On Specious Rhetoric by Vegan Advocates

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[1] 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.

[1] 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.

18 comments to On Specious Rhetoric by Vegan Advocates

  • Al

    I think I agree with most of what you’re saying here. One thing that I noticed was that the fallacy in “The moral argument” dealt only on the welfarist inclination to focus solely on factory farms. I’m curious if you also find a fallacy with the abolitionist argument.

    I’m assuming you’ve read Francione. I feel that he always makes it very clear that he’s advocating veganism for the reason of animal rights. He’ll occasionally write, within a larger animal rights piece, that veganism is better for you and for the planet, but I think (if I remember correctly) he has made a point to say that even if veganism wasn’t better for you and even if it wasn’t automatically better for the environment, it’s still the minimum you can do to, on a personal level, respect for the interests of animals.

    I agree with those ideas, and most abolitionists I know in person and online do, too.

    But veganism doesn’t equal outreach and activism. And I think your issue with veganism is specific to using it as a tool for activism, right? Or are you saying that veganism might not even be the best way to take animal interests seriously? It doesn’t sound like that’s what you’re saying, but I thought I’d ask.

    I think that advocating veganism for animal rights reasons makes complete sense. I agree with you that advocating vegansim for other reasons is either deliberately dishonest or confused. For example, if someone is vegan for health reasons, why would that preclude them from buying wool? If someone is vegan for environmental reasons, what’s stopping them from killing and eating the rabbit in their back yard?

    You said, “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.” I agree, though I would like to think that the kind of seed we want to plant could only grow into a vegan outcome if taken to its logical conclusion. And that logical conclusion should be clear, even though we can’t expect everyone to follow through to it.

    The act of being vegan does nothing more than show people that it’s possible to be vegan. But telling others WHY you’re vegan (and I agree with you that the only logically consistent reason is for animal rights) does plant that seed. So in that way, I do see veganism as a positive outreach tool.

  • Hey Al,
    So yeah, the moral argument part is aimed at the use of welfare arguments. Abolitionists still use veganism as their solution and I think that’s not ideal. I know people are always telling abolitionists to put up or shut up but the one piece of lit I did see was horribly written (still, I understand it’s v.1) and still fell back on welfare, health and environment arguments anyway. Francione does the same I know which just makes his original arguments seem weak. Not a fan. Welfare, abolition, same shit to me when they’re both bound to veganism.

    Yes, I’m challenging the widespread adoption of veganism as a form of activism. I’m one of the few that not only admits veganism is “hard” but that THAT is the point! It is so important to me that I’m willing to do this day after day but indeed it is my personal choice. How many times have we heard that comeback: “That’s cool, be vegan but that your choice, don’t preach to me.”. That should be a clue that the arguments re falling flat yet most of the time we assume it’s the audience who’s horribly wrong.

    Instead of telling people WHAT to do we should explain first WHY and let them figure out the what (but we do need vegan support groups). That is why I think we should not advocate veganism. For so long I fought the newagers, raw foodists, vegetarians, welfarists, and abolitionists over the word “vegan” but after banging my head against that I think I finally knocked some sense into myself (or got dain bramage).

    If we were to plant a seed of an idea of animal rights that took hold in a person and that person worked to outlaw, say zoos, but still wore leather or ate dairy should we shun them for not being vegan? I think we are irrational fancy monkeys and we exhibit irrational behavior and habits and we should allow for that especially in this climate. Generations down won’t have those habits for the allowances we give to allies who maybe don’t act as consistently as we might wish. This idea that veganism is the minimal action to be ethical is damaging I think and we should shake off the shackles of veganism and learn to be dynamic as tough as it might denigrate our own personal commitment to veganism.

    So yeah, veganism can be a positive outreach tool if people get the correct WHY but that is a slippery one to tie down as there are many WHYs. Instead of fighting over the whys let’s ditch that and go for the heart of the matter, animal fucking rights.

    Good comments, thanks so much! Whaddya think?
    -dave

  • Al

    Heh. “Animal fucking rights.” You just got yourself a devoted reader.

    I think I understand what you’re saying. Instead of “Go vegan!” you’d prefer it to be, “Here’s why I’m vegan.” (Or “Here’s why I do my best to avoid participating in animal exploitation,” if you’re not into using the word “vegan” in conversations.) Does that sum it up (in a grossly simplified way)? In that sense, you’re not using veganism as the tool, but instead using it as a jumping off point to talk about animal rights.

    “If we were to plant a seed of an idea of animal rights that took hold in a person and that person worked to outlaw, say zoos, but still wore leather or ate dairy should we shun them for not being vegan?”

    I’m not a fan of shunning. So no, I don’t think we should. But I do think, like I said, that if the seed we plant was taken through to its logical conclusion, that this person would eventually become vegan (right?). And I think that planting a seed without telling someone what it is meant to grow into could be seen as another form of the intellectual dishonesty you criticize in this post.

    I’m still assuming that you think that veganism is the logical extension of an animal rights position. But you think that all the focus as far as reaching out to others should use animal rights language instead of vegan language. Do I have that right?

    I’m intrigued by the idea that the seed is more important than the fruit, and I don’t think it’s without merit. I guess I just feel that by talking about veganism along with animal rights we help to normalize both of those things. Many people are hesitant to go vegan because it’s seen as too far out of the mainstream. Normalizing it will help people who generally agree with the animal rights position to follow through on that and stop supporting the intentional use of animals.

    “Instead of fighting over the whys let’s ditch that and go for the heart of the matter, animal fucking rights.”

    Aren’t animal fucking rights the WHY though? Can we talk about animal rights without talking about what taking that position seriously means to someone on a day to day basis?

    • Heh. “Animal fucking rights.” You just got yourself a devoted reader.

      🙂 Hooray!

      I think I understand what you’re saying. Instead of “Go vegan!” you’d prefer it to be, “Here’s why I’m vegan.” (Or “Here’s why I do my best to avoid participating in animal exploitation,” if you’re not into using the word “vegan” in conversations.) Does that sum it up (in a grossly simplified way)? In that sense, you’re not using veganism as the tool, but instead using it as a jumping off point to talk about animal rights.

      “Here’s why I do my best to avoid participating in animal exploitation,” BINGO. It’s wordy and overwrought but I think makes more sense than “vegan” because that means nothing anymore. Veganism can be a jumping off point if somebody finds out I’m vegan but I’d rather the outreach part not focus on my veganism but on the animals.

      I’m not a fan of shunning. So no, I don’t think we should. But I do think, like I said, that if the seed we plant was taken through to its logical conclusion, that this person would eventually become vegan (right?). And I think that planting a seed without telling someone what it is meant to grow into could be seen as another form of the intellectual dishonesty you criticize in this post.

      A logical conclusion (IRL) is overrated and not what you always get though and I think that’s what’s getting stuck in vegan’s craws. Maybe an animal rights activist wouldn’t become vegan, it happens. I don’t think the seed planted should grow into veganism, it should allow to grow where it might. Will this person go vegan? Probably, but I think we put too much emphasis on the praxis. I’m not saying we should hide veganism at all but it should not take the main stage. Good point though.

      I’m still assuming that you think that veganism is the logical extension of an animal rights position. But you think that all the focus as far as reaching out to others should use animal rights language instead of vegan language. Do I have that right?

      Veganism isn’t an extension of animal rights, it’s just a personal alignment. Does that make sense?

      I’m intrigued by the idea that the seed is more important than the fruit, and I don’t think it’s without merit. I guess I just feel that by talking about veganism along with animal rights we help to normalize both of those things. Many people are hesitant to go vegan because it’s seen as too far out of the mainstream. Normalizing it will help people who generally agree with the animal rights position to follow through on that and stop supporting the intentional use of animals.

      “Instead of fighting over the whys let’s ditch that and go for the heart of the matter, animal fucking rights.”
      Aren’t animal fucking rights the WHY though? Can we talk about animal rights without talking about what taking that position seriously means to someone on a day to day basis?  

      Who cares if they go vegan really? The best it would do is make our own veganism easier but for that matter we can keep using the same old tired ploys of magic health enzyme weight loss to do so and animals will suffer in zoos eternally. That gravity keeps tugging at you, resist! 😀

      How do we communicate the idea of animal rights and action without veganism? I’m not sure, let’s try!

      I know I probably haven’t convinced you that veganism is faulty enough to ditch but that’s ok, I couldn’t say I’m certain myself. Let’s keep a dialogue open though and please keep it in the back of your mind as you do your own exploring. I appreciate your time here, it means a lot. Thanks!

  • Sarah S.

    Hmm it’s so simple for me to explain why I’m vegan. Eating animals is gross. Like picking your butt. I excuse my (omni) husband for both.

  • Dani

    I know this article is an encouragement for vegans to think sceptically about their arguments, which is great, but I think that you challenged fallacies with other fallacies.

    1. This implies that there can be such a thing as abuse-free meats, as there can be abuse-free clothing. Sure, some farms are better than others and this is a very big deal. But slaughter is a requirement for meats (which by the way I thought Scott Berjot-Stafiej’s “Is a Humane Killing Ethical” is spot on about), whereas sweatshops are not a requirement for clothing production. It would be much better to encourage those who won’t give up meat to buy more humanely farmed items, but I don’t think animal products are comparable to not being arrested for indecent exposure, nor do I believe there is a logical solution which favours people killing animals because they enjoy the taste.

    The ethical omnivore is not a very strong argument, because of the unwillingness of consumers to commit financially. Will people go without if there isn’t a free-range or better treated animal product? No, probably not. Will they eat meat less times a week in order to afford more expensive free range? No, probably not. And most people who say they are for humane animal products don’t actually buy it (around 80% of people in New Zealand said they’d pay more for free-range eggs, but these only make up 10% of the market).

    2. Abandoning animal products would not force us into the Stone Age; abandoning electricity would. If current animal agriculture is bad for the environment…what are the greener solutions? I understand that other alternatives may come along, and agree that it is not really an important argument for a plant-based diet but currently, there is no better alternative for animal agriculture and the environment. There is no nuclear fusion type-solution for agriculture. The proposals for reducing methane emissions forces animals into smaller areas, grows foods in different places to where they are farmed, which just creates a bigger environmental or ethical problem.

    3. I agree about the health thing. I supplement for my health, and I think vegetarianism would be great if there were slaughter-free products intended for smaller amount of consumption, and ensured animals did not meet an untimely death, because it would avoid health problems and the animals COULD be treated fine, as with places such as http://www.ahimsamilk.org

  • Dean

    Can’t I be vegan just because I enjoy it?

  • Sure, we have all heard these common arguments. These are not arguments that we use. Because we are sanctuary-based we see how close animal friends are to each other, and how they mourn their loss, we see how much mothers adore their babies and the lengths they will go to to protect them, we see the fear in their eyes when the vet is going to give them a shot, and we see the affection that our rescues give to visitors and care-givers in juxtaposition with what we do to them. We also see them struggle to stay alive in the face of genetic modifications that leave their bodies worn and broken. These are the reasons for being vegan, they care, they feel, they struggle to stay alive and they fear the unknown. This is the true argument.
    However, the arguments you cite are not necessarily worthless. The truth is that an individual cannot influence how animals are raised or treated by industry, despite attempts over 50 years to improve the treatment of farm animals, their situation is more dire than ever. If you can’t stop the cruelty, abstain from supporting it. You might say, despite my previous point that you could do this by only supporting small family farms. On a pig farm, each animal has 2 square metres of space. On a family farm they need half an acre. In an egg farm, each animal takes up 200 square centimetres. In a family farm they need 4 square metres. Do the math and explain where all of these humanely raised animals are going to live?
    Many vegan arguments are invalid and emotion-based, but I fear your argument cherry-picks the part of the topic that suits your position, something we are all often guilty of.
    Farm animals want to live, want to be with their mothers, want to raise their children, want to run, play and rest in natural surrounding, and are quite happy to snuggle up to the occasional friendly human. Eating plant-based is so easy, it is cruel simply to deny their base desires because you feel like something different for dinner. We believe we can be better than we are, that we can choose compassion over indulgence, and a life over a death.

  • Joel Miner

    While I can see the attempted logic and even concur with some of what you say I find the generalizations and the missing evidences make your article appear to be more valid than it is. While I respect a healthy exchange of ideas my only major criticism would be with the over simplification of your points and fallacies…

    1. The moral argument: Yes, while it is easy to compare animal welfare to that of human welfare in sweatshops and make a leap towards that line, we must not forget that in the case of sweatshops when it is discovered that major brands are abusing their workers, society as a whole tends to step up and demand change. The sudden uproar from the majority makes these changes swift and usually lasting (at least for the brands in question) Not only that but going naked to protest sweatshops is an extreme that is not needed since public opinion is against sweatshops. But, there is the “I would rather go naked than wear fur” campaigns which make your argument seem a little less valid. Another major problem is that there are also many more options for clothing that are sweatshop free and much fewer sweatshops(that we know about) than factory farms.

    Perhaps the biggest fallacy in your argument is that you fail to mention the end results….Sweatshops end results are bad working conditions and suffering until they are caught and changes are made or a boycott ensues which closes production. Factory Farms(farms) no matter how nice they treat the animals during their life the end result is death and there is nothing humane or kind about this end result at all. If sweatshops killed all their employees on a mass scale when they were no longer productive or were past their prime the comparison might be more accurate.

    2. The environmental argument: this is perhaps your best argument so I will keep this one brief. Many vegans do make personal advancements to live a greener lifestyle from what vehicle they drive or choose not to drive anymore to choosing solar or alternative power solutions and many I know even discuss trying to create whole communities that live pretty much off grid and as sustainable as possible so we do think about better option constantly. There are many more environmentally safe and sustainable options for power/light/energy etc then there are for animal products

    The big problem here is that there is no attempt and no feasable way to make factory farming sustainable or even lower the environmental impact without reducing the amount of animals bred for and raised and then slaughtered. In an ideal situation we would only raise what we need and use all of what we had without the excessive waste and damage caused by mass industry. Until we revert back to local farms/butchers/eggs etc the best way to effect change in this industry is to boycott all factory farms and anything we can that causes harm to animals.

    3. The health argument: While it had been shown in numerous independent studies not only The China Study that eating animals can cause negative health results most vegans understand the everything in moderation argument for health as well. If a vegan eat only pastas, carbs and tofu with very little greens and fruits they will most likely have bad health as well so making the argument from a vegan stand point that being vegan is healthier has many more layers than a blanket statement. This is where I think a lot of vegans fail in this argument is we assume that the only way to be healthy is via a plant based or vegan lifestyle and although recent evidence shows that it is probably more likely to have a longer and healthier life via a well balanced pant based diet we should not exclude the evidence that a well balanced diet of any kind can be healthy as well (even if not as healthy). Your biggest mistake here is in asking why we are living longer etc yet you fail to mention the advances in medicine and exercise and technology which have all contributes to our longevity. Sure we might have a higher mortality rate than in the past but we also have more heart transplants, diabetes, obesity, high cholesterol and people extending their life via surgery and medication. It is easy to say that if animals were bad we wouldn’t be living as long while ignoring the increases in disease and medical advancements to combat those diseases and extend our mortality. Especially when mounting evidence shows that animal products are the most likely culprit of many of these diseases to begin with. i.e. Heart disease is the number one killer in the modern societies, the number one cause of heart disease is cholesterol, the number one source of high cholesterol is animal products. Making a claim on mortality when the number one cause of death has a direct link to animal ingestion is a huge fallacy.

    In conclusion I agree a lot of vegans fail to argue their points effectively which can lead to many needless fights that have either no result or a negative impact on the issue. But, in every movement in history we have had those who utilized the emotional abolition and those who relied heavily on logic and critical thinking and it is a balance of both that has created change that was lasting and effective. In this (USA) culture we needed the Malcom X’s just as much as we needed the Martin Luther King Jr’s.

    The “Vegan”(to use your interchangeable meaning) movement is one that has the highly abolitionist emotionally valid groups and persons like Direct Action Everywhere and PETA but we also have the logical scientific and reasoned persons like Gary Yourofsky(emotional/logical) and T. Colin Campbel and together we all make a difference. What effects some emotionally may not effect others who need to see the evidence and logical reasoning but both forms of “Vegans” are helping change the way people see the world we live in and the earthlings we share this planet with.

    • This post is 4 years old now and my views are a bit more refined so I have no particular zeal to defend them except to maybe clarify.

      1)My point was that vegans focus on welfare issues and NOT death as a welfare issue, or did, whatever but yeah.

      2)Never underestimate what the market’s ability to innovate technological solutions to meet demands. If people want cheaper environmentally friendly meat they’ll figure out a way or retreat to idyllic pasture raised blah blah blah. In this case though I think biotech might catch a lead and that may make real vegan meat feasible. VeganGMO #FTW!

      3)Sure eat less meat who does’t say that? But still meat is a pretty easy peasy way to get a dense amount of nutrition.

      BTW I’d say DxE isn’t a vegan group so I wouldn’t lump em in with the rest and I don’t see vegan as any sort of platform to advocate so yeah.

  • Where’s the influx of comments coming from BTW? Some Facebook group get a bee up in thar bonnet?

  • mike berry

    Whoever wrote this article is an idiot hahaha

  • […] develop their own parallel beliefs on the matter. This comes in the form as I have decribed in my specious rhetoric post. The “by any means necessary” attitude to gaining vegan numbers is inflating a bubble […]

  • […] for animals because it often gets lumped in as an environmental or health concern. (also see On Specious Rhetoric by Vegan Advocates) Animal rights usually becomes the last stand justification when the other arguments fail…or […]

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