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 The Withering of Intelligence

Intelligence is the ability to make meaningful connections, and this is

true for all living systems, such as humans, animals, communities, and

societies. Participating in daily rituals that repress our ability to make

connections severely impedes our intelligence, even amid our current

glut of so-called information, and destroys our ability to deal effective-

ly with the serious problems we generate. Because we are adept at dis-

connecting from the suffering we impose on animals, we naturally and

inevitably become adept at disconnecting from the suffering we impose

on hungry people, living biosystems, war-ravaged communities, and

future generations. Our skills in forcefully blocking feedback also make

us easily distracted and manipulated by corporate interests whose prof-

its depend on our inability to make significant connections.

Compassion is ethical intelligence: it is the capacity to make connec-

tions and the consequent urge to act to relieve the suffering of others.

Like cognitive intelligence, it is suppressed by the practice of eating ani-

mals. The ability to disconnect, practiced at every mealtime, is seen in

perhaps more chilling guise in the modern scientist slowly freezing dogs

to death to learn about human physiology, in modern soldiers looking

straight into the eyes of helpless civilians and killing them, in hunters

deceiving and chasing defenseless animals and killing them for sport,

and in countless other legal and approved cultural activities.

As long as we remain, at core, a culture that sees animals merely as commodities and food, there is little hope for our survival. The system-

atic practice of ignoring, oppressing, and excluding that is fundamental

to our daily meals disconnects us from our inner wisdom and from our

sense of belonging to a benevolent and blessed universe. By actively

ignoring the truth of our connectedness, we inescapably commit geocide

and suicide, and forsake the innate intelligence and compassion that

would guide us.

I-Thou vs. I-It

In the 1920s the philosopher Martin Buber introduced and articulated

an essential distinction in our relations with others and in our conse-

quent sense of self that is increasingly recognized for its importance.

Proposing that we do not develop our sense of “I” in isolation, but

rather through relationship with others, he went on to say that when we

relate to others as being conscious, and as having feelings, experiences,

desires, and purposes, we develop an “I-Thou” sense of self. When we

relate to others as objects, as having no significant desires, purposes, or

consciousness of their own, we develop an “I-It” sense of ourselves.

Cultivating an I-Thou sense of self, we cultivate respect and sensitivity

towards others and ourselves. Cultivating an I-It sense of self, we tend

to relate to others as instruments to be used. This I-It sense of self leads

to an increasingly deadened and depersonalized view of nature, animals,

and other people, and to an inner hardening that shields us from feeling

the pain of whomever and whatever we are using, consuming, and

exploiting. According to Buber, the I-It sense of self requires and fosters

an inner insensitivity that leads to an ever-increasing craving to consume

more things. This ironic and impossible quest for happiness and fulfill-

ment by an objectified, separate, anxious self that reduces others to

instruments to be used for pleasure and gain is a primary driving force

behind consumerism and the runaway industrialization, corporate cap-

italism, and environmental and social devastation that this mentality

inevitably manifests. 

While Buber’s insights are certainly provocative and illuminating, it

seems he failed to recognize the deeper dynamic responsible for the I-It

sense of self: the food choices we learn from birth, in which mysterious,

sensitive, and intelligent beings are continually and unquestioningly

reduced to mere food objects to be used, killed, and eaten. 

It’s remarkable, we might think, that Buber couldn’t make this

rather obvious connection in over forty years of meditating and writing

on the I-Thou and I-It mentalities. Yet what is far more remarkable is

that out of the thousands of leading writers and researchers in the phys-

ical sciences, human sciences, and humanities over the last hundred

years, virtually no one has produced a sentence on the subject! These

great minds were among the most innovative and courageous of their

time, willing to risk controversy and daring to offer the world many

new ideas in sociology and social theory, psychology, philosophy, sys-

tems theory, science, economics, history, government, anthropology,

theology, comparative religion, and spirituality.1 How could something

so central and obvious to our lives and thinking–our treatment of ani-

mals for food–go ignored by–and invisible to–so many for so long?

It’s eerie to contemplate the mountains of books, articles, essays, lec-

tures, and documentaries produced by and about the great minds of

modernity–and to realize how unmentionable this subject is. The idea

that our routine violence against animals for food could be a primary

driving force behind human suffering and war has managed to remain

virtually completely unthinkable to this day.

Even the more radical and contemporary voices have been unwill-

ing or unable to seriously address this subject, as have virtually all the

current writers and leaders in the human potential, spiritual, environ-

mental, social justice, holistic health, and peace movements.2 This is not

meant in any way as a criticism of any of these fine people and their

contributions and ideas, but is intended rather to emphasize the amaz-

ing resistance our entire culture has to confronting its defining behavior,

which is as pervasively obvious as cheeseburger ads and fried chicken

but at the same time as invisible as air and uncannily unapproachable. 

That is because we have all agreed that, at all costs, this truth must

be ignored. One of Carl Jung’s notable contributions was to articulate

the character of the shadow archetype: it is what the self is and includes,

but denies and represses. Though it is repressed, the shadow will be

heard and is invariably projected in harmful and perhaps insidious

Our mistreatment of animals for food is far and away our great-

est cultural shadow. Our collective guilt drives us not only to hide the

violence we eat but also to act it out: in our aggressive lifestyle, in

movies, books, games, and other media, and in the violence we inflict

both directly and indirectly on each other. 

We Are All Mysteries

Our ongoing practice of commodifying animals for food, besides violat-

ing the natural order in profound ways that cause enormous unrecog-

nized suffering to us and to the other animals, also blinds us to what we

and the other animals actually are.*We err if we reduce ourselves to the

status of mere material entities that are born, live awhile, and die. Like

other animals, we are not fundamentally physical beings; we are essen-

tially consciousness. We are all expressions of the infinite creative mys-

tery force that births and sustains the universes of manifestation, and

our bodies and minds are sacred, as are the bodies and minds of all crea-

tures. Like us, animals have feelings and yearnings; they nest, mate,

hunger, and are the conscious subjects of their lives. They make every

effort, as we do, to avoid pain and death and to do what brings them

happiness and fulfillment.

What we human beings are fundamentally is an enormous mystery.

The institutions of science, religion, education, and government have

done very little, ultimately, to reveal to us in any profound or transfor-

mational way what we humans essentially are. We remain perhaps as

mysterious to ourselves as we were in the days of Moses, Buddha,

Confucius, and Jesus. Some may argue that we know more and have

certainly evolved more; others may argue that we know less of what is

truly vital, and are more distracted and benighted than in earlier times.

No one, though, can argue that we are not mysteries to ourselves, for

all our scientific and theological investigations. And, just as we do not

actually know what a man or woman is, neither do we know what a

14 / the world peace diet

*It’s important to say “other animals” here, because to set them apart from us is a tactic of

exclusion used to perpetuate exploitation and cruelty toward these beings. It also reinforces

the absurd notion that humans are not animals–mammals with bodies, brains, glands, repro-

ductive systems, drives, and nervous systems. We feel pain and pleasure like other animals, and

we feel, dream, and relate socially to our species members as other animals do.


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