- either that all reform is impossible. The only remaining option is the promotion of a personal ethos in order to live better.
- or that human nature is bad and unredeemable. The only remaining option is to fold back onto an ethics of aristocratic virtue.
- vegan consumption is essentially the extent of what can be done for the animals;
- the best way of weakening the meat industry is to increase the number of vegetarians and vegans;
- convincing others to go vegetarian, or better still vegan, is the most efficient method of increasing vegetarians' and vegans' numbers.
One cannot but see that the promotion of vegetarianism and veganism relies upon an appeal to virtue. Besides, by definition, education (concerning veganism or anything else) doesn't attempt to change the public sphere (laws, the government's nutritional recommendations, medical school programmes…) but the private sphere (people).
Of course most of those who favour this approach are, for the most part, inspired by universalist ethics, and wish for a change of society (as demonstrated by the very fact of their militancy). But their means are inconsistent with their views. This is why the public perceives vegetarianism as a personal ethics (of the “virtue ethics” type, then), as being supererogatory or utopian, and meat consumption as being nonetheless legitimate.
- “Nobody's perfect!”
- “I'm a good person too!” (or in the same self-pitying vein: “Anyway, I don't eat that meat all that often”).
Though that may not be the intent, this is how people interpret the “go vegan” rhetoric. Again, such objections would be devoid of meaning in response to a demand for justice.
- “Vegetarianism is a kind of religion”, “Vegetarians form a cult”
- “Vegans think themselves superior to meat-eaters!”
- “Vegetarians look cheerless” (translation: not such a great personal development programme after all)
- “Everyone is entitled to their opinion. You're free to be a vegetarian, so let me eat meat.”
- 14% of respondents disagreed with the statement: “It is normal for humans to raise animals for their meat”;
- 39% disapproved of “animals being killed as a result of fishing practices”;
- 58,8% disapproved of “animals being killed as a result of hunting practices”;
- 51% of Americans expressed a high level of agreement (level 8 to 10);
- 42% a moderate level (level 4 to 7);
- 7% a low level (level 0 to 3).
This comment also implies something else: that an appeal to virtue stands a better chance of turning someone vegetarian than a demand for justice would. I believe this to be wrong, considering the implications of an appeal to virtue (see part 1).
Though it is difficult to extrapolate from an example, India, where over a third of the population is vegetarian, doesn't seem to support the idea that a large vegetarian population automatically favours or engenders a public debate on the legitimacy of meat.
This method consists in approaching one person at a time to convert them little by little. The basic idea that people eat meat out of personal conviction takes no account of the social determinations of meat consumption.
The “Jehovah’s Witness” method has a curious consequence: in response to the average person's “block”, vegetarianists18 water down their message by various means: they use indirect arguments, don’t call a spade a spade ( i.e., don’t say that to kill animals is immoral, refrain from talking about murder…). The trouble is that by insisting on making the message acceptable to the ears of people who wouldn't go vegetarian on their own, or might only become weekend flexitarians, you alienate those sensitive to the animal cause. And indeed surely within the frame of an appeal to virtue, the next cohorts of vegetarians will not come out of the ranks of hunting aficionados or butchers, but from the 14% of the population who are uneasy with animal murder. If you are going to promote vegetarianism, wouldn't it make more sense to target them and tune out the jeers and sneers of the other 86%19?
1 Whereas in virtue ethics, intentions are primordial↩
2 See John Rawls, “A Theory of Justice”, paragraph 50.↩
3 Moral relativism should not be confused with moral nihilism, which denies moral propositions any truth value, and denies even the very existence of moral propositions.↩
7 This is not only a consequence of the idea that individual behaviour must derive from personal thought. The point is also to avoid appearing aggressive or extremist; for more information, see below.↩
9 This excuse for meat-eating as a matter of preference conceals mere childhood habits and the weight of carnist temptations in our society. Indeed, most people do not eat 100% of the things that they like (unless they like very few things!) For instance, many continentals like creole cuisine, but only have it once in a blue moon. They don't miss it the rest of the time, because other dishes, and just as tasty, are available.↩
10 Even the more ideological responses (man being on top of the food chain, and so on) still rest more on prejudices than elaborate thinking.↩
11 A “victimless crime” is a socially condemned behaviour that does no harm to anybody. As such, their condemnation is illegitimate in the consequentialist view (which evaluates an action's moral character based solely on its consequences). ↩
12 The third example is the Cazes-Villette study which we mention below.↩
14 For an introduction to behavioural economics, see Ariely (2008).↩
15 S Chapman, P Alpers, K Agho, M Jones, “Australia’s 1996 gun law reforms : faster falls in firearm deaths, firearm suicides, and a decade without mass shootings”, Injury Prevention 12:365-372, 2006.↩
17 I'm astonished that it could be thought relatively easy to convince someone to go vegan in a carnist world, but that that same person will laugh at you if you talk about meat abolition or the closedown of slaughterhouses…↩
18 This is less true of veganists.↩
19 We believe this is a consequence of many vegetarians' habit of talking to walls, either for reasons beyond their control (discussions with their entourage, their colleagues, and other family) or because of their activist practices (street leafletting).↩
20 What is wrong with this campaign is its conclusion. Instead of something like “we are healthy” or something similar, it goes: “become vegetarian.” The observation that vegetarians are healthy doesn't lead to the conclusion that animal exploitation is useless needless or harmful, or that prejudices against vegetarians are unfounded (if this was the case, it would be a good campaign), but that it is in our interest to eat less animals (“less” because a moderately meaty diet does not cause sudden asthenia or erectile dysfunctions).↩
21 And indeed, a moderately animal-based diet, such as the omnivorous Mmediterranean diet, has no proven adverse effects, contrary to what some deceptive health arguments imply.↩
22 And indeed, pollution or waste are only environmentally problematic beyond a certain threshold. Besides, within certain limits, animal husbandry has no negative effect on the environment whatsoever, since the animals merely eat the plants humans cannot consume (they graze in undergrowths and on untillable terrain, eat cereal bran and vegetable peelings, etc.). We should add that it isn't only animal farming that pollutes more than is necessary to keep humans alive. Whoever refuses the slightest bit of bacon on environmental grounds should also consistently refuse any non-organic, non-local vegetable; and more generally all goods or services that were not produced by ecologically optimal processes.↩
23 André Méry on « Terre à terre », on France Culture, Feb. 20, 2010. ↩
24 French former actress and famous animal rights activist, also known for her socially conservative and racist positions.↩
25 While such manifestations are obviously not bad in themselves, relying on them to change the world seems absurd to me.↩
26 A straightforward example: people buy battery eggs because their sale is allowed.↩
27 Meat is easier to find than vegetarian products.↩
30 As someone asked in the debate following a story on “The new vegetarians” (broadcast on the French channel Arte in April 2012).↩
31 See debates on the blog Les Questions composent (in French): http://lesquestionscomposent.fr/pourquoi-je-ne-participerai-plus-aux-actions-reformistes/ and: http://lesquestionscomposent.fr/debat-faut-il-reformer-lindustrie/↩