The vegans have landed

A dominant species is a dominant species. If you really care about animal rights, vegan ethics don't go far enough

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Salad by Till Nowak.

Salad by Till Nowak.

Rhys Southan is a freelance writer and former vegan. He has written for The New Inquiry, The New York Times and his own blog, Let Them Eat Meat, and is working on a book about the ethics of eating meat.

The animal rights movement wants to prevent the most powerful species on the planet from oppressing every other species, just as human rights campaigners try to stop the most powerful people from oppressing those who are least powerful. The problem, they say, is ‘human privilege’, a privilege that almost all of us abuse. Yet the injustice they’re fighting is not the entire apparatus of human domination (even if some activists think that’s what they’re against). Rather, it is one significant aspect of it: our treatment of animals as resources — as food, clothing, entertainment, and subjects of research. Animals feel pain and care about their survival, and so their advocates say we should expand our circle of concern beyond humans to the rest of the animal kingdom.

According to animal rights theory, respecting the interests of animals in this way would mean abolishing the use of them as resources. So we’d all have to become vegans who neither eat animals nor use any other animal products. Vegan advocates face a daunting challenge, though, since most of us have a strong prejudice in favour of humans. This makes it relatively difficult for us to empathise with non-humans, so we are reluctant to give up the spoils of animal domination — meat, eggs, cheese, wool, fur and leather — and exchange them for tofu, pleather (plastic leather) and animal liberation.

In the face of this inertia, some have asked us to imagine ourselves in the position of the animals that we exploit and kill. Jonathan Safran Foer puts this in the form of an alien invasion in his anti-factory farming treatise, Eating Animals (2009):
If we were to one day encounter a form of life more powerful and intelligent than our own, and it regarded us as we regard fish, what would be our argument against being eaten?

Suppose that we are doing our usual thing of exploiting animals because they aren’t smart or powerful enough to fight back. An alien species that is smarter and more powerful than us lands on Earth and decides to follow our example by exploiting and killing us. Why shouldn’t aliens use their technological and cerebral edge to turn us into food, clothes, entertainment and research subjects, just as we do to animals now?

This is, of course, a sci-fi repackaging of the ‘Golden Rule’ — that is, one should treat others as one would like to be treated oneself. This argument resonates because most of us have picked up a version of ‘do as you would be done by’ somewhere along the way, no matter how secular our upbringings. Could it be, then, that if we want to be consistent with our own values, the animal activists are right that we need to go vegan?

We might object that there is something misleading about the alien scenario. It wants to make us see things from the animals’ point of view, yet fudges it by putting us in the animals’ place while maintaining our human cultural beliefs and cognitive abilities. There are certainly similarities between human and non-human experiences, especially when it comes to pain, but as with the Epsilons in Aldous Huxley’s novel Brave New World (1932) who are genetically designed to tolerate a subservient existence, we assume that cows, pigs, lambs and chickens who are raised on farms and killed in slaughterhouses do not suffer the horror and existential anguish that humans would in the same circumstances. This is why the alien hypothetical is something of a cheat, and equally why comparing factory farms to the Holocaust and human slavery rings false.

Universal veganism would accomplish next to nothing for free-roaming wild animals

Even so, if animals want to avoid suffering and want to live, as surely they do, using them as resources violates those interests. Given that humans cause animals so much suffering and death while offering them so little in return, there’s no denying that for most other animals on this planet, we might as well be a malevolent invasion.

So, my objection to the alien invasion scenario is more sweeping. If we want to take the interests of animals seriously, then the biggest failure of the analogy is that it underestimates just how malign we are. Sure, if we were replaced as the dominant animals on the planet, we’d probably prefer the new ruling species to be vegan. But if aliens with superior technology and minds came here and were determined to treat us the way that vegan humans treat animals on this planet, we’d still be in serious trouble. Veganism would hardly figure as a safeguard of our wellbeing.

Universal veganism wouldn’t stop the road-building, logging, urban and suburban development, pollution, resource consumption, and other forms of land transformation that kills animals by the billions. So what does veganism do exactly? Theoretically, it ends the raising, capture and exploitation of living animals, and it stops a particular kind of killing that many vegans claim is the worst and least excusable: the intentional killing of animals in order to use their bodies as material goods.

Veganism, as a whole, requires us to stop using animals for entertainment, food, pharmaceutical testing, and clothing. If it were to become universal, factory farming and animal testing would end, which would be excellent news for all the animals that we capture or raise for these purposes. But it would accomplish next to nothing for free-roaming wild animals except to stop hunting, which is the least of their problems.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature in Switzerland, the world’s first global environmental organisation, says:
Analyses of the data on threats to bird, mammal and amphibian species… show that the most pervasive threat that they face is habitat destruction and degradation driven by agricultural and forestry activities.

Animal agriculture is responsible for plenty of that, but is far from the only culprit. Purely arable farmers accidentally kill insects, snails, small mammals, and other animals with farm machinery, and they intentionally kill these animals with pesticides that often unintentionally go on to harm wildlife through drift and secondary poisonings. Farmers also allow hunters onto their land to reduce the populations of deer and other ‘pest’ species that might eat their crops. Redirecting water for irrigation kills fish, as does spill-off from fertiliser and pesticides. We run over animals with our cars. We destroy animal habitats to build our cities, and we extract resources from areas that then become either uninhabitable or dangerous. The ‘wild land’ that we do leave untouched is often fragmented into little bits that don’t give animals the space they need to make homes and roam for food, and so cannot sustain them.

Some vegan aliens might enjoy keeping a few human pets, naming us, cuddling us, and feeding us veggie treats

If our intergalactic superiors landed here, but had no interest in eating us or our fellow animals, the first thing they could do is rob our stores, homes, farms, and warehouses of all our fruits, vegetables, beans, grains, and vegan convenience products. Without violating any vegan principles there would be no limit to the amount of food vegan aliens could steal from us — vegan ethics allows for humans using all the plant matter they want in the world, no matter how many animals starve as a consequence. Aliens could cause the worst famine humanity has ever seen, but it would be entirely compatible with vegan ethics. That’s because it would all fall under the rubric of ‘good intent’. They wouldn’t be killing us deliberately to eat us, but rather because they wanted our food and had the power to take it — our starvation would be a foreseeable, yet accidental, side effect. We might try to fight the vegan invaders over this mass plunder, but then they could kill us outright for threatening their lives. That’s because humans killing animals in self-defence is also no crime in veganism, even if we’ve wandered onto the animals’ own territory.

Since veganism doesn’t stop us from wrecking animal habitats to make space for ourselves, vegan aliens could knock down all our buildings to construct new ones that better fit their pan-galactic design aesthetic. They could evict us from our homes, businesses and veganic farms without compensation, and then, to keep us from returning, they could set up fences, noise barriers and other humane deterrents. To them, we would be hungry pests who threaten their vegan food supply, so they might even be justified in trapping us or killing us with poisons if we got too close. Humans would now largely be without food and shelter, but the vegan aliens wouldn’t need to lose sleep over it, since none of this contradicts any vegan tenets.

Depending on how much land was required for the vegan alien cities to accommodate all their alien vegan restaurants, alien anarchist bookstores and alien warehouse lofts, the vegan aliens might or might not set aside some land for humans to live on. Because our habitat would be fragmented to suit aliens’ desires regardless, it would be difficult or impossible for us to redevelop agriculture of our own, or gather enough food to survive. Any habitat they left for us would never truly be ours anyway, because if the aliens ever wanted to increase their population or just spread out, veganism doesn’t stop them from taking more land.

Some vegan aliens might enjoy keeping a few human pets, naming us, cuddling us, and feeding us veggie treats. Even now, pet ownership is a controversial issue in animal rights, but most activists say that it’s okay for vegans to keep some animals as dependents since they have been domesticated and, as a result, would suffer in the wild. Vegan aliens could justify keeping humans as pets for similar reasons if they saw that some of us couldn’t make it on our own. That might be a pretty fair deal if the aliens were friendly and loving owners, but the downside is that they could spay and neuter us, as even People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals says vegans should spay and neuter their pets. Of course, the aliens would say this was for our own good, as we tend to overpopulate when left in charge of our own reproduction.

Any sacrifices we make this side of human extinction are token compromises

There’s a chance that not all aliens would thrive on a plant-based diet. Some of the aliens might suffer from an unfortunate confluence of intolerances, allergies, digestive troubles, and medical conditions, or they could be living in harsh climates without enough plant material to sustain them. There could be any number of alien-centric conditions that made veganism too difficult for some of them. Vegan ethics makes exceptions in cases like this when a vegan diet just cannot work for some individuals, which means some of the aliens would be allowed to eat meat for their health. For example, aliens with Smith-Lemli-Opitz Syndrome who can’t produce enough of their own cholesterol might benefit from an external animal source. And aliens with epilepsy might need to be on a high-fat, low-carb ketogenic diet to control their seizures, but it would be nearly impossible for them to get the right balance of macronutrients without eating animals, especially if they also happened to be allergic to soy, gluten, and nuts.

So which animals would they kill for this purpose? Since the vegan aliens would claim to be anti-speciesist, it would be unjust discrimination for them to value the lives of humans over those of other animals such as deer, squirrels, pigeons, rabbit, or fish. So if the aliens couldn’t tolerate soy, wheat, fructose, oxalates, or nuts, or if they lived somewhere without much in the way of vegan foods, they could eat us with a clear conscience.

A vegan alien invasion could then all but destroy humanity while rationalising most of our suffering and death as ‘accidental’ or ‘unfortunate but necessary’, just as vegans now rationalise the harms that a plant-based human civilisation would cause nonhuman animals. What the argument from alien invasion ultimately shows, then, is that humans cannot consistently apply the Golden Rule to the rest of the animal kingdom without going a lot further than vegans are asking us to go. Animal rights philosophers are positing a problem that might have no practical solution. Yes, nonhuman animals are thinking and feeling individuals who want to live, but attempting to correct the power imbalance between humans and other animals would require much more than humans giving up animal products. We would have to stop spaying and neutering animals, reverse our destruction and fragmentation of animal habitat, give up agriculture and civilisation, refuse to eat animals even when our wellbeing requires it, and become pacifist gatherers who never foraged food that other animals needed for themselves. Even then, other animals would have nothing to gain from our presence here. This is why some people believe that the logical conclusion of animal rights is human extinction.

The Golden Rule works for humans because it isn’t necessarily a zero-sum game between us all. The conflicts between humans of different races, genders and sexual orientations are socio-cultural and thus subject to betterment — there is no inherent reason that men and women of all colours cannot work together for our mutual benefit. The conflicts between humans and other species, however, are genetic and inevitable: our DNA and accumulated knowledge and technology currently makes us the cleverest, most powerful species on the planet, and since we cannot cooperate with wild animals for the mutual benefit of all sentient beings, we have little choice but to dominate instead.

Neutrality is impossible in a world with limited resources. Everything we take is a loss for other animals, and since we want to live, enjoy our lives and reproduce (just as they do), we will never stop bypassing animals’ desires for our own, so long as we are here. We can give up some of the luxuries of domination for the sake of non-humans, but any sacrifices we make this side of human extinction are token compromises that selfishly maintain our fundamental position. Worldwide veganism wouldn't allow us to live in harmony with other animals — it’s just one of those token compromises. No matter what ethical philosophy we hold on to, on the day that brilliant, powerful aliens invade our planet, we’d better hope that they don’t try to be anything like us.

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Comments

  • Lester

    "This is why some people believe that the logical conclusion of animal rights is human extinction"

    Or the redefinition of humans as animals within an ecosystem that sustains itself through predation and interdependency.

    Paradoxically the idea of abolishing human privilege is underwritten by the ultimate privilege - that humans are extraneous to the ecology of the planet and that the parasitical nature of our dominance undermines our intrinsic belonging to nature. That which evolution has produced should be declassified from nature because of moral objections to behaviour - moral objections that come from the very source of the dominance.

    But more poignantly this conundrum highlights not only the blurry edges and delicate inconsistencies of most (if not all) moral arguments, but reasserts the holistic and interdependent nature of ALL behaviour. Nothing exists outside or independently of anything else. It's not the fault of vegan philosophy that it has to contend with an economic drive that must destroy everything to maintain and satisfy its own trajectory and prerequisites. It becomes a weakness when vegans fail to fight for an anti-capitalist agenda that envisages mutual interdependency with the environment, or fails to properly place humans within nature rather than outside of it.

    It's my feeling that the best we can ever hope for, as creature expert in cognitive dissonance, is engagement with dissonance reduction whilst accepting that the process is all we have - there will never be a placecalled nirvana, but we should aways make our way toward it nonetheless.

    • Rank

      "It becomes a weakness when vegans fail to fight for an anti-capitalist agenda that envisages mutual interdependency with the environment, or fails to properly place humans within nature rather than outside of it."

      You are not vegan. Do NOT speak for us.

      • Lester

        Apologies Rank. It was clumsily worded,I did not mean vegans to refer to a collection of individual vegans for which I was some sort of spokesperson.

        I do however mean that anyone who fails to understand the need for a more holistic approach and fails to recognise the totalitarian nature of the economics in which we live will fail in their objectives. Which is a shame if those objectives are noble. One need not be vegan to appreciate this.

        You, however, do seem to be standing up as a spokesperson for vegans using the collective "us" and you condescend to be speaking for all vegans which is a little ironic don't you think, seeing as that was one of the weaknesses of the essay?

  • http://www.facebook.com/keith.tait.796 Keith Tait

    While I agree that a huge reduction in animal based agriculture may impact on the habitats and lives of wild creatures, I find it disingenuous to imply that vegans somehow do not care about such things. Yes, if you take a person's views on what they eat out of the context of their overall political or environmental attitudes then you could see veganism or animal rights as 'single issue' activism, however in my experience vegans tend to be far more likely to be involved in other forms of political, cultural and environmental activism. Holding strong views on the sanctity of animal life does not mean automatic disregard for the value of human life, how many pro-war vegans have you ever met?

    • rsouthan

      'While I agree that a huge reduction in animal based agriculture may impact on the habitats and lives of wild creatures, I find it disingenuous to imply that vegans somehow do not care about such things.'

      I'm not saying that vegans don't care about these issues. I'm just saying that their actions don't solve the human domination that vegan ethics tries to oppose.

      'Yes, if you take a person's views on what they eat out of the context of their overall political or environmental attitudes then you could see veganism or animal rights as 'single issue' activism, however in my experience vegans tend to be far more likely to be involved in other forms of political, cultural and environmental activism.'

      I never claimed that vegans don't care about anything other than animal product consumption.

      'Holding strong views on the sanctity of animal life does not mean automatic disregard for the value of human life'

      I never said that either. I believe that most vegans value human life very highly. That is why they are content to end animal product consumption but leave other forms of human domination intact.

  • thewarning

    This essay is ignorant of the actual discussions that take place among vegans about the less-direct impacts of human civilization on animals (beyond consumption of animal products). It's entirely unimaginative and offers no real alternative that advances human moral action. Why bother? Just an intellectual exercise, I suppose, with no pretense of contributing to human or ecological condition.

    Most vegans recognize that reduction of human-caused animal suffering is the goal. This piece curiously fails to express the actual impact of human consumption of animal products -- tens of billions of animals are slaughtered each year purely to satisfy the aesthetic tastes of humans. It also disingenuously ignores that the vast majority of deforestation and climate change that impacts wild animals are the result of human consumption of food animals. How could this be overlooked? Well, in order to make a dishonest case, one has to fudge reality a bit.

    • thewarning

      Cool graphic, though.

    • rsouthan

      'This essay is ignorant of the actual discussions that take place among vegans about the less-direct impacts of human civilization on animals (beyond consumption of animal products).'

      I am fully aware that vegans debate these issues. But would you say they have found a way to solve the issues that they have raised? It is fine if they haven't. I only see it as an issue when veganism is presented as an ethical obligation that causes only the proper "necessary" amount of harm.

      "Most vegans recognize that reduction of human-caused animal suffering is the goal."

      Some vegans say that they are concerned with reducing animal suffering rather than with giving animals rights, but how do you know this is most vegans? I think it can make sense for someone who wants to cause less harm to reduce or cease their animal product consumption. Where I take issue with suffering reduction veganism is when there is an implication that veganism reduces suffering to a "necessary" amount, while the suffering caused by meat eating takes suffering to an "unnecessary" level. Since veganism does not end human domination or consistently protect animal interests, and it does not end animal suffering, insisting that veganism is *obligatory* based on suffering reduction criteria doesn't make sense. There is no set necessary amount of suffering, and it is always possible to reduce suffering more. Reducing meat consumption or only buying animal products from small farms also reduces suffering. Perhaps not as much as veganism (although that's impossible to determine for sure), but if you want to reduce suffering as much as you possibly can, veganism is not enough either.

      'This piece curiously fails to express the actual impact of human consumption of animal products -- tens of billions of animals are slaughtered each year purely to satisfy the aesthetic tastes of humans. It also disingenuously ignores that the vast majority of deforestation and climate change that impacts wild animals are the result of human consumption of food animals.'

      I don't deny that meat eating impacts the environment and other animals. I wrote: 'Animal agriculture is responsible for plenty of that, but is far from the only culprit.' It's true that I didn't dwell on meat eating's role in animal and environmental harm, but that's because the purpose of this article was to show where veganism dominates animals and the environment as well.

      • thewarning

        Thanks for the thoughtful reply.

        > I am fully aware that vegans debate these issues. But would you say they have found a way to solve the issues that they have raised? It is fine if they haven't. I only see it as an issue when veganism is presented as an ethical obligation that causes only the proper "necessary" amount of harm.

        Well then why didn't you just say that? That you're aware of it but didn't even hint at its existence is only worse! I said the article was ignorant of this discussion, and I guess I was hoping that meant you were, too -- otherwise, why pretend veganism is something it is not?

        You're really criticizing just some vegans, and not even veganism, per se, which is a lifestyle choice at its lowest common denominator. That some vegans (or non-vegan interpreters of veganism) believe it is a universal prescription does not make it such. You're attacking a straw man by not conveying what you now admit you know veganism means, at its base.

        > Some vegans say that they are concerned with reducing animal suffering rather than with giving animals rights, but how do you know this is most vegans?

        I did not say that was the differentiator -- reduce suffering vs. granting rights. One can very consistently be for both. Think about it, the rights not to be captured, confined, bred, tortured, or slaughtered, etc, can be extended without also extending the right not to have one's habitat destroyed, or a right not to be hit by cars or propellors or wind turbine blades. I don't have those rights today, so why would I, as a vegan, argue they extend to nonhuman animals?

        Let's take the parallel example of civil rights. Let's go back to 1960 and take a look at civil rights advocacy at that time. Would you have written an article arguing that the only meaningful extension of equal rights to blacks meant the abolition of all exploitation that had an essentially racial basis? That is, no economic or other activity that adversely affected black communities, period. That would have gone way beyond the legislation or legal objectives on the table. It definitely would have been the right thing to do, I think -- it would have been more universal, more radical in terms of addressing problems more holistically, etc. So you would have been fine for criticizing civil rights activists for falling short of idea, as it were. I might have joined you in this way.

        But how far would you have taken it? Would you have said, "Hey, you're not *really* arguing for equal rights for blacks"? Or would you have said, "If you're going to leave any problems -- perhaps the biggest problems! -- unaddressed, then you should not bother addressing these obvious surface problems, or the most egregious problems, which really aren't, overall, as big as the greater societal issue of racism and the impact on blacks and black communities"? I doubt you would have poo-pooed the civil rights movement just because it didn't solve all the problems of race in one fell swoop.

        So why do that here, in the case of animal rights? What is wrong with extending to animals the rights not to be enslaved, forcefully bred, and raised in horrific conditions, and then slaughtered in unspeakable ways, just because that leaves billions more animals to suffer under a broader, less visible system of human economic activity.

        > I think it can make sense for someone who wants to cause less harm to reduce or cease their animal product consumption. Where I take issue with suffering reduction veganism is when there is an implication that veganism reduces suffering to a "necessary" amount, while the suffering caused by meat eating takes suffering to an "unnecessary" level.

        That's fine. But it doesn't look like too many people think that's what you were trying to convey, judging from the comments here. In 20 years of being vegan, writing about veganism, lecturing about veganism, etc, I've never heard the "necessary" amount claim, but honestly if anyone made it I'd just say, "That's philosophically inconsistent, but their goal is a hell of a lot better than the status quo, and better is better." Pointing out the philosophical inconsistencies of (straw) constituencies may be fun, but really, as I said, why bother?

        > Since veganism does not end human domination or consistently protect animal interests, and it does not end animal suffering, insisting that veganism is *obligatory* based on suffering reduction criteria doesn't make sense.

        Insisting veganism is obligatory does not make sense for a few reasons, but the reason you cite is not among them. Why would something not be obligatory if it has a demonstrable positive impact? Laws against child molestation still leave the greater majority of children to suffer all manner of oppression and indignity -- probably affecting 10x as many kids. But you wouldn't suggest that because anti-rape laws don't solve all of kids problems, proscribing the most egregious and obvious abuses is pointless, right?

        I think making veganism obligatory would probably have the opposite of a positive impact, so long as only the tiniest minority agree with the obligation, but if everyone really did go vegan, the impact would be enormous, though of course not total. Reducing suffering by tens of billions of tortured lives and slaughters a year would be more than a little significant. How can you suggest otherwise?

        > There is no set necessary amount of suffering, and it is always possible to reduce suffering more. Reducing meat consumption or only buying animal products from small farms also reduces suffering. Perhaps not as much as veganism (although that's impossible to determine for sure), but if you want to reduce suffering as much as you possibly can, veganism is not enough either.

        I absolutely agree with this. Nothing in your piece suggested to me that you acknowledge this. As a 20-year vegan, I never advise people concerned about animal welfare to "go vegan". I advise them to reduce their consumption and, critically, to make it known they have done so and encourage others to. A few people doing this are likely worth more reduced consumption than a single person going vegan. Possibly much more.

        This point is neither here nor there vis-a-vis your essay. The piece could have been much simpler and less divisive if you started from the premise that reducing suffering is a worthy goal, and maybe insisting everyone go vegan isn't the best way to achieve that, as some vegans think. And you could have thrown in a shot at vegans who think veganism is the end-all, be-all, which is surely some, possibly most, but definitely not all, and certainly not the main point of unity by a long shot. What you've done is selected a subset belief among vegans (I suspect it's the minority, but I've not been uncritical of magical thinking by vegans, and I realize it's significant), and you've made it core to the very definition of veganism, then attacked it for is disigenuousness. Bravo.

        > I don't deny that meat eating impacts the environment and other animals. I wrote: 'Animal agriculture is responsible for plenty of that, but is far from the only culprit.'

        A cause of environmental degradation and climate change not being the only culprit isn't really an excuse for not addressing that cause. By your logic, we shouldn't address any of the causes of climate change, because none of them is the sole culprit. Animal agriculture happens to be the biggest culprit, according to the UN -- far bigger than the things that cause lots of animal death via human dominance, including new-home construction, non-feed vegetable farming, and automobiles -- combined! But that's still not enough reason for you that it should be addressed?

        > It's true that I didn't dwell on meat eating's role in animal and environmental harm, but that's because the purpose of this article was to show where veganism dominates animals and the environment as well.

        But you failed to make that point. You didn't show that "veganism dominates animals and the environment as well". You only showed that veganism as currently practiced doesn't un-dominate animals entirely -- which is, of course, a straw argument, since veganism doesn't claim to do this! Do you really think for a single moment that if a vegan movement ended or substantially reduced animal agriculture and other egregious direct suffering, that by then most vegans would not already be eyeing broader human impacts on animals? Even if you do believe this, all it would do is demonstrate a shortcoming of a philosophy, not an argument why veganism is bankrupt.

  • cgwelburn

    Surely it is self-evident that by being such a selfish species humans are endangering ourselves and the entire planet. The earth and everything on it is so marvellously interlinked that we are only now scratching the surface of understanding its complexities. We have damaged so much already. Isn't it time to try harder to repair the damage?
    And by being cruel to other species we diminish ourselves. I admire the way vegans are trying to do something positive to help. Maybe their philosophy is flawed, just like everyone else's. But so what? If each of us did our very best to heal the earth, I suspect we would be happier and healthier.
    As a carnivore, yet an aspiring vegetarian, I try to source everything ethically and I'm trying constantly to improve my contribution to a cruelty-free system of managing agriculture and the worldwide environment. Every creature has a right to live without cruelty.
    Incidentally, I don't like the way creatures eat one another, but I KNOW that will NEVER change. So whether we are meant to be vegetarian or carnivore is irrelevant. The issue is wise and compassionate use of the available resources. Maybe nirvana is an impossible dream but it wouldn't hurt to take a few steps in that direction. Hope to see you there.

    • Emily H.

      "Maybe their philosophy is flawed, just like everyone else's. But so what?" So, they should try to fix the flaws in their philosophy, so that their attempts to solve the world's problems have a higher chance of succeeding? Having flaws in your philosophy doesn't make you a bad person, but that doesn't mean no one ever gets to critique your claims.

  • http://twitter.com/haelox Haelox

    Yes, this argument depends on two really bizarre conceits. I don't know any vegans who are indifferent to broader questions about environment and sustainability. There's no either/or there. And the dichotomy between "cooperate" and "dominate" is equally simplistic. There are many other modes of engagement involving care and stewardship that do not require a choice between giving up and killing everything.

    • rsouthan

      'There are many other modes of engagement involving care and stewardship that do not require a choice between giving up and killing everything.'

      I recently started reading 'Zoopolis: A Political Theory of Animal Rights,' which I think might agree with you. But could you elaborate on what you mean?

  • Gyrus

    This piece has a very strange idea of veganism and vegans. "Since veganism doesn’t stop us from wrecking animal habitats to make space for ourselves ...". I can't recall a single vegan I've met who's not been more deeply concerned about wider issues such as the destruction of animal habitats than 99% of omnivores.

    There's also a bizarre association between veganism and things such as opposition to factory farming - as if, once vegan totalitarianism is demolished with an overwrought analogy, we can freely embrace factory farming. I don't pretend that some form of factory farming isn't necessary if we're to feed 7 billion. But pretending there aren't grave issues with how we're currently going about things seems equally naive.

    I was vegetarian for 16 years, and part of my reason for starting to eat meat again was reading Colin Tudge's So Shall We Reap. I agree with him that some meat is probably a part of the most sustainable agriculture (and nutritious diet), but that the levels of meat consumption in the modern world are disastrous. This isn't purely an animal welfare issue (although this is important) - it's about human welfare and sustainability, too.

    Veganism is still a tiny minority practice. While I agree there may be a few vegans whose projection of their personal ethical choices onto the global agricultural infrastructure is misguided, veganism is hardly the biggest threat to the world we face. Don't we have bigger fish to fry? (Is that an apt expression or not?!) I wonder sometimes about the image many people seem to have of vegan "smugness". In some sense I feel veganism stands in many people's minds for a level of extreme commitment to ethics that is threatening to we whose ethics, while we like to think they're "just right", are actually far short of what's collectively necessary to steer culture in a different direction. I say, let vegans be - at least they're contributing to the reduction in meat consumption that's still needed. Rejection of extreme veganism as a solution to the world's problems shouldn't be a mask for failing to address those problems at all.

    The vegetable alien is great. The vegan straw man, less so.

    • Lester

      "I wonder sometimes about the image many people seem to have of vegan "smugness"."

      Yes, it corresponds to the peculiar image people have for cyclists.

      I think in our post-ideological age where individuals grappling with any political ethics is seen a suspicious, even reasonable and reasonably low-impact decisions concerning diet or transport or the like are treated with a disdain that grossly unreasonable and high-impact behaviors somehow avoid. Interesting too that at a time of such rhetorical celebration of the individual, the thoughtful individual is never afforded the leniency offered to the thoughtless crowd.

    • rsouthan

      'I can't recall a single vegan I've met who's not been more deeply concerned about wider issues such as the destruction of animal habitats than 99% of omnivores.'

      I am not disputing that vegans are concerned about the destruction of animal habitats, or that vegans have thought about these issues more than most omnivores. What I'm questioning is the efficacy of vegan ethics to actually address these issues in a way that truly subverts human dominance and power. Some vegans believe that giving up our use of animals for food, clothing research and entertainment would end human domination. What I'm saying in this article is that based on the guidelines that vegans follow now, a vegan humanity would still be dominating the other animals on the planet.

      'There's also a bizarre association between veganism and things such as opposition to factory farming - as if, once vegan totalitarianism is demolished with an overwrought analogy, we can freely embrace factory farming. I don't pretend that some form of factory farming isn't necessary if we're to feed 7 billion. But pretending there aren't grave issues with how we're currently going about things seems equally naive.'

      I agree that there are issues to deal with, and I'm not saying that because veganism doesn't end every aspect of human domination, there's no reason to try to make the world better for ourselves and other animals.

      'I was vegetarian for 16 years, and part of my reason for starting to eat meat again was reading Colin Tudge's So Shall We Reap. I agree with him that some meat is probably a part of the most sustainable agriculture (and nutritious diet), but that the levels of meat consumption in the modern world are disastrous. This isn't purely an animal welfare issue (although this is important) - it's about human welfare and sustainability, too.'

      I am supportive of people reducing their meat consumption. The reason I critique arguments for veganism is that vegans with an ethical motive ultimately would prefer that everyone give up all animal products completely. In veganism, even some meat for environmental or nutritional reasons (except in extreme cases) is not allowed.

      'Veganism is still a tiny minority practice. While I agree there may be a few vegans whose projection of their personal ethical choices onto the global agricultural infrastructure is misguided, veganism is hardly the biggest threat to the world we face. Don't we have bigger fish to fry? (Is that an apt expression or not?!)'

      I certainly agree that veganism is not the biggest threat to the world we face! I do think that taking certain articulations of vegan ethics to their logical conclusion would demand human extinction. David Benatar makes the utilitarian case in "Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming Into Existence" and The Voluntary Human Extinction Movement supports human extinction for the sake of animals and the environment. As far as I can tell, though, most vegans do not actually want human extinction. And of course a minority of the population giving up all animal products because they like animals or want to improve the environment is certainly not going to end humankind.

      My point with this article was that even though vegans often assume that giving up the use of animals as resources is equatable with taking a 'golden rule' approach to the other animals on this planet, in my estimation, it is not. I think it's worth pointing this out because vegans often see themselves as ethically different from meat eaters in a dramatic, substantive way that can lead to tensions between vegans and non-vegans. Trying to show that vegans aren't as different from meat eaters as they might believe -- in this case, by arguing that veganism doesn't end human domination -- is intended to reduce these tensions. I'm not saying that no one should ever be vegan, or that veganism can't have positive effects.

      'I wonder sometimes about the image many people seem to have of vegan "smugness". In some sense I feel veganism stands in many people's minds for a level of extreme commitment to ethics that is threatening to we whose ethics, while we like to think they're "just right", are actually far short of what's collectively necessary to steer culture in a different direction.'

      I think this is true. A lot of people react negatively to vegans because vegans force them to consider whether they are causing more harm than they realize, and whether they might need to change.

      'Rejection of extreme veganism as a solution to the world's problems shouldn't be a mask for failing to address those problems at all.'

      I never said it should be.

      'The vegetable alien is great. The vegan straw man, less so.'

      What do you see as the straw man argument in this article?

      • Gyrus

        Thanks for the response Rhys.

        Reading your actual views - which are definitely not clear from your piece - I just feel your extended analogy was badly pitched.

        What I'm questioning is the efficacy of vegan ethics to actually address these issues in a way that truly subverts human dominance and power.

        But I don't see anything coming from you to better subvert human dominance and power. That's because (I'm sure you're agreeing) it's impossible for us to subvert human dominance and power to the extreme extent that you picture. However, your piece comes across - quite vividly, as the comments here testify - as an argument against veganism per se rather than against the fundamentalist application of extreme veganism.

        That's the "straw man". You never say "extreme vegans" or "fundamentalist vegans" - you say "vegans". At best, the vague "some vegans". Or you talk of "taking it to its logical conclusion" - as if that's the only thing you can do with it. The argument comes across as an argument against veganism that disingenuously takes the most extreme vegan position as representative. Which it does - but without any of the balancing qualifiers in your response to my comment.

        I think it's worth pointing this out because vegans often see themselves as ethically different from meat eaters in a dramatic, substantive way that can lead to tensions between vegans and non-vegans.

        YMMV, I guess. All the vegans I know are committed but tolerant, some of the most ethical and genial people I know. Perhaps a minority of vegans (now there's a small bunch!) have a blinkered self-righteousness, which most people who don't give a shit about animal welfare latch onto in order to dismiss veganism and anaesthetize their consciences.

        If you think there's a problem with vegans polarizing themselves against omnivores, the problem with this piece is that it fights fire with fire. It polarizes even more, and distracts from the real issues regarding animal welfare, ecology, and sustainability.

        • rsouthan

          'Reading your actual views - which are definitely not clear from your piece - I just feel your extended analogy was badly pitched.'

          My actual views may not be clear from my piece because I wasn't trying to make a normative claim. I was attempting to show the limits of veganism's ability to subvert human domination, despite many vegans' belief that veganism allows them to be anti-speciesists who don't violate animal interests.

          'But I don't see anything coming from you to better subvert human dominance and power. That's because (I'm sure you're agreeing) it's impossible for us to subvert human dominance and power to the extreme extent that you picture.'

          I am not seriously proposing a better way to subvert human dominance and power, because my premise is not "We need to subvert human dominance and power." What I'm doing is looking at where an ideology that often claims to subvert human dominance and power is unable to accomplish its own stated intention. Still, I did offer a vision of a world that would better subvert human dominance than simply giving up animal products: "We would have to stop spaying and neutering animals, reverse our destruction and fragmentation of animal habitat, give up agriculture and civilisation, refuse to eat animals even when our wellbeing requires it, and become pacifist gatherers who never foraged food that other animals needed for themselves."

          'However, your piece comes across - quite vividly, as the comments here testify - as an argument against veganism per se rather than against the fundamentalist application of extreme veganism.'

          That may be how people are interpreting it, but does a close reading actually support that this article is an argument against veganism per se? I attempt to show where a vegan world would allow vegans to continue dominating animals and the planet, but I never say that humans need to stop dominating the planet. Veganism fails to achieve the results that many vegans seem to want (like ending human domination), but since I never say the results that I personally want, how am I arguing against veganism per se?

          'That's the "straw man". You never say "extreme vegans" or "fundamentalist vegans" - you say "vegans". At best, the vague "some vegans".'

          That's because I'm not talking about extreme vegans or fundamentalist vegans. The article is about how vegans are not as extreme as they often believe that they are. My point is that they are *not* radicals out to abolish human domination. At what point in this article do I refer to extreme or fundamentalist vegan behavior as standard vegan behavior?

          'Or you talk of "taking it to its logical conclusion" - as if that's the only thing you can do with it.'

          I mentioned taking something to its logical conclusion, but I never said that you have to do this. In fact, I'm saying that most vegans do not do this, because taking animal rights and anti-speciesism to its logical conclusion would require giving up much more than vegans are asking us to give up.

          'The argument comes across as an argument against veganism that disingenuously takes the most extreme vegan position as representative. Which it does - but without any of the balancing qualifiers in your response to my comment.'

          What extreme vegan position do I take to be representative? I say that some people believe that taking animal rights arguments to their logical conclusion would lead to human extinction, but I don't say or even imply that most vegans are in favor of human extinction. In this article I present veganism as an abolition of the use of animal products -- not a movement out to end humanity. Hence the dichotomy I'm talking about between vegan lifestyle guidelines that leave human domination in place, and the end of human domination that some vegans claim to want.

          'If you think there's a problem with vegans polarizing themselves against omnivores, the problem with this piece is that it fights fire with fire. It polarizes even more, and distracts from the real issues regarding animal welfare, ecology, and sustainability.'

          What is the actual 'fire' in this article? What inflammatory things do I say here that it makes sense for vegans to be angry about?

          • Gyrus

            What is the actual 'fire' in this article? What inflammatory things do I say here that it makes sense for vegans to be angry about?

            It's hard to understand that you genuinely think your piece - titled 'Vegan Invasion' - comes across as a disinterested thought experiment intended to make a subtle point of logic. The fire is the general structure of your approach. Taking something to its logical extreme to criticize it, when only a small minority at best think doing this is desirable, seems polarizing to me. I appreciate, after your comments, that this may not be your intention. But this is how the piece came across to me, and others. It just strikes me as misguided rhetoric distracting from the real issues that I know concern both yourself and vegans.

            I don't see any vegans reading this and feeling persuaded by your point, or any people dismissive of animal welfare getting anything from this other than reaffirmation of their prejudices. Hopefully they'll read some comments :-)

          • rsouthan

            Is it inflammatory for vegans to ask meat eaters what would happen if aliens came to earth and raised us for food? I don't think it is. But an article about that could appropriately be called "The Omnivores Have Landed." Since my version of the thought experiment has vegan aliens invading, I don't think "The Vegans Have Landed" or "Vegan Invasion" are inappropriate or offensive titles.

            "Taking something to its logical extreme to criticize it, when only a small minority at best think doing this is desirable, seems polarizing to me."

            I still don't understand what exactly this article is taking to its logical extreme. Are you referring to "This is why some people believe that the logical conclusion of animal rights is human extinction"? I hope I've made it clear that I don't think most vegans believe human extinction is desirable, and I don't see how it could come across otherwise in the article.

          • Gyrus

            I was never really looking at the "human extinction" bit - the problems with that one seem to go without saying. But surely your whole piece is based on following vegan principles to extremes not normally envisioned by vegans themselves? (And this could be because they haven't thought things through, or - as is my general experience - because most of them don't think that their beliefs, or anyone else's, should be enforced on a global scale.)

            Don't worry, I'm clear(er) about your position. It's just that the original piece failed to get me there.

            Did you catch 'Can vegans stomach the unpalatable truth about quinoa?' in the Guardian recently? Perhaps the impression created by your piece hit a little harder because of that. It's a quite ridiculous headline and angle, which seems to appeal to a strange anti-vegan sentiment. I mean, how many vegans do you know who, if they're reliably informed that something they buy is taking the food out of poor Bolivian mouths, would carry on regardless? Conversely, how many meat-eaters who eat quinoa will ignore this fact? I'm not saying the responses will be uniform, just that the attack on vegans here is totally misplaced.

            Don't imagine I'm conflating your position with anything Joanna Blythman wrote. It's just that that article sharpened my perception of attacks on veganism. And in the end, logical arguments or not, I don't think it's worth attacking until vegan fascists come to power. (OK, maybe a little before that point, but never fear, we're a loooooong way off.)

          • rsouthan

            "But surely your whole piece is based on following vegan principles to extremes not normally envisioned by vegans themselves?"

            I just don't see how it is. Most vegans truly are okay with altering the natural environment for human benefit, even though this destroys animal habitats and lives. They are okay with foraging. They advocating spaying and neutering their pets. They are okay with killing animals in immediate self defense, or if it's the only way to work around an extreme and unusual dietary issue, or if people live in places without access to enough plant foods to thrive. They are okay with trying to keep "pest" animals away from vegan crops. Even trapping animals can be allowed in veganic agriculture, at least according to the current UK veganic standards ( http://veganorganic.net/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/standards_jan2007.pdf ).

            Which vegan position do I exaggerate to an extreme not normally envisioned by vegans?

            I did catch that quinoa article, and I agree with your take.

          • Gyrus

            I'm agreeing to disagree here. Just wanted to mention, I see from some of the other comments that I've been lucky with my vegan friends. I guess comments on the web tend towards the obnoxious, so I won't be completely changing my general image of vegans based on them. But it still highlights for me the need for a better-pitched presentation of vegan critiques - if you're trying to change minds.

          • Ben

            Rhys, I agree with Gyrus that reading these comments presents a much more nuanced view than your article (and blogs).

            I'm curious: suppose you could swap a block of tofu for a fried chicken in someone's meal. Do you think that would (on average) reduce the amount of suffering in the world?

            A large part of what you write is criticisms of vegans, (e.g. this comment I'm responding to is a long list of what "they" think) but it strikes me that there's no criticism of vegan_ism_ - i.e. whether eating less meat will improve the world or not.

          • Dave

            Just my two cents here,

            It seems from the foregoing colloquy that Gyrus did not fully appreciate Rhys' point in the article (and I mean no offense in saying so). The thought experiment in the article (which is merely an extension of Foer's hypothetical) merely stands as a corrective to *some* vegans' notions that if everyone adopted a vegan lifestyle, animal suffering and human dominance would end. Far from being the case, animals would continue to suffer as a direct result of human activity. This, it seems to me, is a worthwhile question to pose, and an interesting problem, for both omnivores and vegans alike to ponder. People may choose to be vegan for other reasons, but for those who choose to do so in order to avoid inflicting harm on other sentient species, is it not worthwhile to challenge unstated assumptions?

          • Gyrus

            It is indeed worthwhile - if the challenge is put in a way that connects with the people being challenged rather than alienates them and provokes widespread misunderstanding. Then, the challenge is a waste of time at best. I'm not vegan, and it took in-depth conversation with the author to actually understand his beliefs and intent. To me this signals a gross failure on the part of the original piece. While I'm dismayed by some of the less tolerant vegan responses here, the general tone of the comments seems to underline this failure of the spirit - which shouldn't be hidden behind avowed success of the letter.

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-Williamson/1608880891 Michael Williamson

            You should probably research how tofu is produced before suggesting such a trade. You may find there's more animal suffering involved for an equivalent nutrition level. This, of course, assumes that soy is a healthy, desirable food for humans, which is contested. Then we come to the taste issue--soy tastes like crap to some of us, no matter what you do to it.

            A demonstrative comparison only: Calories per pound mean a vegan diet takes 9X the mass of a pure meat diet. Allowing for caloric density, it's about 12X. Allowing for the decreased shelf life of most vegetables, it's about 15X. So to feed everyone an entirely meat free diet uses 15X the truck transport and fuel of a pure meat diet. Even compared to an omnivorous diet, it's far less efficient.

            The few plants we can eat are of a handful of related families, and require specific sections of arable land to produce. That land must be cleared (of animals) and be kept clear (of animals) and be fertilized with either nitrates or massive amounts of compost, manure or sewage, which means more effect on animals.

            Rice agriculture produces almost as much methane as meat production, and if ramped up would at least displace, if not surpass that level. And vegan denial aside, rice agriculture DOES kill billions of animals.

            Edible seaweed, even farmed, affects the fish.

            For you to exist on this planet, other animals, and plants, have to die. This is not something debatable, it is a fact. There is some moral discussion possible over how many, which animals, and how they will die. But there's no getting away from it.

            And of course, even the vegans are too intrusive for fruitarians.

          • http://www.facebook.com/brent.putman Brent Putman

            Not sure where you got your numbers. Vegans emit less greenhouse gases (http://www.foodnavigator-usa.com/R-D/Environmental-footprint-of-vegan-and-vegetarian-diets-30-lower-than-non-vegetarian-diets-say-researchers-We-have-to-drastically-cut-consumption-of-meat-and-dairy), and meat and dairy use much more water than plants, even per calorie (http://www.waterfootprint.org/Reports/Hoekstra-2012-Water-Meat-Dairy.pdf).

            Vegans are well aware that every persons' existence, even their own, causes the death of other animals and plants. It is a matter of degree. And this degree is large, even when one looks at the deaths caused by harvesting plants (http://animalvisuals.org/projects/data/1mc).

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-Williamson/1608880891 Michael Williamson

            Oh, and to answer your implied question at the end: It won't.

          • monger

            I'll give you some examples. You claim that a vegan ethic would allow the aliens to steal food from humans, and to kick them out of their homes. The fact that you think this is something that a vegan would support, as though vegans only concern themselves with whether animals are killed, shows a profound lack of any understanding or credibility on what motivates vegans, among other things. Suffering, poor boy, is what is most to be avoided. That is what vegans generally understand. Stealing food and habitats from any organism that suffers would clearly be immoral under any normal conditions.

          • Archies_Boy

            "Is it inflammatory for vegans to ask meat eaters what would happen if aliens came to earth and raised us for food?"

            Indeed there's a science fiction story on that very theme. The aliens came with a book called "To Serve Man." People thought it was a manifesto describing how the aliens were going to be Man's servants. It turned out to be a recipe book.

  • Tao

    You might wish to consider holding yourself to higher intellectual standards than propagating false dichotomies, reducing complex issues to cartoonish binaries, and distorting the views you oppose by elasticizing and exaggerating them to the point of caricature. Appointing yourself the interpreter of the true intents of the animal rights movement for the reader- that you possess knowledge of vastly complex movements and demographics and have the gnostic gift of omniscience pertaining to the true beliefs of those you oppose- is insulting to the intelligence of the reader.

    From a neutral point- not vegan, and against animal abuse, for stewardship and against the idea that animal rights must become anti-humanist- this article serves only to achieve a resounding clarification that both sides are still childishly dualistic and beneath serious consideration or respect even if assessed only on their inability to conduct a dialogue on a level above rudimentary false dichotomies.

  • http://www.livinginthehereandnow.co.za/ beachcomber

    Flawed logic, arrogant suppositions, inadequate thinking ...

    • Epicurus

      I agree!

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-Williamson/1608880891 Michael Williamson

      Veganism? Yes.

  • Philip

    What would I want of our alien overlords?

    1) I would want that they at least think deeply on human welfare and consider thoroughly the effects they have on our lives.

    For this analogy vegans and vegetarians spend far more time thinking about the implications of their actions on animals than do meat-eaters, generally speaking.

    2) I would not want to be farmed, ripped from my family, placed in a pen or any such inhumane (inalien) act.

    Vegans are thoroughly against factory farming and at the very minimum (unlike meat-eaters) never buy factory-farmed produce and try to raise awareness of its consequences.

    In your article, you say 'we assume that cows, pigs, lambs and chickens who are raised on farms and killed in slaughterhouses do not suffer the horror and existential anguish that humans would in the same circumstances.' How do we know they don't? Pigs are incredibly intelligent animals and that is, of course, without any formal education. If you were taken as a 1 day old baby and never shown language, culture or any edifying behaviour and indeed were brought up in an environment designed instead for your harvest, how eloquent would you be against your own slaughter? About as eloquent as a pig or lamb, which shrieks and whose eyes bulge as they are pressed into the killing chambers.

    Finally, a major logical flaw seems to be the article's inability to envisage a world where humans proactively help animals and not just mitigate their harm. Vegans would be the first in line to share medical technology with as many animals as we could afford to. We can rebuild their habitats after natural disasters and save species that might have gone extinct and relocate them into more favourable habitats (or nature reserves). We can even begin to teach the very basics of erudition to the most advanced animals, for example chimpanzees. For our analogy, I would love for aliens to treat us this way and for it to be as unthinkable to them as it is to vegans for a product like foie gras to exist in the world.

    • rsouthan

      "In your article, you say 'we assume that cows, pigs, lambs and chickens who are raised on farms and killed in slaughterhouses do not suffer the horror and existential anguish that humans would in the same circumstances.' How do we know they don't? Pigs are incredibly intelligent animals and that is, of course, without any formal education."

      We know farm animals do not suffer the same kind of existential anguish as humans would in this situation because humans are better at communication and spreading information to each other. Farm animals have no way of knowing that they are being raised as food for us, but if aliens were farming humans for food, it wouldn't take long for some of us to cotton onto what was happening and spread the word to the other humans being farmed. When farm animals disappear to the slaughterhouse, the animals who remain on the farm have no way of knowing what happened to them, but humans being farmed would figure it out -- if only from their own history of farming animals for food. It also seems safe to assume that humans feel more of a drive to find meaning in their lives, and are more likely to ruminate on their own future deaths. Which means humans' status as farm animals would be more distressing for them than it is for pigs who are intelligent but probably aren't grappling with issues about what they are doing with their lives, and their frustrated creative or social ambitions.

      However, I suppose that over the course of a few generations, the aliens could raise us and condition us to believe that our friends were just going off to another farm when they were actually being shipped off to slaughterhouses. And this would be even easier for the aliens to pull off if they killed us at a very young age. Even so, the slavery and Shoah analogies to farming animals still don't work, because slaves and concentration camp inmates did know what was going on and what would happen to them, much more so than animals on a humane farm could possibly know.

      "If you were taken as a 1 day old baby and never shown language, culture or any edifying behaviour and indeed were brought up in an environment designed instead for your harvest, how eloquent would you be against your own slaughter? About as eloquent as a pig or lamb, which shrieks and whose eyes bulge as they are pressed into the killing chambers."

      This seems to imply that animals are less articulate than us only because humans have raised them to be ignorant, without allowing them to communicate or learn to read. But would a feral pig or wild goat sent to slaughter be more articulate about their fears than the domesticated pigs or sheep?

      "Finally, a major logical flaw seems to be the article's inability to envisage a world where humans proactively help animals and not just mitigate their harm. Vegans would be the first in line to share medical technology with as many animals as we could afford to. We can rebuild their habitats after natural disasters and save species that might have gone extinct and relocate them into more favourable habitats (or nature reserves). We can even begin to teach the very basics of erudition to the most advanced animals, for example chimpanzees."

      I do think you're onto something with this paragraph, though in practice I think it might be too idealistic. One of the questions vegans often get is whether they would try to end carnivory in the wild. Most vegans seem to treat this notion as absurd. (But not all, of course. David Pearce is one exception: http://www.hedweb.com/abolitionist-project/reprogramming-predators.html ). But I think something like this is a potential way for vegans to argue that animal rights or suffering reduction arguments do not ultimately require human extinction. If vegan humans could end carnivory in the wild, or if they could benefit animal habitats more than they harm them -- as you suggest -- humans could earn their keep in this way and justify their continued existence despite causing harms to animals. But for this to work, humans would need to cause more good than harm to other animals, which I think might be impossible to pull off. For instance, if there is medical technology that humans can share with other animals, this means there is still a human civilization, and I find it hard to envision a human civilization that is helping animal habitats more than it is hurting. Perhaps, though, vegans will eventually sketch out a plausible vision.

  • Sirius

    The author seems oblivious to bifurcation, or the all-or-nothing fallacy. The fact that veganism causes harm does not justify meat eating, any more than deaths by swimming pool justifies the private ownership of assault rifles. Why can't he see the problem here? Road building and urban sprawl is damaging to the environment, but then so is the farming of animals, and on a massive scale: the existence of one does not justify the other. Mimi Bekhechi has written a great peace recently that looks into this kind of simple false equivalence that we often hear from those who are opposed to vegetarianism:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/jan/22/quinoa-bolivian-farmers-meat-eaters-hunger

    In the comments he has shifted to a more conciliatory tone and is advocating limited meat eating, possibly on the basis that it causes less harm than an exclusively plant based diet. This is not mentioned in the article, however. The idea that we should utilise areas of land that can't support crop cultivation, and that limited meat eating of grass fed animals arguably causes less harm than an exclusive reliance on monocultures is an idea that's been around for a very long time, and as you might imagine it's not something that all animal scientists and environmentalists agree on.

    For one thing, most pasture fed animals have their diets supplemented with silage in the winter or if they are sent to finishing units, so they still rely on monocultures to some extent, and cattle and sheep grazing presents a whole its own set of environmental problems. There are local issues like water use and land degradation, and global issues such as GHG emissions, that may be even greater from pasture fed animals than from their grain fed counterparts. So using the least harm principle to justify meat eating (originally presented in a discredited paper by Steven Davis) is not without considerable controversy.

    One final point, if you really feel the need to criticise vegans on the basis of harm to animals, I presume you don't eat pork and chicken?

    • rsouthan

      "The author seems oblivious to bifurcation, or the all-or-nothing fallacy. The fact that veganism causes harm does not justify meat eating, any more than deaths by swimming pool justifies the private ownership of assault rifles. Why can't he see the problem here? Road building and urban sprawl is damaging to the environment, but then so is the farming of animals, and on a massive scale: the existence of one does not justify the other."

      You're missing my point, but you could rearrange your last sentence in this paragraph and get closer to it: "The farming of animals is damaging to the environment, and on a massive scale, but then so is road building and urban sprawl: the existence of one does not justify the other." I am not saying that vegans causing harm justifies meat eating. Nor am I saying that vegans need to stop all the harm they're causing. My main point is that vegans and meat eaters are not as ethically different as vegans often think.

      "So using the least harm principle to justify meat eating (originally presented in a discredited paper by Steven Davis) is not without considerable controversy."

      I am not using the least harm principle to justify meat eating in this article. Vegans don't follow the least harm principle, but I'm not claiming meat eaters do either.

      "One final point, if you really feel the need to criticise vegans on the basis of harm to animals, I presume you don't eat pork and chicken?"

      I almost never eat pork or chicken, but what's your point? Is it that pigs are intelligent and often skittish, and thus suffer more than other animals from being farmed, and that chicken farming causes more suffering than farming cows because chickens are small and so it takes many more chickens to get the same amount of meat? That is part of the reason that I don't eat pork or chicken, but the other reason is that I eat animal products mainly for health reasons, and I don't think pigs or chickens are the most nutritious to eat. I wouldn't turn down chicken hearts, livers or feet, or pig ear -- and admittedly I do eat plenty of free-range eggs -- but normally I stick to fish and offal from cows.

      • Sirius

        "I am not saying that vegans causing harm justifies meat eating. Nor am I saying that vegans need to stop all the harm they're causing. My main point is that vegans and meat eaters are not as ethically different as vegans often think."

        What 'vegans usually think' is that there is a strong case for veganism, and the existence of roads and urban development is an irrelevant and distracting side issue. All you’ve managed to say in 2000 words is that vegans and non-vegans inhabit the same planet. Well done.

        • rsouthan

          Not just that they inhabit the same planet, but that they have ideologies that allow them to dominate said planet. Meat eaters and vegans alike are selfish and put their interests before the interests of nonhuman animals.

          • Sirius

            "Meat eaters and vegans alike are selfish and put their interests before the interests of nonhuman animals."

            But vegans cause less suffering by not eating animals, and everything else is just equivocation. People who recycle put their selfish interests before nature because they drive cars. People who give some of their income to charity are selfish because they buy DVDs. People who donate blood are selfish because they keep bone marrow to themselves. Why can't you see the flaw these all-or-nothing arguments?

            Veganism is a demanding lifestyle, but if someone chooses to abstain from eating animals then it makes no sense to try to undermine them by judging them against an even more exacting standard.

          • Sirius

            "Meat eaters and vegans alike are selfish and put their interests before the interests of nonhuman animals."

            But vegans cause less suffering by not eating animals, and everything else is just pointless equivocation. People who recycle put their selfish interests before nature because they drive cars. People who give some of their income to charity are selfish because they buy DVDs. People who donate blood are selfish because they keep bone marrow to themselves. Why can't you see the flaw these all-or-nothing arguments?

            Veganism is a demanding lifestyle, but if someone chooses to abstain from eating animals then it makes no sense to try to undermine them by judging them against an even more exacting standard, that's just using perfect as the enemy of good.

      • Rank

        "I am not using the least harm principle to justify meat eating in this article. Vegans don't follow the least harm principle, but I'm not claiming meat eaters do either."

        You are not a vegan, nor have you been, even though you "tried". So don't speak for us with your corrupted "meat head".

        • Brian <M

          Thank the FSM I am NOT a fundamentalist religious vegan, even though I think there are arguments in favor of drastically reducing meat consumption.

          Look at the "othering" here involved in the perjorative term "meathead" for example. What next, pogroms against the vile infidel omnivores? l.
          The self righteous piety here is astonishing and worthy of an abortion clinic bomber or suicide attacker trained in a madrass.

      • Rank

        "My main point is that vegans and meat eaters are not as ethically different as vegans often think."

        WRONG. Most vegans KNOW they are more enlightened, more educated, more thoughtful and more intelligent. It is a fact. The differences are completely evident (to vegans at least).

    • http://www.facebook.com/hillary.rettig Hillary Rettig

      Sirius and others - I also wrote an article critical of dichotomization and other tactics as used both by vegans (often well-meaning) and critics of veganism (often not-so- well-meaning). http://www.vegsource.com/news/2012/06/the-rise-of-nonperfectionist-veganism.html

      • Max

        Hillary, I read your article. I see your heart is in the right place, but it too --along with Rhys'-- is very unhelpful to people. Lots of words but very little clarity. Veganism is simple, why are you and others making it a complicated mess. To have something to write about? Your 10,000 words for the day. Here, write this down "Veganism is the Golden Rule" yet applied to animals too. The Golden Rule, if you have forgotten is "do unto others.."

  • John Lemons

    I find this article somewhat lacking. Fundamentally, it is about beliefs of "deep ecology," which holds, among other things, that the world would be better off morally speaking if humans were not part of this earth because of the suffering and pain they cause and which they ought to have moral knowledge about. It also assumes that to satisfy moral norms (never expressed) that people would have an obligation to make heroic sacrifices. I know of no philosophical tradition that holds this view.

    John Lemons

  • Rmeyer

    yet again, an argument that comes down to...."You (vegans) can't do everything good, therefore it's okay for me to do nothing".

  • mijnheer

    I agree with many of the commenters here. The author seems to attack a straw-man all-or-nothing notion of veganism, but then backs off and criticizes most vegans for not adopting an all-or-nothing position after all. Most vegans are well aware that there is no perfect solution to the problem of harming other beings, but believe it is morally desirable to minimize the harm we do, consistent with living flourishing lives ourselves. That includes minimizing the destruction of wildlife habitat. Admittedly, the devil is in the details. Vegans, and animal liberationists in general, cannot be shoehorned into one type. There is vigorous -- often civil but sometimes acrimonious -- debate among animal liberationists on many issues.

    The author of this piece, a lapsed vegan himself, I believe, can't just let go and move on. He's jilted his girlfriend and now he spends an awful lot of time reminding himself of all her flaws, real or imagined.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Diana-Rosalind-Trimble/674501149 Diana Rosalind Trimble

    The problem that many omnivorous ethical campaigners for food justice, such as myself, have with vegans is that they do seem to generally and genuinely believe, en masse, that what they are doing is "right" and better for the planet. But is this even true? No. Vegans try to win their arguments by lumping all people who eat meat in the category of McDonalds-eatin', factory farming advocates who don't give a shit what happens to the creature before it gets to the burger. But nothing could be further from the truth. There are massive ethical differences in farms when you start talking about scale, and personally, I feel that the people supporting small and local farms, by buying their dairy, eggs and meat, are helping to SAVE the planet. Certainly we are helping to save ancient ways of life and traditions of animal husbandry that are a force of resistance against the tidal wive of unchecked capitalism, seeking only the profit motive. I pay £2.50 for a chunk of local butter, instead of buying the commercial brand that costs £1 less and I'm happy to do it. I want to preserve small dairies plus it tastes incredibly delicious!

    I realize that not all vegans are smug twats. I have known some who were very low-key about their diet, didn't preach or try to convert and weren't pains in the ass when attempting to go out for lunch. These ones seem to understand that it's a personal choice.

    But it is also true that I have actually had to part ways with some vegan friends because they refused to recognize their dietary choices for what they really are: personal. I have had vegans try to insist that human teeth prove that we weren't meant to eat meat when even a non-meat eating dentist will tell you that aint the case - our teeth show we are omnivores. I have had vegans admire the pretty little sheep dotting the countryside where I live yet fail to appreciate that without human caretakers - who will one day take their wool and their flesh - those scenic creatures would not exist. I have had vegans bore me senseless with their food neuroses as they reject one dining establishment after the other, only to stave off their hunger with mass-produced potato chips and candy while I continue to starve cuz I don't eat that crap. Good for the planet eh?

    Vegans, with their emphasis on what they believe is animal rights, have a tendency to be tunnel-visioned and fail to look at the bigger picture. If they did they'd be forced to admit that it is possible to do even greater damage to the environment, to society, to other species, by single-mindedly pursuing their agenda. Vegetarian shoes? Hope they're made out of something recycled, otherwise, you are supporting the toxic petroleum and plastics industries when you buy fake leather. Soybean crops are destroying the Amazon and vegans might like to insist that much of this is for cattle feed but growers don't distinguish between consumers - it's not as if this batch is for cows and that batch for saintly urban vegans, so there is no way of divorcing oneself from exploitative soya farming practices if you consume these products, which I don't as they're not fit for human consumption in the first place, taste like ass, and are more processed than baloney slices.

    And what about things like quinoa? In their quest for non-animal protein, vegans have discovered the wondergrain of South America! Too bad for the local peasants though - due to sudden world demand, the price has shot up so much that in Lima, in January 2013, it was less costly to buy a chicken than quinoa! But the chicken of equivalent weight is not going to go as far as the grain would. This grain has been the staple for poor Bolivians and Peruvians for thousands of years. But now, thanks to the high-minded "ethics" of vegans the world over, these peasants are suffering malnutrition as they turn to cheap imported junk food, no longer able to afford quinoa. And what about the food miles?

    This is just one example of the contradictions that exist in veganism. So I utterly reject the claim that 99% of vegans are more concerned about the environment than non-vegans. What a totally absurd and fabricated statistic! I'd ask what it's based on except I already know: the imagination of the commenter. There are ecology activists amongst vegans just as there are amongst non-vegans. I am not going to invent any statistics but just leave you all with this thought:

    Organizations such as Compassion in World Farming, with whom I've done some work here in the UK, only make the great strides they do in improving the welfare of farm animals world wide, BECAUSE of consumer concern. Not because of the extremists who do not consume farm products.

    We are in the free will zone and everybody can eat whatever they like, as long as it's legal wherever they are. If something is wrong or bad, then try to change laws, like I do. But when it comes to trying to convince people that veganism is "better" for the planet, just remember that the truth can be a lot more complicated.

    • mijnheer

      You are correct to say that the truth is complicated. That includes the effects of rising demand for quinoa
      http://ain-bolivia.org/2011/05/bolivian-quinoa-questions-production-and-food-security/
      and claims about "food miles".
      http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2008/mar/23/food.ethicalliving

      As for your claim that what one eats is simply a personal choice, you are begging the question -- i.e., you are assuming the very thing that is at issue. Presumably you would not claim that cannibalism or driving while drunk or rape or keeping slaves is simply a personal choice, even leaving legalities aside. Indeed, things are often more complicated than they first appear. Perhaps you should have a word with those few vegan acquaintances of yours who "seem to understand" that whom we eat is just a personal choice.

      • Emily H.

        Comparing meat-eating with rape & slavery is Not A Good Look for advocates of veganism.

        • mijnheer

          You seem to have missed my point, which is that there are many things that nearly everyone would agree are not to be considered simply matters of personal choice. To claim, without argument, as Ms. Trimble does, that what one eats is merely a personal choice, is to beg the question at issue. In fact, Ms. Trimble doesn't really believe her own claim, since she thinks that it is ethically wrong to destroy so much rainforest for crop production, that we ought to consider the effects of our food choices on South American peasants, and that we ought to improve the "welfare of farm animals". If she had provided a rational argument to counter the vegan claim that almost all meat-eating is ethically wrong, Ms. Trimble could have made a positive contribution to the discussion.

          • Emily H.

            I didn't "miss" any point. You compared a thing to two other things. Comparing the suffering of animals to that of women & black people under slavery is in extremely poor taste. You're comparing human beings to animals -- human beings who have already historically been dehumanized.

            Like if you personally consider eating animals to be as bad as slavery, I'm not going to change your mind, but when you're in a public forum, consider changing things up & comparing meat-eating to tax evasion or something.

          • mijnheer

            I did not compare meat-eating or the suffering of animals to anything. I did not compare human beings to animals. I simply gave some examples of practices that almost everyone would agree are wrong. As for meat-eating, I did not say or imply that it is wrong. Rather, I pointed out that Ms. Trimble was begging the question when she claimed that meat-eating is merely a personal choice. I was making a point of logic, not making an ethical judgement. Do you understand the difference?

            When you are replying to a comment in a public forum, consider reading the comment with care so that your reply will not be foolish.

          • semipalmata

            It amazes me how often people don't understand a cogent point like yours. Emily, it is not an equivalency argument. Mijnheer is not equating any one issue with another. Mijnheer is pointing out logical inconsistencies in the original comment, which necessitates using various examples to illustrate how that logic is flawed. Please read and process others' comments more carefully, because your derisiveness simply shows an inability to grasp the true content.

        • Max

          Suck it up. It is a fact.

          • Emily H.

            It is a "fact" that eating meat is comparable to rape & slavery? You have a strange notion of what constitutes a fact.

    • MAX

      Most of your points are illogical and ignorant. I bet you think God gave us these "soulless" animals to "do what we please with", to grind them into hamburgers or use them for cruel experiments. WRONG! Fish, cat, dog, pig, human... all are intelligent, all have feelings, all have memories, we are all the same! DO YOU GET IT?

    • thewarning

      "Vegans try to win their arguments by lumping all people who eat meat in the category of McDonalds-eatin', factory farming advocates who don't give a shit what happens to the creature before it gets to the burger."

      So you are trying to win your argument by lumping all vegans together, but your main point of concern is that vegans lump all meat-eaters together? And you don't see this obvious flaw in your approach? I am a vegan who does not lump all meat-eaters or meat-eating or meat production together, so I lay to waste your case here.

  • skott daltonic

    i am a vegan.
    i think that it is wrong to exploit animals and subject them to unnecessary cruelty and torture.
    in addition, a vegan lifestyle affords me a healthier diet wasting less natural resources and creating less damage to the environment as a whole.
    those are facts.
    no, it's not going to be 100% balanced for every animal on earth.
    but it will solve many of our current international woes as far as health, food, resources and climate change.
    maybe you'd like more from veganism.
    seems like it's already doing more than omnivore and carnivore diets to make the planet a more livable place.

  • Max

    The author is a weakling who couldn't stick to a vegan diet. Now, since he needs something to write about, he poo-poos veganism to justify his shitty little life.

    • Carney3

      Rather than honestly engage his devastating arguments, you resort to name-calling. Says a lot about you.

    • Emily H.

      Yeah I guess people who are suffering or experiencing severe health problems on a vegan diet should just tough it out. No pain, no gain! Real compassionate.

      • MAX

        What?! Emily that is BS. Vegans aren't suffering or experiencing severe health problems. In fact, most have significantly improved health since they converted. Conversely, those on the Standard American Diet (SAD) are the ones suffering and dying. Meat and dairy CAUSE cancer and a wide variety of other diseases. This has been proven over and over again. We pity the meat eater.

    • Gyrus

      You and the author need each other for your pissing contests.

  • http://www.facebook.com/skip.dykoski Skip Dykoski

    This is a spacious argument. Just because your doing two things destructive to animals - torturing them and killing them for food, etc., and destroying their habitat, hence killing them incidentally - doesn't mean you can't stop one of your destructive habits by your own volition. We could also do two nice things for animals by preserving their habitat which also makes it a much nicer world to live in. Limit our population and consumption and live more in harmony with Mother Earth.

    • mijnheer

      All of Rhys Southan's arguments are spacious; in fact, some of them take up so much space that it's hard to find time to read them from start to finish. This one is particularly spacious, as it's about invading space aliens. (Or if the picture above is to be believed, they may be spice aliens, possibly from Australia.)

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_S2FKTF3MVLASN3KN6R6ZSMIXUM Christian

    Or perhaps, to the author's surprise, vegans are just trying to do their part. The current trend in absolutist opinions is disturbing, almost Fascist in nature. The idea, that there is no point in acting individually since the masses won't act accordingly, that if you can't solve a problem completely and utterly, that you should just throw up your hands and say " Oh well! Fuck it!", is nonsense. I'm not even vegan...

    • semipalmata

      Thank you, this is true. And it's being used to promote agendas of exploitation, by devaluing compassionate acts if they don't meet an arbitrary standard of purity. Others here have alluded to the same tactic used by those who rationalize intentional harm toward animals (hunting, slaughter, etc.)

    • hotnat

      Christian - I think this is the exact comment i was looking to post myself. As an ethical vegan (who incidentally was an extremely unethical meat-eater for over 32 years) i feel it my own duty to make decisions that will lessen my impact on the world and its inhabitants.

      If everybody adopted this mentality then of course suffering would be reduced. Of course it can never be truly eradicated but a hefty amount can be lessened and surely that is more preferable?
      Each time i choose to not eat an animal that has been killed - that is one less animal that 'could' have lived - or rather - not have been reared at all. If more and more people resisted a chicken nugget or a bacon sandwich then less and less animals would be created for the sole purpose of being killed.
      And the land, on which human-created herds of cattle graze, would no longer be necessary.
      As Gandhi may (or may not have said) - "Be the change you wish to see in the world"

    • dropsoul

      Yes!

  • http://twitter.com/mattrss mattrss

    For the commenters who, delightfully, are doing nothing to diminish the image of vegans as self-involved and smug (particularly enjoying the 'man up, girly carnivore' response, but they're all classics of the genre) consider that there might be two(ish) positions:

    1) We should reduce the suffering of animals as a result of human activities.

    2) Veganism is a method to achieve 1)

    2a) Veganism is the ONLY method to, or at the very least, first prerequisite of 1)

    It's hard to argue that vegans do not hold 1) and 2). We can argue about whether they hold 2a). I'd say most do - at least anyone who would consider themselves evangelical about the philosophy. My generous interpretation of the above is that 2a) is not very defensible, and many of the metaphors used to advance 2a) ('alien overlords') don't really pass intuitive muster if taken further than their authors restrain them. By all means let us consider reducing the suffering of animals. The real questions should be:

    By how much? At what expense? What are ALL the appropriate methods?

    Veganism, esp. at 2a), papers over questions like this with an injunction about behaviour. A broader and more utilitarian philosophy, more useful for humanity at large, will need to do more work than that injunction.

  • Dante

    After reading the comments here, I think the article does not give an accurate representation of your views. I think you extended yourself too much for only one hypothetical situation. I think about all the people who will have their meat-loving views affirmed by this article. The fact is that being vegan reduces your consumption levels. It is closer to a much more sustainable lifestyle than what we currently have. There are hypocritical problems with it of course which you point out in the article. However, these hypocrisies do not invalidate any argument towards a 50%, 75%, or 110% vegan diet. The type of veganism you seem to basing your counterargument on is an extreme.You acknowledge this to Gyrus:

    "'Rejection of extreme veganism as a solution to the world's problems shouldn't be a mask for failing to address those problems at all.'

    I never said it should be."

    Your article uses "extreme" veganism as its base. The people reading this who have no knowledge of veganism will be further polarized.

    The sentence I find most insightful to your perspective is this one:

    "No matter what ethical philosophy we hold on to, on the day that brilliant, powerful aliens invade our planet, we’d better hope that they don’t try to be anything like us."

    It is insightful because you have wrapped up your argument acknowledging that any alien species like humans would treat us as we do animals. Essentially, you are wrapping up your counterargument by using the argument you were arguing against. Witty, perhaps but your article became circular. You put yourself in the shoes of the animals which we manipulate, say that is not a good place to be, say that it is a fact of life, and move on -- all in the last paragraph. The point of veganism is that this does not have to be a fact of life, and we can live harmoniously with the earth and its beings. We choose not to. Vegans are definitely trying. That is what you are missing in veganism misrepresented in this article.

    • Emily H.

      Hypocrisies don't invalidate ANY argument, not even one in favor of 110% veganism? I went to college with a few people like u :7(

    • LobarCybertronic

      I think Rhys aims this article at extreme veganism, because the extreme vegans are the ones that give veganism a bad name. Changing your lifestyle completely, for most people in the world is generally seen as an extreme action, especially when it comes to something that is so vital in human social lives - food.

      But then you get the extreme vegans who ostracize anyone who they don't see as perfect, and it really puts people off. What Rhys is doing is trying to show the hypocrisy in a "holier than thou" position. And believe me, I've seen debates on vegan forums between REAL extreme vegans - one rings specifically true; the other day when I was reading a vegan blog I started reading the comments and there was some hostile debate between your average vegans and 2 extreme vegans. These vegans were throwing not only insults, but basically threw 99% of vegans out of their labelling - basically, if you're going vegan for health or environmental reasons, you can't class yourself as vegan.

      Now, how does putting yourself high above others do anything at all to convert people to your way of thinking?

      Reminds me of exactly when Jesus said "you must hate your mother and father if your want to follow me"...

      • thewarning

        So why didn't he point out that he was only arguing against one type of vegan? That would have made a big difference.

  • Rowan

    What the hell is 'vegan ethics'? Sounds like vegans have some kind of Holy text, which they all align to and religiously base their ethical choices on. As commented already from numerous readers, this is a very misguided idea of veganism presented.

    Really, we can't assume anything of someone who considers themselves vegan, other than that their diet is vegan. Their ethics could be anything. Hitler was a vegetarian for God's sake.

    The only thing I can imagine to be 'vegan ethics', is the ethical principles that *lead* to veganism. Those ethical principles are, among others, animal rights and animal welfare, both of which take into deep consideration other aspects of animal suffering on this planet at the hands of humanity, as touched on in this article.

    While I appreciate the intended argument here, (that much more than a vegan diet is needed) the misrepresentation of veganism as an ethics, along with the sweeping generalisations of vegans themselves, shows a grave misunderstanding of the issue, and thus prevents me from being able to take this article seriously.

    • Emily H.

      "The only thing I can imagine to be 'vegan ethics', is the ethical
      principles that *lead* to veganism. Those ethical principles are, among
      others, animal rights and animal welfare." That's what the author means by "vegan ethics."

  • http://www.facebook.com/michael.j.moran.77 Michael JP Moran

    Recognition of human obligations is not synonymous with animal rights. Lessening the inevitable wake of suffering we leave behind us is an incessant string of personal choices. I think there is little argument that you may confidently choose plants over meat at your next meal and consider yourself to have contributed something worthwhile.

  • Carney3

    Brilliant.

  • http://theboxofficejunkie.com Reebee7

    Self. Awareness.

  • Melissa

    What a stupid article.

  • ronald

    stupid article

  • elle

    I think the fundamental idea of "domination" should be examined. Parents are more clever than their children (usually) but it doesn't give them the right to eat their own kids. They are more a caretaker--which is a more compassionate idea.

    I disagree with many ideas in this piece. Mostly though, the idea that because we can't stop certain forms of destruction (habitat etc) that it makes an "argument" that veganist ideas are somehow invalid. Shouldn't we try to do what we can at this point?

    Analogy: Why recycle? Because we "do what we can". It's an attempt at justice, which is a good sign of civility. Trying to right a wrong.

    Also, some species do experience hunting as their main form of destruction. To think otherwise goes against plenty of research into extinction of certain species.

    In the end, what does this text give to the world? It seems that it simply is arguing for status quo as a rather weak attempt at dealing with the overwhelming predicament we have gotten ourselves into. Do what you can. Don't argue for doing nothing.

  • elle

    ...also I would like to add that the misunderstanding of dynamic arguments for veganism, as posted in some of the author comments, are exactly the ways in which veganism is marginalized. Not all vegans feel morally superior; not all vegans are "granola loving hippies"; not all vegans are blind to the notion that supply and demand for animal products will completely vanish. Some vegans are realists also. But again, they do what they can. And in my case, I just want to eat a healthier diet--lower my cholesterol, and increase my consumption of homegrown fruits and veggies.

    • LobarCybertronic

      Then you are a nice vegan. One I'd actually like to have as a friend and talk with. Although, according to 2 vegans on a blog that I was reading the other day, you're not a real vegan. To quote what I read "If you're vegan for health or environmental reasons, then you cannot label yourself as a vegan".

      This is the group that Rhys seems to be attacking in his posts.

  • K. Vora

    Aliens who can traverse many lightyears would have figured out how to meet their basic needs. Besides, they would have also gone through an evolution, albeit different than ours. In that context, the article is waste of space and time.

    Sure, an alien civilization may think Earth could be reformed (like Terra-forming of Mars) to their delight and pleasure.

    Life consumes life because it is cheaper!

  • http://profiles.google.com/dr.paolucci Dr. Rocco Paolucci

    Once we have "cheapened" the life of non-human animals, we will have cheapened the life of humans, as well. What we have done and are doing to animals, will increasingly be done to humans in the future. These are some of the more common human practices which have historically been reserved mostly for animals, but will soon be common practice with humans: physiological/biological experimentation, selective and inter-breeding, genetic engineering, abortion-on-demand, euthanasia, killing of the useless (feeble, sick, and elderly), etc. In other words, humans who are mentally or physically weak and/or those who no longer serve a "greater" social purpose will be exterminated. We will NEVER have a "humane" society if humans are not respectful of our fellow animals first and foremost.

    • Max

      Well said. You are my hero!

  • http://twitter.com/jethrobrice Jethro Brice

    I think you overextend your argument by weighing in too heavily on the rhetoric. Insofar as I understand the point you are trying to make, I believe I agree with you. However, being told, inaccurately, what vegan ethics 'allow' or don't 'allow', is both irritating and distracting. If you used less flourishes in your writing, and took more care to make your own position clear, I think this would be a better article.

    Since vegans are many and varied in their opinions, and are frequently concerned and engaged with the issues you raise, maybe you would do better to speak for yourself, outlining what vegan ideas have given you and where they left you unsatisfied, and perhaps then go on to explore some kind of solution or whatever journey you have made? This would be less likely to trigger knee-jerk responses from both directions, and would also be much more interesting to those of us who have already given thought to these dilemmas.

    For clarity's sake, let me say that I am writing as a long-standing but inconsistent vegan, one who has adopted vegan practices as a strategy when it seemed the best response to living in a messed-up world, but has always been conscious of the contradictions, and keen to learn and challenge and explore.

  • Nathan Schaaf

    I am not sure where you found this monolithic set of "vegan principles", but it certainly doesn't seem to connect with the ideas any of the vegans who I have met. I have never met a vegan who is not also an environmentalist or who hasn't considered the effects of plant agriculture on the planet. I think it is important to note that it takes **a lot** of plant agriculture to support animal agriculture, so the 'unfortunate but necessary' quote makes a little more sense. We can reduce these consequences by not consuming animal products.

  • semipalmata

    As others have pointed out, there are myriad problems with the analyses in this piece. I won't belabor the points already covered by other commenters, but a significant flaw in the argument is that Southan makes assessments of human nature and of our relationship to other species, based on how humans now operate in an arena where we have, indeed, perverted the idea of dominion or coexistence. The author asserts that, "The conflicts between humans and other species, however, are genetic and inevitable: our DNA and accumulated knowledge and technology currently makes us the cleverest, most powerful species on the planet, and since we cannot cooperate with wild animals for mutual benefit of all sentient beings, we have little choice but to dominate instead."

    I'm not sure how anyone can assert this "fact" with any credibility, since a hypothetical society where everyone was a vegan would surely have toppled the dominant social, psychological and scientific paradigms which led to this behavioral -- not genetic -- domination of other species. Because veganism on a large scale has never been tried, we have no idea how the ideas of compassion and inter-species consciousness which follow from ahimsa or least harm lifestyles, would expand and evolve in the context of a society and a world where exploitation as it exists today is simply not an option.

    There's a viable counterpart to this alien analogy as dissected by Southan -- and that is, a hypothetical world where the practice of veganism has so altered the human psyche toward the benevolent, that a new model of existence takes hold -- one that's so contrary to our historical patterns of exploitation -- that we, in our current understanding, can't even envision what that life form and coexistence would look like. I for one, would like to move in a direction where might even come close to that idea of nonviolence and care. Southan's perspective and essay serve only to defend a status quo that doesn't even endeavor to dream about the possibilities of earthly justice.

    Of course, as another commenter mentioned, this essay feeds into the all-or-nothing fallacy which serves to undermine genuine, proactive and positive intent and outcome -- if those acts don't meet some impossible standard of perfection. It's an argument used so often against those of us who are working hard for social and animal justice issues, that it's become as inert as a meat industry talking point.

    Because Southan relies on these fallacious premises to further his ideas about veganism and human domination, he fails to realize how even the imperfect model he presents would account for such a dramatic reduction in suffering, that this model alone could be construed as harmonious in a sense we've never seen on this planet.

    Oh, and, as far suggesting something like hunting is the least worry for wildlife, let's ask the 200+ million animals and their unreported counterparts (legally slain coyotes and so forth) if the complete absence of an intensive, four-month hunting seasons and year-round violent assaults in some cases would in any way impact their existence significantly. Please. A world in which intentional violence toward non-human animals was virtually eliminated would engender a mindset that would further develop creative ways to manifest a more peaceful coexistence that Southan deems impossible.

  • p1970

    This was a really thought-provoking and enjoyable read. I sincerely hope that I will have the opportunity to read more of your essays in the future. That's not flattery.

    You've definitely laid out in a rather stark way many of the limits of veganism, which were sort of lurking in the back of my mind, but which I hadn't imagined so clearly before.

    My response, as one commenter said below, is that an individual ethics of veganism in a nonvegan world then scaled up for the whole world wouldn't be the same as an actual worldwide veganism. A lot of problems that are intractable now might be far less so in a world with shared vegan values.

    There are principles that societies are positioned to practice that individuals aren't. I believe in free speech, but I'm not a government or a society, so I'm not really positioned to 'practice free speech' in the same sense that I practice not eating animals. Free speech only becomes meaningful when like-minded people come together to form a group controlling a particular piece of territory. I believe the environment would be far better served by sharing the cost of environmental laws across all taxpayers (through government-funded real compensation to those affected) rather than imposing the cost on a small segment of people (through inadequate or no compensation), but it's not something that I can 'practice' as an individual. Wouldn't a vegan world be willing (and able, through its collective effort) to help industries or people engaged in animal-harming livelihoods transition out of them?

  • mijnheer

    Rhys Southan: "Since the vegan aliens would claim to be anti-speciesist, it would be unjust discrimination for them to value the lives of humans over those of other animals such as deer, squirrels, pigeons, rabbit, or fish. So if the aliens couldn’t tolerate soy, wheat, fructose, oxalates, or nuts, or if they lived somewhere without much in the way of vegan foods, they could eat us with a clear conscience."

    Peter Singer, in Animal Liberation: "I conclude, then, that a rejection of speciesism does not imply that all lives are of equal worth. ... It is not arbitrary to hold that the life of a self-aware being, capable of abstract thought, of planning for the future, of complex acts of communication, and so on, is more valuable than the life of a being without these capacities. ... Normally this will mean that if we have to choose between the life of a human being and the life of another animal we should choose to save the life of the human being."

    Tom Regan, in The Case for Animal Rights: "Now, the harm that death is, is a function of the opportunities for satisfaction it forecloses, and no reasonable person would deny that the death of any of the four humans [trapped in an overloaded lifeboat with a dog] would be a greater prima facie loss, and thus a greater prima facie harm, than would be true in the case of the dog. ... Our belief that it is the dog who should be killed is justified.... To decide matters against the [dog] is not speciesist."

    It seems Southan’s vegan aliens have not read some of the key Earthling literature on the subject. But why should they? They're smarter than we are.

    • thewarning

      Perfect!

  • K. Vora

    Not all plants are edible; many are potently poisonous. A seed would love to germinate on a soil enriched by decomposing mammalian bodies, for that matter, on a living body as well. If that eggplant were to have feet, it would run away!

  • Brian D

    It seems to me this article boils down as such: Vegans say they want to stop oppressing animals, but veganism as currently practiced -- if spread universally -- would still leave many animals oppressed. So, vegans shouldn't bother reducing suffering, since their method can't eliminate it entirely. They're hypocrites for trying to help but not solving the whole problem, just huge and most egregious aspects of it. What am I missing?

  • Tonya229

    Why I think this article is one of the
    most ridiculous pieces of logic I've ever seen written:

    You used the sci fi repackaging of
    the Golden Rule to determine if this value extends to animals as
    well and concluded that we couldn't correlate the animals experience
    using our humanness. This is certainly true, but doesn't prove that
    we shouldn't only that we can't know for sure. Additionally, the
    point of that analogy wasn't to highlight the do unto others rule,
    it was to try to get people to put themselves in a situation that we
    put animals in. The aliens (being us) would also have no idea of
    how we (now the farmed animals) were perceiving our torture and
    abuse, but the point is, they don't care, or think it's pointless
    because we're not as smart and powerful as them leaving us
    inconsequential in our wants, desires our needs.

    Veganism to safeguard our well
    being against an alien oppressor. True, veganism would not
    safeguard our well being against the aliens....I'm not sure exactly
    what the point is here, no vegan that I know of or any vegan
    argument I have ever read has used veganism for self protection as
    an argument for veganism.

    Your universal veganism point is a
    perfect example of the “slippery slope” fallacy where a
    relatively first small step (stopping the exploitation of animals)
    leads into a chain of related events culminating into some
    significant effect (we're back in the stone age gathering nuts with
    no modern infrastructures)

    Your highlight of the quote form
    UCNS is really out of context – they are analyzing threats to
    animals in the wild and yes, those are very real problems that need
    to be addressed through better environmental planning – but the
    VERY real threat is to the 3 billion animals that are raised on
    farms and slaughtered every year. Additionally, it is a well known
    scientifically studied and verified fact that farmed animals are one
    of the most significant contributors to today’s most serious
    environmental problems as it is a major source of land and water
    degradation. It takes 2,464 gallons of water to produce one pound of
    beef and only 25 to produce one pound of wheat. Clearly, land
    management is an issue but your argument that farmers are accidentally
    killing snails anyways and therefore aren't vegan doesn't equal –
    well then we can't be vegan. The point is, nobody is perfect but can
    only to try to cause the least harm possible. And I think we can do
    much better than we are.

    Vegan ethics allow for humans
    using all the plant matter they want in the world, no matter how
    many animals starve? First you're stating this is a “vegan ethic”
    but I don't think it is, or any kind of “ethic” really. Lets
    suppose we consider it a “universal ethic” as it can be likened
    to people who think that they can use everything and anything they
    want no matter the consequences however, we wouldn't consider those
    people morally sound. Despite being vegan or not vegan there are
    certain ethics we abide by just because we know them to be
    inherently right or wrong and we have punishments for people (laws)
    for those who roam outside of those lines. So aliens causing the
    worst famine ever is not compatible with vegan ethics.

    In your whole alien scenario,
    which started with Jonathan Safron’s alien analogy – why did you
    switch to superior vegan aliens vs inferior vegan people and not
    stick with superior omnivorous aliens using, torturing, and
    slaughtering 3 billion inferior people every year? That's the real
    comparison. And the real issue I think. By not consuming animals, a
    lot of the land issues go away although granted a lot needs to be
    worked on additionally.

    Overall, this piece has crumbled
    into the all or nothing fallacy – cause absolutely no harm or else
    you shouldn't bother being vegan because you have all of these
    ethics to uphold. This is impossible for even the most
    conscientious person as many times in their day they are killing
    microbes on or in their body or in their environment. Causing harm
    even if just on the microscopic level is a part of being human and
    unavoidable in life – the whole veganism thing, and given our
    human abilities is to try to cause the least harm and there are many
    ways to achieve that which leads to actually causing less harm.

  • truthhurts

    I found this article to be rather poorly written and the arguments against veganism to be very silly and not well thought through. Most people who are Vegan or Vegetarian do it for one of two reasons they do not want to eat flesh...or they think it is a better lifestyle choice for them healthwise. It's funny because the young lady who posted this on her facebook that brought this article to my attention said it was a well written though provoking article. She tends to be Vegan only when it suits her and is quite hypocritical about many things so I am not suprised she found this a good read but I sure didn't.

  • Guest

    Not true. That would not be taking animal interests seriously.

    “That’s because humans killing animals in self-defence is also no crime in veganism, even if we’ve wandered onto the animals’ own territory.”

    I’m not quite sure where you’re pulling these ideas about veganism from, but they’re not consistent with views held by the vegans I know. Would vegans purposely go into areas where they were likely to find themselves attacked by predators?

    Before criticizing a vegan position, I’d recommend trying the scenario in a human situation first. Let’s say you wander onto some guy’s property and he’s about to kill you. Are you allowed to kill him in self-defense? When there’s a true conflict of interest, yes, killing is permissible as it is with humans.

    This is wholly different from the interactions you have with nonhumans, which is picking out their carcasses at your favorite small farms. There’s no true conflict in that situation.

    “Since veganism doesn’t stop us from wrecking animal habitats to make space for ourselves […]” See previous point on taking animal interests seriously. “To them, we would be hungry pests who threaten their vegan food supply, so they might even be justified in trapping us or killing us with poisons if we got too close.” I’ve never met a vegan who killed an animal, used lethal traps, or poison. But supposing there was no other way to stop an animal from eating our food and that was the only food we had to eat, that would be morally permissible, as it would be in a human situation. Refer to previous comment about applying situation to a human context before criticizing. “veganism doesn’t stop them from taking more land.” Not true…

    “Vegan aliens could justify keeping humans as pets for similar reasons if they saw that some of us couldn’t make it on our own.”

    Depending on what exactly you mean, that could be morally permissible, except for the fact that we could care for them ourselves and would probably object to having them taken from us. Domesticated nonhuman animals have been bred to the point of not being able to survive without humans. Thus, we care for them. Likewise, there are members of our population that cannot care for them and so society takes care of them. Refer again to comparing situation to human analogy before being critical of veganism.

    “That might be a pretty fair deal if the aliens were friendly and loving owners, but the downside is that they could spay and neuter us […] as we tend to overpopulate when left in charge of our own reproduction.” This is a poor analogy because humans can generally care for themselves, while domesticated nonhuman animals cannot. A more appropriate analogy would be if humans that couldn’t care for themselves were rapidly breeding and we had to care for them in the way we have to care for nonhumans. Would it then be permissible to engage in sterilization for them?

    “So if the aliens couldn’t tolerate soy, wheat, fructose, oxalates, or nuts, or if they lived somewhere without much in the way of vegan foods, they could eat us with a clear conscience.” Your misrepresentation of veganism continues to a certain extent… To my knowledge, every human can be vegan. Dietary issues are usually not related to whether or not one is consuming animal products, but rather the nutrients in the food one is consuming. Medicines in a vegan world would be vegan. I’ve again, never met a vegan who consumed animal products.

    “What the argument from alien invasion ultimately shows, then, is that humans cannot consistently apply the Golden Rule to the rest of the animal kingdom without going a lot further than vegans are asking us to go.”

    Refer to original statement: Veganism as the moral baseline. I’m not going to ask you to develop less harmful farming methods when you cannot even grasp the difference between intentional and accidental killing.

    “The conflicts between humans and other species, however, are genetic and inevitable: our DNA and accumulated knowledge and technology currently makes us the cleverest, most powerful species on the planet, and since we cannot cooperate with wild animals for the mutual benefit of all sentient beings, we have little choice but to dominate instead.”

    Wrong. The conflicts between humans, other humans, and other species are a matter of needs being met in tragic ways. They can be met in ways exponentially less destructive. We’re not bound by our DNA to kill and destroy. We can build a prosperous world for every being on this planet if we choose too.

    “Neutrality is impossible in a world with limited resources. Everything we take is a loss for other animals, and since we want to live, enjoy our lives and reproduce (just as they do), we will never stop bypassing animals’ desires for our own, so long as we are here. We can give up some of the luxuries of domination for the sake of non-humans, but any sacrifices we make this side of human extinction are token compromises that selfishly maintain our fundamental position. Worldwide veganism wouldn't allow us to live in harmony with other animals — it’s just one of those token compromises. No matter what ethical philosophy we hold on to, on the day that brilliant, powerful aliens invade our planet, we’d better hope that they don’t try to be anything like us.”

    I don’t see how that paragraph wouldn’t apply to humans as well. Yet, shall we start consuming and enslaving humans as well?

    From your response article somewhere else:

    “It will be harder for vegans to excuse omnivore ignorance as omnivores become more informed. I'd like to think that discussing flaws in vegan logic can help erase some of the conflict between vegans and meat eaters by showing that we aren't so different after all.”

    Before you can discuss flaws in vegan logic, you must first understand what veganism means and not what you project it to mean from your speciesist perspective. You’ve failed to provide a moral rational for the use of nonhumans. Pointing out that we engage in some harm does not alleviate us from the responsibility to avoid harm when possible nor is it an arbitrary distinction.

    In a human context, you’re essentially saying, because we cannot prevent all exploitation of humans or we may support some exploitation by engaging in capitalism, it is therefore okay to kill humans for food, own and sell them as slaves, etc. Because we buy iPhones were workers died, it is therefore okay to kill humans if it suits us. We use eminent domain to seize land, therefore it is okay to kill humans. Notice how this all or nothing approach is not rational in a human context.

    You also seem to be completely oblivious to the idea of what constitutes a true conflict situation. A conflict situation is a situation in which there’s a genuine conflict of interest in which one must die and another will live. You mentioned getting attacked by an animal. That is a conflict situation. When faced with starvation, that is a conflict situation. (To which we’ve absolved humans of guilt for cannibalism in dire situations which required it.) You going out to the small meat farm is not a conflict situation. If you’re seriously interested in protecting or even considering the interests of the animals in the field, you’d know that consuming grains directly is far more efficient than consuming meat from an animal that consumed grains itself.

    I’m not sure what research you did for this article, but since you seem to be ignorant of basic vegan arguments or positions, I’d strongly recommend you read this animal rights primer:

    http://www.amazon.com/Introduction-Animal-Rights-Your-Child/dp/1566396921

  • Pierce Johnson

    Rhys, you have serious misunderstanding of what it means to be vegan and what vegans owe to nonhumans.

    “Universal veganism wouldn’t stop the road-building, logging, urban and suburban development, pollution, resource consumption, and other forms of land transformation that kills animals by the billions.”

    There’s a popular saying by Gary Francione that goes “Veganism as the moral baseline.” Veganism means to not treat nonhuman animals as property and to take their interests seriously. Road-building, logging, and suburban development, ect would all be weighed against taking the interests of nonhuman animals seriously.

    You go on to list environmentally destructive practices. Vegans would not support this and a vegan world would not engage in those behaviors. To say “Animal agriculture is responsible for plenty of that, but is far from the only culprit.” I think is a bit misleading. Animal agriculture is responsible for the majority of that.

    “Without violating any vegan principles there would be no limit to the amount of food vegan aliens could steal from us — vegan ethics allows for humans using all the plant matter they want in the world, no matter how many animals starve as a consequence.”

    Not true. That would not be taking animal interests seriously.

    “That’s because humans killing animals in self-defence is also no crime in veganism, even if we’ve wandered onto the animals’ own territory.”

    I’m not quite sure where you’re pulling these ideas about veganism from, but they’re not consistent with views held by the vegans I know. Would vegans purposely go into areas where they were likely to find themselves attacked by predators?

    Before criticizing a vegan position, I’d recommend trying the scenario in a human situation first. Let’s say you wander onto some guy’s property and he’s about to kill you. Are you allowed to kill him in self-defense? When there’s a true conflict of interest, yes, killing is permissible as it is with humans.

    This is wholly different from the interactions you have with nonhumans, which is picking out their carcasses at your favorite small farms. There’s no true conflict in that situation.

    “Since veganism doesn’t stop us from wrecking animal habitats to make space for ourselves […]” See previous point on taking animal interests seriously. “To them, we would be hungry pests who threaten their vegan food supply, so they might even be justified in trapping us or killing us with poisons if we got too close.” I’ve never met a vegan who killed an animal, used lethal traps, or poison. But supposing there was no other way to stop an animal from eating our food and that was the only food we had to eat, that would be morally permissible, as it would be in a human situation. Refer to previous comment about applying situation to a human context before criticizing. “veganism doesn’t stop them from taking more land.” Not true…

    “Vegan aliens could justify keeping humans as pets for similar reasons if they saw that some of us couldn’t make it on our own.”

    Depending on what exactly you mean, that could be morally permissible, except for the fact that we could care for them ourselves and would probably object to having them taken from us. Domesticated nonhuman animals have been bred to the point of not being able to survive without humans. Thus, we care for them. Likewise, there are members of our population that cannot care for them and so society takes care of them. Refer again to comparing situation to human analogy before being critical of veganism.

    “That might be a pretty fair deal if the aliens were friendly and loving owners, but the downside is that they could spay and neuter us […] as we tend to overpopulate when left in charge of our own reproduction.” This is a poor analogy because humans can generally care for themselves, while domesticated nonhuman animals cannot. A more appropriate analogy would be if humans that couldn’t care for themselves were rapidly breeding and we had to care for them in the way we have to care for nonhumans. Would it then be permissible to engage in sterilization for them?

    “So if the aliens couldn’t tolerate soy, wheat, fructose, oxalates, or nuts, or if they lived somewhere without much in the way of vegan foods, they could eat us with a clear conscience.” Your misrepresentation of veganism continues to a certain extent… To my knowledge, every human can be vegan. Dietary issues are usually not related to whether or not one is consuming animal products, but rather the nutrients in the food one is consuming. Medicines in a vegan world would be vegan. I’ve again, never met a vegan who consumed animal products.

    “What the argument from alien invasion ultimately shows, then, is that humans cannot consistently apply the Golden Rule to the rest of the animal kingdom without going a lot further than vegans are asking us to go.”

    Refer to original statement: Veganism as the moral baseline. I’m not going to ask you to develop less harmful farming methods when you cannot even grasp the difference between intentional and accidental killing.

    “The conflicts between humans and other species, however, are genetic and inevitable: our DNA and accumulated knowledge and technology currently makes us the cleverest, most powerful species on the planet, and since we cannot cooperate with wild animals for the mutual benefit of all sentient beings, we have little choice but to dominate instead.”

    Wrong. The conflicts between humans, other humans, and other species are a matter of needs being met in tragic ways. They can be met in ways exponentially less destructive. We’re not bound by our DNA to kill and destroy. We can build a prosperous world for every being on this planet if we choose too.

    “Neutrality is impossible in a world with limited resources. Everything we take is a loss for other animals, and since we want to live, enjoy our lives and reproduce (just as they do), we will never stop bypassing animals’ desires for our own, so long as we are here. We can give up some of the luxuries of domination for the sake of non-humans, but any sacrifices we make this side of human extinction are token compromises that selfishly maintain our fundamental position. Worldwide veganism wouldn't allow us to live in harmony with other animals — it’s just one of those token compromises. No matter what ethical philosophy we hold on to, on the day that brilliant, powerful aliens invade our planet, we’d better hope that they don’t try to be anything like us.”

    I don’t see how that paragraph wouldn’t apply to humans as well. Yet, shall we start consuming and enslaving humans as well?

    From your response article somewhere else:

    “It will be harder for vegans to excuse omnivore ignorance as omnivores become more informed. I'd like to think that discussing flaws in vegan logic can help erase some of the conflict between vegans and meat eaters by showing that we aren't so different after all.”

    Before you can discuss flaws in vegan logic, you must first understand what veganism means and not what you project it to mean from your speciesist perspective. You’ve failed to provide a moral rational for the use of nonhumans. Pointing out that we engage in some harm does not alleviate us from the responsibility to avoid harm when possible nor is it an arbitrary distinction.

    In a human context, you’re essentially saying, because we cannot prevent all exploitation of humans or we may support some exploitation by engaging in capitalism, it is therefore okay to kill humans for food, own and sell them as slaves, etc. Because we buy iPhones were workers died, it is therefore okay to kill humans if it suits us. We use eminent domain to seize land, therefore it is okay to kill humans. Notice how this all or nothing approach is not rational in a human context.

    You also seem to be completely oblivious to the idea of what constitutes a true conflict situation. A conflict situation is a situation in which there’s a genuine conflict of interest in which one must die and another will live. You mentioned getting attacked by an animal. That is a conflict situation. When faced with starvation, that is a conflict situation. (To which we’ve absolved humans of guilt for cannibalism in dire situations which required it.) You going out to the small meat farm is not a conflict situation. If you’re seriously interested in protecting or even considering the interests of the animals in the field, you’d know that consuming grains directly is far more efficient than consuming meat from an animal that consumed grains itself.

    I’m not sure what research you did for this article, but since you seem to be ignorant of basic vegan arguments or positions, I’d strongly recommend you read this animal rights primer:

    http://www.amazon.com/Introduction-Animal-Rights-Your-Child/dp/1566396921

  • James Housego

    This thoughtful article succeeds in shining light on some of the issues worth thinking about for vegans and non-vegans alike. However, where it fails is that it gives the reader an impression that because vegans aren't doing enough, perhaps there is an argument for dismissing the vegan philosophies and simply resigning ourselves to gorge on flesh. I agree that we ARE ALL not doing enough, and given our current position of dominance on the planet human annihilation is the most logical answer, but vegans are doing more to address these issues. On the spectrum of thoughtfulness and intentionality, there is no comparison between vegans and non-vegans. If the human species has any chance (unlikely), it will not be because of your average carnivore. Given the evidence of how we use and abuse our natural world, there's no doubt that human annihilation is the end game. I just hope to be present to watch the world reboot.

  • http://www.facebook.com/missirene1950 Irene Mills

    What a stupid, vapid, self-serving and thoroughly ignorant piece of crap.

  • Kaitlyn

    Veganism is not about perfection. It's not about saving every single animal. It that were possible, well then it would be a wonderful world. But alas, that is not realistic and it is certainly not the world we live in. Veganism is about minimizing unnecessary harm to other sentient beings. I agree that "attempting to correct the power imbalance between humans and other animals would require much more than humans giving up animal products." That's why most vegan I know are also tirelessly engaged in environmental ethics and well as human rights concerns. The sweeping claims made in this article are naive and infuriating. Just because ethical veganism doesn't solve all the world problems--and even if we aren't all "pacifist gatherers who never foraged food that other animals needed for themselves"--doesn't mean that veganism doesn't save countless animals from needless suffering and ameliorate devastating environmental damage. There is cruelty ingrained in every aspect of our society, but let's not curl up in a ball and passively allow injustice to take control.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-Williamson/1608880891 Michael Williamson

      And yet plastic products, produced from oil, transported by truck, frequently packaged in more plastic, are marketed to vegans as "cruelty free."

      They're a slightly different version of "cruel" depending on your definition of the term, but they are certainly not "Cruelty free." This is denialism wrapped up in marketing.

      Hunting is less harmful to the environment than agriculture. Which is why I'm considering a lifestyle where I only eat ethically hunted meat products, and no agricultural materials, given that every food crop we have is an artificial construct of the last 10,000 years.

      • Gyrus

        Vegans who buy that "cruelty free" label on otherwise atrociously unethical products obviously need educating. However, the bulk of vegans seem to be far more educated about every aspect of ethical consumption than all but a very tiny minority of meat-eaters. So I'm not sure these educational efforts aimed at vegans - if that's what they actually are - are well-targeted.

        Plus, I'm not sure ethical hunting can scale to 7 billion people. The world population didn't exceed more than 15 million before agriculture, so this looks like a pretty elite form of ethics.

  • http://www.RespuestasVeganas.Org/ RespuestasVeganas.Org

    Universal veganism MUST STOP the road-building, logging, urban and suburban development, pollution, resource consumption, and other forms of land transformation that kills animals by the billions.

    The universal veganism leads to the need to reduce the global human population.

  • Emma Geen

    First time I've been disappointed in an Aeon article. I'm not even entirely sure of its aim, is this an attack on Veganism or just an nonconstructive wail of despair at how humanity treats the planet so poorly?
    If the first, it's rather poor argumentation that attacks Veganism on being unable to prevent the wider destruction of the environment. Veganism is but one small part of the response to a vast issue and cannot be criticized for not being the whole answer. Acting on an ethical concern, even if it cannot miraculously solve an entire global and complex issue, should be lauded, not condemned as somehow being contradictory. If this was the case no action would ever be worthwhile. Indeed, the only action the article seems to promote is a kind of hopeless, even apathetic, shrug.
    Furthermore Veganism is a choice that's of import because it can be made by individuals, whereas a responsible attitude to wider environmental concerns requires movement on a government, and indeed internationally political, level.
    Even if the alien thought experiment has flaws, it is far from the heart of the ideology and only exists as a tool to make people empathize more, so even if it was leveled to the ground the ideology itself would stand strong.

  • Monika

    This seems to suggest that vegans have no ethics outside of animals alone. I would suggest that most vegans are looking for a way to make there entire impact of the earth kinder. The idea that vegans don't think about that is miss-guided.

  • CTBill84

    Q: How do you spot a vegan at a party?
    A: Don't worry, they'll tell you.

    • Clevelandchick

      You don't have to be a vegan to be against factory meat farming, in fact...if you really like decent meat..you would be too.

      • CTBill84

        Hmmm...perhaps...just perhaps...it was a joke. Maybe not one you prefer, but a joke nonetheless.

  • Dan

    It is (or ought to be) all about habitat encroachment! That's what's happening folks. But yeah, carnivorous appetites are not sustainable for the near future of our species. If you can't cut out the meat, cut down on it, I say.

  • Clevelandchick

    Nobody ever discusses a bounds of reason, on either side but mostly on the pro-meat side. Factory farming is an ecological and human health disaster. Barring just the being humane side of the argument. I do still eat meat, albeit a lot less than I used to. But for the love of God...can we please just treat these animals we use better?

    For the short lives they may live and are unwillingly forced to give up for our consumption? The small local farm model works in this way. They at least treat the animal well and give them a decent life before a humane slaughter. Yes, it's a bit more expensive but that's only on the short end...in the long run, factory farmed livestock is more expensive for the public when you factor in the cost of handling the waste and public risk of disease...and of course the costs of the disease itself. Then, for me...the knowledge of how these factory farmed animals are abused....very horrifically...before they are slaughtered, well..if you're a human being who gives a s**t...it's just not acceptable.

    If an invading species ever does come here, damn right we're going to be their livestock. They aren't coming here because humans impressed them all that much.

  • Andrew Payne

    I've heard that hardcore vegans wouldn't kill an animal to save a loved one, even a child, that was being attacked by an animal, because they think the animal is just as valuable. That's as sick as it gets. If you don't want to eat or harm them that's understandable, but you can take almost any good philosophy into the realm of sickness.

    • Meateater

      What you are describing is hardcore pacifism - not killing under any condition. In that case, being vegan is a side effect of being pacifist. Full pacifists are pretty rare in Western cultures.

      Still, there's no need to argue against the worst case imaginable, as if anyone reading this wouldn't help a baby being attacked. More likely, the attacker would be human.

  • JeanbearTheImmasculator

    I didn't read it all. I don't see the point. Put If you took this perspective on climate change then we're fucked.... Doing something is better than giving up.

  • Meateater

    The only purpose to such a straw man argument is to troll for responses. Pretty lazy writing if you have to make up your own enemy to defeat.

  • W. John Young

    Spend a day at a slaughter house and get back to us.

  • dave

    plants and animals disappear to make room for your fat ass.

  • jeffydaboy

    You've raised a lot of good points here, regardless of how one characterizes your view of veganism. I don't think we should ignore animal suffering, but it's a slippery slope to get started on and we have to be concerned about our own species first. From an evolutionary perspective if not several others.

  • babby660

    This article makes me think of an old Twilight Zone episode called "To Serve Man" in which 9-foot-tall aliens come to earth to help us solve all our problems. After solving our problems vis a vis each other, they offer us free trips to their planet. One human female realizes after reading the book of the same name as the episode, that is actually a cookbook describing the culinary uses of the human race.

  • steph. h.

    Couldn't manage to trudge through this long-winded article, but the gist i'm getting is that because humans CAN be asswipes, we should? just because you are a morally weak-minded person who couldn't even handle eschewing meat, does not mean all humans are as base. i get that you feel ridiculous because of this and have to write tripe to overcompensate, but really. stop.

  • stijn

    I agree that we should apply the golden rule very strongly to other beings who have certain mental capacities (e.g. who are self-conscious, understand the golden rule or with whom we can cooperate). But we should also apply the golden rule to a high degree to other sentient beings. Therefore, veganism is not enough indeed: we should also lower our ecological footprint and resource use, be much more careful in agriculture and forestry, avoid harmful stuff like pesticides, support animal rescue centers (bird care centers,...). Then we would be far more consistent than omnivores. It's the best what we can ask of those extraterrestrials. What we definitely cannot do, is concluding that those aliens are not only allowed to chase us away, steal our lands etc... but are also allowed to kill and eat us. Even if those aliens are inconsistent vegans, they should not become inconsistent human eaters. If an alien has SLO syndrome, we cannot conclude that all aliens are allowed to eat humans. If a mentally disabled human (with the mental capacity of a bird) escapes from an institution, climbs in a tree and start making a nest, and if we want to cut down that tree (to make paper for important books, or to increase cropland area or to build a house), I think we are allowed to carefully chase away that mentally disabled human (you can call it stealing his tree, yes). If that human then moves to another tree that is already occupied by another mentally disabled human, and they start to fight for scarse resources, we have some duty to help them with food. If that chased away human gets injured, we should help him to some high degree. What we cannot conclude from all of this is that we should starve to death or become homeless, that we are allowed to eat mentally disabled humans, or that we are speciesist (as disabled humans are still humans). The conclusion that antispeciesism should lead to human extinction is impossible, because it is in itself a speciesist conclusion. Everything that an animal takes is (roughly speaking) a loss for another animal. But this does not imply that all animals should commit suicide.

  • Michael Bitton

    Nice article. Veganism is best defended from the perspective of reducing suffering. Not eating meat only reduces total animal suffering by a tiny bit but it's still better than nothing. The impossibility of neutrality doesn't imply that there's no sense aiming to be as balanced as possible.

  • Robert Grillo

    This piece represents yet another variation on the the them of "it's impossible to live 100% cruelty-free so why make any effort to reduce suffering?" It argues that if we cannot raise food without harming anyone, then we might as well raise and kill whatever we want. So if perfection is not obtainable, then let's throw out ethics (including intention) all together. This just becomes a reductive, "all-or-nothing" justification for doing what we want and it negates what we say we already believe, that less suffering is better even if we can't eliminate it completely.

    If killing certain animals in the process of raising necessary food crops is morally objectionable, then how can our moral obligation for harming them be met by artificially breeding into existence and killing even more animals which we first exploit and then kill violently and intentionally for food for which we have no biological necessity?

    Are vegans hypocrites? It is not hypocritical to hold a belief in veganism and yet be unable to avoid all products and by-products of animal exploitation because of circumstances well outside of one's control just as it is impossible for someone who opposes slavery to avoid all of the products and outcomes derived from the institution of slavery, like the roads we still drive on or the battles that were fought with slave soldiers. It is not hypocritical to oppose racism and sexism but still buy products from the local supermarkets or obtain water from the local municipality that might employ a sexist or racist manager. To accuse vegans of being hypocrites is to simply blame them for being a small minority in a society dominated by non vegans (where animal by-products are used ubiquitously and in many unsuspecting ways) and is analogous to claiming that one cannot be a perfect human being because humans are imperfect by nature.

    By going vegan, you will not become perfect or “holier than thou” or even cruelty-free. You’ll just have reduced an enormous amount of suffering to innocent beings who have done nothing to you just by making some simple dietary and lifestyle changes.

  • Collin Shields

    This is the only article I've read on this site that probably wasn't worth reading. Yes, humans cause a lot of environmental damage through agriculture, but the lion's share of agriculture (at least in this country) goes to feeding livestock. So, based on that knowledge, Veganism just reduces the sum total of agricture and hence environmental destruction necessary to maintain human life. Also, your point about Pesticides is specious because we could just not use pesticides like we didn't for most of human history. Most of the arguments (?) against veganism here are rendered invalid because they don't take into account the vast, wasteful proportion of resources we devote to livestock.

  • Dina Strange

    I am incredibly disappointed with Aeon. I feel it gives every justification to the horror of meat industry by putting "former" vegans who justify eating meat and hunting animals. WTF is the proper response.

    Why can't we produce meat in the labs without torture, horror, pain and murder. If you really need to eat meat so much, let it me lab meat. If not allow someone to cut and eat YOU.

  • Emily Cassidy

    Agriculture is the single largest human use of land, and the animal agriculture takes up 75 - 80 percent of this land. You argue veganism ignores other threats to animals like habitat destruction, resource allocation, and general ecosystem domination.

    However, by going vegan you are doing a great deal to prevent those things. For example, deforestation in Brazil is motivated primarily by raising cattle and growing soy used for animal feed in China. One of the biggest threats to biodiversity is deforestation and land conversion to grow crops and raise cattle. Eating lower on the food chain reduces (but does not eliminate) those threats.

    In addition, livestock production consumes way more water and emits more carbon than vegan diets.

    You mentioned urban environments and sprawl, yet urban areas take up 1 - 3 percent of all land area. Compare that to the 40 percent agriculture takes up, a majority of that land is used to raise livestock and produce animal feed.

    I say all this as a conscientious non-vegan. I reduce when I can realizing that being perfect is unachievable. (Also the issue is far from black and white. Most vegan dairy substitutes contain palm oil, which is produced by chopping down rainforests in Malaysia and Indonesia killing off native orangutans)

  • Charles

    He sees to be saying that because we tolerate animal habitat destruction, we ought to tolerate factory farming also. One evil does not justify another. By this logic, any wrongdoing in the world is OK because other wrongdoing exists. So logically he would tolerate global warming because war and economic inequality exist. A fine argument. Has this writer nothing better to do than write such drivel?