Among the life decisions of León Tolstoy, without a doubt one of the most interesting is that which led him to renounce the privileges of his class. Not many may know that Tolstoy was a member of the Russian nobility and that for a long time he held the title of count, which he inherited from his father. Yet, apparently fed up with the frivolity of the aristocracy, he turned his back on his position and his riches and embraced a much simpler, but meaningful life; he, who witnessed the horrors of war and wrote about them, signed a pacifist ideology and even argued in favor of a certain civilized anarchism, where the individual collapsed the alienation generated by the State in favor of both his own person and collective work with his peers (we abound about these ideas in this note).
In his work it is also possible to find effects of this change of life, for example, a book dedicated to commenting on the Gospels (which, anecdotally, Ludwig Wittgenstein read with interest when he volunteered in World War I), in addition to other writings in around philosophical, spiritual and even theological ideas aimed at freeing human beings from obedience, vices and other evils that prevent us from developing our potential, individually and collectively.
As part of that way of life (or, rather, of the natural congruence that arises when a person becomes aware of his life), Tolstoy also adopted a meat-free diet, a logical decision once he chose to combat all forms of violence.
As we know, except for primitive times or in remote times of deep spirituality, the history of meat consumption has almost always been associated with varying degrees of suffering towards animals, in virtually all stages of their production.
In "The First Step, " an essay from 1891, Tolstoy wrote:
If someone really and seriously seeks to live a good life, the first thing they would have to abstain from forever is to consume meat, because, not to mention all the excitement of passions caused by that type of food, their consumption is simply immoral, in the extent to which it involves the performance of an act that goes against all moral sense: kill.
You cannot pretend ignorance, because we are not ostriches; We cannot believe that if we do not look, what we do not want to see will not happen. More impossible is not wanting to see what we eat.
Young, kind, unblemished people - especially women and girls, without knowing how this follows logically, feel that virtue is incompatible with veal fillets and, as soon as they want to be good, they abandon meat consumption.
As we can see, Tolstoy frames that choice of diet in a much broader way of life that, briefly, can be characterized by its orientation towards virtue, a "moral life, " as he says in that same section of his essay. He himself, on the other hand, accepts that it is not necessary to stop eating meat to be good, but at the same time he suggests that once awareness of certain aspects of existence is made, the very coherence of this “awakening” leads to modifying the way we live, in small actions perhaps, and in others of greater importance, but in any case guided by that moral will to live well. Tolstoy tells us:
What do I want to try? Do men, to be good, must stop eating meat? Do not.
I only want to demonstrate that, in order to lead a moral life, it is indispensable to acquire progressively the necessary qualities, and that of all the virtues, the first thing to conquer is sobriety, the will to dominate the passions. Tending towards abstinence, man will necessarily follow a certain well-defined order, and in that order, the first virtue will be sobriety in food, relative fasting.
To close this note we would like to say that each person is free to do what he pleases with the food he consumes; However, that is not true. Freedom is not something that we are given in the world, that we have de facto, but rather something that is constructed personally, depending on the circumstances. Have you ever wondered how many of your eating habits are determined by the interests of a company, for example? Where does the idea that breakfast is the most important meal of the day or that the human body needs to eat meat to stay healthy come from? It is not easy to talk about freedom when there are so many factors involved in a "simple" eating habit.
Beyond vegetarianism, Tolstoy's argument can also be taken as an invitation to reflect on the course of our existence, if it is oriented to what we really want for our lives.
In this link, a PDF version of "The first step", the Tolstoy essay.
In Pajama Surf : León Tolstoy on how the State alienates us (and how to free ourselves from its influence)