This essay is another long one. It is plodding in its early stages, but builds towards the payoff of some interesting and challenging ideas near its end. I ask that the reader will excuse any typos that it may possess in its current form, as well as any of its more general errors or shortcomings.
I. Introduction: Ideas about Masturbation
In the past couple years, I’ve entertained two big ideas regarding masturbation. Perhaps more than just two, but this pair stand out as particularly noteworthy. The first occurred one day while I was mulling over some of the social and cultural phenomena that I find most troubling: abortion, omnivorism and animal agriculture, ecological degradation, euthanasia, pornography, the modern war machine, recreational drug use, free trade, consumerism, exploitation of workers, technology, etc.; it dawned on me that one feature that all these examples shared was some similarity to the act of sexual self-gratification. This was a helpful idea-organizer for me, and is now bearing fruit in the form of this essay which will present a nearly identical thesis. But this thesis will now be fleshed out by the second big idea, which was actually chronologically prior to the first, namely that according to St. Thomas Aquinas, masturbation is worse than rape. When I read this, I knew there was more to the story, and I was right. Aquinas did not consider masturbation to be a graver sin than rape, but he did argue that it was a more severe form of lust, i.e. a more thoroughgoing violation of the virtue of chastity, with this virtue being the proper use and expression of human sexuality (for more on this, please see “Aquinas on Sexual Sins — The Dangers of Speaking Formally”). Rape violates numerous virtues, notably justice, and is obviously more depraved than any act of auto-eroticism. But in terms of human sexuality, masturbation is more unnatural than rape, since it doesn’t include any act of physical copulation. Aquinas grouped three other expressions of sexuality—homosexual intercourse, bestiality, and heterosexual non-genital intercourse—with masturbation and classified the group as the “unnatural vice” or the “vice against nature.” The unnatural quality of these acts is what sets them apart from other violations of chastity such as fornication, adultery, or even incest and rape, and is also what distinguishes them as the gravest examples of lust for Aquinas.
In this essay I will use Aquinas’ concept of the unnatural vice in order to better understand multiple contemporary sociopolitical debates, and to advocate for a healthy, balanced resolution to those debates by highlighting resolutions that are decidedly unhealthy and unbalanced, those more in line with the spirit of the unnatural vice. In short, I’m going to compare some of the positions and ideas that I disagree with to the unnatural vice. In order to do this, we’ll need to better understand what this vice means for Aquinas, and especially how it relates to lust as well as other vices, and in order to do this we’ll draw a quick taxonomy of vice as presented in his writings. In what follows I’ll be focusing on the characteristics of lust (including the unnatural vice) as well as its effects, also known as its “daughters.” We’ll then focus on a group of modern political ideas and their effects in order to draw parallels with lust and its daughters. The essay will conclude with some thoughts on more virtuous alternatives, and how they not only fit together but perhaps also necessitate each other. Thus the end goal will be to sketch a very rough vision for a right-left synthesis built less on current partisan divides and more on a consistent application of higher principles.
But before we turn to lust, we need to address the matter of pride. Pride rests atop the summit of vice for Aquinas, the fountainhead of all other vices. He outlines seven capital vices, sins which give rise to many other sins, but even these are lesser than the sin of pride, which itself gives rise to the capital vices such as envy, as well as lust (Summa Theologica II-II.162.8). Although pride is the chief vice in Aquinas’ system, I will not be focusing on it in particular for this essay. Suffice it to say that all of the capital vices partake of their fair share of pride, and lust in particular has the rather “proud” daughter of self-love. So in speaking of the central position of lust in this writing, I’ll ask the reader to remember that this vice too is derivative but that it bears a strong resemblance to that from which it derives. And as a capital vice, lust is second only to pride and holds a notable place as the “parent” of numerous other vices in Aquinas’ hierarchy of sin, thus making the comparisons drawn in this essay quite substantial. Let’s now take a closer look at lust and its daughters.
II. Characteristics of Lust and the Unnatural Vice, and their Effects
What is lust? As mentioned above, lust involves a violation of the virtue of chastity. In Thomas’ system, he focuses on six specific examples of lust: the unnatural vice, rape, incest, adultery, seduction, and fornication. All of these acts are united by virtue of their being against the order of reason. Aquinas explains:
The more necessary a thing is, the more it behooves one to observe the order of reason in its regard; wherefore the more sinful it becomes if the order of reason be forsaken. Now the use of venereal acts, as stated in the foregoing Article, is most necessary for the common good, namely the preservation of the human race. Wherefore there is the greatest necessity for observing the order of reason in this matter: so that if anything be done in this connection against the dictate of reason’s ordering, it will be a sin. Now lust consists essentially in exceeding the order and mode of reason in the matter of venereal acts. Wherefore without any doubt lust is a sin.Summa Theologica II-II.153.3. Second and Revised Edition, 1920. Literally translated by Fathers of the English Dominican Province. Online Edition Copyright © 2017 by Kevin Knight. All further quotations taken from same edition.
And what does it mean for something to exceed “the order and mode of reason in the matter of venereal acts”? He explains further:
A sin, in human acts, is that which is against the order of reason. Now the order of reason consists in its ordering everything to its end in a fitting manner. Wherefore it is no sin if one, by the dictate of reason, makes use of certain things in a fitting manner and order for the end to which they are adapted, provided this end be something truly good… Wherefore just as the use of food can be without sin, if it be taken in due manner and order, as required for the welfare of the body, so also the use of venereal acts can be without sin, provided they be performed in due manner and order, in keeping with the end of human procreation.II-II.153.2
Acts such as fornication, incest, and the unnatural vice are then the use of venereal acts in a manner which does not align with their proper goal of reproduction. This makes them irrational insofar as they involve using some good for an end other than that which is dictated by sound reason. It’d be like using a hammer for some purpose other than driving nails. And the farther up the list of lustful acts you climb, the more contrary to sound reason the acts become: near the bottom of the list, one might use a hammer for something quite similar to driving nails, such as turning screws, but near the top, one would be using it as a telescope or a basketball. The worse the sin, the more irrational the behavior. The weakest form of lust is fornication, or heterosexual intercourse outside of the marriage relationship, which still resembles the marital act in certain respects. But at the top of the list is the strongest type of lust, the unnatural vice, with its unnatural sexual expressions such as masturbation, homosexual intercourse, and bestiality that hold little resemblance to the marital act. But let’s return to Aquinas’ lesser examples. While something like masturbation is obviously contrary to the end of human reproduction, it seems that things such as fornication and adultery are still fully capable of reproducing. So how then would they be against the order of reason? Let’s take a look at fornication. While two unmarried individuals can certainly reproduce, Thomas says that “simple fornication implies an inordinateness that tends to injure the life of the offspring to be born of this union” (Ibid II-II.154.2). As opposed to a committed marriage relationship in which both mother and father are present for the child’s support, care, and upbringing, this is not the case with most non-committed fornication relationships, which usually don’t intend any child to be conceived and which are focused more on things such as the immediate pleasure of the parties involved. So, while fornication is capable of being procreative in the mere biological sense, it’s not procreative in the sense that is naturally intended by the sex act itself, and is therefore irrational or against the order of reason. This same logic would also apply to adulterous sexual relationships.
Lust is also a capital vice. Of the seven such vices, we’ve already highlighted this fact and also mentioned its companion of envy. The remaining five capital sins are vainglory, wrath, sorrow, avarice, and gluttony. These are called “capital” due to their function as “head” (Latin: caput) of many other sins. These are the aforementioned daughters, and each of the capital vices has its share of sinful offspring. For example, gluttony has six daughters: “unseemly joy, scurrility, uncleanness, loquaciousness, and dullness of mind as regards the understanding” (II-II.148.6). We’ll focus on the daughters of lust below, but for now it should emphasized that the existence of so many effects highlights the efficacy and power (if it can be called that, since sin is more accurately a privation, or lack, of power) of these sins. Aquinas explains that the “power” of vices such as lust arises from the desirability of their ends:
[A] capital vice is one that has a very desirable end, so that through desire for that end, a man proceeds to commit many sins, all of which are said to arise from that vice as from a principal vice. Now the end of lust is venereal pleasure, which is very great. Wherefore this pleasure is very desirable as regards the sensitive appetite, both on account of the intensity of the pleasure, and because such like concupiscence is connatural to man.II-II.153.4
This quotation, along with the two preceding it, serves as a helpful reminder. Catholicism is frequently and unjustly maligned for being repressive or opposed to sexuality. However, in the earlier pair of quotes Aquinas emphasized the natural good and indeed necessity of procreation, and therefore of human sexuality. Sexuality only becomes a problem when individuals seek the venereal pleasure mentioned above through sinful means. He elsewhere teaches that this pleasure itself is not necessarily a sin if it arises from a good action or object. And human sexuality within the manner and order of reason is indeed a good act and object of pleasure. He does give warning that sexual pleasure causes an suspension of the reason akin to that of sleep, which seems to suggest that it can provide an opening of sorts for sin, but he explicitly states that the pleasure is not itself a moral evil and that suspensions of reasoning are actually a necessary part of life (I-II.34.1).
But we’re looking at the issue of lust, and lust as a capital vice. Therefore, we must emphasize that, necessary though they might be, suspensions (in fact, Aquinas uses the word “fettering”) of the reason are highly hazardous. When they occur due to a pleasure as intense and nearly all-encompassing as that which attends the sexual act, they are especially so. One is reminded of Jesus’ saying that the road to life is narrow, while the road to destruction is wide and many follow it (Matthew 7:13-4). In the domain of sexuality, one can certainly proceed according to reason along the path of life, but this path is very specific, perhaps even unique; the path leading to destruction is very general and includes any and all pursuits which fall short of the order of reason. It might sound daunting, but in other words: there is one way to ace the exam, and countless ways to fall short. These shortcomings account for the species of lust that Aquinas highlights and which are all too common in today’s world, and also for the effects of lust which too enjoy a disturbing modern prevalence. Before looking at lust’s effects, it will be beneficial to gain a fuller understanding of lust by analyzing its principal species, namely the unnatural vice.
As previously mentioned, the unnatural vice is the most severe form of lust and it has a fourfold expression in Aquinas’ system, including not only masturbation, but also homosexual intercourse, bestiality, and non-genital heterosexual intercourse. Similar to the six species of lust, which are united in their opposition to the order of reason, these four sex acts share a common opposition to the nature of human sexuality:
[W]herever there occurs a special kind of deformity whereby the venereal act is rendered unbecoming, there is a determinate species of lust. This may occur in two ways: First, through being contrary to right reason, and this is common to all lustful vices; secondly, because, in addition, it is contrary to the natural order of the venereal act as becoming to the human race: and this is called “the unnatural vice.”II-II.154.11
So all of the lustful behaviors that Aquinas details are irrational, or against reason, but the four behaviors that comprise the unnatural vice are additionally unnatural, or against the natural order. The distinction between irrational and unnatural might sound confusing at first glance, but if you compare the five non-unnatural species of lust with the four unnatural ones, the difference becomes quite clear. What is it that adultery, fornication, and incest can accomplish, and that masturbation, bestiality, and anal sex never will? Clue: it’s also the goal and end of all human sexuality. And while we explained that acts such as fornication are not properly ordered to this goal with full rationality, they still contain, given that their are no biological defects or impediments, all the necessary ingredients for human reproduction. That is why they are irrational but not quite unnatural. Masturbation, on the other hand, is both irrational and unnatural.
Beyond this attribute of opposition to natural order, what characteristics apply to the unnatural vice? What features do masturbation, homosexual intercourse, bestiality, and non-genital heterosexual intercourse all have in common? To answer this question, I simply began to brainstorm, which yielded the following list:
- Indulgence (vs. Restraint)
- Non-productivity (vs. Productivity)
- Disorder (vs. Order)
- Wastefulness (vs. Efficiency/Conservation)
- Corruption (vs. Purity)
- Hedonism (vs. Generosity)
- Risk-aversion (vs. Risk-acceptance)
- Selfishness (vs. Selflessness)
Some of these characteristics, and their opposites, are more fitting than others. In this essay I will rely primarily upon the first four. But I think a case can be made for all eight of them, not to mention several others. For example, while someone may argue that homosexual intercourse can also be selfless and generous, a more traditional view such as that espoused by some Catholic intellectuals would be inclined to object to both assertions. Homosexual activity is not sexually complementary, and seeks the same instead of the other, with an element of self-focus and therefore selfishness involved in every encounter of this variety. This would not mean that everyone with same-sex attraction is a selfish person incapable of care for others, but only that the homosexual act itself lacks an intrinsically selfless character found in natural heterosexual unions. And this response would also connect to any arguments regarding generosity. While many people who practice homosexuality activity might live generous lives, the act of same-sex intercourse also lacks an intrinsic generosity found in natural heterosexual unions. This quote from the Catholic Church’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith elucidates the matter:
Homosexual activity is not a complementary union, able to transmit life; and so it thwarts the call to a life of that form of self-giving which the Gospel says is the essence of Christian living. This does not mean that homosexual persons are not often generous and giving of themselves; but when they engage in homosexual activity they confirm within themselves a disordered sexual inclination which is essentially self-indulgent.“Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons.” October 1, 1986. Paragraph 7.
While two partners in homosexual intercourse certainly give something to one another, do they give it in a proper manner to the proper recipient? If I owe you $20, is it appropriate to give that $20 to my friend at work? Similarly, if a man’s sexual gift of self is naturally something to be given to his wife, is it appropriate to give it to a man who is not his wife? And is it really generous to give anyone an inappropriate gift? And if not, then would homosexual acts ever be fully generous? As I said, I’m not planning to rely heavily on the characteristics of hedonism or selfishness in my analysis, but I did want to give a brief explanation of them here to justify their inclusion on this list. I do think a stronger—at least a clearer—case can be made for the attributes of indulgence, non-productivity, disorder, and wastefulness, but the other four were not included in my list without reason.
In what sense are indulgence, non-productivity, disorder, and wastefulness applicable to the unnatural vice and its four constituent behaviors? Let’s examine each one briefly. Self-indulgence follows from engaging in any activity which one ought not. There are degrees involved here, without a doubt. While eating the seventh cookie might be a form of self-indulgence, especially if one has committed oneself to a diet over the holiday season, most would probably not classify this as morally censurable conduct. But what if one had a disease which was sure to be aggravated by eating that many cookies? This would involve a more direct act of harm upon oneself, and would certainly seem to be a more serious form of self-indulgence. The questions of increasingly higher stakes could continue: what if the cookies were stolen from a shelter for homeless youth? what if they were eaten when they could have been given to a guest who was suffering from malnutrition? what if one of the cookies’ main ingredients was human tissue from murder victims? And so on, ad infinitum. Some self-indulgence is amoral, but some is thoroughly immoral. In the domain of sexuality, the unnatural vice involves an immoral indulgence in that individuals use their sexual faculties in a manner contrary to their natural good and the natural good of themselves and their partners. Actions that are contrary to the natural good of all participants and the powers and faculties being utilized are morally relevant actions in which one ought not engage; engaging in them nonetheless is a morally relevant form of self-indulgence; given their moral relevance, these proscribed behaviors are immoral; therefore, actions pertaining to the unnatural vice are immorally self-indulgent. But let’s now look at the other features of non-productivity, disorder, and wastefulness, where our task will be a bit easier. In contrasting the merely irrational with the fully unnatural above, we drew attention to the non-productive character of the unnatural vice. Bestiality and masturbation might produce many things, but they never produce the natural outcomes of human sexuality. The same would hold for homosexual intercourse, or a heterosexual couple engaging in manual or oral sex. The unnatural vice is therefore non-productive. It is also disordered. Whichever type of unnatural sex act one examines, this simply means that its components are not used according to—are not ordered to—their proper function or purpose. If the function of a woman’s sexual attraction is to drive her into deeper union with her husband in an encounter that is open to the natural gift of human life, then this would be the proper order of her sexuality; if she instead takes this sexuality and expresses it in some manner covered by the unnatural vice, then this is disordered sexual activity. To put it even more simply, one of the purposes of sex is procreation, but the unnatural vice by definition precludes the fulfillment of this purpose; therefore, it’s disordered. And finally, the wastefulness of the unnatural vice. Consider this essay’s titular vice, the unnatural practice of masturbation: this pastime is almost universally seen as a waste: a waste of one’s time, one’s energy, one’s sexual energy, one’s opportunity to unite with another, and at the very root of the matter, for a male, a waste of one’s seed. I’m sure many of us have heard the biblical account of Onan spilling his seed on the ground, and the manner in which this story has been parabolized as a caution against the evil of masturbation. Adding some weight to the matter, Onan’s story comes to a swift conclusion when he is slain by the Lord for his misconduct. This story has more to do with inheritance laws than it does with masturbation, but the connection to masturbation is an apt one. The image of the miraculous stuff of life just lying idly on the ground is almost an archetype of wastefulness, and is seen nowhere more often than it is with the widespread practice of masturbation. But it’s also seen in an analogous sense in acts of bestiality, homosexual intercourse, and non-genital intercourse, which all participate to some degree in the same wastefulness of masturbation. As a matter of fact, when considering all that we’ve said about indulgence, non-productivity, disorder, and now wastefulness, it seems relatively natural to conceptualize all of these modes of intercourse as simply mutual modes of masturbation. Whatever the case, they are modes of the unnatural vice, and we’ve hopefully given a sufficiently full explanation of how they demonstrate our four select characteristics of that vice.
So far, we know a lot about the capital vice of lust, especially in its most extreme form, that of the unnatural vice. We also know a little bit about its parent, the vice of pride. But what about its daughters? What are the effects of lust? Well, the list might surprise you, as it couldn’t be less sexual. Instead, it consists of four rational or intellectual vices, as well as four volitional ones. In the list below, I’ll name each daughter vice, and give a succinct description of its role in either the rational or volitional sphere, according to Aquinas (II-II.153.5):
- Blindness of mind: understanding an end as good (rational)
- Rashness: counsel regarding what to do to attain the end (rational)
- Thoughtlessness: judgment about the thing to be done (rational)
- Inconstancy: reason’s command regarding thing to be done (rational)
- Self-love: desire for the end (volitional)
- Hatred of God: desire for the end (volitional)
- Love of the world: desire for things ordered to the end (volitional)
- Abhorrence/despair of future world: desire for things ordered to the end (volitional)
So, blindness of mind affects one’s ability to understand a particular end as good. And even if one understands what end is good, something like self-love can affect one’s ability to properly desire that end. And even if given proper understanding and desire, thoughtlessness could thwart the entire process by affecting one’s ability to judge a proper course of action. But even if one judges what to do, love of the world may affect one’s ability to properly follow through on that judgment. You likely get the point. Lust really mucks up our ability to make sound decisions and to follow through on them. It disrupts the functioning of the reason and the will. When comparing these effects of lust with the effects of the social and cultural phenomena that we’ll be looking at in this essay, we’ll sometimes refer to the vice itself, e.g. inconstancy or hatred of God, and sometimes to its rational or volitional role, e.g. weak command power or faint desire for the good end.
III. Analysis of Abortion, Omnivorism, and Ecological Destruction
In this section, I’ll take a closer look at three objectionable modern viewpoints and behavior patterns, and elucidate their connection by highlighting the similarities that each of them has with lust and the unnatural vice, as well as the similarities that their effects have with the daughters of lust. Once this is done, the reader will surely be able to apply the same approach to other issues mentioned above, such as labor, pornography, war, euthanasia, consumerism, etc. But for our purposes, we’ll focus just on these three, starting with abortion.
The process of abortion is by its very nature destructive. This destruction of human life is at its core indulgent, non-productive, disorderly, and wasteful. First of all, it’s clear that abortion very frequently occurs in the wake of sexual self-indulgence. But additionally, no matter the circumstances, even those that might be extenuating, that surround the procedure itself, every choice to abort an unborn child is an act of self-indulgence to some degree. Such a choice involves a parent, or both parents, electing to place some convenience of their own above that of their child’s life. Even in cases of extreme fetal deformity or disease, I’m confident that the advances of modern medicine are capable of preventing a child from the kind of tortuous suffering which might be used as grounds for termination; most parents who choose to abort in such a case are, to the extent that the preceding is accurate, in this decision choosing to avoid some suffering of their own. By way of clarification, I’d like to add that, of course, self-indulgence could not be said to apply in cases of truly forced abortions. What about non-productivity? Abortion is non-productive in that it never produces the proper production of the sex act, a human child. But like contraception, it is more than simply non-productive, but actively anti-productive; it doesn’t just happen to not produce the child, but actively works against this production. But unlike (non-abortifacient) contraception, abortion is also more than simply anti-productive, but also actively anti-production; it doesn’t just prevent the child’s life, but specifically target and eliminates the child fatally, fully precluding the sex act’s proper production. And just to drive this home: the proper production, again, of the sex act, is the child, the new human life. Abortion is completely disordered as well. Who deserves more protection than the unborn child in the womb? Who should protect this unborn child more than its parents? Who should be professionally responsible for its health and well-being more than a doctor? These questions could be stacked fairly high, for from whatever angle one analyzes abortion, one finds an full-on assault on the natural order. The innocent don’t deserve to die, but abortion causes them to die. We should feel a natural kinship with our own species, but in abortion we treat our own kind worse than our pets. Human beings have inherent dignity and value, but abortion says that one’s dignity and value depend upon the desires or feelings of others. These questions and observations are strong indicators of the disorder of abortion. And abortion is without a doubt wasteful as well. While some might see the practice as one promoting greater efficiency and conservation of resources, I would term this perspective coldly cynical. Innocent human life is being discarded, thousands of times a day in the United States alone, repeatedly, over and over. This seemingly endless cycle of violence funds a massive industry, which is a waste; think of the bright and talented employees whose gifts are diverted away from fruitful endeavors and instead dedicated to killing of the young. Furthermore, every abortion wastes parents’ opportunity to fulfill their obligation to their children, as well as to each other; each one that is procured contributes to the wasting away of social justice and the public norms which govern our treatment of one another; each one is a wasted chance for some of life’s deepest and most rewarding forms of connection, intimacy and love, all of which would have greatly served the common good by reinforcing the bonds of family and society. But most simply, abortion wastes the lives of its innocent unborn victims; there is no other way to put it. Each human life has such immense potential. We can easily recognize the waste in mistreating, neglecting, or even overlooking or under-prioritizing the lives of young people; whenever one treats young people in such a manner, one is obstructing them from reaching their full potential, working actively or passively to effectively limit the possibilities that lie before them, wasting both elements of the crucial formative period of their youth but also the hopeful prospects of their future. But if all this is true, even obviously true, of things such as mistreatment or neglect of the young, then how much more is it true of the direct act of killing the young? This is what abortion is.
What about the effects of abortion? While they might relate to many of the daughters of lust listed above, two that stand out are the rational effect of inconstancy and the volitional tandem of self-love and hatred of God. Remember the function of these daughters: the weakness of reason’s command regarding the proper thing to be done, and the failure to truly desire the good end or goal. I believe that most people who procure an abortion are aware that they are doing something gravely immoral, and in violation of the natural law. In a sense, they have proper understanding, counsel, and judgment on the matter, but suppress all of this in order to proceed with the termination of their child. Their rational powers might be convincing them, but they are not convicting them. This course of action weakens reason’s ability to command in the future. When command is divorced from its proper foundation in understanding, counsel, and judgment, it can become habituated to act independently from them, thus the effect of inconstancy. And when this takes hold of the intellect it can’t help but weaken the will’s ability to truly desire the good. If such a tremendous good as that of one’s own child is disregarded, what about lesser goods, or similar goods? It’s dangerous to silence one’s desire for the good, and it’s not without its repercussions in the future. Again, as with reason, the will’s desire can develop harmful habits of its own. The act of abortion therefore stunts one’s ability to truly desire the good, or in other words, engenders self-love and hatred of God.
Similar to abortion, omnivorism and behaviors which support animal agriculture demonstrate the attributes of indulgence, non-productivity, disorder, and wastefulness. Someone who chooses to live a vegan lifestyle, avoiding animal products as well as products that use or exploit animals, is living a life of restraint. In 2019 the marketplace has come to accommodate and support this lifestyle in many ways, but veganism still requires numerous daily renunciations, no matter how imperceptible. Meanwhile, the practice of omnivorism is largely one of self-indulgence, and self-indulgence arising from disorder. The consumption of meat and animal products by humans is entirely unnatural. When one looks at human anatomy, our herbivorous nature quickly becomes evident. We don’t have the shortened intestines of carnivores to expedite the digestion of animal flesh. We also lack the carnivorous teeth that would enable us to tear the flesh from an animal’s body. And we have a hard time even catching or holding an animal down, given our lack of speed and claws. All of this still doesn’t even mention the fact that we lack the carnivorous instinct in the first place. Everyone has seen the look in the eye of a cat who has spotted a small animal in the backyard. Humans do not have this instinct when we see small animals. But cats do, and this instinct is accompanied by the corresponding speed, claws, teeth, and intestines. Cats die without meat, or at least the taurine that they naturally obtain from meat; humans, on the other hand, are the only animal that dies from meat, or more specifically, the atherosclerosis that they naturally obtain from meat. All of this covers only meat, but the consumption of dairy, eggs, and other animal products are unnatural as well. If one considers the actual content of these behaviors, they are in fact clearly unnatural. Humans are designed to drink their mother’s milk in infancy, but dairy consumption entails the consumption of the milk of another species, often throughout one’s whole life—natural? Humans come from eggs, or oocytes, when fertilized by sperm, and human females regularly discharge unfertilized eggs via their menstrual cycle, but egg consumption entails locating an unfertilized egg that has been emitted from another species and consuming it—not entirely the same as eating menstrual discharge but of a certain affinity. Let’s leave this here for now, but it’s important to note that the consumption of animal products by humans is not only unnatural, but also unnecessary. Humans can survive and indeed flourish without them.
It is the position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics that appropriately planned vegetarian, including vegan, diets are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits for the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. These diets are appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, adolescence, older adulthood, and for athletes… Vegetarians and vegans are at reduced risk of certain health conditions, including ischemic heart disease, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, certain types of cancer, and obesity. Low intake of saturated fat and high intakes of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, soy products, nuts, and seeds (all rich in fiber and phytochemicals) are characteristics of vegetarian and vegan diets that produce lower total and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels and better serum glucose control. These factors contribute to reduction of chronic disease.Melina, V., W. Craig, and S. Levin. “Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Vegetarian Diets.” Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, December 2016. Emphasis mine.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics is not alone in affirming the sufficiency of vegan diets; other large institutions have given similar public statements. But if we look just at this quotation, we see that vegan diets are appropriate for the entirety of the human life cycle. The consequence of this would be that consumption of meat and/or other animal products would be superfluous. Leaving aside details regarding animal products as risk factors for disease, the plain fact of the matter is that these products are unnecessary in the human diet, which means that choosing to consume them is an act of self-indulgence. This is just the base level of self-indulgence. Many individuals exhibit a lack of restraint far exceeding this level. For example, consider a person who continues to eat meat, dairy, and eggs simply because of taste preference: this is a much more blameworthy level of indulgence, and one that is sadly rather commonplace. Furthermore, when one begins to weigh the burden born by the animals in this equation, this indulgence becomes vastly more blameworthy. This ties in with the non-productivity of the omnivorous lifestyle, as it’s directly connected to the needless death of billions upon billions of animals each year, not to mention those who are treated inhumanely, kept in miserable conditions, or simply utilized for purposes that are, as we’ve seen, totally unnecessary. Omnivorism and animal agriculture might create jobs and contribute to the economy, but they also create an unspeakable amount of cruelty and suffering, to both animals and humans, and are the single largest contributor to a number of the afflictions that are currently damaging our environment (see “The Facts” list from the makers of the Cowspiracy documentary for more information). If we eat meals that degrade our planet, harm animals, and damage our health, we are not engaging in a productive, creative, life-giving pursuit; this would quite appropriately be called destructive and non-productive. And this pursuit is also wantonly inefficient and wasteful. If you live anywhere near farmland, take a moment to think about what is being farmed there. My guess is that you’re thinking about corn or soybeans, or something along those lines. Crops such as these are widely used as animal feed. There are also farms that raise animals such as cows or pigs as livestock for things like dairy or meat, and the land that is used for this purpose (grazing, etc.) takes up an astonishing amount of land. But how is this wasteful? Well, if we eliminated the livestock, we’d eliminate the demand for feed, which would then free up all of the land used for feed and live animals to be used for other purposes, agricultural or otherwise. If we used that land to grow crops for actual food for humans, we would be able to feed a large portion of the world population. I’m omitting all of the statistics and sources, but the numbers are quite shocking. To frame the waste another way: we don’t need to eat animals, but since we choose to, we are required to designate extensive areas of land to raising them, and since they need to eat massive quantities of food, we are required to designate even more land to raising crops for their food; the same amount of food that we get through animal agriculture could be had for just a fraction of the land use, time investment, and cost. All of this is a staggeringly inefficient and wasteful misuse of our resources. A vegan approach to agriculture would go a long way toward contributing to a more efficient and conservation-friendly American economy.
To continue our analysis of omnivorism and animal agriculture, we’ll now turn to a comparison of their effects with the daughters of lust. Two of the daughters that line up well with the omnivore philosophy are thoughtlessness (rational), as well as love of the world and abhorrence/despair of the future world (volitional). In Aquinas’ system, thoughtlessness is a rational defect concerning judgment about what to do to attain a good end, and love of the world and abhorrence/despair of the future world are volitional defects concerning desire for things that are ordered to the good end. Individuals that consume meat and animal products, and/or those who support the animal agriculture industry in other ways, oftentimes have a good end in mind. For instance, someone who eats a meat-heavy paleo diet might be trying to increase their health and well-being. This is certainly a good end, but this individual has struggled to deliberate his or her way to the suitable means to attain this end. Many people suffer from a lack of effective judgment, resulting in a lack of clear awareness regarding means suitable to the end they desire. A meat-heavy diet is a risk factor for many life-threatening illnesses, so a consumer who chooses this diet in order to attain health and well-being is clearly experiencing a misstep at some point in their rational process. No doubt some individuals fail to consider the fact that the meat-heavy diet is less than ideal for their health, or do in fact know this but choose it regardless of this knowledge; these individuals would be suffering from defective counsel (rashness) or command power (inconstancy), respectively. My sense, however, is that many people have a sufficient amount of information but fail to reach a sound judgment with the information they have. While this is often a result of information overload and mixed messages from society and the media, sometimes it’s truly a lack of desire to work their way to the correct answer. It’s hard to make large lifestyle changes regarding one’s diet and spending; it’s much easier to simply retain the staus quo which in this case would be omnivorism and support of animal agriculture. In such a case, it appears that although the end might be known, it is inadequately desired. This demonstrates what Aquinas might call an unhealthy love of this world, or an abhorrence or despair of the future world. Imagine someone who knows what he or she wants, but just can’t muster up the willpower to do sit down and figure out an appropriate action plan for achieving what he or she wants. Part of getting what he or she wants is exactly this process of deliberation leading to sound judgment; this deliberation is ordered to the good end. Therefore, when the deliberation is shirked, there is a lack of desire for things ordered to the good end. So, we see that omnivores can show traits similar to those which Aquinas labels as effects of lust; but how would those traits become effects of omnivorism itself? Well, it’s entirely reasonable that an individual choosing to live as an omnivore would develop mental and volitional habits based on the process by which he or she came to that decision. The process I outlined included the traits of unsound judgment (thoughtlessness) and insufficient desire for the good end (love of the world and abhorrence/despair of the future world). Therefore, according to what I’ve argued here, it seems quite probable that those are two of the habits that such an individual would be cultivating.
Lastly, we must consider the matter of ecology and the harm being done to the environment due to pollution and other factors. How is this global problem connected to the qualities of indulgence, etc. that we’ve been examining? A straightforward, intuitive approach might be best-suited for this task. So then, how is ecological destruction a matter of indulgence? This is the case due to the fact that it results in large part from our patterns of production and consumption, a process that is premised upon our pursuit of goods and services, many of which are, strictly speaking, non-essential. The advances of modern civilization may give many of them the color of necessity, but if one critically evaluates the matter, it becomes evident that they fall more naturally within domains such as amusement, convenience, and luxury. The industries that are harming the environment in order to supply these amusements, conveniences, and luxuries are meeting the demands presented by consumers, and these demands originate squarely within the self-indulgent habits of these consumers. In reverse: indulgence leads to demand leads to production leads to ecological degradation. Let’s continue, again without over-thinking these questions. What about non-productivity? It’s no secret that the modern world produces a great many things, but when we turn our attention to the ecological crisis, we can see the other side of this production, which is that of the destruction it entails. As we discussed above with regard to animal agriculture, our modern civilization might be highly productive in its bolstering of the economy and the creation of a great many jobs, but it is anything but productive in its infliction of serious and sometimes irreversible harm to the natural world. If a large factory employs half of a large town and produces goods which contribute to the global market by means of trade relationships with other industries, domestic and abroad, most would consider this a highly successful and productive business. But if the factory emits runoff that renders the local water supply non-potable and highly toxic, then this production must certainly be seen in another light. This might be an extreme example, but many others could be brought forth. We could look at large industries which use up completely unnecessary amounts of fossil fuels, or those which release horrendous amounts of emissions into our air and atmosphere, or those which ceaselessly create the plastic which ends up in our oceans and waterways, or those which destroy the natural habitats and ecosystems of animal and human populations alike. Examples such as these help us to see the patent non-productivity of the ecological crisis. This problem is also highly disordered. If an individual destroys something upon which he or she depends, we call this self-defeating behavior. The natural environment, with its land, water, and air, is something upon which we entirely depend, which means that our destruction of this environment is therefore self-defeating by definition. This behavior is disordered because it is contradictory. All human action seeks the good. This is the case even in action that seeks frivolities such as the amusements and luxuries we addressed above. But when these frivolities lead to destruction of the natural world, which is the prerequisite for our experience of any good in this existence, then we are contributing to the prevention of the good which we seek, which is not good—traditionally, it’d be classified an evil. All of this means that the action which is intending the good is producing the bad by working to preclude the good, a disorder of contradictory behavior. Another way of explaining this is that we are failing to order our actions to their proper end vis-a-vis the environment. The environment deserves protection and conservation, and our actions should be ordered to this end; when we treat it in a manner which fails to protect and conserve, we fail to order our actions to their proper end in this regard; when we fail to do this, we are acting in a disordered manner. And whenever we fail to act in an ordered manner toward the natural world, we are also acting in a wasteful manner. When we explored the wastefulness of abortion, we emphasized the precious nature of each child’s life, and saw how any actions that interfere with a child’s natural, healthy development are easily recognized as wasteful. If one destroys a gift, the magnitude of the gift exacerbates the wastefulness of its destruction. Ending the life of a child, or harming it in any way, is an immense waste, and so too is harming our planet and its environment. None of us discovered the Earth, and none of us have earned it; our existence here is gratuitous and unmerited—a gift. And when we consider how unique this gift is in terms of its ability to support and protect life, and how beautiful it is in all of its dazzlingly rich and diverse landscapes and seas, and how it is a good that serves as the necessary condition for nearly all of the other goods we enjoy in our lives, it’s clear that this gift is one of remarkable magnitude. Therefore, the destruction of this gift is remarkably wasteful.
Two daughters of lust which are similar to the personal effects of disregard of the environment are rashness, as well as self-love and hatred of God. Rashness refers to the reason’s ability to gain counsel regarding what to do to attain a good end, while love of the world and abhorrence/despair of the future world have more to do with a proper desire for things ordered to the end. It seems safe to say that most people understand that the natural world is a good end in itself. But so many of them still treat this world as merely a means to other good ends, and cause serious harm to the environment either through deliberate action or reckless disregard. If such people understand the natural world as a good end, then what explains this? It might first be said that they don’t truly or meaningfully understand the goodness of this end. But let’s grant that they do. I think it’s very possible that they lack the counsel necessary to help them attain this good end. Other than possibly doing their recycling or turning off the lights when they leave the room, many don’t have the information needed to make a substantial difference in matters of ecology, nor are they actively seeking this information. If I’m honest, I know that these are two potential areas of growth for me personally. They may apply to you, the reader, as well. And these two areas of growth are rashness, when we act without the information we need to accomplish our goals, and love of the world or abhorrence/despair of the future world, when we lack the desire required to gain this information. Negligence of one’s duties pertaining to environmental stewardship is not an isolated decision, but a persistent disposition or lifestyle, and often one involving a cycle of mutual reinforcement: the less strong counsel one desires, the less one has; the less strong counsel one has, the less one desires. This negligence doesn’t simply lead to a stasis, but an aggravation whereby one’s rashness and love of the world, etc. grow progressively and eventually become rational and volitional vices caused by this very negligence.
IV. A Right-Left Synthesis Based on Virtue
Earlier in this essay, I listed several social issues that I found to be worrisome. This list included the three we’ve focused on above, but also others: euthanasia, porn, war, drugs, trade, consumerism, labor, and technology. I believe that any of these topics would have been worthy candidates for comparison with lust and the unnatural vice. I also think that they could have just as easily been substituted for lust and the unnatural vice. Imagine comparing abortion, omnivorism, and ecological destruction to consumerism, for example. On the question of abortion, is the pro-life or pro-choice position more consumeristic? What about veganism or omnivorism? Responsible environmental stewardship or indifference to environmental deterioration? As was the case with the unnatural vice, it’d be the latter in all three cases. The abortion industry runs on the consumerism model of human sexuality; omnivorism is consumerism run rampant in matters of diet; and consumerism is undoubtedly the main culprit when it comes to the ecological crisis. You can probably see how this would play out with other topics as well. But if we returned to the unnatural vice for a second, I think it’d be illuminating to see how each of these topics would compare with the unnatural vice. Remember, our rubric for comparison dealt with the characteristics of indulgence, non-productivity, disorder, and wastefulness. Now, for each of these topics, which perspective shares a more pronounced resemblance to these characteristics of the unnatural vice?
- Euthanasia: pro-life or “death with dignity”?
- Pornography: anti- or pro-porn?
- War: peace movement or war hawks?
- Drugs: anti- or pro-drug?
- Trade: anti- or pro-globalized free trade?
- Consumerism: minimalism or consumerism?
- Labor: workers’ rights or exploitation?
- Technology: skepticism or support?
There are many different ways to frame the opposing perspectives involved in these debates, and many of them might not be as black as white as my setup here suggests (for example, hardly anyone is either completely opposed to, or supportive of, international trade, as my dichotomy suggests), but I hope we can all see that for each of these issues, there are clear opposing tendencies. And for each of them, I think it’s clear which tendency is more indulgent, non-productive, disordered, and wasteful. It’s the latter in all of these cases. Support for euthanasia, pornography, war, drugs, free trade, consumerism, labor exploitation, and the technological revolution are all masturbatory positions, given the definitions I’ve labored to outline in this essay. And as we said above, masturbation and lust could easily be replaced with any of these topics themselves. So, we can also say that support for any of these positions also shares a kinship with each of the individual issues of euthanasia, porn, war, etc. All of these political tendencies, even though some of them might be considered conservative positions while others would be dubbed more liberal, are similar in some incredibly significant ways. I think this points us to what might be a helpful organization of political values based on virtue, and one more meaningful than that offered by the conservative-liberal divide. If the latter perspective in each of the debates listed above is more indulgent, non-productive, disordered, and wasteful, then we can see that the former would be more restrained, productive, ordered, and efficient/conservation-focused. These positions would then be our virtuous alternatives:
- Pro-life (on issues of both abortion and euthanasia)
- Ecological stewardship
- Traditional sexual values (for example, anti-porn)
- Peace (anti-war)
- Sobriety (anti-drug)
- Protectionism (anti-global free trade)
- Labor rights
- Technological skepticism
This list could extend much further if we considered additional topics of modern political debate. But I think it’s sufficient for our current purposes. Please note that some of these positions—1, 4, and 6, in particular—would definitely be considered more conservative, while others—2, 3, 5, and 9—are more liberal territory; I think 7, 8, and 10 probably have a fair amount of support on both sides of the current political spectrum. This list, then, offers a potential new right-left synthesis. Unlike other groupings of political positions, such as those offered by platforms of the modern Republican or Democrat parties, this list is based more on values than on any other considerations, be they blind tradition, white papers from think tanks, or funding from special interest lobbies. It’s based on the values of restraint, productivity, order, and efficiency/conservation. For some—perhaps many or most—of these issues, we could also see how this list would coincide well with other values opposed to the unnatural vice, such as purity, generosity, risk-acceptance, and selflessness. I wouldn’t want to get embroiled in a dispute about which approach to trade is more risk-accepting or selfless, however, so I won’t push the point. But when we focus on the four primary characteristics of restraint, productivity, etc., we can see how the ten positions listed above form a cohesive unity, and one based on virtue.
All of this might sound nice, but it sure isn’t the reality on the ground, so to speak. There aren’t a lot of vegans who are pro-life, nor are there a lot of individuals with traditional sexual values who strict environmentalists. Well, first of all, there might be a lot more than we are aware of. One problem with the current right-left divide is that it oftentimes doesn’t leave much room for dissenting voices. Imagine talking openly about climate change in a room full of Republicans, or pro-life philosophy in a room full of Democrats, and you’ll see my point. But I feel that there are quite a few individuals who would adhere to something similar to the right-left synthesis I’m presenting here if they were pressed on the matter—many more individuals than we might suppose. When vegans starts thinking about their support for the abortion industry, and they ask themselves whether abortion is actually vegan or not, it has to give them pause. And if conservatives think honestly about what a truly conservative philosophy would have to say about the natural world, or about how traditional societies treated the environment, they have to cringe just a little when they hear the typical anti-tree-hugger talking points coming from conservative media. Positions such as the ten I’ve listed in our right-left synthesis have a natural harmony with one another. When one strays from this list on a particular issue, it creates a dissonance. This dissonance may not be perceived by the individual or their associates, but the inconsistency does not withstand close scrutiny: when examined, it demands to be rectified. This is why a lot of people don’t like to think about these things. Imagine a minimalist with a serious drug problem. She takes great pride in “living simply” and not piling up her apartment with unnecessary possessions, but she also spends a great deal of money on drugs each week. When it comes to this habit, she’s a bigger part of the consumer culture than the vast majority of her fellow Americans, and this is embarrassing to her. Or, imagine a labor supporter who also supports free trade. If you critically question him, he’d have to admit that a large part of globalized free trade is the trade of human labor, which works directly against the movement that he claims to hold so dear. He doesn’t want to talk about it. These are just two examples, but you could select almost any such combination and easily notice the disharmony. To make my case a bit more forcefully, I’d like to return our focus to the issues of abortion, omnivorism, and environmental destruction, and show how the pro-life position, veganism, and ecological stewardship don’t just fit together well, but share a natural interdependence. To do this, I’ll argue that vegans must be pro-life, pro-life individuals must be environmentalists, and environmentalists must be vegan.
Let’s begin with that third point and examine the need for environmentalists to adopt a vegan lifestyle. I’ve already alluded to the Cowspiracy documentary, which makes a very compelling case that the top priority of any sincere environmental advocate should be to eliminate animal agriculture in all of its varieties. This industry and its correlates are ravaging the natural world—water, land, air, and all who dwell therein—which means that the cause of this world’s repair would be greatly advanced by their drastic reduction or even wholesale cessation. Some people recommend converting the current model of animal agriculture to a more sustainable one, but even if this were done, there would simply not be enough space on the planet to accommodate the project. The blood-soaked floors of the assembly line slaughterhouse could theoretically be replaced with happy cows roaming the fields eating grass (before soaking the floor with their blood in the slaughterhouse), but for the inconvenient fact that there’s no room for all the fields. This again is a matter of efficiency and waste. The amount of human food that could be grown on the plot of land devoted to a small group of “happy cows” is appreciably greater than the amount of beef and/or dairy that those cows would yield. So if we avoided the fields full of cows, we could obtain the same amount of food by using much, much less land. This means much, much fewer areas that would need to be deforested, razed, or otherwise transitioned into grazing ground for cattle. There are few things, if any, that are more green than going vegan. And we haven’t even yet considered the fact that humans and animals are part of the natural world as well. I don’t mean simply in terms of their being connected to positive outcomes for the environment they inhabit, but that their lives and their experiences in this world are part of that very environment. When an animal’s life is enhanced, the environment is likewise; when a human enjoys a healthier and happier existence, the environment is thereby healthier and happier. The dualism that separates subjective realities of humans and animals from the objective reality of the physical world is part of the whole problem in the first place, as it by definition leads to an objectification, and subsequently a commodification, of the physical world.
And—moving to our second point—speaking of objects and commodities, most pro-life advocates would say that this is precisely how our culture treats the lives of unborn children. This alone doesn’t mean that someone opposed to abortion should become an ardent environmental activist. After all, just because it’s wrong to turn X into Z, it doesn’t mean that it’s wrong to turn Y into Z. Maybe X and Y are entirely different types of things; maybe Y is supposed to be turned into Z; etc. But the similar patterns of treatment should at least not go unnoticed. A common phrase in Catholic circles (which largely coincide, by the way, with pro-life circles) is “throwaway culture,” a term used by Pope Francis to describe the modern world’s approach to life in which everything is used up and then casually disposed of. This utilitarian and consumeristic attitude wreaks havoc on the environment. Think about the relationship that your standard American has with technology and then picture piles and piles of e-waste littering the landscape of a third world country, leaking heavy metals and other toxins into the soil and drinking water, and you’ll see what I mean. Now think about the ways in which we use and casually dispose of other human beings. There are plenty of examples that readily come to mind. It’s indisputable that we have a throwaway culture with respect to our fellow humans. On the issue of abortion alone, as already pointed out, we throw away thousands a day just in the United States. Again, the similarities should not go unnoticed. But if an opponent of abortion thinks that it’s wrong to treat human beings (X) like objects and commodities (Z), why should he or she also hold that it’s wrong to do the same with the environment (Y)? Well, this is something we’ve already touched on above when discussing the self-defeating behavior of those who destroy nature or remain apathetic with regard to its destruction. If there is no environment into which children can be born, and in which they can be raised, then the debate over abortion is of little consequence. Actually, the debate can’t even be had, because the natural world is just as necessary for human discourse as it is for human birth and child rearing. And it’s of the utmost necessity for birth and child rearing. It might be objected that the human community could very easily one day relocate to a new planet, but this would merely substitute one planet for another; it wouldn’t change the matter one bit. Wherever they find themselves, humans need a planet of some sort on which to subsist. One can’t support human life if they don’t support this necessary planet. Could someone be considered pro-family if they burn down every house on the planet? or pro-health if they poisoned all food available for human consumption? Without a doubt, the answer is no. How much less, then, could someone be considered pro-life if they destroyed not only some specific thing needed to support life, but the existence of the entire world in which all of the things needed to support physical life are located? This is why it’s imperative for anyone who values human life to also value the welfare of the natural environment.
Lastly, let’s take a look at the first point above: why vegans should be pro-life. This won’t apply to many individuals given that such a small minority of the population are practicing a vegan lifestyle. But I’ll see to it that this line of reasoning has implications for any reader that might happen upon it by appealing to one of the most natural, and universal, human impulses, namely the love of animals. So, put more broadly, this final section will explain why all those who love animals should also be stridently opposed to abortion. But let’s begin with vegans, and why they in particular should be pro-life. This really isn’t as complicated as it might sound. I’ve already referenced, previously in this essay, the crucial question that, if answered sincerely by any vegan, would lead them to the pro-life position: is abortion vegan? Vegans are committed to preventing the harm, use, and exploitation of animals, whether for food, clothing, entertainment, research, or any other purpose. Now, if humans are animals, then an unborn human that is being targeted in the abortion procedure is an animal that is being harmed, used, and exploited. Therefore, vegans should be committed to preventing abortion. I would argue that they should be even more firmly committed to this than they should be to ending animal cruelty and exploitation. But why would that be the case? First, because of the fact that humans are a more advanced animal species. Many vegans don’t like to think in these terms since it is “species-ist” (a form of discrimination whereby one treats members of one species differently than members of another, based on the fact that they are different species), but they are aware that there are gradations among species. That’s why most would have to admit they feel more passionate about, for example, ending our modern farming practices with cows and pigs than they are about eliminating cruelty to insects. It’s perfectly rational to be opposed to two different things, or two different examples of the same thing, and still hold a greater opposition towards one of them. Vegans can be opposed to all forms of animal harm, use, and exploitation, while still viewing such treatments of human beings as uniquely condemnable. Second, humans are not only a more advanced species, but they are our species. We should have a natural kinship with other humans that we don’t have with other animals. We are family, in a real sense. Just as it’s natural for us to have a greater preference for members of our own families than we do for perfect strangers, so too is it natural to have a greater preference for members of our wider human family than we do for members of other species. This doesn’t need to mean that we destroy the lives of other species. After all, we don’t need to destroy the lives of strangers in order to promote the greater good of our own families. A vegan can and should hold a unique preference for members of his or her own human family, while still honoring all other animals. I don’t think that many people, vegan or not, would argue with this logic. There is a strong rejection of species-ism among many vegans, but I feel that the vast majority of them would grant that, if forced to choose between saving a human and a non-human animal in some tragic hypothetical scenario, they would choose the human. This can get challenging if you make the non-human animal a beloved pet dog or cat, but I think we all know deep down that it would be morally blameworthy to choose to save that pet over a fellow human. It’s just wrong, and we know it. But I’m making a stronger case than I need to make. My aim was merely to argue that vegans should be pro-life, not that they should be more pro-life than they are vegan (not that they shouldn’t be). To fulfill that original intention, I wouldn’t need to argue that they should find mistreatment of humans specially unacceptable, but only equally unacceptable. To that end, however, we’ll take a closer look at these same two points regarding the human species. given these two points, I think it’s clear that advocacy for the protection of human life and well-being is a more natural position, and an easier one for a human being to hold, than advocacy for the protection of non-human animal life and well-being. The latter would then be the more difficult and rigorous of the two related positions. But vegans are already committed to this latter position. That being the case, they should be committed to the easier and more natural position as well. This same logic can be seen using some of the examples we’ve already discussed in this section. It’s easier and more natural to care about helping cows and pigs than it is to care about helping insects, and it’s easier and more natural to protect our family members than it is to protect strangers. Caring about insects and protecting strangers would be the more rigorous positions in those examples. Now, imagine that you had a friend with a burning passion for helping all insects, and another who devoted a large part of his or her life to protecting all strangers. Wouldn’t it be strange if those two friends of yours had no concern for, respectively, helping cows and pigs, or protecting the members of his or her family? If they had committed themselves to the more extreme causes of helping insects and protecting strangers, it would be completely inconsistent for them to disregard the much more obvious and natural related causes of cows and pigs, and their family members. Similarly, it’d be inconsistent for a vegan to be anything other than entirely pro-life on the question of abortion. But what about non-vegans? These individuals might not have made a lifetime vow to avoid intentional harm, use, and exploitation of animals, but if you were to ask them, most of them would agree that the unnecessary harm, use, and exploitation of animals is morally wrong. I don’t believe that anyone who is not a sociopath would think otherwise. Many non-vegans, perhaps especially those with pets or other companion animals, would go even further and say that we should work to help prevent injustices such as animal cruelty and neglect. Why should these non-vegan animal-lovers be opposed to abortion? I would apply the same logic in their cases as I did with the vegans. If they think that mistreatment of animals is wrong, then they should also think the same about mistreatment of humans. They should feel even more strongly about human mistreatment since humans are the more advanced species, and since they are members of our own species. But even setting that aside, they should remember how they feel about animal mistreatment and remember that humans are animals too. If humans are animals too, then it follows that they therefore should be opposed to mistreatment of humans. And since killing innocent humans is a serious form of mistreatment, and abortion is the killing of innocent humans, it follows that they should be opposed to abortion. All vegans and all non-vegan animal-lovers should be pro-life.
V. Conclusion: A Life of Meaning
To conclude this essay, I’d like to directly challenge the reader to take a personal inventory of his or her life with the following lines of inquiry. In what areas of your life are you living self-indulgently? wastefully? in a disordered manner? non-productively? And as you examine your day to day behavior patterns, as well as your general disposition and attitude, how are you living a life of selfishness? corruption? risk-aversion? hedonism? When you consider these questions soberly and answer them with full candor, what kind of answers do you see? My general thesis in this essay has been that insofar as our lives exhibit these qualities, our lives are lives of masturbation. So the final question is this: what are you, the reader, going to do about this? If you’re living a life of empty self-gratification, to whatever extent, what is the proper response? It might be helpful to look at this in terms of the unnatural vice and lust. If aspects of our lives mirror elements of the vice of lust, then we would need to counter this with elements of the opposing virtue, which in this case would be the virtue of chastity. We saw earlier that chastity pertains to the proper use and expression of human sexuality. But what does that entail?
Chastity means the successful integration of sexuality within the person and thus the inner unity of man in his bodily and spiritual being. Sexuality, in which man’s belonging to the bodily and biological world is expressed, becomes personal and truly human when it is integrated into the relationship of one person to another, in the complete and lifelong mutual gift of a man and a woman.Catechism of the Catholic Church. Paragraph 2337.
Far from being reserved for monks, nuns, and priests, chastity is a virtue to which all people are called. It involves a unification of life through the integration of one’s spiritual and physical realities, through healthy and human expressions of one’s physical desires. When we submit our sexuality to reason and proper order, we are integrating the physical with the spiritual, and living in a manner that is “personal and truly human.” And in the the domain of sexuality, we are rational and ordered when we seek the “complete and lifelong mutual gift of a man and a woman” in marriage, or when we forgo marriage for an even fuller expression of this same principle through purposeful celibacy. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, shortly after defining chastity, states that “[c]harity is the form of all the virtues” (paragraph 2346), including the virtue of chastity. This is why even a person who refrains from sexual activity, such as vowed celibates, are capable of achieving a healthy integration of sexuality into their own lives through the virtue of chastity. The true purpose of chastity is love (charity), and learning how to be an authentic human being, how to be truly committed, how to escape radical self-focus and turn to the other, how to work diligently for the other’s good, and how to give of oneself fully and without reserve. And aren’t these the exact remedies needed for those selfish, wasteful, risk-averse, and self-indulgent parts of our own lives? If love is the form of all the virtues, then it makes sense that they would be. So, the proper response to any of the empty self-gratification that burdens our lives with its meaninglessness is to live a resolute life of meaning, and to do so by fostering the growth of love, in all of its fullness as the virtue of charity, in every corner of our hearts and minds, and in every portion of every encounter that we have.
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