One of my biggest problems with vegan advocates is the fallacious rhetoric they employ to achieve their goal of getting somebody to stop using animals. The optimist in me gives these advocates the benefit of the doubt and assumes they don’t see the logical errors but the tiny misanthropist part suspects blatant deception. A recent post by vegan old guard Erik Marcus unfortunately reinforced that misanthropic part. The post entitled Oregano May Reduce Methane from Cattle, cautions vegans that the arguments they make might actually find solutions. Is this not deceptive? I always thought he was naive of the leap of logic he was making in his arguments but now it seems those leaps were more like deliberate sidesteps. So in an attempt to garner progress and promote critical thinking amongst the vegan and non-vegan populations alike let’s expose these vegan sophisms for what they are.
The arguments for veganism popularly tend to rest upon three pillars which I will grossly simplify in summary:
1) The moral argument
Summary: This spectrum goes from “it is wrong to treat animal so badly” to “it is wrong to use animals at all”. There is a huge internal struggle between the “welfarists” who seek better treatment for animals foremost and the “abolitionists” who seek complete abolition of animal exploitation. I could write a book on this subject alone and it can get quite tiresome but for now I’ll just introduce these points.
Fallacy: If the treatment of animals in factory farms is deplorable then why do we need to boycott all animal products? That’s like saying you should go naked because of manufacturers who use sweat shop labor. Wouldn’t the solution to that be to find or request sources who treat their animals better?
2) The environmental argument
Summary: Factory farming animals creates havoc upon the environment from the waste products to the resources needed to raise animals. “Being green” is big now so many vegans tend to lean heavy on this one. “You can’t be a meat eating environmentalist” is a popular adage.
Fallacy: If current animal agriculture is bad for the environment then how does it follow that a boycott is the solution? That’s like saying you should stop using all electricity for the pollution it creates instead of seeking greener solutions.
3) The health argument
Summary: Cholesterol has been blamed for many diseases and T. Colin Campbell’s book, The China Study even goes so far as to say animal protein is a cancer switch. Eating animals will kill you they say.
Fallacy: If eating animals the way we do is bad for our health how is it that mortality rates are dropping and we’re living better than ever? It’s like saying you should stop drinking water because it causes hyponatremia.
All of those arguments make a case for a broad range of solutions but not an absolute abstention of animal use. This rhetoric has been employed by advocates for so long that they’re starting to believe it themselves. Many otherwise animal advocacy groups now eschew the word “vegan” for its absoluteness and even ask to give up using animals once per week or in other such convenient manner. I actually agree with that in practice but in theory they are still not being upfront about the idea or their true goal unless their true goal no longer caters to animal interests. If you counter that you’ll look for happier farms or greener animal flesh they’ll move that goalpost right before your eyes.
My argument for pythagoreanism is just that nonhumans are treated unfairly. Just like social justice issues of the past and present with humans, nonhumans are discriminated against for their irrelevant category which in this case is species. Whether or not you are brimming with contempt for that idea you should at least be given that piece of information. At least it’s out there and a discourse can be started and quite even possible, progress made.
But most vegan advocates are afraid to make “complicated” or “abstract” arguments that the mainstream public would be wary to digest. They would rather appeal to their vanity or guilt pulling emotional triggers like a semi-automatic full of so many rubber bullets. It is not respectful of the audience to start out by assuming their stupidity or loading them up with specious arguments. Nor does it provide a foundation for success for those who fall for such sophisms.
I can understand the temptation to bend the truth when the situation seems dire and “animals are suffering right now!”. Wouldn’t we all lie our asses off if it meant the difference between life & death for our human loved ones? But I don’t think veganism is the solution here. A change in behavior requires the will to do that and that should always be based on good information and sound principles. I would rather get 10 people interested in helping seek justice for nonhumans than 100 vegans doing it for a dead-end specious argument. Those 10 will convince others in an environment where reason prevails and those 100 will fade away. If we have any hope for a better society we would do well to foster reason and critical thinking so that lofty ideals such as justice can flourish and take deep root.
Vegans, please question your own arguments and think critically of your peers. Questioning is not a form of insult but a form of respect that says “your arguments have enough merit for me to examine”. Also don’t be so afraid of emotional arguments. They are valid enough to fight for but faulty logic won’t lead to long-term gains for the movement.
Non-vegans, please challenge vegans on the logic of their arguments and call them on it. I respect people who hear what I’m saying and simply reply “I’m fine with killing animals” than those who yell “Meat is good!” in my face. At least we both know where we stand and that’s a platform for which perhaps we can build a bridge.
Vegans are in the extreme minority in this (USA) culture so I know how hard it can be and how mean people can act but to locate sympathizers we cannot resort to specious tactics for real progress in the interest of nonhuman animals. It’s an idea that doesn’t require wholesale buy-in to veganism and can extend to all animals instead of the single-issue domesticated food animal. Veganism as an act does not create an idea of animal justice. It requires a seed of an idea that can grow within one’s own mind with veganism as a possible outcome. Let’s focus on planting that idea rather than shoving a stick in the ground and calling it a tree. Be honest and remember that your fellow human is an animal too, just like you.
 I use the word “vegan” here in place of “animal rights” or “animal advocate”. In reality veganism is a personal practice in support of an idea but I use the two interchangeably for simplicity even though it isn’t quite technically correct.