By Erasmo Clazadilla
Traditionally, in philosophy classes in Cuba, those taught to all undergraduates in the course Philosophy and Society, very little emphasis is put on trying to elucidate what is the individual. Certainly this is a topic that can lead us far. It can guide us to deep self-examination of our lives and actions, but bureaucratic instruction is quite distant from these aims.
The teachers are usually satisfied with emphasizing that we are the superior rung of an evolutionary process that originated with the most elementary forms of the organization of matter, and not from an act of divine creation.
Philosophy teachers also repeat that they believe that the key of Marxism is that people are social beings; that the individual person is the sum of their social relations, that beings act based on their thinking – and other questions similar to these.
It is not that these are completely bad answers, but rather they are just that: answers. They don’t push for true reflection about our presence in this world, or about our responsibilities for our actions.
Parting from these principles of what was supposedly Marxism, but wanting to arrive at them deductively, I gradually found that the limits that separate reality from well-defined conceptual properties began to dissolve. It was becoming particularly difficult to find the human essence that was said to be shared exclusively among humans and not by animals.
What I was supposed to say in class was that humans are distinguished from animals by their “conscious work.” However, I saw that this conscious work was the product of long and slow progression, and therefore the clear cutoff point that definitively separated some from others did not exist.
Beneath what quantity of “conscious work” is it legal to sacrifice or exploit a living being? How does a greater quantity of conscious work ethically validate the murder and exploitation of animals? Or is it that by carrying out greater conscious work we are stronger, and therefore force legitimates the use of force?
Although uncertainty is upsetting -and dangerous- I noticed with excitement that I had entered that realm, and that these questions were driving my students to the same thresholds of philosophy, where everything must be reconsidered. It seems that my superiors didn’t care for this a great deal; they ended up doing without my services.
But since we are speaking now of philosophy, I’ll present the syllogism that led me not to want to eat animals:
- I am young and romantic, perhaps too much so for my age.
- That I consider that I should be consistent with my words, especially before my students.
- As I had not been able to discover in classes, when I attempted to, the essential limit that separates humans from animals.
- As this drove me inevitably to the idea that to kill an animal was not a scientifically justified act, but one of practical convenience for “superior beings.”
- That by accepting practical convenience of the superior beings as justification in this case, this would require its acceptance in all other cases.
- That this would mean also accepting the invasion of Iraq, the exploitation of “man by man” and everything else against which Marxism supposedly struggles.
- As the orientation of the philosophy course is Marxist, and also as I cannot withstand cruelty and abuse.
- But also, because I ate lunch in the same dining room as the students and sat down at their same table.
I say it like that because this all started when my joking students saw me choking down a chicken thigh, and one came up to me teasing, “Hey Teach, does that man taste good?”
Later I thought about that seriously, and today I have 100 more justifications for not eating meat, even when nobody’s looking.
In summary, I feel calmer and healthier, at least in those terms. What I have not been able to avoid, because I too am an animal, is that my mouth still waters when I smell the scent of roast beef.
I’ll close with a quote that someone told me was from Ghandi:
“The culture of a people can be measured by how they treat their animals.”