Your plant-based fabric softener still kills.

I should say “our” plant-based fabric softener. We’re trying one. That’s cool, don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against it whatsoever. As an animist though, I have to question some of its logic. The big thing is that it uses plant-based softeners, i.e. vegetable oils, instead of tallow, which is rendered animal fat, in case you didn’t know that.

We’re told by the bottle that many fabric softeners leave your clothes coated with a tallow-based residue, which comes from animals! Now you can use a fabric softener without worrying about where it comes from! So right away, since I’m a cynical bastard, I’m led to think of a couple things.

1. I know where it comes from, you just told me, it’s rendered animal fat.
2. Notice they neglected to mention this means your clothes will be coated with a vegetable fat residue. If coating was the problem, you’d think they would’ve mentioned that their stuff doesn’t coat your clothing with residue.

Those are minor issues though. I want to tackle something bigger. Tallow is basically an animal waste byproduct. In other words, when they kill cows for meat, or if a cow dies, or ends up at a processing plant for some reason, its fat is used to make tallow. So my point is, using plant fat probably isn’t going to reduce animal deaths, and it’s actually kind of anti-recycling. The whole point of tallow is, OK, damn, we’ve gotten rid of all the edible stuff and bone and whatever, now what do we do with the stuff that’s left?

But there’s an even larger issue. As an animist, I realize something most people aren’t going to get. Your vegetable-based fabric softener still kills stuff. Whether you believe, as I do for obvious reasons, that plants have spirits or not, we still classify plants as alive. They just don’t breathe and walk around. I think Joseph Campbell put it best in “The Power of Myth”:

Now, one of the main problems of mythology is reconciling the mind to this brutal precondition of all life, which lives by the killing and eating of lives. You don’t kid yourself by eating only vegetables, either, for they, too, are alive. So the essence of life is this eating of itself! Life lives on lives, and the reconciliation of the human mind and sensibilities to that fundamental fact is one of the functions of some of those very brutal rites in which the ritual consists chiefly of killing-in imitation, as it were, of that first, primordial crime, out of which arose this temporal world, in which we all participate. The reconciliation of mind to the conditions of life is fundamental to all creation stories. They’re very like each other in this respect.

I’m not sure I agree with him on creation stories and rituals, but leave that aside, because it’s not the main point. The point is, as he says, life feeds on life, and vegetables don’t let you escape this very basic fact. Western culture seems to give primacy to consciousness, which is why we feel squeamish about animal killing, they breathe and walk around like us, but not so squeamish about insect killing, they’re creepy alien pests. Plants lack consciousness, as far as we’re concerned, so we admit their life in a technical sense, for the most part.

But plants are alive. I think people should confront that fact. If your logic is, well sure, but animals are closer to us, that’s fine, but admit it. Quit trying to dodge the fact that you kill. If you eat, you kill. Period, full stop, end of story. In fact, if you live, you kill. That’s not a call for unlicensed killing of animals, spoilage of the environment, and so on. While I’m at it, I may as well discuss why I think it’s perfectly ethical to eat animals.

Some vegetarians will have it that, to put it in slogan form, meat is murder. OK, sure. Meat is killing anyway. In fact that’s my point above, plants are killing too, you can’t escape killing. So am I saying we should be in an agony about eating? No, quite the opposite. If you’re uncomfortable about killing, figure out what you can deal with, and what you can’t. Well if everything’s killing, that’s why we can eat animals, right?

No, not really. My reasoning goes like this. The Buddhists say, this may only apply to monks, that you can eat meat, provided the animal wasn’t specifically killed for that purpose, i.e. so you personally could have a steak. Some people will say, ah, this is just dodging responsibility. I don’t think it is, and here’s why, and it finally brings us to the reason I think eating meat is entirely ethical.

Suppose you decide that you’re not going to eat meat, because that’s killing animals. So you go out to a restaurant and decide to get a big old salad, instead of a steak. Do you think the animal magically becomes unkilled? No, certainly not. That animal is already dead. So doesn’t it make it imperative that we do all we can so that the animal wasn’t sacrificed in vain?

This is precisely what happens in animist cultures, and we come right back to our plant-based fabric softener! In animist cultures in particular, though I think this occurs in all cultures that are closely tied to their animals, no part of the animal is wasted. As much of that animal is used as possible, and the animal is respected for providing food, clothing, shelter, and so on. That is precisely why I believe it is entirely ethical to eat meat. If I become a vegetarian, that won’t really reduce the killing of animals. I realize the counter to this is, well yes but if enough of us do it …

Sure, but that’s not happening. When it is, then I’ll seriously reconsider my stance on eating meat. But until it does, to my mind, we should be making sure that we respect the animals we kill, and waste as little of them as possible. So for instance, if tallow-based fabric softeners are really a problem, then stop using them, but make sure that tallow gets used in some other application, e.g. the emerging bio fuel projects.

The whole point to this post is to say that animals are bad and plants are awesome, because animals means killing, is an incredibly simplistic way of looking at the situation. If we’re really going to be concerned about ecosystems and the environment and such, let’s get concerned, realize there are always trade offs, and buckle down and tackle things. And the first realization should be, it’s all killing. You’ll never not kill. So how do we minimize killing, and maximize the use of the killing we, of necessity, must do?


2 thoughts on “Your plant-based fabric softener still kills.

  1. So If you don’t "KILL" ANYTHING…. Then you shouldn’t be alive…..Everything you eat was at one point alive. Plus everything you eat has corn in it somehow someway, and genetically altered also. so technically its not real right?

  2. I’m not sure what you’re driving at here, Me. Yes, if you didn’t eat anything and thus kill it, you wouldn’t be alive, this seems elementary. It’s also precisely my point, there’s no point agonizing about it, or suggesting that plant-based products are better than animal-based ones because animal-based ones kill. Because plant-based products kill too. If you’re not at least willing to acknowledge that killing is the basis of living, well, you’re deluding yourself. <br/> <br/>That doesn’t mean we should just go around indiscriminately killing things. I think because killing is such a serious business, we have an ethical/moral duty to make that killing count, to use as much of it as we can, just as one example of the potential ethical ramifications. But IMO, you never get to the potential ramifications if you simply refuse to acknowledge the basic fact that we kill to live, and can’t really escape it, at least in the foreseeable future. <br/> <br/>I’m really not sure how the stuff about corn and lack of reality follows. You seem to want to suggest that I’d hold the position that genetically modified corn isn’t "real" corn or something, which is really an entirely separate issue. Personally I think we shouldn’t be genetically modifying shit until we understand just exactly what in the hell it does, and I think some of the practices with genetically modified corn are ethically reprehensible, e.g. Monsanto’s practices towards farmers. But it seems obvious that genetically modified corn is corn, otherwise we probably wouldn’t have corn right there in the name. At least it’s not the abomination that is soy "milk", which has nothing to do with actual milk whatsoever.

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