If you're not Vegan, you're stupid.

So, Heather decided to write a blog post titled, Atheists: when disbelief does not equal logic or critical thinking. Perhaps a more concise title would have been, If you're not Vegan, you're stupid.

Her post starts off reasonably enough. For some reason, she states, she had been under the misapprehension that atheists are generally more intelligent people than theists. This is an easy trap to fall into, and I am sure I have fallen victim to it in the past. After all, it is natural for the human ego to want to feel superior to other people. Just take a look, for example, at the comments section of any post on Pharyngula. Your smug-o-meter will go off the scale.

Fortunately, that illusion was shattered one sunny day, when she realised that not all atheists have the same opinions as her on a variety of issues. In Heathers own words, it was "A phenomenon that burst my smug little atheist bubble".

What happened next will probably sound familiar to a lot of people. It is reminiscent of the emails received by various sceptic podcasts which begin, "I love your show, BUT... ". I think it can be best explained in terms of something called the "Maddox effect".

The Maddox effect is named for George "Maddox" Ouzounian, author of the deliberately offensive satirical (and modestly named) web-site, The Best Page in the Universe (warning: potentially NSFW). The synopsis of the effect is that an individual, who had previously been a devoted fan of Ouzounian's work, will suddenly lose their sense of humour and become incredibly hostile when an article is posted deriding their particular sacred cow. I believe poor Heather is suffering from a variant of this rationality-imparing effect.

In Heather's case, exposure to viewpoints opposed to her own led her, not to introspection or enquiry, but to simply conclude that these pesky individuals must not be as intelligent as her.

What was that she said about smug?

The issue in question is, of course, Vegan-ism.

Level 5 Vegan (I don't eat anything that casts a shadow).Now, don't get me wrong. I have no problem with Vegan-ism, per se. If someone feels better about themselves - or heck, even better than other people - because they choose not to eat certain types of food, then all power to them. You do what you like. As long as it doesn't affect me in any way, then frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn.

Of course, a lot of Vegans can't seem leave it there. Instead, like missionaries embarking on their first voyage to Africa, they feel the overwhelming urge to share the Good News with everyone they can. They insist that their arbitrary ethical system is, in fact, superior and should be adopted by all. How is eating an cow, they ask, any different from eating a human? It's all life!

How then, I might respond, is red any different from green? After all, it's all colours! And where does that leave poor old yellow?

As was explained so eloquently (as usual) by Matt Dillahunty & co. on episode 8.8 of The Non Prophets, the value we attach to various different forms of life is not governed but the sole property of it being life. I value human life more than I value ant life. I value my life more than I value yours. In fact, I probably value my sisters dog's life more than yours. No offence - it's nothing personal - he's just a really great dog.

Anyway, far be it from me to try to summarise the thoughts presented by the Non-Prophets crew, so I'll leave it to interested parties to listen to the episode itself. The discussion in question begins at 49:07. I will, however, finish with a quote from my favourite Non-Prophet, Shilling, from that very episode:

"Where are all the Vegans volunteering for Chemotherapy to destroy their immune system and preserve the bacteria growing within them?"

- Shilling.

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Comment by Jaume on May 9, 2010 at 2:20pm
I have to say I'm flabbergasted by all these bitter vegan/vegetarian/omnivore controversies. I've never seen that in my country, at least not to the same extent. Is it specific to the US or the Anglosphere, or what? I'd think France would be more sensitive to anything that is food or diet-related, obviously I was dead wrong :-/
Comment by Aaron S. (USA) on May 9, 2010 at 1:12pm
An apology beforehand - somebody said something wrong on the internets and I have to go on my rant now.

First of all, vegans sound pushy because, well, that's the entire point. Veganism is about ethics, and ethics is that special arena of human activity where we do just get to tell each other what to do. Telling a vegan (or an omnivore, for that matter) "Don't force your 'lifestyle' on me" makes as much sense as a pedophile telling the cops "Hey, don't push your lifestyle on me". If something is wrong, then it's not a personal choice, it's wrong. Now, if you disagree with the merit of vegan arguments, then feel free to disagree, but I'm just saying - "personal choice" is a nonsensical argument to make on an ethical issue.

Second of all, veganism isn't about saving "life" per se, it's about limiting suffering as much as reasonably possible (as well as personal health, economic reasons, environmental reasons, etc.). I understand that this sort of reasoning can get really abstract when we're talking about bacteria, but the point is, from the perspective of suffering, we have no reason to believe that things like bacteria are capable of human-like suffering, whereas we have every reason to believe a cow does. With all due respect to the OP, Matt Dillahunty (who I think is very sharp in other areas), and Shilling, they don't seem to understand this fundamental aspect of what veganism is. Again, if you disagree with the reasoning, feel free to make a counterargument - but when people criticize something without having a clue what it is that they're criticizing, it doesn't convince anyone, it just pisses people off.
Comment by Ann on May 9, 2010 at 1:02pm
Yes, really a terrible waste. I'm sure that people dying of diseases would be edible too. Well, maybe not by gourmet' restaurants' level but would surely do as sausage material. Soylent Green.
Comment by Jim DePaulo on May 9, 2010 at 1:02pm
Good response. I think informed vegetarians are probably healthier than the average citizen largely because they are more conscious of what they eat. I see a problem, however, with the uninformed or "fad" vegetarians.
No single plant based food contains all 9 amino acids, consequently, a balance of vegetables must be eaten to obtain all 9. Without that understanding, people can develop serious deficency disease.
I had many biology students (mostly female) who told me they were vegetarians.
I always asked them to talk with one of my collegues, a biology teacher and vegetarian, she had a full understanding of the diet that must be followed to maintain good health - what combination of vegetables that would supply essential nutrients.
Although I'm not a vegetarian I eat very little meat and enjoy many vegetarian meals (that usually include eggs or dairy). Further, when I invite a vegetarian to my home I feel it is an obligation of hospitally to provide a vegetarian fare.
Comment by Ann on May 9, 2010 at 12:33pm
Embalming is an American thing. Accident victims are a good source of spare parts here.
Comment by sacha on May 9, 2010 at 12:20pm
I'm all for consensual cannibalism, I'm also vegetarian, and I have had the same experience as Daniel repeated ad infinium over the past 25 years of being vegetarian:


The pushy vegans and many meat eaters have a lot in common.
Comment by Ann on May 9, 2010 at 12:18pm
Not so easy. Emphasis on consensual. I'm sure these cows and pigs haven't signed any agreement on being willing to be eaten.
Not that I'm criticizing carnivores here. Heck, I eat any food that comes my way.
Comment by Prog Rock Girl on May 9, 2010 at 11:37am
It was more the way she said it: A. don't attack them every time they mention having a veggie burger for lunch. B. be honest and tell them you just don't care about animals/health/the environment C. listen, research, and become vegan.

Maybe I am reading that wrong. Maybe accepting vegan friends while not being one yourself was an option (A) but mostly B and C caught everyone's attention: either admit that you are a selfish jerk, or learn about veganism and become one. I think A was interpreted as "first, do A, then choose either B or C", and therefore veganism is the Only Way to be a conscientious person.

I have vegan friends and I support them all the way. I definitely agree with Daniel that the veg vs omni hostilities go both ways. I just hope that people will accept me for who I am and not judge me based on what I put in my mouth. People should understand that it is very difficult to stick with a diet like this and some are better suited to it than others. People should also understand that if someone doesn't want to do something they don't believe in, they shouldn't be pressured into doing it.

I tried being vegetarian several times, was never able to stay with it, and decided there was no point in beating myself up about it. (Maybe I could turn veg someday, but vegan? I don't think I stand a chance.) Some of the reasons I couldn't stay veg are things that Daniel was talking about: if there is meat in something I am eating, it doesn't save the life of an animal if I throw the food away, and I don't believe in wasting food. It also doesn't save an animal's life if my friends or spouse are cooking meat and I have some. I got tired of ordering mozz sticks every time I went to a restaurant. I don't want to further separate myself from the rest of humanity and I certainly don't want to increase my contempt for humanity. (It would be easy to start thinking "look at how everyone else does something horrible".) I mentioned economic reasons. She talked about how you can do it cheaply, but a) people will get tired of eating beans and rice every single day, and b) the only poor people I see being vegan are people who were raised middle or upper middle class. There are also people with already existing dietary restrictions, and combining them limits their choices even further. I realize that yes, it still may be possible to be vegan while gluten free/ low fat/ low acid/ soy allergy but once again, some people would occasionally like to eat something other than rice and beans every day. Dismissing everything as an excuse is just judgmental, and this lecturing of people about why being vegan is the only way is the reason people get defensive and sick of the whole subject.

I'm not saying a person can't ever tell someone why they're vegan either. Just last night an acquaintance was telling me about her vegan conversion. She knew I was omnivore yet she told me in a way that I didn't view as a putdown for everyone who wasn't vegan.
Comment by Lorien on May 9, 2010 at 9:42am
I'm now hungry for meat! I think I'll plan a trip to the "Golden Corral" to get some steak tonight! perfect name....corral.
Comment by Lorien on May 9, 2010 at 9:39am
Love the PETA ads beside these blog....



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