William Harris, M.D. -- The Scientific Basis of Vegetarianism
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December 1, 1999

VISITORS

Beinge A Shorte Satyrikal Catalogue of Ye Familiar Pathetick Apologies, Evasiones, and

Rationalizationes of Homo Sapiens Carnivorous.

Ubzak and Zeniah beamed in from Cygnus X-1 and astronomers were disappointed. They thought Cygnus X-1 was the leavings of a black hole but it was only Ubzak and Zeniah fooling around in the wave front.

I was the second earthling to catch up with them. Their flying saucer hovering a thousand feet over Sea Life Park on Oahu was an offer I couldn't refuse. I landed my hang glider on their turtle deck. Tricky approach, bad landing, but as I lay sprawled in my bottom wires, Zeniah opened the hatch and flashed me a big grin. He had funny looking teeth, long and pointed, otherwise he looked normal. I wasn't worried. Gorillas have big canines and they only bite bushes.

"Am I glad to see you guys!" I said as Ubzak popped up beside him with the same grin, same suntan, same bulging deltoids. "This planet's a mess. You've got a huge responsibility, we're due for the Big Smoke immediately if not sooner."

"We're glad to see you too," said Zeniah helping me to my feet as the elevator lowered us into the saucer. " Fact is, we'd like to have you for dinner."

"Great," I said. "I really groove on sesame seeds and fruit."

Ubzak flapped the dacron on my 1973 Wills Standard Rogallo and turned away laughing. "They're more more primitive than we thought," he whispered to Zeniah,

"It's not as slick as your mass conservative relativistic degravitator," I admitted, "but it's transportation."

"Our what?" said Zeniah.

"Your flying cyclotron," I said.

"How did you know that?" asked Ubzak suspiciously.

"It's circular so it's likely a particle accelerator. Gooses protons, maybe, to relativistic velocity, deflects them down in a transverse magnetic field, dumps the relativistic mass by slowing them in a horizontal electric field, then a second reversed magnetic field deflects them back into orbit. The first field gets a stronger up jolt than the second field's down jolt so the net result is upward thrust."

"Impressive!" said Zeniah, offering me some food which I took absently. "Why haven't you built one yourself?"

"Glen Seaborg. said it wouldn't go," I sighed, "So I fly hang gliders instead." I did a double take on the morsel he'd given me. "A rubber chicken!" I chortled. "You guys are cards. Where's the dribble glass?"

"OK, you've got the first part," said Zeniah. "What else?"

"Well, the charged particles generate synchrotron radiation and our UFO buffs see the flashing lights. Mind giving me a sample of what you really eat?"

Zeniah bit the chicken out of my hand with a distinctly bony crunch. I became uneasy. "A break!" I said. "I know you don't eat chickens. You're vegetarians. You've got interstellar travel. That means your civilization got through the technology crisis. That means it has a coherent ethical system."

"Why vegetarian?" asked Zeniah.

"Enough, McDuff. We all know supernovas are meateaters signing off," I said. "The universe tells life, 'I'll give you a few billion years of tooth and claw but if you're not civilized by the time you split atoms it's Goodbye Charlie.'"

"You're right," said Zeniak grinning at Ubzak and uncovering a long platter next to the control panel."We are vegetarians. We're peopo-meato-chicko-fisho-ovo-lacto-vegetarians."

"We're scouts for the UZ People Meat Corp. back on Zot," explained Ubzak. "Have some well done Hoolihan." He offered me a slice of what was on the platter, a nicely garnished and well roasted human, flanked by parsley potatoes.

"What we like about you Americans," said Zeniah, "is your richly marbled meat." "There's nothing like steak-fed steak," agreed Ubzak.

I edged back to my hang glider and strapped into the seat. "You guys have been terrific hosts," I said. "If you'll just pop that big bottom hatch over there we've got 5000 feet and I can drop out and slide into Makapuu Beach from here, no bother to you."

"Nonsense!" said Ubzak.

"We like you," said Zeniah.

"You're loud-mouthed and opinionated," said Ubzak.

"You're ingenuous and good," said Zeniah.

"Probably delicious," added Ubzak. "And you're the new liaison officer for the UZ People Meat Corporation." said Zeniah as he started the drive and punched in the coordinates for Washington D.C. I was stuck.

Ethics? You bet I talked ethics, a mile a minute like a tobacco auctioneer on amphetamine but as we arced across the U.S. in sub orbit I found they were tough customers. "We know your history," said Ubzak. "You killed 20 million in World War I, 36 million in World war II..." "...and you never ate any of them," said Zeniak. "Now that's unethical, an unconscionable waste of food. Think of the starving children on Zot."

Washington was a bust. The president was off bombing Kosovo and the visitors had to eat a couple of full dress Marines just to get me in to see the vice president.

"Listen," I told the Veep in a low conspiratorial voice, "there's a flying saucer out on the White House lawn. It's the chance of a lifetime."

"The satellite's tracked 'em for a week," said the bored Veep."What else is new?" I bent over and whispered in his ear, "They're cannibals!"

"So?" said the Veep, working on his ham sandwich.

"So this is a chance to unite the entire world against a common enemy," I said, with Messianic fervor.

"No good," said the Veep. "If we won it would bring peace. What would become of the government?"

"You're right," I said. "I'll sic 'em on the Commies."

"If they ate all the Commies that would bring peace too," scowled the Veep. "Tell them they can have the Earth concession if they promise not to eat anybody important."

A fresh detachment of Marines hauled me back to the saucer.

"We're going to Minnesota," said Ubzak, dragging me aboard. "We need a cheap packing plant and there's one out there with labor problems."

We flew across the midwest at low altitude and Ubzak saw the feeding pens full of cattle. "We used to do that with people," he said. "They're easy to breed and they'll eat anything."

"Too much trouble though," said Zeniah. "They're treacherous for one and for another ungrateful. They never get it they wouldn't live at all except we eat them."

"We had a lot of critics when we phased out the feed pens," said Ubzak. "They said we'd be over run by humans but it turned out all we had to do was stop breeding them."

At the packing plant I explained the situation, Zeniah made some threats, and Ubzak punched out the foreman.

"O.K.," said the foreman at last. "We'll slaughter whatever you've got as long as you meet union scale, have government authorization, and it doesn't interfere with our sheep operation." He started the conveyor and some drunks Ubzak and Zeniah had found outside the Minneapolis bars began their trip to eternity, interspersed with lambs bound for the same destination. A human awoke and saw what was happening.

"Wait!" he shouted desperately as the shackles closed around his ankles. "It's a mistake. I'm too intelligent to slaughter. I'm a mathematician. I can derive Einstein's 256 space curvature tensors.

"That's interesting," said the foreman. "I once stuck a pig who could count."

"I lied!" sobbed the mathematician above the bleating of the sheep hanging beside him. "236 are reducible so there's really only 20."

"It's OK, it's OK," said Ubzak, forgiving him. "There's no space so it doesn't matter if it's curved or not."

The poor mathematicians' tensors were permanently relaxed by the humane stun gun farther along the conveyor.

"Can't you see there's a difference between slaughtering dumb sheep and killing smart people? " I shouted.

"Sure is," said Zeniah. "The sheep are more dignified."

"Don't eat me," wailed a fat lady coming up the conveyor, her white skirt hanging over her head. "I'm a nutritionist. I'm not part of the basic four food groups, there's nothing in me you can't get from other animals."

I scratched my head, confused. It had a familiar ring.

"Five," said Ubzak. "On Zog there are five basic food groups. You're part of the fifth." "There's really only one," I said. "All the essential organic nutrients are synthesized by plants and micro-organisms. She's getting hers second hand from animals. You're getting yours third hand from her."

"Tell it to the Marines," said Zeniah. Ubzak's eyes glazed over with gustatory nostalgia. "Marines!" he exclaimed. "They were very tasty. And such attractive packaging."

A man in a lab coat went by, maintaining his demeanor very well considering he was upside down.

"You're killing the world's leading researcher on brain function and consciousness," he said. "Another hundred macaque vivisections and the answer's in the bag."

"We vivisected humans so we already know the answer," said Zeniah. "The brain's a resonance lattice for a quantum statistical subset. Consciousness is just contrast between the subset and the universal set. And knowing it doesn't change anything."

"And we're not killing you," Ubzak called after him, "we're sacrificing you."

"I have to hand it to you guys," I said with admiration, "you really know your way around a euphemism.

A man wearing a yarmulke was next. "I am the Shochet of St. Paul and you are in violation of rabbinical law!" he thundered. "Shechitah can be carried out only by a man of high moral character! You can only take life with divine sanction, and you must use a knife of perfect sharpness that is absolutely painless when the Shochet cuts the animal's throat."

"A knife of perfect sharpness?" mused Zeniah.

"Would that be one micron thick along the edge?" asked Ubzak, dubiously. "Half a micron? One leaf of the Torah?"

Zeniah took his laser utility and filed the foreman's. gutting blade down to15 ångstroms. "You won't feel a thing now," he said as he performed Shechitah on the Shochet.

I spotted a pretty 12 year old coming along the conveyor, weeping quietly next to a lamb. It seemed I knew her, she was an echo of decency and beauty out of some innocent past. Ubzak and Zeniah weren't looking so I unshackled her and hustled her out the door. Kids aren't much at thank you's but when she quit blubbering she smiled enigmatically and told me I should stop them and her smile invited me to run back in, grab the stun gun and settle their hash right then and there.

But force wouldn't work. Several feisty individuals had already tried shotguns, laser beams, and guided missiles and they bounced off. I'd have to keep hacking away with ethics. Next day I took them to see the bishop of St. Paul.

"Ubzak and Zeniah from Zot," I said as they shook the bishop's hand, "here for moral instruction."

"Ah," said the bishop hospitably. "The three aliens with the unusual food habits."

"Two aliens," I corrected him. "I'm only from Hawaii."

"Nevertheless your food habits are unusual too," said the bishop. "The bible takes a firm position on this matter. God gave us dominion over all beasts of the Earth and also, except for His embarrassing lapse in Genesis1:29, the right to eat them. But to eat other people is a mortal sin."

"Our god," said Zeniah, "gave us dominion over anything that doesn't bite us first, and our god is stronger than your god." He pointed to the saucer parked on the cathedral.dome. Ubzak and Zeniah had the bishop for breakfast. The visitors spent the next day squirting carcasses across the galaxy. Scan the molecules, whip off the signal at the phase velocity, rather than the group velocity, of light, reconstitute at the other end, and presto, fresh people meat 2 days later on Zot. Anxiously I arranged more interviews. They were logical, so it was just a matter of finding logic-oriented ethicists who could show them that stronger and smarter doesn't mean anything goes.

A professor of moral philosophy made the trip to the packing plant and I introduced him to Ubzak, Zeniah, and the foreman.

"Aristotle," said the philosopher above the bleating and special pleading in the background, "argued that humans have reason and mind, unlike animals which exist to provide food and do work. Hence Aristotle would object to your slaughter of humans on the basis of their having mind."

"We agree that humans have reason and mind, " replied Zeniah. "That's why we use the stun gun, it takes away reason and mind at the same time."

"No, no, no!" protested Ubzak. "That's not why. Zeniah's mixed up. The stun gun is part of the Zot Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Humans regulations: 'Only humane slaughter is to be implemented on humans'."

"Humane and slaughter are mutually exclusive words," I said. "The only way out is not to slaughter in the first place."

"If we want your opinion we'll tug on your leash," said Zeniah, roughing me up a bit.

"Rene Descartes," continued the philosopher, "held that humans can speak, unlike dumb animals which hence are mere automatons. Descartes would object on the grounds of discourse."

"They can't speak after Igor up the conveyor cuts their throats," said Zeniah. "You're giving me supercilious replies," objected the philosopher. "You're giving us super silly arguments," answered Ubzak.

"Immanuel Kant," said the discomfitted philosopher, "held that we have categorical imperatives toward other humans since they're conscious."

I took the philosopher aside. "You're going to blow it," I told him. "If you don't include all conscious creatures they'll trash our game. You're talking species specific morality and they'll just claim they're another species."

"What's a categorical imperative?" asked Zeniah as we returned. I knew we were in big trouble right then but the philosopher warmed to his task, explaining Kant to the boys from Zot. Ubzak began to doze off. I began to doze off. The foreman almost fell onto the conveyor. Zeniah snapped out of it, ate the professor, and belched.

"Sorry," he said covering his mouth politely, "philosophers give me gas."

"That stuff's bad for your heart," I said, taking a health tack. "The saturated fat and cholesterol will plug your pipes."

"So what?" said Zeniah. "I'll have them reamed out again."

"Or I'll get another CABG," said Ubzak, proudly displaying the midline scar on his chest. "It will be my fourth."

"Schlockery on crockery," I said. " Why take the risk when you can avoid the whole mess with a change of diet?"

"What risk, what mess?" asked Ubzak. "On Zot it's a simple twenty minute procedure."

"Think of the expense," I said. "Big bucks to be sick, no charge at all to be healthy."

"Sickness advances medical technology," said Zeniah. "And it keeps the bypass surgeons off the streets," said Ubzak.

Ubzak and Zeniah decided on a vacation. They'd read Hemingway's stirring accounts of big game hunting so we were off to Africa to charter a plane and its hunter/pilot. I thought it was a plus. Maybe they'd stop eating people and go after the animals, which would be no worse than what was happening before they arrived. The first night on safari Ubzak, Zeniah, and the hunter sat around the fire dining on springbok. I nibbled mongongo nuts supplied by some friendly !Kung bushmen and listened to the conversation.

"Hunters have a primal bond with animals," said the hunter. "We watch over them like big brothers, we cull the herds, optimize their numbers, and protect their environment."

I jammed my hand up the springbok's severed neck until my fingers could manipulate its jaws like a hand puppet.

"We're overcome by your altruism," said the springbok's head, "and we can't imagine how we ever got along without you."

"Predation is the ecological niche for superior creatures," observed Zeniah. "Inferior creatures eat each other, why shouldn't we eat them?"

"Sounds convenient," said the springbok's head. "That way the superior creatures get to use the inferior creatures for food and for moral guides at the same time."

"Tomorrow we'll be tracking the big carnivorous cats," cautioned the hunter. "It's a challenge to masculinity, there's a real danger they'll get you first. "

"If it's a real danger, how come there aren't as many dead hunters as dead lions?"

"Fool!" said the hunter, glaring at me. "People are murdering people by the gross and you're upset about killing a few animals."

"Fool!" said the springbok's head. "How did people learn to murder each other? They practiced on animals."

"The ultimate challenge would be hunting humans," remarked Ubzak off-handedly.

"I suppose so," yawned the hunter, "but fortunately it's against the law."

"We're the law," said Zeniah, suddenly intense. "And to show we're sports," said Ubzak, "we'll give you a five minute head start."

"You can even take your rifle and two rounds," said Zeniah magnanimously. A heated argument followed, lost by the hunter .

"Aim for the tops of their heads," I whispered to him as he started out of camp. "They've got soft spots. Their anterior fontanelles never closed."

"Who gave them the right to do this?" asked the anguished hunter. "Nobody," I said. "There are no rights. Rights are a legal fiction. If there were rights you wouldn't be shooting springbok." I ran off to borrow a blow gun from the !Kung but by the time I got back to help the hunter Ubzak and Zeniah already had him strapped into the plane's trophy rack.

"What a disappointment!" exclaimed Ubzak. "The springbok at least gave us a chase. This bean stood in the open and aimed at our anterior fontanelles. It's our only soft spot so there's steel plate underneath."

"It's all right," said Zeniah. "I'll mount his head in my den and maybe get a rug out of the hide."

"Nice eye, fellas," I said, hiding my chagrin, "but now that our pilot's gone how do we get out of here?"

"You fly the plane," demanded Ubzak. "It's your primitive technology, you be responsible for it."

I started the engine and we bounced across the veldt, splattered an elephant bolus and fell into the air. The situation was critical. Killing animals hadn't made them stop killing people and if I took them back they'd do it some more. I yanked back on the yoke, kicked hard left rudder, and snap rolled the ship. The engine tore out and we went into a flat spin. "Flimsy little thing," observed Ubzak.

"Hard to control too," said Zeniah as they both went out the door and rode their G belts to the ground. I jumped after them and fell 500 feet into a water hole. Ubzak and Zeniah fished me out just ahead of a charging hippo.

"Chickee Boy did a 10-1/2 twisting reverse 15-1/2 sommersault!" cried Zeniah." I'll give him a nine point eight."

"I give him a three," said Ubzak. "Foot first entry and his toes weren't pointed."

"'t's OK," I gasped. "I'll win on difficulty."

Ubzak and Zeniah dropped me off at the nearest native practitioner's hut. "Kid, you've been a barrel of fun," said Ubzak, "and a real eye opener. Imagine living on vegetables. Bizarre! We knew this planet was crazy we just didn't know how crazy."

I coughed out one last question: "You guys know it's wrong to kill people, and eating them is unnecessary and bad for your health. How can you justify it?"

"Hey, no sweat," said Zeniah, flashing his pearly grin. "They taste good."

Ubzak and Zeniah caught the noon balloon to Rangoon and the witch doctor put on his mask and danced around my pallet for a few days. My spleen stopped oozing, my bleeding kidneys cleared up, and my collapsed lung re-expanded. I paid off the witch doctor with a dozen ampoules of injectable penicillin and he said thanks but he didn't believe in that stuff. I hobbled away.

Meanwhile Ubzak and Zeniah had been recalled to Zog. Big snafu, they'd sent off a bad batch of meat, no fat just sinew, bone and a little muscle. By mistake they'd done in a commune of vegetarians.

The scourge was gone. I stood awry on a busy Minneapolis street corner, flailing my arms and orating to no one in particular. Three kinds of people get to do that, politicians, preachers, and crazy folks and you can't always tell the difference.

"Cannibals!" I shouted. "There are cannibals in the universe! And the universe doesn't care! Anything that can happen will happen! If you want a better world you've got to make it better, nobody upstairs is going to do it for you. Whether it's a grave or a rose garden is up to you! If you eat other animals they won't like you. You're body won't like you and your civilization won't work! The universe doesn't like you to begin with. Nine billion animals died last year to feed something the universe doesn't care about. Human life could go poof and the cosmos wouldn't twitch. There's nothing between us and the poof except ethics, and that only comes from the heart, and if your heart isn't kind enough to know that other animals are conscious, and suffer pain, and fear death the same as you then there's no way to stop the slaughter and that means there's no way the human race can survive!"

Several cops had decided I was neither a politician nor a preacher, which left the third category. They were moving in when the pretty little girl I'd rescued from the conveyor ran up. "Wait!" she implored. "I know him. Give him to me, I'll get him home." The angel child took my hand and smiled her enigmatic smile. My still blackened eyes filled with tears, there was hope after all. There was decency and beauty, there was sympathy and pity. Ubzak and Zeniah were aberrations, the angel baby was the stuff of the world.

I limped after her a few blocks and the pretty little girl sat down under a fruiting apple tree, opened her school lunchbox and pulled out a lamb sandwich. She took a bite, then giggled, smiled , and winked.

-William Harris, M.D.