Debunking Carnism

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Debunking Carnism

#1  Postby AlexanderVegan » Jul 12, 2016 1:22 pm

'Carnism'is a term coined by Dr. Melanie Joy, psychologist, to describe the common patterns of justification for using animals to suit human demands and needs, in particular for the consumption of animal products.

Broadly, these justifications fall into 4 categories, claims that using animals for selfish desires is:
    Natural
    Necessary
    Normal
    Nice

When non-vegans defend their use of animals, their arguments will generally fall into appeals to one of those 4 categories.

- Appeals to a supposedly natural food chain, the existence of wild carnivorous animals or simply stating "eating meat is natural" are examples that fall into the first category. These are all examples of the naturalistic fallacy. Humans do all kinds of things that are not natural, and natural does not equal good.

- The second category often contains arguments that overlap with the first category. When discussing the ethics of eating animals and animal products, people will often say eating these things is necessary for good health. This is often coupled with appeals to our human ancestry and evolution, our impressive canines, or misinformed ideas about nutrition. The official stance of dietary institutions such as the American Dietetic Association is that appropriately planned vegan diets are nutritionally adequate for people of all age groups.
False ideas about what would happen on a global scale as animal agriculture would be slowly disbanded also fall into this category. Ideas such as that disbanding animal agriculture would end up using more land than we currently do. Animal agriculture will almost always use much more land, because the animals have to be fed as well.Here are some facts about the ecological effects and production efficiency of animal agriculture, to back up that claim.

- "Eating meat is normal, everyone does it", "I'm used to it", "My ancestors ate meat", "It's a cultural thing". I hope I don't need to explain that appeals to tradition, history and normalcy are fallacious. Many very unethical things were considered normal in the past. The majority view on or history of a practice is no measure for the morality of that practice. As Sr. Thomas Moore remarked sarcastically in his Utopia: "It were a very dangerous matter, if a man at any point should be found wiser than his forefathers."
In a way the arguments in this category show the personal fears many carnists have about changing their behavior and the social consequences of that. It is indeed a scary thing to realize the majority is wrong.

- "I like eating meat". Personal gain is not a justification when it creates suffering for others. No one would say a rapist is justified because "they like it", or to use a less confronting example, it is not justified to litter, just to throw your shit on the floor, because it is 'convenient' for you. Coupled with the environmental damage animal agriculture does, the suffering animal agriculture inflicts on innocent sentient beings greatly outweighs personal gustatory pleasure. With increasing availability and quality of mock-meats the weight of the latter part of that equation even diminishes further.
Many people will also excuse their own behavior by stating that the suffering of animals is not as great as animal rights activists would have us believe. They think that labels like "free range" actually mean the animals had a good life, or at least so to the extent that their suffering is outweighed by the gustatory pleasure their bodies provide. This is not true. The fact that the animals are brought into existence, to be owned, confined and their bodies controlled for their entire short life already creates enough suffering to outweigh a few bites. Separation of family members, mutilation of body parts and killing 1-day old male chicks are all common practice in the dairy, eggs and meat industries. Labels like "free range" do not regulate such practices, and are often not strictly defined/regulated at all. "Free range" is a marketing scheme/dream.



With all defenses of using animals for human convenience and pleasure falling into these 4 fallacious categories, why do people continue to eat meat and animal products? I have a lot of compassion and understanding for people that are confronted with the concept that something they enjoy and are used to creates a lot of suffering and environmental damage. I understand the cognitive dissonance it creates, and the frantic searching for excuses that engenders. I understand the psychology of habit and the psychology of confronting societal and parental believes, that we have held for years and years. But since this is the rational skepticism forum, I assume many people here will have an affinity for abandoning untrue, unjustified beliefs, held for the wrong reasons. The unjustified belief in case is that it is justifiable to create suffering through consumption of animal products and the animal agriculture that exists because of that. As the world slowly but surely abandons unjustified beliefs that create suffering (such as particular religious beliefs), we head towards a better future. Go vegan!

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Re: Debunking Carnism

#2  Postby Alan B » Jul 12, 2016 2:49 pm

1. You forgot Global Warming.

2. There are nomadic peoples living where the land cannot produce sufficient vegetation suitable for human consumption. Instead they rely upon the biological processes of the animals they keep to convert the 'scrub' into a food source: milk and meat.
Please describe how these peoples can become Vegan.
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Re: Debunking Carnism

#3  Postby Thommo » Jul 12, 2016 2:51 pm

AlexanderVegan wrote:With all defenses of using animals for human convenience and pleasure falling into these 4 fallacious categories, why do people continue to eat meat and animal products?


All the defences don't fall into those categories any more than all moral defences of any human behaviour fall into those categories. The putative debunking assumes things such as the extension of moral principles and obligations in a fairly simple and direct way from humans to animals as well as an assumption that a moral justification is required in the first place. These are things that even any "carnist" who agrees with the assessment that all their arguments are of that form is unlikely to concede.

As a more specific objection the attempt to debunk even those four points is questionable. For example the fourth category, which you summarise as "I like eating meat" isn't disposed of in any general way, you give examples in which the justification is defeasible, such as saying that rape is not justified by saying "I like it", but ignore the fact that it is not that "I like it" is not a potentially relevant moral (or other) motivator that decides this case, but rather that there are other moral considerations which are held (by our societal values and laws) to be of higher priority - in that instance the ability of the victim to withhold consent to sex, which is an explicitly human right.

As a matter of course there are many rights (such as citizenship, voting and many others) which are extended to humans but not to non human animals. One can question where this line should be drawn, but it is not immediately obvious that the carnist position has to arbitrate this line in a fundamentally different way to the vegan.

One of the starkest ways that this is portrayed is the inclusion of a statement of personal values in the midst of the argument:
"the suffering animal agriculture inflicts on innocent sentient beings greatly outweighs personal gustatory pleasure"

One assumes that this also is not readily agreed among the disputants. One might also question why this principle extends *exactly* this far and no further as well. Could it not be argued on a similar basis that the destruction of the lives of billions of sentient creatures by farm machinery makes its use in crop farming unjustifiable? If one places no greater emphasis on human suffering or survival on that of non human animals then it's far from clear that the vegan isn't also morally transgressive.
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Re: Debunking Carnism

#4  Postby laklak » Jul 12, 2016 3:00 pm

I've got canine teeth, 'nuff said. Plus, slow smoked pulled zucchini just doesn't cut it, you need a piggy.
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Re: Debunking Carnism

#5  Postby Animavore » Jul 12, 2016 3:25 pm

I've never heard a good argument that animals should be taken under our moral purview. A lot of human models of morality are based on things like fairness and reciprocal altruism, things which exclude non-human animals. If we give animals any moral consideration it's because it is our prerogative to do so, not because we owe them anything.

I think many vegetarian arguments, in arguing that animals are to be given due consideration in our society, are as faulty, on the face of it, as Christian ones that we are to lord over them.

The most moral thing to do would be abandon them to this planet while we live in our artificial worlds in space, and ne'er the two shall mix again.
Last edited by Animavore on Jul 12, 2016 3:27 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Debunking Carnism

#6  Postby AlexanderVegan » Jul 12, 2016 3:26 pm

Alan B wrote:1. You forgot Global Warming.

I linked to the cowspiracy website in my OP. Global Warming is greatly increased by the methane production caused by animal agriculture. It was implicitly included under under the category 'environmental damage'.


2. There are nomadic peoples living where the land cannot produce sufficient vegetation suitable for human consumption. Instead they rely upon the biological processes of the animals they keep to convert the 'scrub' into a food source: milk and meat.
Please describe how these peoples can become Vegan.


These people exist. Let me state firstly that exceptional cases where animal husbandry is necessary for human survival do not provide an excuse for using animals in the situation in which the majority of people in the industrialized world are in. I assume this nomadic lifestyle is on such a small scale globally that the environmental damage it does is relatively small as well. Could these people find a way to become vegan? They could - it would most likely entail giving up their nomadic lifestyle. I think this would be better. Do they have access to arguments concerning extending moral consideration to non-human sentient beings? They most likely don't. I also imagine the level of exploitation of animals is not on an industrial scale, and many of the cruelties of industrial animal exploitation do most likely not occur in the same way in nomadic animal husbandry.

So: 1. The cruelties and environmental damage are less with this style of animal husbandry. 2. It is not possible for everybody on earth to live such a nomadic animal-dependent lifestyle. 3. They could potentially settle down and live vegan, and if they had access to ideas about how morality should be founded on sentience, they might.
But most importantly, what far away minuscule tribes do, really has no bearing on what is possible and practical, ethical and sustainable for the majority of people in the industrialized world.
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Re: Debunking Carnism

#7  Postby laklak » Jul 12, 2016 3:27 pm

Replicators, that's the ticket. Pulled pork, spicy, Alabama white sauce.
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Re: Debunking Carnism

#8  Postby surreptitious57 » Jul 12, 2016 3:30 pm

I can provide no moral justification for eating meat [ saying that I like the taste of it is not a moral argument even
if true ] I do not have to kill the animal which makes me a coward and I knowingly eat halal meat which makes me
complicit in animal suffering [ I live in a Muslim area ] How can I in all seriousness defend all this ? I cannot and do
not bother. And so in this one respect anyone who is a vegan or vegetarian is automatically morally superior to me
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Re: Debunking Carnism

#9  Postby Sendraks » Jul 12, 2016 3:36 pm

laklak wrote:Replicators, that's the ticket. Pulled pork, spicy, Alabama white sauce.


This is the future, right here. :thumbup:
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Re: Debunking Carnism

#10  Postby Arnold Layne » Jul 12, 2016 3:42 pm

Bacon! Yummy! :dance:
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Re: Debunking Carnism

#11  Postby surreptitious57 » Jul 12, 2016 3:54 pm

AlexanderVegan wrote:
When non vegans defend their use of animals their arguments will generally fall into appeals to one of those 4 categories

The same could be said for vegans or vegetarians with regard to their diet since plants and vegetables are living
organisms also. Though I only offer this reductio ad absurdum to demonstrate taking the argument to its logical
conclusion. Not to justify eating meat or denying vegans or vegetarians their moral superiority over meat eaters
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Re: Debunking Carnism

#12  Postby Animavore » Jul 12, 2016 3:57 pm

surreptitious57 wrote:
AlexanderVegan wrote:
When non vegans defend their use of animals their arguments will generally fall into appeals to one of those 4 categories

The same could be said for vegans or vegetarians with regard to their diet since plants and vegetables are living
organisms also. Though I only offer this reductio ad absurdum to demonstrate taking the argument to its logical
conclusion. Not to justify eating meat or denying vegans or vegetarians their moral superiority over meat eaters

I don't think veggies suffer, though. And as the argument in the OP was one of justifying suffering in the pursuit of the pleasure of meat eating I don't think it applies.

Of course, it doesn't apply to eating meat without suffering either. You shoot a deer who lives out in the wild dead, unseen, with an expert shot, it can't be said to have suffered.
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Re: Debunking Carnism

#13  Postby laklak » Jul 12, 2016 4:04 pm

If I had to slaughter and butcher my own meat I'd eat a lot less of it, not so much from squeamishness but the difficulty. I did a bit of hunting in my younger days and it's a hell of a lot of work. On the plus side, one deer provides a LOT of meat.

What about pest animals or invasive species, like feral hogs? They're a huge problem, particularly in the Southern states. There are no hunting seasons, limits, or gun/ammo regulations, if you can kill one you're encouraged to do so. Same is true of lionfish, they're decimating the native fish populations. Is it morally defensible to kill them? If you kill them, is it morally defensible to eat them? Apparently lionfish is quite tasty, and we all know how delicious pig meat is. Well, most of us do.
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Re: Debunking Carnism

#14  Postby SafeAsMilk » Jul 12, 2016 4:05 pm

I think Thommo and Ani covered it nicely. AV's list is anything but comprehensive. As usual, political veganism assumes its conclusions and runs with them.

I'll be happy to consume artificially produced meat when it becomes available and of sufficient quality. Until then, I don't see any particular reason why I should care that much aside from the environmental factors.
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Re: Debunking Carnism

#15  Postby Animavore » Jul 12, 2016 4:08 pm

laklak wrote:

What about pest animals or invasive species, like feral hogs? They're a huge problem, particularly in the Southern states. There are no hunting seasons, limits, or gun/ammo regulations, if you can kill one you're encouraged to do so. Same is true of lionfish, they're decimating the native fish populations. Is it morally defensible to kill them? If you kill them, is it morally defensible to eat them? Apparently lionfish is quite tasty, and we all know how delicious pig meat is. Well, most of us do.


Doesn't fall under -

AlexanderVegan wrote:'Carnism'is a term coined by Dr. Melanie Joy, psychologist, to describe the common patterns of justification for using animals to suit human demands and needs, in particular for the consumption of animal products.


As you are killing one species, which humans brought in in the first place, to save an ecological system.

The second question is harder to answer; as the intent wasn't to eat them and is merely a tasty side-effect, I can't see why not, any more than eating road-kill.
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Re: Debunking Carnism

#16  Postby Thommo » Jul 12, 2016 4:09 pm

Full disclosure, I'm actually quite ambivalent about meat eating, I've cut down but haven't managed to remove it from my diet completely. One of these days I intend to, because it does disquiet me to some extent, but I think the idea that there's a philosophically complete justification for this (or, frankly anything) is naive.
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Re: Debunking Carnism

#17  Postby SafeAsMilk » Jul 12, 2016 4:14 pm

I do think that poor treatment of animals in the meat industry is an issue, but it isn't an argument against eating meat in and of itself.
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Re: Debunking Carnism

#18  Postby AlexanderVegan » Jul 12, 2016 4:14 pm

Thommo wrote:
AlexanderVegan wrote:With all defenses of using animals for human convenience and pleasure falling into these 4 fallacious categories, why do people continue to eat meat and animal products?


All the defences don't fall into those categories any more than all moral defences of any human behaviour fall into those categories. The putative debunking assumes things such as the extension of moral principles and obligations in a fairly simple and direct way from humans to animals as well as an assumption that a moral justification is required in the first place. These are things that even any "carnist" who agrees with the assessment that all their arguments are of that form is unlikely to concede.

Moral principles are extended fairly simply and direct to animals, because morality is based on the idea of preventing suffering. No matter what particular moral philosophy you adhere to, preventing suffering is a central goal to all of them. There is no reason to not extend this consideration to all sentient beings. What is so special about human suffering compared to the suffering of other animals?
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As a more specific objection the attempt to debunk even those four points is questionable. For example the fourth category, which you summarise as "I like eating meat" isn't disposed of in any general way, you give examples in which the justification is defeasible, such as saying that rape is not justified by saying "I like it", but ignore the fact that it is not that "I like it" is not a potentially relevant moral (or other) motivator that decides this case, but rather that there are other moral considerations which are held (by our societal values and laws) to be of higher priority - in that instance the ability of the victim to withhold consent to sex, which is an explicitly human right.

I agree "I like it" is not a relevant moral decider in the case of rape. The going against consent in the case of a rape is just one of the mechanisms through which a rape causes suffering. I was making the general observation that personal sensory pleasure is not a moral argument in any case that damages others, such as littering or eating meat.


As a matter of course there are many rights (such as citizenship, voting and many others) which are extended to humans but not to non human animals. One can question where this line should be drawn, but it is not immediately obvious that the carnist position has to arbitrate this line in a fundamentally different way to the vegan.

One of the starkest ways that this is portrayed is the inclusion of a statement of personal values in the midst of the argument:
"the suffering animal agriculture inflicts on innocent sentient beings greatly outweighs personal gustatory pleasure"


Legal rights like voting would be useless for animals, since they do not have such long-term and abstract prospective analytical skills to understand politics. They do have sentience, in particular sentience of suffering and pleasure or long-term happiness/eudaimonia, which is what provides an incentive for humans to provide to them the legal right not to be owned, to have their interests considered, in other words to not be reduced to a means to an end, and the moral obligation to do the aforementioned.
It is reasonable to extend such rights, and moral consideration, proportionally to the amount of sentience the being in case has. To claim that a short transient experience of taste is worth a lifetime of suffering for intelligent, social and sensitive animals like cows, chickens and pigs loses all sight of such a proportionality. This can only be called a personal value to the same extent as saying a rapists orgasm is worth less than the suffering of the woman through the violation of her consent and body can be called a personal value. Any person with a non-damaged empathetic faculties knows that animals have personal interests, can suffer and experience happiness, etc. when they interact with an animal. It is only through choosing to disassociate from what is on our plate from the animal is was at some point, that our empathy is circumnavigated.

One assumes that this also is not readily agreed among the disputants. One might also question why this principle extends *exactly* this far and no further as well. Could it not be argued on a similar basis that the destruction of the lives of billions of sentient creatures by farm machinery makes its use in crop farming unjustifiable? If one places no greater emphasis on human suffering or survival on that of non human animals then it's far from clear that the vegan isn't also morally transgressive.


There is more total crop farming needed for providing for omnivorous diets than for vegan diets. I find that we should prevent all preventable suffering, including that in crop farming - a great way to at least reduce it is by eating a more plant-based diet. More animal friendly techniques than farm machinery could be looked at.
I don't state we cannot attribute greater moral weight to human suffering than to animal suffering, I propose a proportionality between moral consideration and the sentience of the being. Going vegan doesn't cause suffering for humans and it is frankly quite insulting to animals that a lifetime of suffering for them is worth a few seconds of taste for you. That is very disproportionate. Not to mention that human taste is very adaptable. You don't even need to miss the taste of meat since the quality of mock-meats has really dramatically increased in recent times.
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Re: Debunking Carnism

#19  Postby Alan B » Jul 12, 2016 4:19 pm

AlexanderVegan wrote:
Alan B wrote:1. You forgot Global Warming.

I linked to the cowspiracy website in my OP. Global Warming is greatly increased by the methane production caused by animal agriculture. It was implicitly included under under the category 'environmental damage'.

Ooops! Missed that. :oops:


2. There are nomadic peoples living where the land cannot produce sufficient vegetation suitable for human consumption. Instead they rely upon the biological processes of the animals they keep to convert the 'scrub' into a food source: milk and meat.
Please describe how these peoples can become Vegan.


These people exist. Let me state firstly that exceptional cases where animal husbandry is necessary for human survival do not provide an excuse for using animals in the situation in which the majority of people in the industrialized world are in. I assume this nomadic lifestyle is on such a small scale globally that the environmental damage it does is relatively small as well. Could these people find a way to become vegan? They could - it would most likely entail giving up their nomadic lifestyle. I think this would be better. Do they have access to arguments concerning extending moral consideration to non-human sentient beings? They most likely don't. I also imagine the level of exploitation of animals is not on an industrial scale, and many of the cruelties of industrial animal exploitation do most likely not occur in the same way in nomadic animal husbandry.

So: 1. The cruelties and environmental damage are less with this style of animal husbandry. 2. It is not possible for everybody on earth to live such a nomadic animal-dependent lifestyle. 3. They could potentially settle down and live vegan, and if they had access to ideas about how morality should be founded on sentience, they might.
But most importantly, what far away minuscule tribes do, really has no bearing on what is possible and practical, ethical and sustainable for the majority of people in the industrialized world.

These nomadic peoples exist because there is no agriculturally viable land available to them. They move from one parched landscape to another - taking their livestock with them. Any arguments concerning moral considerations to non-human sentient beings is irrelevant when one considers one's own survival as is often the case with nomads.

Vegetarianism - in what ever form - is, I feel, a product of the more affluent societies with a readily available and abundant suitable vegetable source.

The present world population is in part responsible for the 'production-line' approach to rearing animals for food. Reduce the human population, reduce the number of animals killed.
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Re: Debunking Carnism

#20  Postby ScholasticSpastic » Jul 12, 2016 4:23 pm

Veganism woefully fails to account for symbiotic relationships. They split things into the simple binary of interaction = exploitative and non-interaction = non-exploitative. I do not see how this can withstand logical scrutiny. What is so special about humans that our interactions with other animals cannot be symbiotic while the other animals seem to manage symbiosis quite admirably? Keeping pets isn't exploitation, it is commensalism. I can state this with just as much credibility as some asshole vegan has when they try to claim that, by housing, feeding, and defending my cats from predation I am somehow exploiting them. Keeping bees isn't exploitation, it is commensalism. Beekeeping is one area where veganism veers into the realm of abject silliness- and the reason I cannot respect it as a philosophical viewpoint.

It is oversimplified to the point where if it were about other human beings it would be bigoted. It is broken reasoning, bereft of logic. I can support vegetarianism. I can support eating plant matter before meat because it is more efficient and has less environmental impact. But you cannot deal with all of animalia painting with such a broad brush and talking about rights and protections. Jellyfish cannot benefit from the same rights and protections that dogs can. Dogs cannot benefit from the same rights and protections that apes can. All animals are different, and to treat them the same is just as harmful as making generalizations about groups of humans. It's too bad vegans cannot seem to grasp this.
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