Saturday, August 16, 2014

An Evolutionary Argument For Veganism

Lately, I have become addicted to the videos of a certain young lady named Kerry McCarpet. She's witty, eloquent, and I just love that British accent of hers - I could watch this video of hers over and over, just to hear her utter the phrase "betwixt the hand and the gob" again and again.

I also agree with a lot of what she says, even though I'd probably be much more cautious in some respects. Her mind is more speculative than mine. I think this is a good thing - it makes for inspiring and lively videos. At the very least, she does what many vegans sadly don't do - she explains her reasons for believing the way she does.

However, let's focus on the one negative thing I found, shall we?

Here, and at a few other places, she presents an argument for high-carbohydrate/low-fat veganism: Evolution shows you what we should eat; our body runs on sugar, our blood cells seem modeled on chlorophyl to some extent. Therefore, we should eat a high-carb vegan diet.

(Personally, I think the chlorophyl argument has a chemist weeping somewhere, but that's just an aside.)

There is a general problem with arguments from evolution. When you try to argue that one specific trait is good, it is of course tempting to say that this trait has survived for so long, so it has to be good - right?

Well - no, sadly. When you do that, you will always end up going in circles.

See, the theory of evolution was invented to explain how we (and all the other species) ended up where we are. But that doesn't tell you anything about whether one specific trait is "good" (i.e., well-adapted) or not. After all, (the theory of) evolution necessarily has to explain the bad along with the good - or to put it differently: In evolution, there is no such thing as good or bad.

The theory of evolution is descriptive, not prescriptive.

We evolved to love sugar and salt, and this is reflected in our taste buds. And we evolved to have a strong sense of empathy, which we may judge as a good thing. But we also evolved to be primates with a rather nasty habit of dropping bombs on each other, and we evolved to have an overweight brain that lets us to fancy stuff like cooking our food, and making hamburgers. We cannot predict, from a merely evolutionary standpoint, which ones of those traits will still be around in a million years.

If you were in possession of a time machine (or a supernatural gift of foresight), and you were to peek into the far future to tell us how this whole game of natural selection actually turned out, that would be something entirely different. Then you could tell us whether red hair will prevail (it doesn't look like it will, to my utter dismay), or whether we will become more peaceful (again, not the obvious winner... *sigh*). But as things are, evolution cannot be used to argue for or against any one lifestyle. It is entirely possible that only the most territorial and aggressive will survive. There may be lots of other arguments against this, but evolution alone just can't tell you.

I suspect that, at its heart, this is really a vitalist argument. It sees evolution not as a blind process guarded by natural laws, but as an intentional agent. It is extremely tempting to fall into this trap - I think even Dawkins once remarked that it is almost impossible to talk about evolution while avoiding it - so this is not a damning accusation at all. It's totally understandable.

After all, the situation is extremely frustrating. We're still left with a guessing game when it comes to something so fundamental as our choice of food. We just don't know enough about nutrition to give definitive answers to the most rudimentary questions.

Personally, I'm going for a "part-time vegan" style, and while I might change this in he future, I'm fairly certain about one basic principle: I will never submit to one philosophy of nutrition to the absolute exclusion of all others. There will always be some meat in my diet - probably very, very little -, some fish, some oil, some cooked and some raw foods - and probably lots and lots of fruits and veggies. But even this diet, which I consider the most rational choice I am currently capable of, is based on guesswork, word of mouth, and personal experience.

Friday, May 16, 2014


When I first saw this video on facebook, my initial reaction was a slight feeling of discomfort. I don't usually think in terms of guilt and forgiveness, and the concept has become somewhat alien to me. Next came the realization that I have no idea what christians actually mean when they talk about "forgiveness".

I know the term appears in the bible, I know the usual dictums associated with it -- "forgive 70 x 7 times" etc. -- but I am not aware of any actual definition. I'm fairly certain that I have never heard one at school (it was a catholic school), or at the christian communities of my youth.

Wouldn't you suppose that a faith community that has been in business for 2000 years, would have come up with some useful definition of one of their most dear, most basic terms, somewhere around the year 100 or so? Wouldn't you think that his was the first thing they tell you, when they're approaching you on the street?

Man, where the heck are those missionaries, every time I actually have a serious question to ask?

The other issue is that I'm not really certain I can approve of the concept in general, even when we accept that there just is no clear-cut definition. Those folks holding up those signs, protesting in a somewhat obtrusive manner that they will forgive those who trespassed against them? Yeah sure, I respect their motives. Been there, done that.  Now it's time to follow through with your claims. For the rest of your lives. Honestly, I wish you the best... but I have my doubts.

And that's not meant to be a strike against those people there in that video. It's meant to be a skeptical note about the whole concept.

Forgiveness presupposes guilt. It builds on the concept that someone wronged you, and instead of lashing back, you... well, what? You don't just forget what has happened. Maybe you humbly accept that you might have done the same destructive thing under the same circumstances. But... no, that's not quite it. Maybe it means to accept that the other person did something wrong, stupid, and destructive, and just move on. No. Not quite right, again.

What the heck IS forgiveness?

All I can really say is that it sounds to me a lot like you're putting yourself on a pedestal. Like you're being a bit BETTER than that other person. Like you're the hero of your own victimhood.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but... it seems to me as if forgiveness were a self-refuting concept. Once you have forgiven, you should be able to just move on. But as long as you feel that there is something to forgive, you can never hope to do that. You'll be forever bound to that incidence by your need to be better.

In my experience, I have found that I am only free of the pain of someone wronging me once I have realized that

  1. I survived it.
  2. The damage is tolerable, after all.
  3. It won't happen again.
  4. I might probably act in the same way under the same circumstances, or
  5. At least I can understand their motives in some way.

In other words, it's about self-preservation first, and empathy second.

That means that there are some things that I will probably never "forgive", such as if someone killed my girlfriend, and that there are some things that I might choose to tolerate, rather than "forgive".

Overall, I think that this is a more healthy and balanced approach than the demand that a person be able to "forgive everything", be it with our without god's help. If not for any other reason, simply because it encompasses a larger spectrum of possible ways to deal with things.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Prostitution as a Metaphor

There is a subtle but very important distinction between being exploited, and being complicit and compliant in that exploitation.

It matters to me because, over the years, I've seen so many people - young people, specifically - who seem to be oh so highly motivated to work unpaid overtime, on top of earning ghastly wages to start with, in some vague hope of a minimal raise in pay or a chance - somewhere out there, far away in their lives - to finally get a piece of the cake. People who seem to have embraced the system of their exploitation with all of their bodies, hearts and minds.

To me, prostitution was always a handy shortcut description for that kind of behaviour. After all, isn't that what a prostitute does - act as if s/he likes what s/he's doing for his/her customers? Put on a show of wellbeing, maybe even ecstasy?

As it turns out, this is untrue on at least two levels.

Firstly, in my very rare encounters with prostitutes, they didn't exactly put on a big show for me. It was all very matter-of-fact. Maybe that's different if you pay for high-end sex services, but at the level I was able to afford at the time, this was clearly not part of the game.

The other problem is the assumption that sex workers get exploited in some metaphysically different, probably a more frightening way, than the rest of us. While that is surely the case whenever violence is involved (and that may, sadly, be all too often), it is not inherent in prostitution itself.

Of course, one may also interject that there is a certain moral judgment involved in this. And I most certainly agree. The way I'm using the term prostitution here, in definitely contains an accusation of dishonesty.

What I'm driving at is that there is a dilemma: On one hand, if I accuse our average pencil pusher of prostituting him/herself, everybody knows instantly what I'm aiming at. On the other hand, prostitution in the literal sense, as it happens every day in real life, is a wildly different thing than this metaphoric meaning of the word implies.

So, I see two solutions: One, we stop using the word prostitution in the literal sense altogether, and start using the more neutral term sex work instead. Two, we find a new word for the metaphorical sense.

If you agree and tend to favour the latter solution, it would be nice if you could tell me the word of your choosing.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

What did the Corinthians actually believe?

I'm in the process of reading up on Paulus of Tarsus again. Don't worry, I'm not getting converted, I'm just studying the thing.

I happened upon a question I can't find any answer to. Here it is:

1 Cor 15, 12f:

Now if Christ is preached that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen.
So, if some Corinthians believed there to be no resurrection - how did they make sense of the christian gospel? Do we have any information on what they actually believed? Reading 1 Cor, it seems to me like a horrid mess of inconsistent beliefs anyway, but apart from that - did they believe they would just not die, and thus there was no need for resurrection? (A belief soon doomed to fail...) Did they just not think straight? What was going on there?

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Vegan Food, A Beginner's Experience

My topmodel girlfriend and I recently attended a cookery course. A vegan cookery course.

All in all, it was interesting, but not exactly convincing. Ultimately, the revelation was that vegans can eat somewhat tasty food, but it pales to dark shades of grey in comparison with actual, delicious, omnivore food.

Let's start with presentation. I've been convinced for quite some time that vegans are physically incapable of making their lifestyle look good. I know that there are plenty of delicious vegan recipes out there - but the way most vegans present their cause makes it seem like a dull, new-agey, moralistic affair. If I book a cookery course at a local education center, I don't need to be proselytized. I know all the arguments already. I just want to cook, learn some fundamentals about vegan cooking, eat some good food, and generally have a good time. More specifically, I really don't need a rant against microwaves (not related to veganism in the slightest), Monsanto (somewhat related, but still not the point), dairy (the antichrist and Klassenfeind of practically every alternative ideology of nutrition).

In short, if you want to pitch your food to me, then seduce me with its delicious taste, not with various intellectual and moral reasons for why I should accept second-rate dishes.

Since we're talking about the food itself... well.

The first recipe that really stood out was a vegan "meat ball" thing. It was funny because the teacher insisted it tasted "almost like real meat balls", when in reality it had nothing whatsover to do with real meat. It's always funny when people who have not actually tasted meat in 5 years think they know how it tastes, and think they know it better than a notorious carnivore such as myself. But still, this recipe made it into our treasury. It's easy to do, (somewhat) good for your health and extremely tasty, especially if you combine it with a perfectly non-vegan, dairy-based garlic dip.

The second one is more of the "fascinating" variety. They called it "vegan mousse au chocolat". To be honest, if you served that thing to me in a restaurant under that name, I'd probably sue you for fraud, gross misconduct and crimes against humanity. It's based on avocados, chocolate (big surprise), and dates. I mean, it actually tastes just fine, I might make it for myself some day. I ate some of it this morning as a bread spread. It just doesn't have the intensely chocolate-y, fluffy, deliciously unhealthy qualities of my cream+eggs based mousse au chocolat.

You can get by on vegan food. You can survive, probably even without getting deprived of B12. If you really want it, and are prepared to put in the hours of searching, you might even find a few recipes that are genuinely great. But if you're a real connaisseure, a gourmet with a deeply rooted love of extremely delicious food - those soy and almond milk recipes just won't cut it.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Prescriptions are guidelines

One thing I've learned (again) this week is that practice prescriptions are mostly just guidelines.

I came across this prescription for a tantric exercise. What it said was that I should lift my legs in the air for a certain amount of time, clench the PC muscle for 30 seconds and then flutter it for 10 etc.

I have let go of most of it. Keeping track of the time makes no sense in a tantric exercise, because it is just a distraction. What does matter, though, is the essence of it: Approximate, by breathing and muscle tension, what happens during orgasm, without ever touching yourself - and you'll experience all kinds of wonderful feelings. Experiment with your rhythms, develop your own style, and don't be fooled by metaphysics.

I actually do have more energy now. I'm getting my latest narrative finished, after 2 tough years. I stand up earlier than I used to, with less problems, and I'm not so sleepy at night. Even though this is a time of rather hard job demands and a firm and tense timeline.

Definitely awesome, this.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Negative Chakra Manipulation

When reading up on chakras and other energy systems, it occurred to me that to every effect, there is usually a counter-effect. For example, if the root chakra is related to digestion, and an opened-up chakra is said to let the energy through, thereby making for good digestion, a closed-down root chakra should imply indigestion. And if there are techniques to open up those chakras, are there also techniques to close them down?

It should be very interesting and enlightening to have some energy healer try to make a subject constipated from a distance.

Additionally, there are BDSM folk out there, and there are energy healing folks. There has to be an overlap. I wonder if ever anyone has tried to incorporate "negative chakra manipulation" in their power exchange games? If you know anyone like that, please give me a heads-up!