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The Vegetarian World Forum

No. 3 Vol. 2 - THE VEGETARIAN - AUTUMN 1948 pp.30-31:

SHOULD THE VEGETARIAN MOVEMENT BE REFORMED?
Donald Watson
ANSWERS HIS CRITICS

Important differences of opinion and misunderstandings have arisen from my article under this heading, and as the views expressed by both sides represent not only those of the individuals concerned but of larger groups, some attempt should be made to resolve them. A movement will not prosper in an atmosphere of confused opinion on important issues of policy.

If the movement is to represent all vegetarians without offending any, it can do so only by concentrating on that which is common to all its members, namely, vegetarianism. Dr. Pink mentions the successful work of the Society for the Abolition of Slavery. We should heed the fact that this society did not diffuse its objective by concerning itself with astrology, metaphysics and other sidelines of its more intellectually adventurous members. Its energies were concentrated on abolishing slavery - the object for which the formed. It did not assume the role of the educator, nor did it seek to solve the universe. Its argument, like the argument for vegetarianism, was simple, and though not all agreed with it, at least all understood it.

The aims of the vegetarian movement will be more difficult to achieve, but the method needs to be the same. As soon as other messages and philosophies begin to appear on the vegetarian banner, we part company. An idea which to one vegetarian sounds like sa1vation may offend the intelligence of another. The need for keeping our small numbers intact is the answer to Marion Reid's question, "Why should the movement's literature be confined to vegetarianism, as Mr. Watson demands? Nothing could be duller or more suicidal."

The best articles that have appeared in The Vegetarian, written in sober, restrained language ("Vegetarian Biology," by Richard Morse, F.L.S., in the Summer number is a typical example), do not portray this dull and suicidal aspect of legitimate vegetarian propaganda. If the vegetarian idea is not in itself sufficiently interesting and important to survive without assistance then the movement should surrender itself to more virile competitors.

Perhaps there has been misunderstanding on this point. Marion Reid argues that the poet, artist and mystic, as well as the scientist, all have a contribution to make. Dr. Pink reminds us that mystics of all ages have said that new faculties must be opened up. These facts are disputed. The mystic may be able to subscribe something not accessible to the usual processes of reasoning, but at least he should submit to the same discipline as the rest of us, he should support his claims by demonstration, and this he is often loath to attempt. There is no end to the falsehood that will clutter up our minds if we accept the teaching we fancy without making this necessary condition. The mystic may be useful, but he needs a more earthy type as co-worker. If Edward Maitland had chosen to work with a shrewd critic instead of another mystic, we should have been spared the last paragraph of his article The Higher Aspects of Vegetarianism appearing in the Summer number of The Vegetarian. Nothing damns a cause so much as exaggerated claims.

My opposition to the theory that all life is one seems to have met with general disapproval. Surely, if all life were one, slaughter-houses would have been abolished long ago. It would have hurt man too much to continue slaughtering himself. How much stronger and more moral the vegetarian argument would appear if we regarded animal life as distinct from our own, but worthy of the same treatment. The one view exhorts us to be compassionate in the common interest - a policy of mere expediency - the other advocates it purely on grounds of decency.

The contention that vegetarian diet for peaceful disposition, which I challenged remains unproved. It is not by our recent experiences with dictators and the Japanese, despite their largely vegetarian food, and it is further weakened by examples we can all can all quote of friendly flesh eaters and irate vegetarians. There are to many exceptions to this theory to make it attractive. But while there appears little evidence to relate diet with amiability, a world living on the products of plants could be adequately fed and a great cause of war thereby averted. This, surely, is the way to relate vegetarianism with peace.

My suggestion that vegetarian literature should be secular need not have implied a vegetarian movement without a moral foundation. The precaution is needed to protect the movement against those who use it to advance their own religious dogmas. Whatever the artistic merit of the official Christmas card referred to by Marion Reid, it could hardly be well received by those who regard the incident portrayed as superstitious. The onject of Christmas cards, now much abused, is admittedly to advertise a religious incident, and it is for this reason that vegetarian societies, with their membership drawn from many sects and creeds, should not issue them. All should approve of that which all pay for.

Marion Reid reminds us that "even some vicars are vegetarians." The word "even" suggests how remote is the possibility. The reason is clear. Having already accepted a conception of the good life, largely doctrinal, they, and others in a similar position are less likely to heed the vegetarian call, or any other call outside the confines of their accepted faith. The consequence is disastrous to moral progress.

Mr. Arthur L. Rudd's strong implication that I am an atheist speaking for atheists is untrue. But those of us who accept the orthodox theory of a personal god (probably because this is the easiest solution to a difficult problem) should not rank those who have reached a different conclusion as "unintelligent" and living in "unillumined darkness." The works of Shelley do not suggest this, despite his atheism. Intelligence and vision are not the prerogatives of the theist only.

It is a pity, as Mr. Semple remarks, that the vegetarian and the vegan movements, with their closely related aims, should not function together. If all vegetarians believed, as Dr. Pink believes, that the vegan argument is impregnable, then a union of the two movements would be possible merely by adopting a new definition of vegetarianism in terms of an evolutionary reform. This, doubtless, would satisfy vegans, but it would not satisfy those vegetarians who regard dairy produce as a legitimate human food.

 

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