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Does Vegetarianism Make You 'Nicer'?

Posted by lilwave on April 8, 2009 at 2:57 AM
To help answer this burning question I brought in a good vegan friend of mine, a student of psychology at Rutgers University in New Jersey, and an avid boardie on Skeleton Crew.
Ever sense Vegetarianism has been a movement there have been statements that are hard to prove. One of these being that meat eating can be linked to beast like behavior and violent acts. In a world were fear rain, past vegetarians have pointed to meat eating for making people warlike and vicious. In the Victorian days, British vegetarians warned their fellow countrymen that meat could spark animal passions, and lewd appetites. The general idea seems to be that one violent act leads to another, and if someone is able to desensitize themselves to the suffering of an innocent creature, what wont they do?
“While it is actually a fact that there is a strong correlation between cruelty to animals and cruelty to humans, eating meat is a gray area.”
Amanda adds
“Because people who eat meat are so far removed from the process that put the food on their plate, chances are that most of them are not naturally cruel. This is why animal rights organizations try so hard to show people what the process looks like. The assumption is that human nature is such that once aware of an injustice they are causing, most humans have too developed a moral sense to ignore it.”
Maybe meat makes you more likely to cause havoc, for one belief is that when animals die in fear, we suffer.
“I wanted to mention. I wish I could attribute this belief properly, but the source (either a tribe or religion) eludes me. Anyway, it stated that when you kill an animal in terror and eat it, you are eating the animal's terror. Scientifically, it does make sense. When you're afraid, hormones like adrenaline start pumping. If an animal dies while producing those hormones, might they remain in its body? If so, might they be transferred to another animal who ate it? Anyway, my idea is that if, say, adrenaline, could transfer to a human being, it seems at least somewhat possible that it would create some kind of secondary fight-or-flight response, which would enable enhanced aggression and such. Nearly all animals killed for food today die in terror and not at all peacefully, so this is another possibility.”
As one vegetarian put it, "I eat everything that nature voluntarily gives; fruits, vegetables, and the products of plants. But I ask you to spare me what animals are forced to surrender." Many young people who switch to a vegetarian diet proclaim that they feel "gentler." They feel a sort of inner peace rise in them. Besides, who could be gentler than Mahatma Gandhi, the great Indian teacher of nonviolence and peace who was a fervent vegetarian and whose views on animals for food was an intricate part of his nonviolent philosophy. But Adolf Hitler, the man responsible for one of the biggest wars in history and the murders of millions in an attempt to "purify" the world, was also a vegetarian. Actually, that quote about nature's voluntary gifts was his.
“First of all, I've gotta bust the Hitler argument because it's simply ridiculous. It's just another of those lame excuses meat-eaters use to defend their crude way of life: "Well, if vegetarians are so great, then why was Hitler one?". “
Amanda writes in refute to the Adolf Hitler argument.
“Technically, Hitler was not actually a vegetarian because he did eat meat sometimes. Also, no one really knows why he was mostly a vegetarian. Some people say he loved animals, but the general consensus is that he did it for health (and empowerment) reasons. If that is true, then it would be illogical to compare him with modern vegetarians who do it out of respect for animals. At any rate, you can never base an assumption about an entire group of people on such a pathological person as Hitler. He had mad issues, and that's that. I'd put money on the fact that they had nothing to do with his diet, meat or not.”
Its true that Hitler occasionally ate meat during the 1930s, and back then people were vegetarian more for health reasons than animal advocacy.
There are many kind gentle people who do eat meat. A group that comes to mind is the Eskimo’s. Known for their hospital, and kind ways, Eskimos eat mostly (if not solely) meat and fish.
“I hate to burst the bubble, but the probability is that the correlation of vegetarians and kindness (which I have found to be true for the most part) is based on kind people becoming vegetarians, not on vegetarians becoming kind. See the difference? It's very unlikely that if you put a serial killer or abusive person on a vegetarian diet, they would suddenly become a better person. It's equally unlikely that if you took a naturally caring person off their current vegan diet, they would become selfish and rude. In our society, because vegetarians make up such a small percentage of people, it is generally only the most compassionate people who care enough to withstand social pressures and go out of their way to find plants to eat. (Now that more people are realizing the health benefits of the diet, I am sure the correlation is actually weakening.) Thus, very nice people are the ones who tend to become vegetarian, so it may often seem that being vegetarian causes people to be nice, but this is unlikely to be a cause-effect relationship because there are evil vegetarians and extremely nice omnivores.”
It is impossible to prove that eating meat makes you violent, but what about a vegetarian diet making people nicer? True, many vegetarians are peace loving individuals who have dedicated their lives to leading a responsible and harmless existence. Many hope that they are setting an example for the new age of sanity and unity, and that we should live in harmony with nature and animals. But could it be that giving up animal flesh awakens some sort of ‘inner’ peace or satisfaction?
“Putting that aside, I was told that many people claim to feel gentler after becoming vegetarian. I believe that those people truly are gentler. My guess would be that very compassionate people feel a sense of dissonance between their beliefs and actions when they eat meat. After giving it up and releasing that dissonance, it would make sense for someone to become less irritable and more willing to love others. Sometimes just feeling like a better person can make you a better person, too. Another aspect is that vegetarians tend to seek out other vegetarians, who would likely be just as compassionate. Being around others who share your beliefs strongly reinforces them. When you eat vegan meals with a friend and discuss animals, your compassion for animals and other people can become stronger. You will feel even more of a pull to take action, and when you take that action, your beliefs will, again, be reinforced. This is a well known psychological phenomenon, so I believe it is probably at work here.”
People have raised testimonies of vegetarianism being a more peaceful state of mind for centuries. Another vegan friend named Derwenna explains…
“I noticed feeling more peaceful when I became vegan. I think it's to do with doing less harm, knowing I didn't make any animals be killed so that I could eat and knowing it's less damaging to the environment. That probably sounds like a 'bunch of tree-huggin' hippy crap' but I definitely noticed a change.
I do sometimes get a bit overwhelmed when I realize I'm in the minority and I want the rest of the world to change more than I feel I can make it (usually when I see other people eat meat or talk about eating it) but I get over it and concentrate on what I am doing to make a difference.”
I can say from personal experience that I feel much happier with myself, and started striving to be more peaceful only after going vegetarian. Many of us are influenced by other people we idolize, and it links us to other ideas. The punk scene was a big influence on my decision, and many vegetarians that you may meet are ALSO pro peace. Vegetarianism really became a movement when tie-dye and Burning Man did, meaning the 1970s, when grass-loving carrot eaters roamed free. Since then, the number of vegetarians increased, as did meat consumption, but most of all an understanding of the meatless. Could people just be influenced by what "hippies" stood for?
Amanda wraps up
“To conclude, vegetarianism probably does not make you nicer per se. It's just that nice people are more likely to be vegetarians, and the association with the movement might reinforce a gentle disposition. However, we can't rule out the psychological effects of giving up something so terrible, nor the possibility of obscure biological influences. Ultimately, this is another unsolved issue and we all must draw our own conclusion.”
To hear more on Amanda’s thoughts on vegetarianism, go here

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