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Aaron Sorkin on Sarah Palin: Who is he kidding?

Sarah Palin’s killing of a moose on her reality TV show recently was abhorrent. But most people support equal if not more brutal cruelty by purchasing meat and other animal products, writes Sharon Troy.

13 December 2010

Recently screenwriter Aaron Sorkin wrote an editorial for the Huffington Post in response to an episode of Sarah Palin's Alaska, in which Ms Palin kills a moose. I really wanted to like his article in an "enemy of my enemy is my friend" kind of way.

Sorkin does make some good points about Palin's motives in airing this footage, knowing that it would generate controversy and polarize viewers.

That's likely true. However, he spends the majority of the article focused not on the publicity stunt, but on the act of killing, for which he condemns Palin.

On the other hand, he paints himself and 95% of the people he knows who consume animal products, as vastly morally superior to those who hunt for sport.

You see, because, as Sorkin admits, he could never bring himself to actually kill the cows that provide his stripsteaks and leather belts, this places him above the gun-toting savages that do the dirty work.

The implication is either that he excuses himself from guilt because he's not the one pulling the trigger (you know, much in the same way that paying an assassin to murder someone frees you from blame) or because he doesn't "enjoy the fact that they're dead".

I'm a bit confused though, as to why Sorkin eats "meat, chicken and fish" if he does not enjoy that they're made up of dead animals. But I suppose as long as you feel a little bit bad about it, then that relieves you of any moral wrong-doing?

He goes on to liken Palin's actions to those of Michael Vick's (the NFL star involved in dog fighting) who, implying that she should be in prison. I wonder what he thinks of the slaughterhouse workers who slit the throats of the sheep he eats. Should we jail them all too? Perhaps only if they're having fun on the job.

Oh, but wait – people need to eat meat to survive, right? Ok, even though I've been surviving without meat for 10 years just fine along with thousands of other vegetarians, I'll follow the logic on this one...

So, let's say Aaron Sorkin needs meat to survive. I imagine he must limit his meat intake to just the bare minimum needed to get by. I'm sure he doesn't consume meat with nearly every meal.

And those leather products? But of course: everyone needs leather belts and shoes to get by. And come on, if you live in a home without a leather couch, can you really even call that living?

I'm being a bit glib and sarcastic here, but only because Sorkin goes on at such lengths, defensively decreeing, "I am not a hypocrite!" But the fact is, Aaron Sorkin is an affluent, healthy, white man. He does not need leather furniture. He does not need to consume meat daily.

Nobody in his position does. He (and 95% of the people he knows) consume meat for pleasure. They buy fashion for pleasure. Sarah Palin kills woodland creatures for pleasure. The only distinction is that Palin cuts out the middle man.

Now, I don't like throwing the "H-word" around at people, and here's why. "Hypocrite" is a word that's often slung at vegans like me. Others frequently scrutinise the products I buy hoping to catch me "cheating".

I'll hear things like, "Did you know there are animal products in tyres? If you ride in cars you're a hypocrite." This then leads to the conclusion that, ‘Well, if we can't achieve 100% vegan purity, there's no sense striving for 99.99%, so hand me that cheeseburger.’

But morality is about making the best choices you can in your circumstances. Rarely are the issues black and white. There are lots of shades of grey in there.

And from where I'm standing, Aaron Sorkin's grey looks pretty similar in hue to Sarah Palin's.

Sharon Troy is an American ex-pat living in Sydney. She works as an animal welfare campaigner and is the founder and editor of vegaroo!, a blog and community website for vegans in Australia.



0 #12 87987897 2011-01-04 19:21
Well, next time I see him, I'll be sure to tell Aaron Sorkin that commenters on a website think he should change his diet.
0 #11 Alex Melonas 2011-01-04 11:03
@ 87g9g97g: The implication of your argument is that ethics has nothing to do with logic, which I flatly reject. Perhaps first premises (or principles) are subjective, but once those are accepted, then logic and facts clearly have a role to play. To wit: an omnivore cannot criticize Palin for causing harm and death to nonhuman animals for pleasure while simultaneously causing harm and death to other nonhuman animals for "taste" or "fashion," that is, pleasure. That is a *logical* inconsistency that has *ethical* implications.

So on this point, Sorkin IS wrong, just like all omnivore critics of Palin are. And, moreover, it is precisely this challenge that convinced me to go vegan: I could not square my opposition to causing unnecessary harm and death with my exploitation of animals. Indeed, as you intimate in your last paragraph, *logic* played a role in your transition to veganism, that is, you could not see a moral or empirical difference between the chicken and the dog, and since you opposed hurting and killing the dog, you, as a matter of logical consistency, had to oppose hurting and killing the chicken.

Videos of animal torture are, indeed, very useful as facts, but those facts are irrelevant *unless* you hold ethical principles that make those facts ethically relevant. Which most of us do, we simply apply them inconsistently. So, in the final analysis, it takes the ethical argument *and* the facts to convince people like Sorkin to go vegan. I aim to provide that ethical argument, and I have done so very successfully because it is so obviously true.
0 #10 87g9g97g 2011-01-03 19:16
Well, what is the point of telling someone they are being illogical? Is your goal to change them, or to point out how people who think like you think are more ethical? Does a Christian tell a non-Christian that they are going to hell do so to save them, or to feel righteous? A person who is told they are wrong will automatically defend their position.

Your analogy falls short because the example you used has nothing to do with ethics or morality. There's a difference between pointing out bad math and accusing people of the mass murder of small retarded people.

Do you have any proof that pointing out stranger's logical flaws helps them change? In my personal experience, helping shelter animals and seeing slaughterhouse footage did a lot more to make me vegan than being told I was morally and ethically challenged. The change took place within me - no matter how tasty a chicken wing was, I couldn't stop thinking about how similar it looked and felt to my dog's leg.
0 #9 Alex Melonas 2010-12-31 18:47
@ uyfguyfg: Actually, “technically” I am not, anymore than if you said A) all terriers are dogs, B) all terriers are mammals, and C)therefore, all mammals are dogs and me pointing-out that this is an invalid syllogism makes me “logically sanctimonious,” and so on. It is a logical inconsistency, which I am merely taking the time to point-out. Unless, that is, simple logic is “a show of being morally superior to others”?

@ foijsdofij: You wrote, “He was saying that him eating meat is something that might be immoral - he hints at it in subtle ways - and that enjoying killing an animal for sport is even more immoral.”

And *that* is the point being criticised here. Notice the qualifier: “even more immoral.” I disagree, and so did the author of this essay; and we provided reasons for that disagreement (which nobody’s refuted). So regardless of the future of Sorkin’s moral inconsistency on this point, RIGHT NOW he is inconsistent, and so are *all* omnivore critics of Palin.

Moreover, the rapid growth of “happy meat” and “conscience omnivores” (which I showed to be mistaken here: strongly suggests that you are mistaken about Sorkin’s possible move to moral consistency. Fundamentally challenging causing unnecessary harm and death, which Sorkin doesn’t even hint at, is the ONLY why out of this inconsistency. And that is what critics of Sorkin are saying: stop naturalizing your own exploitation and be consistent in your challenge. You are right: you have to start somewhere. But you are wrong: more often than not, it takes an “outside perspective” to locate where (and why: because we are all selfish) your inconsistency lies.
0 #8 uyfguyfg 2010-12-27 09:58
Adjective: Making a show of being morally superior to other people.

Technically, you are. You just don't think there's anything wrong with it. And there probably isn't. It just closes the ears of people who may otherwise be open ideas that are new to them. And that's not your responsibility. I've just found in my life it's easier to attract people with bbq seitan that passing out tracts.
0 #7 foijsdofij 2010-12-27 09:49
@Alex Well, this debate could go on for a while, unless one of us could see in the future and know what Sorkin's eating habits are like in a few years. But I don't think our points of view are incompatible.

He is naturalizing his own use of animal products. BUT, most people become vegans, do that very thing in stages - the thing is, those naturalizations only hold up so long. Personally, I knew that meat came from animals when I was maybe 11 or 12? I can't remember exactly, but I know I put the thought out of my mind. I knew that entire time that I hated the concept of hunting, but I didn't know why - maybe I even thought that life on a farm was probably nicer for them. Then when I was an older teenager, I saw some slaughterhouse footage, and stopped eating meat for a bit, but then managed to put it out of my mind again. Slowly and over time, all of my rationalization s fell away - and the thought of giving up meat for good become more easy for me as I learned how to cook for myself.

Let's look at the example of British comedian Ricky Gervais. I always thought of him as the kind of overweight comedian who made lots of jokes about his weight and his inablity to stop himself from eating too much. And he is. But I remember seeing him on an episode of one Gordon Ramsey's cooking shows, and Ramsey told Gervais the name of the animal he was eating, because it was from his back yard. And then Gervais, in a funny way, started saying that he couldn't eat something if it had a name.

I also noticed that he had done ads against fox hunting, and against wearing fur. And I noticed he had lost some weight.

So I did some more research, and he said that has he got more money he only bought organic locally raised meat. But that still didn't calm his worried, because he had a hard time eating anything that looked like an animal part. So he, one by one, cut every meat out of his diet except chicken. Even then, he said he had to disguise it by putting it in a curry or something. And he mentioned that his girlfriend was vegetarian, and he said that he thinks a lot about his love of animals, and the cognitive dissonance that came up about his eating meat. He said he'd more than likely make the final jump to full vegetarianism soon.

Maybe he will, maybe he won't. But I think the chance is high, and maybe he'll even go vegan. And I think his experience is similar to most people who go vegetarian or vegan - it's usually something that happens in stages, due to the cognitive dissonance that comes from the automatic revulsion to something like hunting.

Sorkin's article was more about Palin as the idea of the frontierswoman, though. He was saying that him eating meat is something that might be immoral - he hints at it in subtle ways - and that enjoying killing an animal for sport is even more immoral, but that Palin did it solely to piss off liberals, and make them complain about hunting, and make liberals look like "crazy PETA people." And I think that criticism of her is right on - here's a woman who spends thousands of dollars on a single outfit and flies all the country and eats at fancy restaurants, but she's trying to make herself look like a woman of the land by hunting for the cameras.

That little bit of cognitive dissonance is what starts most people on the road to a more ethical life. I even met a biker looking dude the other day who rescues dogs from one of the shelters my girlfriend and I foster from, and he, in his mid to late 40s, is suddenly interested in a vegan lifestyle.

So yes, Sorkin is rationalizing his actions. But that doesn't mean he'll rationalize them forever.
0 #6 Alex Melonas 2010-12-21 08:49
@ sdfjksdf: I actually think you are quite mistaken. Sorkin's attempt to distance himself from Palin further naturalizes *his own* exploitation of animals. That is, he doesn't problematize causing unnecessary harm and death per se, which he (and everyone else) should, but only *certain examples* of causing unnecessary harm and death. Thus creating a kind of tier system: if you are getting pleasure from unnecessarily causing harm and death from hunting, like Palin did, then that's wrong, but if you are getting pleasure from causing unnecessary harm and death because you like to eat and wear animals, like Sorkin does, then that's fine.

It isn't sanctimonious to point-out hypocrisy. And Sorkin, like anybody else who criticizes Vick or Palin *and* eats, wears, etc. nonhuman animals, are hypocritical.
0 #5 sdfjksdf 2010-12-20 19:31
One big difference is that Sorkin might be able to be convinced to go "happy meat," and thengo vegetarian, and then go vegan (as long as he doesn't hang around too many sanctimonious once). I doubt Sarah Palin or Michael Vick will ever consider it.

No vegan starts out a vegan, and very rarely do they change overnight.
0 #4 Alex Melonas 2010-12-18 10:39
@ M.C. Cordite wrote: "There is something primordal about watching animal flesh being charred over a bed of hot coals." That's probably true. There is also something "primordal" about killing and eating the children of your fallen enemies. Do you do that, too?

@ Jake S: Sorkin objected to Palin killing the caribou because it was unnecessary; she did it because she enjoyed it. And why do you hunt and kill many of "god's wonderful creatures"? There’s only one answer: Because you enjoy it. And that is the same answer, the only answer, Sorkin has for why he eats and wears animals. There is *no* necessity involved. It seems to me that you do so because you are a "bloodthirsty ass clown," that "bloodthirstine ss" is merely internalized by the vast majority. Sorkin, and you, that is, have a huge internal inconsistency in your criticism of Palin.

@ Geoffry P: The crucial point is this: there is *no* necessity involved in eating or wearing animals. Therefore, like in M.C. Cordite's honest comment, you do so because the animals are "tasty," and so on. There is no moral difference, in other words, between causing harm and death because you enjoy watching dogs fight, for example, and causing harm and death because you enjoy how flesh and milk tastes.
0 #3 Geoffry P. 2010-12-17 10:05
I read books for enjoyment. If you say I'm no better than someone who levels a forest for the fun of it, you're ridiculous.

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