Is an individual life a blank slate to be written on by the
owner of that life? Is it totally up to that person to use their consciousness to
choose a purpose and set goals for their life (well, or choose nothing at all)?
Or are we totally without choice? Are we doomed to play out the conditionings established by the culture we grew up in, along with the unchangeable aspects of our biology?
We are, obviously, constrained by present circumstance. There’s no question about that. But, as you become more conscious and simultaneously gain more power over circumstance, what holds up to constrain you then? What purpose do you have when you can do almost whatever you want? When you are superconscious, is there anything you cannot do?
Well, we still are constrained by the laws of physical reality, to begin with. Maybe you can believe your way out of those laws, but, well, good luck with that. Even from a Subjective Reality standpoint, that’s awfully tough to do.
How about the past? You could say that you are constrained by your past experiences. It is through those experiences that you have cultivated your skills, preferences, beliefs, and knowledge, and all those experiences have brought you to where you are now. So you are constrained by what you believe, can do, and want to do.
But can’t those things be changed easily enough? How malleable are we? Well, how malleable you are depends on either how unconscious and vulnerable you are, if other people are going to work on you, or whether you have a purpose to change, if you are going to work on yourself.
Of course, these changes take time. So if you’re going to work to make certain changes on yourself, you’re constrained by how strong of a purpose you have for doing so, how committed you are to that purpose, how conscious and able you are to make those changes, and how much time you invest in the work.
For instance, I could potentially cultivate within myself a perspective that would allow me to drop veganism and eat animals guiltlessly once again. But I don’t have a purpose for doing so. From my present perspective I can see no reason for doing that. That was the perspective I was raised with, which means that, in the past, I have held it only unconsciously. When I held that perspective I was far less conscious than I am now. Why would I want to go back there? At this point, it appears that I am not so malleable after all. I have no incentive for moving away from my present perspective and toward that one.
Now, some strange twist may come about, by which eating meat turns out to be the more conscious viewpoint. Of course, is there ever, necessarily, a viewpoint that is more conscious? It isn’t really the viewpoint in itself that is conscious, but rather the person who chooses it, and how they go about doing so. Veganism isn’t a conscious choice if you were raised to be vegan. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad choice, but it’s not one that you really and truly made.
So can you justify any perspective that can be chosen consciously? Well, what does it mean to choose consciously? Your ability to choose consciously depends upon how conscious you are in the first place. Each person is conscious to a different degree. So, every choice that is made is sorta conscious… But my sorta and your sorta are probably different.
Does this sorta depend, at all, on external factors, such as whether you have the proper information to make a decision? On the surface, yes. But I would add, the more conscious a person is, the more likely they are to deliberately seek out such information. They will study and likely even play with the different perspectives before they settle on or, rather, create one that is to be the dominant perspective for the time being. Contrast that with a person who doesn’t care about conscious choice: they could be surrounded by a library of all the information they could possibly need, and they won’t crack open a single book. They’ll go back to playing Farmville instead.
Of course, it’s tough to say whether you have fully integrated the particular perspective. That’s why I said the perspective gets created. It’s not like there is a one-size-fits-all perspective for all vegans that you simply download into your brain. Each vegan will have a different take on the reasons for their behavior.
So would it be more proper to say, then, that you explore the behavior rather than the perspective? Well, sort of. But I think the two need each other to be complete.
You see, I can’t go back to eating meat and fully believe in the idea that Eating meat is not okay. I would malfunction. Something’s got to give here. Either I have to resort back to my current behavior of not eating meat, or the belief has to change. I would have to take on some sort of rationalization for my behavior, no matter how dumb-witted it sounds.
It isn’t that my beliefs control my life per se. It’s not that I am my beliefs. It’s not that my beliefs are the commanders of everything. You can hold different beliefs at different times, y’know. Why, I even wrote about it in my Book.
But it’s hard to deny that there are beliefs and perspectives which we tend to view the world through most of the time. It is from those dominant perspectives that we evaluate, from the outside, all others. I can’t give objective criticisms of veganism because I am inside it. It is subjective. Similarly, I can’t give subjective comments on eating monkeys because I never have eaten a monkey. I’m totally outside of it. I can only evaluate it based on perspectives I’ve held in the past and, predominantly, the perspective I hold now. I have never participated in the behavior which engenders an experience of the perspective of eating monkeys. Wow, that’s quite a mouthful… A mouthful of monkeys, perhaps.
Nah, I’m just kiddin’. There aren’t any monkeys in New York state anyway… Well, except at the zoo. Maybe I’ll run by there later.
Perspective and Behavior
Anyway, an overarching point I make here is that perspective and behavior (belief and action) are intertwined. When you engage in a certain behavior, you take on, at least temporarily, a perspective which justifies that behavior. This means it’s much easier to condemn that which you have never done.
Now, let’s go back to the idea of malleability. So, what would it take for me to justify me eating meat? If you shove a burger in my face and hold a gun to my head until I swallow it, well, I suppose we’ll get somewhere. I’ll justify that I had to eat the meat in order to avoid bullet-hell. But that’s unlikely to be enough to get me to give up veganism. When you get out of my house and go about your way, I’ll just go back to chewing on lettuce leaves and carrot sticks (and nothing else, of course). I will not have had reason enough to change my behavior beyond that single, isolated situation.
What’s another possibility? As I said earlier, I have held the perspective, before, that Eating meat is okay. I ate meat regularly the first 16 years of my life, and then in small amounts from age 17 to almost-19. So I could close my eyes and put myself back in those memories—the sights, the sounds, more so the tastes and smells, the feelings in my body, the thoughts in my mind.
Prior to age 16 I only ate meat unconsciously, as I was raised to do so, so that perspective isn’t very helpful. When I put myself back into memories of eating meat between 17 and almost-19, I mostly recall thoughts related to fear and guilt. The times I cried while cooking chili come to mind rather easily. :P
Now, maybe my memories are colored by my present perspective. Perhaps that is inevitable. Memories are recreated in the present—they aren’t pulled out of the subconscious unscathed, like a document from a folder. Am I doomed, then, to be blind to a positive view of the other side?
Well, it may do to mention that this isn’t my first round with veganism. I was vegetarian for a few months at 16, and then vegan for several months at 17, before starting on this 3rd round of vegetarianism/veganism 5 months ago. In between each of those periods, I ate animal products. So in recent years, I have played on both teams. I’ve gone back and forth. I’ve explored. I’ve immersed myself in both sides. I’ve compared and contrasted. Now, each day I choose the side that has typically felt better to me.
It’s arrogant to say that you’ve done all the exploring you need to do. But I think I’ve done enough that I can stay where I am for now. Besides—switching rapidly doesn’t allow you to explore all the nuances. Maybe it’ll turn out that veganism is fine and dandy for 5 months but not so for 10 years. In that case, you’ll find me with a steak on my plate 9 and a half years from now… Grass-fed, of course.
Consider Fresh Perspectives
I think the grass-fed comment leads to an important note. There are, indeed, many nuances and variations to be explored on each side. Veganism is an umbrella-term for people who abstain from animal products. Beyond that, it’s a free-for-all. I’ve seen other vegans whose diets disgust me, with their candy and cookies and pop-tarts and carrageenan-filled-almond-milk-ice-cream… Blech. I probably have more in common with someone on the Paleo diet. At least they abstain from processed junk and commit to being healthy (even if the thoughts on how healthy meat is- even properly-fed meat- are hotly debated).
As I said earlier, no two people who participate in the same behavior hold the same perspective. Perspective and behavior may be intertwined, but they are not all-determining of one another. Some vegans take on their diets purely for ethical reasons. They’ll still shove a whole cake in their pieholes as long as it’s free of milk and eggs.
On the other hand, I started on the path of general diet-change several years ago solely for health reasons, and I have held strongly to those health reasons since. Truthfully, I’d rather eat a grass-fed steak than a Pop-tart. The former is far less likely to kill me… Plus, at least I could get some B12 out of it. Pop-tarts, on the other hand, are nutritionally useless. They’ll lay me up in bed all day with a stomach-ache. I won’t be happy if I eat the steak, but I can still continue my day as usual.
Now, this doesn’t mean I’m amoral as a vegan. Like I said—I won’t be happy about the steak. I’ll probably cry my way through it. What’s interesting, though, is that I feel I can’t totally justify a moral position for abstaining from animal products. In particular, it’s hard for me to explain why I cry. Then again, is there ever a solid explanation for tears?
I know that healthwise, any animal products that come from a farm just aren’t worth it. There’s too much uncertainty. If they come from a big, industrial farm, then they’re definitely not worth it—they’re more harm than good. But it seems like the main sticking point is that I’ve come to like how I feel as a vegan. Or maybe it’s not even that, and I’ve just gotten used to the perspective. Somewhere along the line I developed an aversion to seeing meat in packages, and that was that. But I have the sense that logic is playing no role here.
It’s hard to ethically justify eating meat. It’s hard to ethically stand by not eating meat. I don’t know. Am I a sociopath?
Maybe what would help me out here is a perspective-evaluation. I can look at the situation from a perspective I haven’t been able to take from the inside, yet which I can still mentally place myself in. That’s the perspective of the people who handle the animals and the consequent animal products before they reach the store.
In particular, I ought to ask myself this: If I had, inside my house, all the vegan foods I could need to stay in optimal health, would I walk outside and shoot an animal so I could eat it? No, I would not kill that animal. I would not want to. I would not want to kill the animal and then gut it and then chop it up into bits and wrap them up and buy a huge freezer and put the bits into the freezer and then cook the bits when I want to eat them. I would only do that if I had no other food.
So, does that do it? Does that give me justification enough for remaining vegan, apart from the health reasons (i.e. most commercially-available meat is improperly fed, and probably also filled with the dark energy of torture and horror)? Well, if I can’t kill an animal myself, what justification do I have for eating it? That’s pure pansy-ness. It’s sending off the teenagers to fight my war for me. If I can pass- which I very well can, indeed-, I’ll pass.
So, aside from dire circumstances, is there any perspective that can get me to change my mind about eating meat? Is there any ideology or reasoning that could bring me back to Burgerland?
If you could convince me that a cow is 100% unconscious, literally as dumb as a rock, could you get me to shoot it? Well, if a cow was still as cow-ish as I currently know it to be in all other regards, no, I still would not do it. I still would not want to go through with all the slicing and dicing into bits.
For another thing, you’d have to convince me against my dominant perspective of Subjective Reality, whereby everything is a reflection of consciousness itself, including my own body. In that reality I have no desire to do destruction to anything if I can help it. It feels bad to me. The idea of turning a cow into packaged bits feels bad to me, too, and in Subjective Reality feeling badly is justification enough to avoid something (because it is subjective). I’m not sure what it would take to convince me against that.
Now, there are other spiritual-esque perspectives that have toyed with my mind. In particular, there is the idea that life cannot be created or destroyed. The idea that energy and matter cannot be created or destroyed is a scientific one. But the spiritual twist involves consciousness.
What if, when you kill a cow, it immediately carries on to another dimension/phase of reality, and continues on about life just fine? This is an interesting idea to pit me up against, because I do generally consider that consciousness continues on after death. In that case, what makes killing the cow bad?
Well, if it is the cow’s consciousness that continues on, then to fully answer this question I would have to ask the same of humans: What makes killing a person bad? Certainly I have no desire to do this, just as I have no desire to kill a cow. But how do we logically justify abstaining from the act?
Well, as I said before, it would feel badly for me to do this, and in a subjective reality that is justification enough. But if they’ll carry on elsewhere just fine after they’re dead, what’s really so bad about it? Could you argue that it degrades the broader, collective consciousness to remove one of the projections of consciousness?
Maybe it’s not the removal in itself that is degrading, but the act of the removal. I know that in order to commit this act, I would have to lower my consciousness. I would have to rationalize with myself endlessly and deny how I feel. Based on the effects on consciousness, then, the act is bad.
Now, would the act be bad for someone who doesn’t have to make all sorts of denials and rationalization to do it? Well, in most cases, I would think people do have to rationalize to kill another human. There’s no good reason for it. And if you have to put yourself in a state of denial, you’re ultimately making yourself feel badly. You thus are degrading consciousness. It is that, then, that makes the act “bad.”
Are You Committed to Consciousness?
So I started out this article wondering whether we’re infinitely malleable. Now I am suggesting that there are built-in constraints in consciousness that make the answer to that question, No. I can explore the perspective of eating meat, but for reasons just explained, I cannot fully take it on.
So it pays to ask, again, whether there are some perspectives which are indeed invalid. The immediate answer that pops into my head is No. But at the same time, there are certain perspectives which seem they would be very, very hard to choose consciously. But, again, consciousness occurs in degrees. What is a conscious choice to me may look like conditioning and fearfulness to the Buddha.
Perhaps we are malleable, then, only as a function of how conscious we are. But that relationship may not be black and white. Generally speaking, being more conscious means that outside forces are less likely to have an impact on your behavior. Yet, you also are more open-minded, and open to exploring new perspectives and new behaviors.
I think that as you become more conscious your tastes may be somewhat more prone to change, yet your commitment to certain core principles increases. In particular, you stick to what helps you to either maintain your current level of consciousness or to become more conscious. That is what the “good” seems to be.
But how do you measure whether something makes you more conscious or less so? Well, I think that is up to subjective measures, since consciousness itself is subjective. I think that’s up to you to decide. If something makes you feel better or worse at the end of the day, or even at the end of five minutes, you’ll know. If a certain thought pattern or act throws you into a state of denial, you’ll know (well, if the denial isn’t too all-encompassing).
So, to return, to the beginning of this article, it is up to your consciousness to determine a purpose and goals for your life. But your consciousness is simply a part of something larger, and in that way you may find yourself constrained.
Worry not, however: these constraints may give you just enough of a push to lead you down a path you feel good about. Simply ask yourself, Where does the conscious path want me to go?
You are not an endlessly malleable, unconscious robot. The conscious path will ask you to change, but it is apt to do so in a way that, wherever you may base your truth, and whatever your slate may currently say, you will find to be for the better.
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