billyabbott has been pondering the vegan diet recently. First of all, this led to a discussion with prgp about the ethics of animal experiments:
I think that the animal testing issue is more complex than most people realise (on both sides of the debate). I'm planning to do a longer LJ entry about this in due course, but one interesting thing that came up in my induction for my current job is the Nuremberg treaty - basically, companies aren't allowed to test drugs on humans before they've been tested on animals, because this led to nasty things in the past. So, people who are protesting at the companies who do animal tests are missing the point - they "should" be lobbying the government to change the law.
Some people think that it's hypocritical to campaign against animal testing if you use products that have previously been tested on animals. However, I think that this is a bit of a tricky issue too. For instance, suppose that a particular company did animal testing for shampoo etc. in the past, but has now "seen the light" and no longer tests any of their new cosmetic products on animals. Is it now ok to use an old product that was tested on animals in the past, or should you boycott them for perpetuity? I've seen some small print from companies like Superdrug, who say "We won't buy our ingredients from any company that's done animal testing within the last 5 years", which seems like a reasonable compromise to me.
Or how about if two companies sell the same product, but one does animal testing and the other one doesn't. Is it ok to buy the product from the second company, who are arguably getting the best of both worlds (appearing ethical but taking the first company's results into account)?
Taking a human analogy, I've heard that there was a similar issue after WW2 - the Nazis had developed certain medicines by testing them on Jews in the concentration camps. So, is it right for us to profit from that? I.e. now that we have the knowledge, and those people are dead, should we make the best of it by using the knowledge to save lives, or should we just destroy all the test results and wait until we can gather the information in a more ethical manner? I'm not an expert on this part of history, but my understanding is that Jewish leaders were given the choice of what to do, and they chose to let the results be published.
Obviously opinions will vary on this, but I don't think that people are automatically hypocrites if they say:
a) I think animal testing is wrong.
b) I will use product X that was tested on animals.
(This combination of views may not be correct, but I do think that it can be consistent.)
And for what it's worth, I think that a large number of animal rights activists are complete nutjobs, bordering on terrorists.
Then Billy pondered whether vegans would eat vat grown meat.
I don't know about the Vegan Society, but I can imagine that the Vegetarian Society might endorse it. They recently had some controversy when they put their stamp of approval on McDonalds veggie burgers - some people were outraged that they would endorse an Evil Corporation (TM), but the committee's view (which I agree with) was that they just judged the individual item of food on its own merits, and that it's a good idea to rewarding McDonalds (or other similar companies) when they do something "right".
This will probably cause more fragmentation amongst vegetarians/vegans ("Splitters!"), along the lines of "Do vegetarians eat fish?", so I can imagine that there will be more specific labels created (the equivalent of "I'm a lacto-ovo vegetarian").
The main objection to vat meat is that one or more animals have to suffer in order to produce the original sample, and I have mixed feelings about this. When I first went vegetarian, I had some leather boots which I continued to wear on the basis that the cow was already dead and nothing would be achieved by giving it a decent burial; since then I've bought various pairs of veggie boots to replace them (although the boots that come with my SJA uniform are leather). So, in that sense I'd say that if the original animal is already dead, it won't be harmed by the continued production of vat-meat, and it's ok to eat it. (This is similar to my views on animal testing, as discussed above.) Also, if that animal can save several others (assuming that there are meat-eaters who would make a switch to vat-meat) then there's a "greater good" aspect to it. However, the initial animal (or small group of animals) hasn't been killed yet, so it gets a bit more blurry if I say "Yes, I want that cow to die so that I can eat a steak again". That probably puts me in the moral weasel category of saying "I condemn what you're doing, but I'll be waiting with a knife and fork for when you've finished" :)
Meanwhile, nou asked what it means to be a man.
In the general theme of stereotypes, I think it's interesting that women have assimilated into most of the traditional roles (e.g. the "ladette" culture) and geeky stuff (IT/SF) has pretty much been left as a male bastion.
Addressing the question directly, though, my gut reaction is to say "strength". I remember chatting to a friend in Durham (12-13 years ago), and she was saying that she wouldn't want to be a man. When I briefly considered whether I'd want to be a woman, my immediate thought was that this would involve being smaller/weaker - no thanks. (To clarify that, I was envisioning some kind of magic transformation, or an alternate history where I'd been born female, rather than any kind of surgery.)
Now for the disclaimers/stating the obvious, in the hope of staving off criticism... I would say that the average man is stronger than the average woman. There are exceptions, and I'm sure that there are some women who are stronger than me. For that matter, there are plenty of men who are stronger than me too, and I'm not exactly in peak physical condition at the moment. This is really my own sense of what being a man means to me, rather than a blanket statement about something that applies to everyone.
I think this is also linked to my own history - I used to be one of the smaller boys in my year at school, and I was a bit of a late developer, so my growth spurt didn't kick in until after most other people. However, when it did, I caught up, and then overtook most of the others. I'm now 6'2", and it's unusual for me to meet a guy who's taller than me; it's very unusual for me to meet a woman who's taller than me. I've heard that lots of men aren't keen on tall women because they feel slightly intimidated - personally I think of height as an attractive feature, but that's just because I prefer not to be looming over people, rather than because I want to have someone else looming over me.
I think I would probably benefit from being more self-confident than I am at the moment, but there are some things that I just don't worry about, e.g. rape. Intellectually I'm aware that there have been cases of men being raped, but in everyday terms I lump that into the same risk category as being hit by lightning. I occasionally have to deal with drunken idiots being confrontational, so I keep my eyes open, but I'm not afraid to wander around on my own, regardless of the area/time of night. In simpler terms, I'm happy to escort women home, and I don't need anyone to escort me.