Life as a Vegetarian

As some frequent readers of will know, I am currently serving my two plus years of national service — at present I am undergoing something called BMT, or Basic Military Training.

I have been posted to Charlie company (one company consists of about two hundred recruits). In my company, there are only two vegetarians, one of whom is me, the other a muslim who is probably vegetarian for religious purposes.

Vegetarianism, I believe, is not very popular in Singapore, and especially not so among the male Singaporeans.

Why I am a vegetarian

I turned vegetarian really out of fun. My sis had just started trying out the vegetarian lifestyle, and I thought “why not?”, and decided to join her. For a year I ate no meat except seafood; this was followed by my completely cutting out seafood as well.

My turning vegetarian has nothing to do with religion (or, at least, very little; you could argue that Catholic’s no meat on friday had something to do with it), and little to do with health (I only learned recently that those with blood type A might benefit from a vegetarian diet).

After I got myself an Apple eMac though, I have started to have doubts as to whether or not my turning vegetarian had something to do with my wanting to be “different” — I am not proud of wanting to be different, but I would not rule that reason out; I do like the limelight once in a while.

Missing meat

One of the most frequent questions I get asked about vegetarianism, especially after one learns I converted out of “fun” as recently as three years ago, is whether or not I get cravings for meat. The answer is “no”.

Cravings for meat is something meat-eaters get, but not for most vegetarians.

You can understand other beings only to the extent that you know yourself.

A person who had never consciously experienced bodily pain could not possibly know anything about the pain suffered by others.

E. F. Schumacher, A Guide for the Perplexed

Harder to eat meat

I have had people praising me for my “faithfulness” and discipline to keeping to a vegetarian diet for so long. Perhaps I should make it clear that being vegetarian no longer requires much discipline nor effort. At the start of my conversion, I have to admit it took some effort. Right now though, if you asked me which was easier, being a meat-eater or a vegetarian, the answer would most definitely be “vegetarian”.

It is harder to convert back to eating-meat than it is to remain where I am. As such, as much as people praise me for remaining vegetarian, I can praise them for remaining meat-eaters.

Problems with vegetarianism

Vegetarianism has played with my mind a bit. I used to have no qualms squashing ants or slapping mosquitoes — “die! die! die! to hell with you pesky insects!”. After a year or so of a meatless diet though, killing even the peskiest, most terrible insects, feels like sin.

Eating out with friends also becomes quite a bother. No more McDonald’s or most other fast-food restaurants anymore, and barbeques can be difficult to plan.

Majority rule

I guess the problems that plague Mac users are very often similar to the problems that plague vegetarians — too many companies cater only to the majority, leaving out the minority to fend for themselves. If the majority of the people were vegetarians, eating out wouldn’t be a problem, nor would people have problems catering to vegetarians at barbeques.

Perhaps that too reflects “democracy” — majority rule may work most of the time, but “most of the time”, when concerning the lives of millions, may be too little. If an elected government wins by 75% of the votes, you can say that it was a convincing win, and that one should be in pretty safe hands.

But 25% is no small percentage. When do we get returns of our money that large? Do banks ever pay interest so high? If a shop offers discounts of 25%, we would believe it is a good deal, so what makes us so generous with the voting of the government?

But then again, are humans meant to be governed in the first place?

On Forgiveness

As I looked over at the guy who insisted he did not have a standard item issued to all of us recruits, I sympathised with him in that he honestly thought he did not have it, but would probably find out later he did.

As I sympathised, an acquaintance of mine cursed with terrible contempt, thinking this recruit was a stubborn idiot who refused to withhold his continuing insistence that he did not have it, and instead go find it.

Before that, this same acquaintance was though of by me as a “nice chap”, a person quite likeable. After his show of contempt, I started to hold him in contempt.

Then I caught myself, and just brushed away that incident — judge not a person you do not understand. Seek to understand, and judgement will cease.

On hindsight, I realised that I did not withhold judgement, for I felt all my acquaintance felt, only I did not express any of it. If even I, aware of my passing judgement, could not stop, how could I expect one who was probably not aware, to stop?

Seek Understanding

Not to mock, lament, or execrate but to understand human actions.

— Spinoza

In the book A Short Treatise on the Great Virtues, Andre Comte-Sponville wrote something that struck me, though it took a few reads before I truly absorbed it:

We bear no grudge against the rain for falling or lightning for striking, as I said, and consequently there is nothing to forgive them for. Can’t the same thing be said of the wicked, in the end, and isn’t this the true miracle of mercy — which is no miracle at all?… Man does not stand apart from the world: everything is real, everything is true, both good and evil, which is why good and evil do not exist independently of our love of the one and our hatred of the other.

If one treats man as part of nature, that we are no different from the rain or lightning, then should we not be more accepting of both the good and the bad of us?

A Break from the Army

I’m back for about 30 hours. Tomorrow, I’ll be booking back in, taking a boat back to the island I have dreaded for the past two and a half weeks. The training I am currently undergoing is BMT, or Basic Military Training, which lasts a total of 10 weeks.

It hasn’t exactly been that bad, but still, it is far from “good”. Of course, whether the experience has been good or bad, would really depend on what your goals and expectations were before you went in.

Take for example a recruit who decides that he wants to shape up, lose some weight, basically improve his general physical fitness. That recruit would almost certainly be able to achieve that goal through BMT, thus generating a positive response.

If, however, a recruit simply wishes to get through this trying period as quickly as possible, like me, then he would almost certainly be disappointed. “All pain is temporary”, but pain that one wishes gone as soon as possible lasts for an eternity, thus generating a negative response.

My goals have changed somewhat during the course of the last two weeks — I would go mad just wishing for these 10 weeks (of BMT) to pass by, since after these 10 weeks, comes another two more years of National Service (doing other types of training/duties, depending on how well one performs during BMT). Wishing two years to pass by quickly every day would be akin to wishing the sky would drop to end our rather needless existence.

Always Been Done this Way

I wonder if philosophers have ever thought much about the way the military trains its solidiers.

Much of what I have been through is utterly ridiculous. If you complain about the reason why something ridiculous is done, you will often get an answer along the lines of “it has always been done this way”, or “it instills discipline”.

I am, by and large, unhappy while in camp. I long for changes, and often wonder why things are being done the way they are currently being done. But if I ran a military school, I wonder if I would run it differently, if the objective was the same. The military trains us for something called war.

When one thinks about war in a moral sense, not in a biological “we were programmed this way” or “survival of the fittest” sense, war is absurd and stupid. The things military training puts you through are, similarly (and rightfully so), absurd and stupid.

Take a gun, be a marksman, and kill that f*cking solider, who by some chance, was born on the other side of the border. Do not care that he has a son whom he is so proud of, or a wife he loves dearly, or parents who visit him during Christmas. Forget too that you frequent his website that you once praised, or that he is truly a living, breathing human being.

He is the enemy. He must die. Forget that he is just listening to orders. Only know that he was asked to kill you. Shoot that f*cker down. Make him pay with his life for that piece of land your government so coverts.

And as you lie dying, shot through the heart by your enemy’s gun, know that you should be proud to die for your country, for you were born there, behind a border stipulated by a piece of paper — an imaginary line your forefathers drew, to separate us from them.

Kill proud. Die proud.


On Travel

It was early morning when we arrived in Melbourne, Australia. The first thing I noticed when I stepped off the plane was how cold and dry the air was, the very thing I had been looking forward to; Singapore’s a nice place, but the heat and humidity is reminiscent of a sauna, not something one can, or should, endure for years on end without break.

My first thought as I stepped into the new air was to bottle it for use back home; the very absurdity of that thought made me smile for a moment, but was soon replaced by a sad longing for Aladdin’s Lamp — “he would be able to bring it home” I thought to myself.

I have never been a good traveller. If I like a place, I would keep on harping on the fact that this trip, like so many things in life, will end soon. If I do not like a place, I would keep on harping on the fact that this trip, like so many things in life, still has an eternity to go before it ends.

Melbourne was in the disposition of the former — it reminded me much of Singapore, but with nicer weather. Every single day there though, reminded me that the trip was going to end soon. I was never actually very happy there, especially so since I liked the place.

What is to be done?

As she told me her mobile phone’s number, various thoughts ran through my mind. Besides that of panic, there was that of confusion as well. When when receives a number, one has to ask: “What is to be done?”

Roland Barthes put it so well in his book A Lover’s Discourse:

My anxieties as to behaviour are futile, ever more so, to infinity. If the other, incidentally or negligently, gives the telephone number of a place where he or she can be reached at certain times, I immediately grow baffled: should I telephone or shouldn’t I? (It would so not good to me that I can telephone — that is the objective, reasonable meaning of the message — for it is precisely this permission I don’t know how to handle.

What is futile is what apparently has and will have no consequence. But for me, an amorous subject, everything which is new, everything which disturbs, is received not as a fact but in the aspect of a sign which must be interpreted. From the lover’s point of view, the fact becomes consequential because it is immediately transformed into a sign: it is the sign, not the fact, which is consequential (by its aura). If the other has given me this new telephone number, what was that the sign of? Was it an invitation to telephone right away, for the pleasure of the call, or only should the occasion arise, out of neccessity? My answer itself will be a sign, which the other will inevitably interpret, thereby releasing, between us, a tumultuous maneuvering of images. Everything signifies: by this proposition, I entrap myself, I bind myself in calculations, I keep myself from enjoyment.

Sometimes, by dint of deliberating about “nothing” (as the world sees it), I exhaust myself; then I try, in reaction, to return — like a drowning man who stamps on the floor of the sea — to a spontaneous decision (spontaneity: the great dream: paradise, power, delight): go on, telephone, since you want to! But such recourse is futile: amorous time does not permit the subject to align impulse and action, to make them coincide: I am not the man of mere “acting out” — my madness is tempered, it is not seen; it is right away that I fear consequences, any consequence: it is my fear — my deliberation — which is “spontaneous”.

And in an age of e-mail and mobile phones, it gets even more confusing. Mobile phones allow us to be reached anytime, anywhere. Instead of waiting for her to get home (should I know she is off school or work) before I call, the mobile phone expands this time-frame into practically the whole day.

With e-mail, one wonders whether to treat it as an instant messanger — how long till my next reply? How long shall I wait before I send my reply (being an eager beaver, my drafts can be crafted days before they are sent)? Do I wait to send my reply, as if it was traditional mail, or click “send” the moment I craft a draft I’m happy with?

Just what is to be done?