Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Why (Only) Meat Eaters are Hypocrites

On the discursive road to human and non-human
animal flourishing; humility and cooperation
will be vital virtues for all concerned
Recently, a friend whom I respect greatly but disagree with on the basic ethics of eating meat, posted a link on Facebook to the Carnism Awareness and Action Network, the activist leg of Humanistic Psychologist, Melanie Joy's efforts to found the concept of Carnism; an invisible belief system that blinds meat eaters to the inherent hypocrisy in their caring for animals.

Now, despite my carnistic ways, I do agree that something like what Joy describes is indeed going on in the minds of many meat eaters. As a moral psychologist; there is really nothing new about Joy's work - yet it I did still find it shocking. Shocking at the twisted approach Joy took to the sciences, and disturbed by the impact I believe it could have. 

As as result of my concerns I crafted a simple blend of quantitative and qualitative analyses to illuminate what is going on in terms of how Vegan's are using the scientific literature on cognitive biases - and how they perhaps can do it better. It's an argument that applies equally to meat eaters - though as you will see; Vegans are dominating the discourse in this arena, and without justifiable cause for such an imbalance.

I invite you to read the full report on my investigation; but for those who want to skip to the lessons learned, I'll quote here:

"[Compared to the current direction of Vegan moral discourse]Modern moral psychology suggests a different approach. An approach that renders Joy's unduly weighted theory of carnism incomplete at best, and harmful to non-human animal progress at worst. It is an approach in which all who are concerned with the genuine well being of non-human animals engage collaboratively and respectfully in the co-examination of each others moral matrices. All moral entrepreneurs must be willing to put our most sacredly held beliefs on the table for deep introspection. All moral entrepreneurs must come to the table expecting that their own moral community is just as likely to be blind to certain arguments as their moral out-groups. Lastly, all moral entrepreneurs should seek to engage the complexity requisite in as issue as ancient and interconnected the eating of other animals."

I don't portend to have all the answers; no one should - but I do believe that on the discursive road to human and non-human animal flourishing; humility and cooperation will be vital virtues for all involved. 

1 comment:

  1. Dustin,

    This is an interesting mess of an article. I suppose the first thing I would like to contest in it is your statement that carnism is a specific instance of cognitive dissonance. It is not. While certainly preliminary, I just presented the first carnism scale at the EPA conference in New York. The domains for the 97 pilot items were based on those Melanie discusses in her book, and had an alpha of .925. That's higher than most people get on the RWA! Participants (283 of them) also completed the SDO, and carnism was highly correlated at .01. Carnism is a young empirical construct, and we haven't submitted it for the peer review process yet, but so far the evidence for its validity is so overwhelming that when I presented my data the audience literally said wow. So carnism is a LOT more than cognitive dissonance, although the fact that the mean score on the 1-7 scale was 3.36 suggests that dissonance is certainly playing a role in it.

    What I get from reading your article is that you feel vegans are judging carnists-and we are. Sure, animals die unimaginable deaths in the wild-humans die unimaginable deaths in hospitals. But I'd much rather die eviscerated in a car accident after living a long(ish) free life than painlessly after a life of drab imprisonment and abuse at a quarter of my lifespan. I think it's absurd to think that compromise over who gets to kill who is a more rationale approach to vegan outreach. Killing someone unnecessarily is wrong, regardless of their outgroup, and the only time you see that challenged is when an out-group has yet to be unburdened by moral exclusion.

    I'm completely open to the idea that the animal rights movement has flaws, but they aren't embedded in a failure to consider carnism's arguments-most vegans grew up agreeing with carnism, recognized it's arguments to be pitiful mockeries of logic, and rejected them. Also, Wren's critique of Joy's work are completely unrelated to your point-Wren is trying to make the case the Joy is welfarist (she's not), and even OUT of context her quote contradicts the point you've attempted to use it to make. Melanie's critics are often in agreement, but in the complete opposite direction you indicate them to be! Come on, Dustin! This is just sad!

    All of that being said, I'd find this article fascinating without what seems to me to be an anemic attempt at relieving one's own cognitive dissonance and actually examined the vegan arguments' gaps. There are plenty directions to go with that: privileging one kingdom of life over others, some organizations' failure to treat humans as animals, sentiocentric rather than biocentric arguments, etc. If you took the time to actually answer the question you pose on page 4, I think you'd have a great article, rather than a frail rant reeking of unsuccessful invalidation and poor lit reviews.

    I'm posting anonymously because my Google accounts aren't very accessible, but if you choose to respond to this feel free to email me at