There is no getting around it – people are hard to live with

Augustus_Leopold_Egg_-_The_Life_of_Buckingham_-_Google_Art_ProjectThe Life of Buckingham by Augustus Leopold Egg

“You seem to be under the impression that there is a special breed of bad humans. There is no such thing as a stereotype bad man in this world. Under normal conditions, everybody is more or less good, or, at least, ordinary. But tempt them, and they may suddenly change. That is what is so frightening about men.” ― Sōseki Natsume

A few years ago I was forced to lie around a lot and watch daytime television. For someone who lives in the land of nighttime viewing, this was a culture shock. By which I became utterly fascinated.

There was one show in particular, a cooking, wining and dining reality TV series which gathered together four or five strangers and invited them to throw dinner parties for each other over the course of a week. A recipe for entertaining disaster as the puppet-masters behind the show were careful to choose characters who would clash.

Every now and then a vegetarian would be thrown in with a pack of carnivores. The vegetarian was rarely a laid back, eat and let eat kind of person. Those sort of vegetarians were not what the show wanted. They liked the activist vegetarian who considered themselves virtuous for murdering helpless vegetables instead of fluffy animals. They were on a saintly mission to convert sinners.

The sinners always went out of their way to prepare a vegetarian meal for their carnivore-loathing guest. This consideration added to their workload and occasionally created a ripple effect which would cause their carefully planned cooking times to go to pot. Still, it was all a part of the challenge of the show, and many of the carnivores enjoyed learning vegetarian recipes as this added to their cookery collection.

The vegetarian would spend the entire dinner forgetting that this was a dinner party, that they were a guest in someone else’s house, which meant being sociable and considerate of the other guests and the host. They felt special because they were vegetarian, thus superior to carnivores, and because so much effort had been made to accommodate their dietary needs they ended up making a meal of the meal. They would eye each dish placed before them like a pedantic food critic, poke it suspiciously with a fork, and then proceed to complain that not enough thought had gone into the food. That vegetarian food was as creative and interesting as carnivore food, and much healthier for you if you did it properly, unfortunately stupid carnivores always botched vegetarian recipes.

The host and other guests did their very best to stay positive and calm, dismissing any squabbles they may have had with each other to band together against a common nuisance. Occasionally a small argument would rumble over the table threatening to spill rain and lightning, usually started by the vegetarian who was permanently on the defensive – meat eaters are dangerous, after all humans are made of meat too. The carnivores tried to tactfully turn the conversation on to others things, such as the other guests at the dinner party, which wasn’t an easy feat as the vegetarian quite liked being the centre of annoyed attention.

“He was grand in his convictions. He would stride forward to meet his own destruction.” ― Sōseki Natsume

When it was the vegetarian’s turn to host the dinner they did not apply to the making of their meal any of the consideration which had been given to them. They were the special one, the star of the show and they knew it. They had a menu and stuck to it rigidly. Making sure their guests had no opportunity to complain by telling each one immediately that a vegetarian not only could not eat meat but would not cook it either as this was part of their ethos. They would not be disloyal to their values, not for anyone even if someone’s life depended on it, some principles are worth dying for, and thus anyone who was under their roof had to live by them too. Which the carnivores understood without the need to be told and they were for the most part up for trying a completely vegetarian meal as this was part of the fun of the show, to try out new foods, dishes and recipes. What they did object to was being lectured by their host who seemed determined to turn the dinner party into a party political broadcast.

I think the producers of the show must have received complaints from less radical vegetarians who felt that they were being portrayed in a less than truthful light for the sake of the program’s aim to provoke a drama for its viewers’ pleasure and pleasurable displeasure. Humans love to get outraged at the behaviour of other humans.

“It is painfully easy to define human beings. They are beings who, for no good reason at all, create their own unnecessary suffering.” ― Sōseki Natsume

So to appease the complainers before their numbers increased and the show received a slap on the wrist from Ofcom – UK TV’s regulator – one episode featured the most laid back, utterly sweet and considerate contestants the show had ever had, who was a vegetarian, cooked a vegetarian feast when it was their turn to host but offered to accommodate the carnivores should they need to eat meat, and when they were a guest they were rapturously happy and grateful that so much effort had been made on their behalf.

It was a very enjoyable episode because it finally gave a balanced view, and frankly all the people in it were great characters, the kind who inspire you with a wish to partake of the fun they were having during the filming of the show. I guess the producers decided to push the gravy boat out and pick a group of people whose characters complemented each other rather than conflicted for once.

This isn’t really about vegetarians and carnivores, it’s about a typically human problem – we like to split the world and people into good or bad, virtue or vice, saint or sinner, and so on. We do this for a million reasons and excuses. Sometimes it’s logically and at other times it is illogical. Sometimes it makes our life better and sometimes worse. Or it makes our life better while making it worse for someone else, someone we don’t care about unless we’re using them as a rung on a ladder to climb up that invisible stairway to heaven. Or it makes life worse for us while making it better for another, because if we consider ourselves to be a sinner someone else is always happy to confirm that for us as our vice is used to polish their halo.

The vice which annoys me the most in others is virtue. Not the quiet kind which goes about its business, natural and easy going, but the kind which makes it its business to point out the vices of others from the illusory safety of its ivory tower oblivious to the fact that ivory towers are so high its inhabitants lose touch with the ground, lack perspective due to cloud cover, and the oxygen up there can cause thinking to become confused.

“Use your intellect to guide you, and you will end up putting people off. Rely on your emotions, and you will forever be pushed around. Force your will on others, and you will live in constant tension. There is no getting around it—people are hard to live with.” ― Sōseki Natsume