Friday, April 29, 2016

Overcoming Ethical Inertia

Dig Into a Big Bowl of Inertia!
Just the other day I made a hearty vegetable chili from black beans, corn kernels and kidney beans with a healthy helping of lightly braised onions, bell peppers and minced garlic thrown in for good measure. Additionally, I baked a delicious cornbread based on an easy recipe requiring no animal products.  I served the cornbread and chili to my extended family at our weekly get together. The curry spices I used were savory without too much heat as I know my family isn't terribly fond of spicy food.  Still, I was a bit anxious, because although I'm always hopeful that I can demonstrate vegan food can be quite awesome, I always seem to get some level of push back when I offer up humane cuisine at the dinner table.

Overall the meal was a success; however, at the mention of vegan chili two family members impulsively made the distinctive cringing yuck face stereotypical of a child being presented with broccoli (or chicken livers, as I used to do myself.) My initial emotional reaction to their disgust was mild offense, as I had invested time, care and resources into making something delicious that was scorned at the mere mention that meat and dairy free cuisine was being served.  My follow up thought was a bit more contemplative: what exactly is it that prevents individuals from rationally assessing the merits of a situation, be it of an entree, the environment or ethical justice?

For the most part, I believe inertia is the largest obstacle for otherwise good people to overcome in assessing the behaviors in their daily lives. Such inertia can further be broken down into subgroups: neurological inertia, cultural inertia, and physical inertia.

Neurological inertia reflects a state when our brains have become so accustomed or even addicted to a particular experience or expectation.  As I've discussed in Wake Up All You Zombies - Eat More Veggies, once a person has a decade long positive association with a substance or experience of any kind, it becomes difficult to consider the alternatives.  This mental barrier is a driving reason why smokers avoid thinking about long-term health implications, why omnivores avoid thinking about animal slaughter, and why intense video gamers avoid thinking about pursuing outdoor recreational activity.  In essence, our evolutionary brain states have an affinity for comfort that can shut down curiosity.

Cultural inertia in many ways is an extension of the neurological desire for comfort.  Since humans are social creatures we create and seek out niche circles with individuals that behave similarly to ourselves.  Community can be a very positive thing, however, if the culture of the group removes honest, rational feedback loops that consider the wider world we can end up with dysfunctional communities. Extreme examples include American gun culture, the war on drugs community and anti-LGBTQ advocates.  When a group seizes upon absolute positions and then disregards out of hand others in the local and world community, cultural inertia can thrive like cancer.  If we let it, such group mindthink can override personal integrity and mindful diligence which openly seeks better solutions.

Lastly, physical inertia, which overlaps both cultural and neurological inertia, underscores the challenge we face when confronting real world problems.  Very simply, it takes real, physical effort to make a change that progresses self, society and world.  Too often, one can find oneself handcuffed to a fools-gold job, chained to a lifestyle marketed by bottom-line corporations, and bound in relationships that have fallen into complacency.  Making progress means putting time and energy into contemplating prospective goodness, accepting and integrating constructive criticism, and then getting ones arse off the sofa to build the relationships, community and global change that will benefit the future world!

Serve that with a side of vegan cornbread and you just might find satisfaction in life!

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