are approaching the middle of March, the beginning of spring is just around the corner, six months ago, anyone would have expected for these common parsley plants to die and not survive winter season. They did not die because what they really are is life and their value is life, not a category or a judgement imposed by humans.