I have, however, gone to the theatre a couple of times, once to watch the all-black revival of Death of a Salesman at the Piccadilly Theatre, and another time to watch & Juliet at the Shaftesbury Theatre. The former made me cry; the latter put a smile on my face. It's a new musical that re-imagines the ending of Romeo & Juliet to Max Martin's greatest hits. Since I was a huge Backstreet Boys fan, it was fun hearing the songs that I grew up with performed really well on that stage, and re-conceptualised to fit the (rather thin) plot. It was good fun.
Death of a Salesman, however, hit rather too close to home. It speaks either to the timelessness of the play or to my self-absorbed nature that the racial element of the revival was quite lost on me even if it was literally staring me in the face. But I was moved to tears towards the end, when Biff tells Willy Loman that he (Biff) is a 'dime in a dozen', and maybe so is he (Willy). Willy responds with outrage and indignation, protesting that he, Willy Loman, cannot be a dime in a dozen; he's Willy Loman, as if invoking his own name with passion and conviction should mean anything at all. And the very last scene, when it's revealed that Willy was good with his hands and could have been a great carpenter or handyman instead of an average salesman, and Biff says of his father, 'He never knew who he was.'
Of course, the play is about the American Dream, or the illusory notion that we can all be great as long as we put our minds to it. For me, though, I saw a man obsessed with the idea that being average, or a 'dime in a dozen', is somehow a failure. And this moved me because I grew up with this idea. I grew up not wanting to be average, not wanting to be like everyone else, wanting something more than the average existence of the average person, and for some reason, believing that I am entitled to the opposite of average. I have dreamt of greatness for as long as I can remember. And it has been this rather mindless and blind pursuit of a nebulous aim--greatness, whatever this means; non-averageness--that has led me to where I am today. That is: in my quest to escape the shackling confines of 'a dime in a dozen', I found myself being quite literally a dime in a dozen--one of many PhD in Law candidates at the University of Cambridge.
So what? I've thought that for the past three, four years, ever since the sheen wore off and I saw the dream for what it was: a shapeless, faceless, formless mass of nothingness, a blur of fast-moving images that didn't resemble who I really was. I don't want to be spoken of like Willy Loman: She never knew who she was. I struggled through the PhD because it wasn't who I am, I wasn't living the best version of myself, it didn't excite me. In the end, it was a continued divergence and escape from what I really want to do, who I really am. I have known who I am for as long as I can remember. I just never had the courage, the conviction, the belief, and the discipline to live it.
I think I came to a conclusion a month or so ago, or perhaps even earlier than that; perhaps I wrote about it when I wrote about finally submitting my thesis. I concluded that I didn't want the academic life, I didn't want the academic career, I wanted a day job that would allow me to focus on writing.
But I watched Joaquin Phoenix in Joker, and all of that has changed.
Okay, that is stating it rather too dramatically. What happened was this: E and I watched Joker, I rekinkled my 2001-era love for Joaquin, I read an article about him comforting pigs on their way to being slaughtered, and clicked on the accompanying video. A few seconds later, I closed the browser and started crying.
All I saw was a frame, close-up, of a pig, locked up in the transport van, and all I could see were its snout and eyes from the ventilation holes of the van. That was all I saw. And it was heartbreaking enough.
After this, I found myself thinking about animal ethics. I thought about how, despite my abject and abhorrent hypocrisy (i.e. I was "pesco-vegetarian" for most of my life even though it's a contradiction in terms), the animals issue has been something that has always moved me. I thought about the fact that I didn't explore it academically because it affects me so much that it provokes an unbearable emotional response. I thought about where I am in my life, what I have done, what I have not done. I thought about my thesis, my soon-to-be-conferred degree, the university that will be conferring it.
It then seemed absolutely obvious, what I should do for the next few years of my life. I should do a post-doc project on animal ethics; specifically, a non-rights approach to animal ethics, and non-rights because, per most things in my life, my familiarity with rights has caused me to become jaded towards rights. Also, I think--and this is just a hunch--talking about animal rights is putting the cart before the horse. But that's not the point of this entry.
The point of this entry is to record two important and life-changing decisions that I have made over the past few weeks. The first is that I am not quitting academia just yet. And I think this time, it will be more fulfilling than the PhD process because I am driven by the urgency of the issue, and my utmost conviction that there is a grave and deeply entrenched error (including moral error) that the majority of people are perpetuating that needs correcting. I know that it will be frustrating, I will get very fucking angry very often, I will hate humanity more times than I can count. Basically, it will be like how I'm feeling these days about the state of the world, but on steroids. Can't wait.
Of course, I'll need to apply to institutions for fellowships, which means I need to boost my CV--which is why I have finally gone back to the comparative piece between India's 377 decision and Singapore's 377A case that I wrote last year. After this, I need to move away from 1) sexual ethics and LGB rights and 2) Asia. I'm not an 'Asian' scholar, I don't want to be in that box, and so I need to move on. I was contacted by a publisher to contribute to a book on sexual ethics. Apart from how this publication probably wouldn't count for very much, I considered coming up with some communitarian approach shit to it, basically take ideas from my thesis and adapt them, but dismissed it after a while. I think I have said all that I want to say about homosexuality in the article that I published in that one journal. There is nothing more that I want to say. What else is there to say after I've already argued that the arguments for its immorality are unconvincing, and that homosexuality is morally permissible? It seems obvious to me how we ought to treat gay people. It's not my problem, and certainly not something that I'm interested in intellectually, that some people are prevented from the right action by privately held views, if you know what I mean.
Anyway. The point is, postdoc on animal ethics. I had an idea for it already in March when I submitted an abstract to a postgrad conference in Ireland. I was going to abandon it along with my academic career, but after failing to watch the video of Joaquin's animal rights activism, I think I absolutely have to do it. And it's the only reason academia is appealing at all. I was so ready to ditch all of it because the PhD has been hell...but if I were the sort of person to force a non-existent coherent narrative in my own life, I would probably say that the PhD happened for a reason.
On second thought, no, that doesn't make any sense even hypothetically.
This leads me to the second important decision: I am going vegan. I'd started buying and cooking vegan when E and I stumbled upon an animal rights march in Trafalgar Square when we were looking for the Hong Kong solidarity rally (or rather, I was looking, and he allowed himself to be dragged to it), and I felt so sad about the animals that we exploit in absolutely barbaric ways for absolutely unnecessary reasons. But I wasn't ready to go completely vegan and carved out exceptions for myself. For instance, I said that if someone cooked me something vegetarian or bought me something vegetarian, I would eat it.
Yesterday, I read an article in the Independent about how a supermarket chain in the UK is sourcing its dairy from farms that only kill bull calves when they've lived for eight weeks as opposed to within 48 hours of their birth.
That did it for me. I didn't know about this particular practice of the dairy industry--which points to a larger personal failing over the past few years: I have deliberately not done my research on the egg and dairy industries' treatment of animals just so I could keep saying that 'I don't object to the consumption of animal products per se; it's the cruelty that's produced as a result that I object to'. Well, if I didn't know because didn't want to know what these cruel practices actually are, of course I could keep eating fucking eggs produced by an industry that grind male chicks alive and eat fucking dairy products that bull calves have to die for. Talk about burying my head deep in the sand. And I think it's even worse that it's taken me so long to take this step than all the people who are still eating meat because I know the philosophical arguments, I know that there is no morally relevant difference between a human and non-human animal...and yet, I was complicit in their barbaric exploitation.
I have been living my life with ethical cowardice and moral permissiveness, and a general lack of courage to fully live up to my convictions. I'm done being a moral and ethical coward and hypocrite. I will finish the last vegetarian thing that I have in the house, and that's it. No more.
It absolutely breaks my heart, the way we treat non-human animals. And this is why I know that giving up all the foods that I have loved is worth it. Besides, there are so many vegan desserts that are just as good as the non-vegan ones. I've just finished the last of my box-of-three Magnum vegan ice-cream, and I discovered this delicious vegan chocolates at the Vegan Fest that I went to with John a couple of weeks ago. I don't think I will ever like vegan cheese, but I can do without it.
Ultimately, the satiation of my taste buds seems a horribly stupid reason for billions of animals to suffer and die. We don't need to eat animal products, certainly don't need to eat meat. Pit against that the fact that 28 animals per second are slaughtered in the UK (if I remember correctly) for food, and that bull calves are brought into existence just to die for no fucking reason other than some humans 'need' milk (no, you don't).
So yes. This animal ethics postdoc is necessary, and it will be even more amazing than my thesis.