I wrote "The Expanding Ethical Embrace" during my lunch break today and edited it when I had some time later in the afternoon. Not long after I posted it, I was drawn into an infuriating conversation with a co-worker. Hours later, I remain incensed by the exchange.
It began when she asked me where I had gone to dinner last night. I answered that I had gone to a vegan/vegetarian restaurant in the East Village. In response, she launched into an attack on vegans, but allowed as how "vegetarians are alright because they eat fish." When I explained that, technically, a vegetarian would not eat fish, she laughed me off as "silly" and too "anal about the definition."
She then proceeded to champion industrial agriculture on the grounds that it has freed up the "smart people to evolve and achieve better things" by "giving the jobs that we shouldn't do to talentless people with no other abilities." When I pointed out the gross classism of her remarks, she explained that "if poor people or minorities want to succeed, they can. We've given them a lot of help and if they put any effort into it, they can make it. It's their fault if they want to work for Perdue killing chickens. I'm not murdering animals, though. I just eat them. Anyway, those people make more than minimum wage. They can't complain." (This last bit is almost verbatim, but I didn't record the conversation and so can't claim journalistic integrity.)
She even had the audacity to mention her future Ph.D. in art history (the Ph.D. is very much an aspiration; she's 35 and has yet to be accepted to a Master's program) as evidence that she is "too smart to spend her life killing things or working menial labor." She also reminded me, in case the Ph.D. wasn't impressive enough, that she had "always been a straight A student...after [her] sophomore year of college." (Emphasis mine.) At this point in the conversation, I began wondering what it would feel like to staple my goddamn eyeball.
Now, if this female co-worker was a neo-con "wingnut," I might not be so bent out of shape. But she's a knee-jerk liberal who regularly claims that humans are ready to "evolve again and realize that we can all live with one another and be happy." Unfortunately, she explains to me, "stupid people are holding back the evolution."
The thing is, though, she herself may be one of these "stupid people." To use a favorite phrase of hers (that drives me up the wall), "Let me give you for example."
I had paper recycling bins placed in our offices; each afternoon I move paper discarded by my co-workers in their trashcans (despite my repeatedly asking them to put it in the big blue can to begin with) to the recycling container. One day, my favorite co-worker told me that I was "silly and negative" and that my recycling was a waste of time. It does no one any good, she explained. "It's a myth."
Now, I'm a thoughtful guy. I recognize that there are inklings of the ritual, the sacred, in my recycling routine. Is that problematic? Perhaps. Striving for sustainability is, for some, a kind of cult behavior. Those of us who count ourselves among the cult's disciples are frequently hypocritical and maybe too eager to find the next "green" improvement. I'm pretty diligent about fact checking, though, and when I catch myself being a hypocrite (taking a long shower or, a better example, spending too many hours with this computer turned on), I acknowledge the error of my ways. As far as recycling is concerned, I'm as yet unconvinced that plastic recycling currently proffers a net positive. Paper and aluminum recycling, however, are clearly beneficial. I tried to explain this distinction to my co-worker once, but she laughed and, as she so often does, called me "silly."
"I'ma give you another for example." (Yes, she actually says "I'ma.")
One day, when I commented that fish populations were in decline worldwide, she giggled and said, "Oh, that's so silly." When I asked her why, if she had perhaps read some scientific paper no one else was aware of or had conducted some offshore surveys of her own, she laughed and shook her head, looking at me as if to say, "Wow, you're really loopy."
"Let me give you another for example."
When she came into the office with a new fox fur scarf and ear muffs, I was intrigued. I assumed the fur came from a foreign fox species or had been treated, because it bore no resemblance to red or grey fox fur. She got very upset and said I was "only asking to make her feel bad that the animal had died." In fact, I wasn't. I appreciate natural history, and I wanted to determine the animal species. That's all. Online, I looked up information on the different fox furs; her fur turned out to be "silver fox," a genetically isolated breed of red fox (Vulpes vulpes). Happy to have learned something, I shared this information with my co-worker, and she became quite angry with me. She insisted that I was just trying to "rub it in" and that I wasn't "being cool." Later, after she had gotten over my behavior, she laughed at the situation and said, you guessed it, "You're so silly."
How many of her are out there? I mean, I realize I'm being silly, but...