In the former part of this series of posts reviewing the book The End of Animal Farming we have addressed the factor of the inefficiency of animal farming. In the following we’ll address the factor of the expanding moral circle.
The Expanding Excuses
Some of Reese’s optimism is based on his agreement with the notion that the world is getting better and that humans are becoming less violent. He mentions Steven Pinker’s book The Better Angels of Our Nature, and agrees with him that “our increasing concern for animals is a particularly strong reason for optimism that the general trend in violence will continue downwards in the future.”
This is a very important issue, however, since we have thoroughly addressed Steven Pinker’s theory in our review of The Better Angels of Our Nature we will not repeat our arguments here but suggest you to read them all, especially the two about nonhuman animals.
Instead, we wish to focus on what seems to be the main source of Reese’s optimism regarding humans’ concern for animals. He often cites the following results of a US survey: “A 2014 US survey found that 93 percent of respondents felt it was “very important” to buy their food from humane sources. Eighty-seven percent believe “farmed animals have roughly the same ability to feel pain and discomfort as humans.” And an astounding 47 percent of US adults say in a survey that they support the seemingly radical policy change of “a ban on slaughterhouses.””
Reese is aware of the huge gap between supposedly half of US adults supporting a ban on slaughterhouses, and only about 5% of them being vegetarians (we’ll ignore for the sake of the argument that vegetarians actively support slaughterhouses given that chickens in the egg industry, and cows in the milk industry, let alone their claves, are murdered in slaughterhouses as well). His explanation for this gap is that humans want to be vegetarian but just don’t know how.
Apparently Reese is unaware of the huge gap between what humans are willing to state they support in a non-binding survey, and what they are willing to support practically in their everyday lives.
The reason many humans are making these statements is that humans like to feel good about themselves, especially when all they need to do to achieve that feeling is making empty statements. And making themselves feel good is also the reason why they are not practically stopping their active support in the very same slaughterhouses they state should be banned, as unfortunately consuming animal based food is making humans feel very good.
Reese sarcastically writes that: “Every grassroots farmed animal advocate I’ve asked about this topic has spoken with many people who insist that the meat they buy doesn’t come from factory farms. “I only eat humane meat,” they say, defending themselves from the activists’ critiques of factory farming. This is one of the most common justifications heard by grassroots advocates.” And points out how obviously very unlikely these common justifications are: “a survey my colleagues and I conducted in 2017 suggested that 75 percent of US adults say they usually consume humane animal products, which seems impossible given that the best estimates suggest less than 1 percent of US farmed animals live on nonfactory farms.” And these people, like the ones in the formerly mentioned survey, are simply interested in seeming good, they are not interested in bothering themselves with actually being good (or in this case avoid being bad). And the reason is very simple, merely sounding good doesn’t cost them a thing while actively supporting their statement comes with what they view as a price. They don’t mind making a statement as long as they don’t need to actually do something about it.
Reese argues that “When people call upon the idea of ethical animal farming—even if that constitutes little or none of their actual consumption—we can think of it as a “psychological refuge” they’re using to justify their consumption of factory farmed products. This refuge shelters them from the cognitive dissonance they would feel if they both fully considered their ethical views and the realities of their consumption choices. It’s one of the biggest roadblocks to fixing our food system, perhaps even more harmful than the four N’s.”
And we agree, only that the same goes for the other surveys he mentions. Humans’ completely empty statements regarding nonhumans’ ability to feel pain and discomfort as humans, and a ban on slaughterhouses, also function as a “psychological refuge”. Making these statements places them on the right side in their view, despite that they are actively enforcing the wrong one, several times a day, every day. All are “psychological refuge” and none truly represent their true position about nonhuman animals, which practically, is mostly cruel indifference.
Reese argues that a large part of the explanation for this gap, and for the problem in general, is that people are far more willing to support institutional change than they are to change their individual consumption. And again he tries to back this argument with surveys: “US adults consistently show over 70 percent poll support for various changes in farmed animal welfare, such as cage-free, slower-growth chicken genetics, higher-welfare slaughter methods, and an end to extreme crowding. There have also been consistent majority votes in favor of farmed animal welfare ballot initiatives. This widespread support contrasts with the tiny number of consumers who actually opt for these higher-welfare products in their individual consumption: organic meat made up just 1.5 percent of conventional fresh red meat sales in the US and grass-fed 0.9 percent in 2016.
Our 2017 poll also found that a whopping 97 percent of respondents agree with the statement “Whether to eat animals or be vegetarian is a personal choice, and nobody has the right to tell me which one they think I should do.” I cannot stress enough how resistant people are to individual consumer change, especially when it’s as closely tied to personal identity as vegetarianism and veganism are in the US public consciousness.”
As mentioned earlier, there are more ways to explain these surveys results, but even if we’ll ignore them for the sake of the argument, the claims in the first paragraph don’t exactly settle with the claim in the second, because if humans unequivocal statement is that eating animals or being a vegetarian is a personal choice, and “nobody has the right to tell me which one they think I should do”, then how can it be that the best way to change their habits is not that activists – people like them and who have no air of authority – would convince them, but rather that authoritative institutions, would change their habits for them?
In fact he himself gives an example that contradicts this assertion: “Chinese consumers eat around 173 grams of meat per day, but the government recommends only 40 to 75 grams—less than an average American hamburger patty. China has a highly centralized governance system, which makes policy change more difficult, but also makes changes easier to promulgate across the country. Meat has been regarded as a luxury, but it also hasn’t been as associated with Chinese cultural identity the same way bacon, cheese, and bratwurst have in many American and European cultures.”
If even one of the most centralized governance system in the world fails to change people’s consumption habits, let alone in a nation that meat is not associated with its cultural identity, how would that work in other nations? Why would other nations succeed where an incidentally and indirectly test case such as China is failing?
Finally for that matter, let’s get back to Reese’s explanation that the gap between the number of humans making these statements and the number of vegetarians is due to that humans want to be vegetarian but just don’t know how.
He writes that: “When advocates hand someone a leaflet on the street, show their friend a video of undercover investigations, or speak with a journalist about animal-free eating, the hesitation and counterarguments we hear are mostly about how they can change their behavior, not why they should. Common concerns include:
■ “I’m an athlete. Where would I get my protein?”
■ “It’s just so hard to find vegetarian options when eating out.”
■ “I would love to be vegan, but I could never give up cheese.”
It’s become increasingly less common over the past few years to hear arguments against changing to a non-meat diet such as:
■ “They’re just animals. They don’t matter.”
■ “Most farms aren’t like the ones in that investigation.”
■ “I only buy meat from humane farms.””
But these are not genuine concerns, they are poor excuses. There are many plant based options for any food imaginable nowadays, and the excusers know that. No one really believes in these “concerns”. It’s just that people need to say something when confronted with a moral truth, and they feel uncomfortable admitting their immoral truth, which is that they care more about their own marginal interests than they do about others’ most major interests.
Humans spit out such excuses since they find it easier to tackle the How than the Why.
And in any case, what is really behind all these excuses and many others of this kind, is anyway, eventually, practically, arguing that “They’re just animals. They don’t matter.” As who better than us, veteran vegans, knows that these are all nonsense. We have become vegans long before the current abundance and diversity of plant based food, before the abundance of information about what happens to animals in the food industry, before the abundance of information about human health, before the relative social acceptance and normality of veganism and etc., and still, we didn’t have a doubt for a single moment regarding the Why. So we figured out the How by ourselves. And that’s because for us nonhuman animals were never “just” animals, and they always mattered. If we easily figured out the How decades ago, surly humans can easily do so nowadays.
Obviously everybody knows how to stop their support in the cruelest system ever. And everybody knows why they should do so. The problem is not that people don’t know what’s going on. And it’s also not that they don’t know how to stop supporting it. Everybody knows how animal based products are made, or at least that they were made of animals, and that those animals didn’t volunteer to become their bacon and eggs. And everybody knows how to get plant based food nowadays. Neither is the main problem. The main problem is that humans don’t care enough to simply stop supporting animal abuse.