It’s Sunday, May 21st and I’m just about caught up on my personal and professional life after two trips out of town this month. I want to write about those trips, and I want to write about the music and art that accompanied me on those trips, but first a few reflections.
I blog because I am an introspective searching for answers, and hoping that others are searching for the same. I believe that reading (and therefore writing), more than any other medium, has the potential to change minds (and therefore change lives). If, in addition to the direct work I do everyday on education and urban problem solving, I can invest a little bit of time each week into synthesizing and documenting my ideas in written form, I truly believe that it makes me a smarter and more impactful person, and provides some secondary value to some group of readers. Someday I would like to be the kind of person some may consider to have ‘thought leadership’ or to be a ‘public intellectual’; the role model that comes to mind is Sam Harris, who has inspired me on my recent journey of intellectual honesty. I am curious, to the anonymous readers out there (if any), whether there are topics that would interest you more than the random assortment I usually cover — whether I could organize something similar to an ‘AMA: Ask Me Anything’ anytime soon that would be valuable to anyone. For what it’s worth, I have an anonymous form in the menu of this website called “Feedback” which can serve that exact purpose, and I’d be more than happy to tackle questions on any topic I receive through that form in upcoming posts.
As I mentioned, I have been on a journey of intellectual honesty, vaguely inspired by deep anxieties about the state of our politics and culture. To be more specific: there are myriad technical and ethical issues within the various systems of our society I could individually focus on and work on, and ultimately would like to in the course of my professional career, but the most fundamental system that stitches them all together is the system of reason. If we lose the sanctity of rational and evidence-based decision-making in our social and political discourse, we lose the ability to be sure of anything. That’s why I think the greatest harm Trump has done so far is an irreversible damaging of trust, trust in our institutions that takes decades and centuries to build up but can wither and collapse in a matter of days.
Speaking of Trump, I have been holding out on the possibility for impeachment or resignation in fear of impeachment since the very beginning, and now that things have started to heat up around the Comey, Flynn, etc. drama, I would like to take a bold step towards thinking in public and state that I now feel more than 50% certain that Trump will NOT last as President until November 2020. That being said, that wouldn’t necessarily bring about satisfaction since we’d get President Pence, but at least we would have rescued ourselves from a more basic type of shame.
Moving from the political to the personal, my intellectual honesty project is first and foremost a project to examine and question my own ethical reasoning. I started thinking mostly about religion and faith, and planning to document a comprehensive and persuasive ‘coming out’ as atheist, but for various reasons have not been able or willing to give that project due justice. Meanwhile, as you know, I have been attempting to transition my diet towards vegetarianism for both environmental and ethical reasons, and this weekend I feel like I’ve made a moral breakthrough while reading Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation to want to commit fully to the real goal of veganism, and would like to briefly explain why and how.
I already had a strong sense of why I care about food from an ecological sustainability perspective, given the excessive impacts of a meat-based diet on land, greenhouse gases, and water. That alone should be enough of a reason for any intellectually honest believer in climate change and the environment to actively try to eliminate beef from his/her diet. I’ve also been attempting to explicitly change my diet out of concern for the suffering of animals, as an intellectually honest ‘expanding of the circle’, to use Singer’s language, from our inherently selfish and tribal nature to a concern for all humans to, inevitably, a concern for all organisms capable of suffering. The book did not discuss one of Harris’s interesting expansions on the subject, in which he considers that the capacity for pain may be proportional to some measure of the brain’s complexity, so that the suffering of mammals, birds, fish, etc. can be meaningfully distinguished. But it made those differences almost not matter, where I have the choice to remove meat from my diet entirely. And more importantly, Animal Liberation made it painfully obvious to me that if I truly care about animal suffering, then being content with vegetarianism as the end goal is complete hypocrisy, since standard eggs are produced through exactly the same cruel factory farm conditions as poultry meat (i.e. systematic killing of male baby chicks, debeaking), and dairy products carry even greater harm through the systematic suffering of mother cows losing their children and calves heading for the veal industry. I could certainly have conceived of these ethical problems with greater thought, despite its perfect obfuscation by the capitalistic drug that is ignorance, and so I consider myself fully guilty of intellectual dishonesty on this issue.
So, having fared well in this transition away from an omnivorous lifestyle in the first half of 2016, I will now try actively to completely boycott animal products. The book also reminded me of the obvious point that this position must accompanied by efforts to persuade others to do the same, or else it loses its sustaining impact. And so expect me to write pretty regularly about my experience here, with best practices to impart, and always open to learn more myself. I’ve already tried to enforce vegetarianism at scale where I can, like in giving all my Stanford-related food events vegetarian menus. I’d like to do a mid-year progress report on what my dietary transition has meant in quantifiable results. Very recently, I discovered Rainbow Grocery which is about a 15 minute walk from my house, and it has an incredible selection of local, organic, and ethically conscious food that will make this diet much more easy and enjoyable (especially the possibility of truly ethical eggs; I’ll need to do more research on this but ‘pasture-raised’ seems to be a serious label, or else I was tricked into paying $10 for a dozen eggs). Today I also bought some multivitamins, including B-12, having read that these are some nutritional deficiencies to watch out for.
As we descend deeper into this brave new world, I invite you all to consider just how equipped your tools of reasoning are. They may be our only sources of light in the coming darkness.