Response: Vegans to the Rescue

by hailtothenihilist

A while back The New York Times ran an essay competition to find an eloquent answer to the question “Why Is It Ethical to Eat Meat?” It’s a serious question that deserves justification. Though, food-industry journalist, Dan Murphy, doesn’t think so. He believes that “such a proposal begs the question of “Why do we have to write essays to justify eating meat?”. Perhaps he’s right. Why do we need to write essays about such things? If people think it’s a worthwhile activity, investing time in deep thought, research and writing, then good for them. But the question is certainly worthy of being posed. Perhaps that is not what Murphy is implying–perhaps its not about the essaying. Maybe he’s implying that the question is not worthy of scrutiny. I hope not for that does beg the question. We can’t pick and choose what is available to moral scrutiny without scrutinising it first. Certain propositions necessarily open themselves to moral scrutiny based on their components. But that’s not what this post is about. This post is about the guts of Murphy’s piece “Vegans to the Rescue”.

I was alerted to this piece by @Willydhunt on Twitter. He linked it to “sustainable” farmer Fiona Lake–with whom I have disagreed on many occasions. An “excellent article” @Willydhunt called it. “Excellent article” and “why meat eating is ethical” in the same sentence. I had to see this. Sure enough, it is anything but “excellent”. It’s riddled with predicable arguments and uses excerpts from various entries in the essay competition as its proof. Whether Murphy interpreted these essays correctly or not, I don’t know. I am going to take them only based on his interpretation.

First there is Jan Cho’s “Eating Meat to Survive” which argues that we ate meat to evolve a big, complex brain giving us the capacity for compassion. Next is Nicolette Hahn Niman, a vegetarian, rancher and environmental lawyer (what a mix!) who argues for soil. Then Tovar Cerulli who argues unhypocritically that because the wheat truck hit a rabbit on its way to town we ought to be more mindful of how animals can fit into the cycle. Former vegan-turned-butcher Joshua Applestone argued for humane meat. And finally, the winner of the competition, Jay Bost, another former vegan, argues for ecology and the inevitably of death.

None of these arguments are new and none need any further scrutiny. It’s been done. They’re all fallacies:

Jan Cho – That’s an appeal to tradition.

Nicolette Hahn Niman – Fellacia necessitas.

Tovar Cerulli –  Perfect solution.

Joshua Applestone – Argument to moderation.

Jay Bost – Strawman.

Actually, to be correct, each has committed a number of fallacies. But again, this is all on Murphy’s representation of their arguments. I might have to go back and read them in their entirety to see whether he got them all wrong–they may be robust after all. As for it being an “excellent” article–I think that says something about the reader if they think that to be true. I contend that there are better accounts out there than this, and the essays it is based on. It just goes to show the cognitive dissonance and lack of critical reasoning evident amongst this set of vocal omnivores.

Anyways, I tweeted a response to @FionaLake and @Willydhunt. Apparently I am a troll for announcing that I am going to respond to it. A few pieces on online bullying on Today Tonight and people are throwing the word “troll” around with abandon.