The Vegan View Revisited

in #veganism5 years ago


For a couple of years now, I’ve been following the online discussions and arguments surrounding the subject of Veganism. And while I’ve found this exercise entertaining, I have become increasingly concerned by the growing divisiveness that has come to characterize the conversation. In the interests of helping to heal the growing rift between the contending factions, I’ve decided to share my understanding of the deeper issues involved.

For purposes of this article, I will be applying the following definitions:
Vegetarianism – A commitment to a diet of plant-based foods, generally forgoing the ingestion of foods derived from animal flesh and animal “by-products”. The rationale for this lifestyle choice is generally based on the belief that it results in greater health than an omnivorous diet would.

Veganism – A variant of Vegetarianism, Veganism adds to the Vegetarian outlook the premise that it is “immoral” not to respect the innate desire of all “sentient” animal life to remain alive and to avoid pain and suffering.

Sentience – A synonym for “awareness”, sentience simply implies the presence of senses on the part of the creature to which the attribution is applied. Creatures having this capability interact with their environment non-randomly, seeking some experiences while avoiding others. It should be noted that even single-celled life forms exhibit some degree of sentience. For that matter, even plants evince a significant degree of awareness, often, for example, turning their leaves to optimize their ability to gather the light they need for photosynthesis.

Consciousness – I use this term to refer to the phenomenon of awareness of one’s awareness… the ability to reflect on, or think about, one’s own thoughts and perceptions. While all life-forms evince awareness, relatively few exhibit consciousness. Those that do include humans, great apes, cetaceans, elephants, and possibly octopi and a few kinds of birds. Although there remain many unanswered questions about the nature of consciousness, it is clearly an attribute that requires the existence of at least a rudimentary neocortex in the structure of the brain.

Personhood – For purposes of this discussion, I find it useful to regard personhood as the presence of consciousness. This distinction between persons and less evolved animals is not trivial. For many human omnivores it forms the basis for the decision to avoid cannibalism – to not eat people, including those that are less evolved than we humans.

The Issues
As I’ve examined the controversy, I observe four issues that Vegans seem to consistently overlook. I call them the Evolutionary Imperative, the Animal Equality Fallacy, the Environmental Impact Analysis, and the Vegan Posture.

The Evolutionary Imperative
While I don’t find it intellectually compelling, there has, in fact, been some interesting research done that suggests that not all humans have evolved the same dietary requirements. This work indicates a likelihood that some of us evolved a dependency on vegetable-based nutrition, while others are more grain and root dependent, and still others thrive best on a more-nearly carnivorous diet. To ignore this and suppose that meat-eaters are just stubborn flavor bigots is scientifically unsound. To compound this bias by accusing those who eat meat as condoning psychopathic cruelty to animals is a logical non-sequitur, having no basis in fact.

The Animal Equality Fallacy
A common feature of Vegan diatribes is the notion that all animals are “sentient” and that, from an ethical perspective, should therefor be treated with the same concern for their possible pain and suffering that most of us reserve for other people – or at least other humans. What they fail to address is the fact that animals are not alike. They are not all “people” by any rational definition. The possession of sensory awareness (sentience) does not equate to consciousness. Most people are aware of this distinction and would therefor refrain from cannibalizing people, including those that are less evolved than humans. Vegans seem to me to consistently ignore these facts.

The Environmental Impact Analysis
Vegans often claim that in a just world people would only eat fruits and vegetables and that animals would be spared the cruelty of the meat-eaters. I would dispute that assertion. Biologists have long known that every square meter of uncleared wilderness contains billions of microscopic animals, millions more that are visible with a magnifying glass, and untold numbers of insects, arachnids, worms, amphibians, birds, reptiles, and small mammals. If, as many Vegans maintain, all these creatures have the “rights” of people, how is it ethical to kill them and destroy their ecosystems in order to grow crops for the purpose of preventing the death of a much smaller number of chickens, pigs, and/or cattle? The logic of such thinking totally escapes me.

If crickets, for example, have as much “right to life” as steers, how does it make sense to kill endless generations of crickets, perhaps numbering in the millions, to prevent the deaths of a much smaller number of steers? The numbers of animal deaths due to agriculture is vastly greater than the number due to animal husbandry.

For that matter, some members of the agricultural community maintain that cattle, as we use the term, would have long ago become extinct were it not for their being farmed for food.

The Vegan Posture
The only significant difference I perceive between “Vegans” and “Vegetarians” is the fact that those who call themselves “Vegans” usually claim a moral high-ground over their meat-eating brethren. Even a relatively inexperienced student of interpersonal communication will recognize in this behavior the fact that the Vegan stance transmits an underlying message that says, “All you meat-eating monsters are psychopathic sadists who like to torture animals. We Vegans are better than you. Our morality is superior to yours.”

It doesn’t take a Freud to recognize the deeper significance of such “virtue signaling”. It is a very clear indication of an attempt to compensate for a chronic lack of self esteem. Just like the sneering manner of many “flat-earthers”, it is a very visible sign of emotional impairment.

To those Vegans who feel offended reading this article, and I’m sure some of you are offended, I suggest you refrain from escalating your outrage unless you are quite certain that my remarks actually apply to you. It is not my intention to attack, belittle, or deprecate you. I offer these observations and their interpretations as feedback from which you might actually benefit. Emotional impairment is not an automatic “life sentence” - unless you choose to make it so.


Thank you, Bob. I think you have been very succinct and neutral in the tone of this essay. I appreciate what you have said. I have been vegan, then vegetarian and now omnivore. My health was becoming compromised by my vegan lifestyle. Bones, teeth and joints were being affected as well as digestion. As I added more sustainably produced animal products into my diet, I began feeling better and better. But that is just one person's experience...and of course the only one I can speak about with any authority. Kudos.

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