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The Insipid Appeal to Traditions, Customs, and Habits

“Custom will reconcile people to any atrocity.”  •  George Bernard Shaw

Hasidic Jewish men enacting the brutal ritual of Kaporos

The image above depicts the ritual of Kaporos, which is observed by many (but by no means all) Hasidic Jews shortly before the holiday of Yom Kippur as a means of “atonement for one's sins.” In this insane—and insanely barbaric—ritual, a live chicken (white is the preferred color, standing for “purity”) is swung violently above the head while the perpetrator invokes an incantation about self-atonement. Then the chicken is slaughtered, and supposedly donated to a needy family (although by many accounts the chicken's body is merely dumped in the trash). Even many Orthodox Jews have come to abhor this ritual, because clearly it is not only morally self-abasing, but also deeply self-contradicting. For if the point of the ritual is to reflect upon the chicken's fate, and draw from it that “the chicken could have been me,” or that “there, but for the grace of God, go I,” then why would someone choose to inflict such carnage and cruelty upon this innocent being in the first place?

Evidently, then, many Orthodox Jews have evolved to the point where they recognize that some of their traditions are simply not worth clinging to. Ironically, however, many of those who would be properly appalled by practices such as that of Kaporos might actually be caught defending their own habit of eating meat, eggs, and dairy products through a very similar rationale: namely, by fallacious appeal to some tradition, or some custom, or ritual, or cultural norm or religious norm—or mere habit.

It's obvious that many people will attempt to justify their meat, dairy and egg-eating ways by saying something like this: “It's a tradition in my culture to eat meat, dairy and eggs,” or “It's customary among my family (or tribe) to eat meat, dairy and eggs”—or, quite simply, “It's my habit to eat meat, dairy and eggs, and as habits go, it's a hard one to break.” However, to uphold some tradition, custom, or habit for no other reason than that it's a tradition, or a custom, or a habit, is obviously an invalid rationalization for preserving slavery, cruelty and murder. Just like habits, some traditions and customs are good ones, some are harmless, and some are extremely evil. Whether they prove to be good, evil, or merely innocuous, they didn't get that way just because they were practiced routinely, or because they were embraced without question by people of a certain culture. They were ALWAYS good, evil or innocuous! It's understandable that traditions, customs and habits are hard to break, but EVIL traditions, HARMFUL customs, and BAD habits need to be broken. The abolition of slavery in America, and of sati in India (the burning-alive of widowed women along with their dead husbands on the funeral pyre) proves that evil can be eradicated, and that rational minds can overcome the atrocity of many traditions and customs that turn innocent beings into victims, without reason or mercy.

Try to place yourself in the animals' position: confined to an artificial world, denied your freedom and the chance to live a long, healthy life, even denied sunlight most of the time. Then imagine yourself on a concentration camp truck, terrified and confused, on your way to the slaughterhouse so someone could slice your throat and cut you up into pieces. If you honestly try to assume the animals' point of view, you will understand why the psychotic addictions of meat, cheese, milk and eggs must be abolished. If you eat animals and the things that come out of animals, you are causing pain and suffering and polluting yourself with the blood of innocent beings. Today, we knowingly contribute to an endless loop of enslaving and killing animals to preserve the abstract notion of tradition, the vacuous rituals of custom, and the murderous, selfish habit of meat, cheese, milk and egg-consumption. Peace begins at the dinner table, with what you put into your body on a daily basis.

Good people—the ones who maintain good habits, and observe worthwhile traditions and customs—don't just talk about kindness. They practice it. They don't pray about love. They actually give it. It is not your right—based on YOUR traditions, YOUR customs and YOUR habits—to deny animals THEIR freedom so you can harm them, enslave them and kill them. That's not what rights are about. That's injustice. There is no counter-argument to veganism. Accept it. Apologize for the way you've been living. Make amends and move forward.

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