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A Third Way Thought Experiment: Part 2

I have given a few days of musefully meandering thoughts on this experiment and each day I come to the same conclusion, so it is safe to say the experiment can be finished.

There will be little benefit to reading this article if you do not read the first. See the original thought experiment here (A Third Way Thought Experiment Part 1).

If you need to know more, to better understand what this article is about and where it comes from, you could view these articles which describes The Third Way

Within the original thought experiment article, I asked anyone who was interested in Flexitarianism and the Third Way to identify one point in their life where they truly occupied a third position. Not only that, but throughout their life they also had to occupy the each end of the traditional spectrum so that they had significant experience in all sections being considered. This is desirable because the experimenter needs to KNOW, inside and out, what is going on in the hearts and minds of each polarity. The polarity could be anything; Yankee fan/Mets fan/Neutral, Republican/Democrat/third party, Christian/atheist/agnostic, anything that has two opposing poles and a viable third position between them.

There were three questions I asked to myself and to anyone following along.

  • 1) …Was anyone who was firmly entrenched in a particular polarity of a subject able to objectively look at reality in relation to that subject? (for example republican/democrat is a polarity. So is wet/dry, religous/agnostic, etc) If so, to what degree were they able to objectively observe reality?
  • 2) …How often were those firmly entrenched people able to give each and every bit of evidence (the micro arguments) a fair chance? A micro agrument is one of the many reasons someone chooses one polarity over another. Most people have multiple microarguments that point towards one polarity, which makes their choice for them.
  • 3) …In all of your visualizations, what was the general attitude of the one polarity group towards the other polarity group? Since you knew all of the sides in this example, consider both poles (and the third position if it can be applied

My Third Way Thought Experiment Revealed

First, I need to explain my 3 significant positions I've held. It is in the subject of eating meat, being a vegan, and the flexitarian position of eating meat and dairy based on individual ethic and health choices. For the longest period of time I was raised a meat heavy omnivore, although not excessively so. My mother was non chicken or beef eater (so i guess ovo-lacto-pescatarian) but she usually just made fish, cheese, or tofu when we were having meat. In that sense I wasn't having meat at every meal because she would cook pastas and lasagnas that could have no meat or simply meat on the side. But I sure did like meat. Especially jerky, hmm mmm. By college I began to expose myself to the real world. One of thing real world things was how food was produced. I was raised to believe organic was better but we didn't always have the budget for organic, especially not 100% organic, so I learned to make due with what we had. College had me considering a doctorate in nutrition and so the process of food from farm to plate was sounding more and more important to me. In come the vegans.

Any search pertaining to how your food is prepared before the grocery store shelf is dominated by anti meat campaigns of the vegetarian and vegan press groups. Most effective of their press campaigns are undoubtedly the visual presentations like the epic Earthlings documentary narrated by Joaquin Pheonix 1) or the animated short called the Meatrix 2). Immediately I was hooked. The understanding that we raised animals in Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) with conditions so disgusting they have to be hidden from everyone's view was enough for me to go veg.

Or almost so. I was living in an apartment without a meal plan at college and I basically cooked vegan but ate meat when I ate out. No milk, no dairy, and I definitely did not prepare any meats that came from the grocery store.

And then I met the vegan polarity as it appeared in my life. My best friend from childhood went to a different high school then me and then I moved to a different state, so it was understandable that some separation was created between us. After chatting one day about life and where we were, I told him I was just leaving college and I was hell bent on getting a teaching job at a radically alternative school. There happened to be one about two hours from where we both grew up. As luck would have it, he was attending college in an adjacent town to where my intended school of employment was and he was looking for a roommate. Everything fell like perfect dominoes and before I knew it my vegan leanings had been matched with a hardcore vegan rocker. I entered the other polarity. We were very serious about the endeavor. I included honey but there was a disagreement about that that never got resolved.

We lived together for two years but by the time I was leaving for another school, the 100% veganism had left me. I would engage in intentional 1, 2, or 3 month periods of veganism for different reasons in the next couple of years. One of them was to honestly give raw veganism a try. I was 5 feet 10 inches and 135 pounds my entire adult life. After 1 month of 100% raw veganism, I was 128. I then entered a period of flexitarianism where I studied the doctors and nutritionists inbetween the polarities and found plenty of common ground. There was enough common ground (in terms of health) that I could feed good about selectfully eating meat and dairy in my diet that I have come to still be flexitarian to this day.

This was my journey through the three positions. What can I say about each side seeing objectivity?

If objectivity is experiencing reality as it is and not what we make of it, I would have to say that neither side could see something objectively. There was always a necessity to protect the macro argument at all costs. I will say that in their tunnel vision, they could come up with some really sharp thoughts and reasoning. But it always originated from a place of “that other side is not possible”. When you start with that as your framework, how is that objective?

To be honest, obtaining objectivity is a very difficult thing. But how much of the thought coming out of the omnivore moutpiece was being fueled by a fear of the antithesis, the vegan? And vice versa?

So much of the dedicated researching I saw on each side was motivated to fulfill their choice of macro argument. I even did it myself. Once I became vegan, I was interested in what every vegan spokesperson and researcher was saying about veganism. The talking points, the deep digs at meat eating, all of it. I came to find an incredible amount of information, but none of it was pursued for objectivity's sake. It was for the sake of proving my conviction.

Once I was fully flexitarian I could analyze the Paleo crowd more objectively because I was not one of them. The rise of Paleo is very much a counter movement to the vegetarian current of the last twenty years. The same was true in their circles. They could easily whisk away data suggesting health concerns on eating meat because the meat in question was factory farmed. While I agree factory farmed meat is not ideal to use, it doesn't mean that there could still be problems with eating the meat, factory farmed or farmed in heavenly harmony with nature. But data is less worrisome in this crowd because we have always eaten meat! It's impossible for it to be bad for us. So many arguments eventually lead to this argument. A valid micro argument is brought to a Paleo, and if that microargument seems to go against supporting the eating of meat in all its forms, they would find ways to disagree with it.

Their degree of objectiivty cannot be given a score. Their eyes were so colored with their convictions that objectivity cannot be described there. Their convictions definitely fueled a lot of interesting research, but the research is polarized and best studied with a balance of the poles.

The position inbetween, i.e. eat some meat but selectively so, was capable of hearing arguments against certain meats and accepting them as true. Since they weren't hellbent on proving meat eating, they could entertain negative ideas about meat eating without defaulting to other arguments to defend their position. This position was also able to hear what critiques of veganism were biased and what were legitimate. Their objectivity was the highest, to be sure, but I still saw a potential snag. They could just as easily get stuck into their position that eating small, select portions of meat and dairy is healthy and right for you.

Attitude Readjustment

Part of the exercise involved visualizing past discussions with each side.

Wow, what a visualization! Going back into my memories of talking with like minded omnivores and vegans brings mostly disrespect from the other side. The image I see the most is a sour face with an eye roll. I will note a couple friends along the way who were omnivorous but fully sympathetic to the ethical concerns of vegans, but this exception aside, the attitudes were childish. The opposite polarity is an easy butt end of a joke when something actually funny isn't registering in anyone's brain at the moment. Many times just the mention of the opposite polarity would work up the team favorites into a tizzy. The attitudes shared about the other side are embarassing to decent individuals and would make your mother blush if she knew you were speaking about a human like that. But generally speaking, omnivores found vegans crazy, conspiratorial, and dumb. Vegans found omnivores without a soul, cruel, and dumb.

I hope they both aren't right about the last one…

When you have two opposing sides that represent a lot of different ways of thinking, it's easier and easier to see them as “Other” and outside of yourself. The less we think about something as ourselves or attach to us, the easier it is to cause damage to that thing or speak poorly and not feel bad about it.

In a dualistic system, Self and Other, each side is out to get the other one. Light is chasing darkness away in the morning and darkness is chasing light away as the Sun goes down. Does light describe the whole picture? Of course not. Does Light's representation of how Darkness is reflect objective reality? Of course not. The same can be said for darkness and it's representation of light.

My musings on the third question gave me pause in a number of conversations I was having that ended with me demeaning or talking down a certain polarity when I happened to be aligned with its opposite. It occurred to me that this thought experiment might show to people that we are caught in polarity fights throughout our lives. I don't like how it looks when I fight with a poor attitude against a polarity. I might not be able to change the fact that there is indeed a division of two sides in a certain argument, this much is true. I can change, however, the attitude I show to the other side and I think this goes a long way.

A New Way To Approach All Sides: WIth Respect

Since performing this experiment, a change as occurred within my perception of argumentation. I read an article on a health blogger that I read frequently. Every other time before this I enjoyed his digs against the other side. But now when I read it, I feel as though there is a new layer of objectivity to my thinking. While I agree with the facts that this health blogger was citing, I couldn't have disagreed more with the attitude towards the other side. To anyone coming to this polarity for the first time and read this article, they would suspect a huge personal vendetta or something similar to explain the vitriol in the article. It would probably be enough to discourage that person from reading this article writer again. It was enough that I don't want to read his writing ever again.

One does not gain anything in the long run when you resort to ad hominem attacks and put downs in your argument. To the best of my ability, I will not be endorsing or creating that kind of atmosphere in politics because it gets us nowhere. It is a huge distraction of the issue when you consider politics today…each side believing the other is Satan incarnate and putting as much to words. If you can't focus on the facts, you don't have an argument; you have a problem.

What do I expect other people to experience on this thought experiment? I hope they will see how a third position has a better chance at objectivity that just the opposing sides do. Anything else that they receive (like my realization on attitude) is icing on the cake. We need a new system of thinking in America that allows us to ascertain facts and assemble our reality picturefrom each fact. The two party system is not cutting it and it is infecting our everyday lives.

Political Philosophy


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