I say this as someone with a great deal of sympathy for veganism, who has been progressively cutting more and more meat out of his diet, but this video that I’m seeing so many people rave about is bad. Bad arguments. Bad ideas. Ick. Made me want to kill a cow and eat its heart raw (no, not really, I’m still committed to vegetarianism as a personal choice).
The naturalistic fallacy is always a fallacy, and that’s where this thing goes wrong. The first half is entirely an appeal to a false idea of what is “natural”.
All the natural animal eaters in the wild kill their prey using what they are biologically given. He presents them with a thought experiment: if he brings in a live pig, could the audience kill it with their bare hands? That they can’t (actually, they probably could, but it would be messy and ugly and people would be hurt, too) is evidence that killing animals isn’t “natural”. Nonsense. Hominins have been using tools for millions of years; we have physically co-evolved with tool use. When the Trumpopocalypse comes, and civilization collapses, what are the survivors going to do? They’re going to sharpen sticks and pick up rocks. It’s what we “naturally” do.
We are not effective predators. Well, fuck, that’s just stupid. Ask all the animals we’ve hunted…oh, wait, you can’t, because they’re all dead.
Are you going to eat the raw meat? No, I’m going to cook it. We’ve been using fire since the days of Homo erectus, and the consumption of processed foods has almost certainly contributed to our morphology — our small teeth and faces. Fire is “natural”. In the rubble of the Trumpopocalypse, people will be rubbing two sticks together so they can roast the cockroaches they catch.
Are you going to eat the organs? All that nasty stuff? Uh, yes? It’s not nasty. I’ve eaten livers and pancreases and intestines and brains and hearts and tongues. It really depends on what cuisine you’ve been brought up with whether you find it repulsive or not. Again, he’s mistaking a conditioned cultural response with what is “natural”. I once saw my grandmother bring a bucket of leftover scraps from a slaughterhouse into the kitchen. She could make good meals out of offal. Offal isn’t awful if you’ve been brought up with it.
When people see these parts of animals, they always say “it puts them off their food”. Oh, it’s yucky and bloody and unfamiliar. It’ll make you nauseated. I sympathize, a little bit. People are all different, and it depends on what you’ve been brought up with. Most of us don’t experience the whole gory splatterfest of processing dead animals, so you get freaked out about it, and that’s OK — but it’s not about what’s natural, it’s about what you’re acculturated to.
This is really just an appeal to the emotions.
One of the reasons I do most of the cooking at home is that my wife does not want to deal with blood and dead animals. Once, when we were first married, I had a plan to cook some Cornish game hens for dinner, and I got held up late at work, so I called my wife and asked her to get them ready and into the oven, and gave her instructions. I came home to find her in tears and practically gagging, and obviously with no appetite at all. I’m comfortable with blood and guts and the “nasty stuff”. I’m not bothered at all. (This argument is irrelevant now that we’ve mostly switched to vegetarian meals, but it continues out of historical precedent.)
If you were naturally meant to eat animals, not only would you be able to watch them being killed, you’d be able to kill them yourself. OK, then: I have killed animals. I’ve gutted them afterwards, cooked them, and eaten them with great pleasure. I guess by this argument that I am naturally meant to eat animals. Maybe I should introduce him to Ed Brayton, who not only has no qualms upon seeing an eviscerated hunk of cow, he starts drooling (it could be he’s an atavism.)
I’m also living out in farm country. These are people who are accustomed to the idea of going out to the chicken yard with a hatchet and coming back with dinner. They look at these kinds of arguments for vegetarianism like the speaker has suddenly grown two heads…this just makes no sense at all.
Now once this guy leaves his “natural” argument, I think he starts making good points. I agree with what he says next.
You see a pig abused, killed, and beaten in front of you. Do you object? There is no justification for abuse. So let’s take that off the table. Can we justify killing a large mammal like a pig for food? I could turn the “natural” argument right around on him: that’s what our ancestors have been doing for millions of years, so to argue suddenly that in these last few generations our past behavior has become abominable is “unnatural”. In the ruins of our crumbling civilization, the ones who will survive are those who can slaughter a squirrel or the family dog for a meal.
But also, I can respect the personal decision that no, killing a conscious animal is immoral. Making an animal suffer so we can extract milk or eggs from it is immoral. We’re starting to get on tricky ground here, though, because you could argue that our existence, especially in our current numbers, is totally immoral, because we sustain ourselves with the suffering of other organisms. I can see that, but I have to make a moral compromise, and make an effort to minimize harm, while aware that I can’t totally end it.
Let’s say that pig being abused in front of you is now being abused behind a wall, where you can no longer see them. Does that now make it moral? Oh, these damn philosophers with their tricksy questions! No, it doesn’t make it moral, and if your moral framework says that killing and eating animals is wrong, you should be working to end all kinds of farming and slaughterhouse practices. You go, guy! I’ll just ask that you stop making dishonest arguments for your cause.
Now as a vegan I eat all the foods that I used to enjoy, but now I do so without harming animals. This is true. There are many vegan alternatives that you can turn to, and you don’t even need to use meat substitutes — plants taste good. Especially when you use “unnatural” practices like cooking them, and did you know that if you gave an audience a bushel of wheat that they wouldn’t have the slightest idea how to extract the protein to make seitan, and if they did, they’d need to use tools?
Going vegan encouraged me to reinvent the ways that I cooked. Yeah. I rediscovered spices when we started making vegetarian meals. And also fire. Did you know that raw potatoes taste terrible? It’s true! Our distant ancestors did all kinds of artificial processing of those tubers they were gathering out on the savannah. Every culture around the world has developed techniques for improving the flavor of those natural foods they collect, whether it’s a vegetarian curry or a Texas barbecue.
He does not make one argument that I find important: meat-eating is not a sustainable practice. There are so many of us on this planet that simply skimming off the top of the food chain is wasteful and inefficient and damaging to the ecosystem.