Thursday, January 24, 2008


Recently I wrote a paper for Peter Singer’s course “Practical Ethics” that attempts to answer the question: “does taking morality seriously mean alienating oneself from some of the most essential aspects of human existence?”

The quick answer for most people I think is of course a definite “No.” We can all think about modern moral issues without becoming completely absorbed in them to the point that we lose focus on other interests—art, athletics, careers, etc. Most of our blog readers, I bet, are vegetarians or vegans who have made that serious ethical commitment without separating themselves from anything else important in their lives (except, perhaps, a carnivorous boyfriend.)

But what about taking morality so seriously that it begins to take over other parts of your life? One philosopher we read thinks that moral saints (people whose actions are as morally worthy as possible) cannot lead a full human existence. They cannot be world-class violinists or into high-end fashion or excel at athletics because to pursue these nonmoral interests would take time away from moral actions. A moral saint can’t even take a nap because she could be using that time to serve soup to the homeless. A world of moral saints would be a sad, unfulfilled, and boring place.

And, more importantly, a moral saint would not create positive change in the world because her sad life would not inspire others to make ethical choices. Being a moral leader requires living a happy fulfilled life that others want to emulate.

So moral sainthood is not good – but does that give us an easy way out? Can we stop feeling guilty for not living up to the utilitarian theories that tell us we are ethically obligated to donate 10% of our income to the impoverished or to be completely vegan (or dare I say, even completely vegetarian)?

We can't be self-righteous moral saints if we want to create positive change in the world, be we also can't take the easy way out and be moral slackers. What we can, and should, do, is strive for a different kind of perfection, one that looks at overall impact rather than individual actions. A life that has the most positive impact overall is a life of ethical moderation that others will want to copy.

So what does this mean for animal rights ethics? Should an animal rights activist aspire to perfection? To veganism? How can our lifestyle choices have the biggest impact both in terms of individual impact and the indirect impact it has through influencing others? Is veganism, "the moral baseline of the movement," the obvious answer?

Or sometimes—like in certain eating clubs where the only vegan food day in and day out is old hummus and wet spinach leaves—is veganism too much of a sacrifice that will turn observers away from animal rights? In these cases, might striving for “perfection” be counterproductive?

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

PAWS 2008

Happy 2008! After spending the day on a purifying juice fast contemplating the upcoming year, I have a solid list of New Year’s resolutions, and I’d like to share a few with you.

My first resolution is to improve my vegan cooking skills. This is not only for my own health and satisfaction, but to be a more effective influence on others. We all know that good food is the way to a man’s (and/or meat-eater’s) heart.

Another one of my resolutions is to lead a healthy, satisfied, and cheerful vegan lifestyle that will serve as a good example to others. This includes being in good shape, eating well, and not complaining about the pathetic vegan options at my eating club or lusting after pizza.

My PAWS-related resolution is the one I really want to share with you. In less than a year since we formed back in April 2007, we’ve had an amazing amount of success. PAWS is now a well-known campus name, has gotten national media coverage, and has changed quite a few hearts and minds. In 2008, I want PAWS to reach a new level of influence and achievement.

Your PAWS officers have come up with some great ideas for PAWS 2008 and we’re working hard to make them happen. Here are some of them:

o Develop an impressive PAWS website
o Focus on delicious free vegan food!
o Table in Frist regularly with vegetarian literature and PAWS event information
o Take a trip to the Watkins Glen Farm Sanctuary
o Rank the Eating Clubs on their vegetarian and vegan food
o Host Veg Fest 2008 on April 10, 2008 featuring keynote speaker Wayne Pacelle and tons of vegan food
o Team up with unrelated groups to introduce a new batch of people to veg food & info
o Continue to pester Dining Services and eating clubs to serve us better veg food
o Create some type of pledge that people can sign up for on an ongoing basis, like Meatless Mondays or just a pledge to think critically about food choices (ideas for what kind of pledge would be useful would be most appreciated!)

What do YOU want PAWS to accomplish this year? Please leave us your comments so we can get to work on making it happen. With your help, PAWS can be the most active and influential group on campus.

Best wishes for a happy, healthy, and animal-friendly new year!