Monday, February 14, 2011

The Vegetarian Myth - More to Take Away Than I Expected

The Vegetarian Myth, Final Thoughts

I meant to write this a few months ago, but I have been busy with work and the holidays.  So here we go, into more depth into some of the insights and shortcomings of the Vegetarian Myth (being vegan I'm surprised I can even remember any of this stuff ... jk):

Note that this blog entry is not meant to address everything in the Vegetarian Myth (that should go without saying, but a lot of people like to jump on you for not saying EVERYTHING) ...

The truth is, I wasn't expecting to be challenged by this book at all when I got it out from the library. But it has helped me think about different aspects of the vegan position and challenged some of the ideas that I hold/held close to me.  Being challenged is a blessing, so I thank Lierre Kieth for this.

First of all, because the poor arguments are always the most fun to focus on, here are some points she should never have made or made differently:

1. She creates a straw man for the animal rights position ... saying that people base AR and veganism on not eating anything with a face or that suckles its young.  This is an act of logical cowardice to take on the weakest arguments rather than the strongest.  But more to the point, the faces, etc. misrepresents the case for AR.  It's stupid.  I would venture to guess that anyone who earnestly bases their decision to support animal rights on faces or teats, has not spent much time actually thinking out the integrity of that argument.  The fact is that sentience is the keystone of a coherent AR morality, not faces nor teats.

Maybe there are animal rights people who 'reason' along these lines, but I've never met a vegan who talks like this; more to the point, as I am sure such people exist, the 'relevancy of faces' position is not really worth anyone's consideration (we've already dallied on it for too long).  I once heard someone say that she doesn't eat anything with legs ... it's as awkward to hear as it is to consider logically.

There are other straw man arguments in the text; however, like I mentioned before this entry is not meant to be exhaustive.

2. Talking about plant sentience is interesting, but it's also arrogant.  The only way that we come to understand sentience first hand is through our experience; the way that we ascribe that experience to other beings (including humans) is through creating an inductive case that is founded in physiology, behaviour, empathy, neurological activity, and our interactions with those beings (as well as other factors).

On a side note: it's interesting that a lot of people think that empathy is not meaningful; however, it carries important weight: at a physical level empathy is brain activity that simulates the experience of another being, and creates a chemical 'in someone else's shoes' response.  Our brains are hard wired to know that there are other sentient beings in the world.  We inherently know when another being is sentient (now that is not meant to serve as evidence that plants are not sentient or that other beings are - don't get me wrong).  The point is that everyone knows that they can hurt a dog.  Although we subjectively experience empathy, overall it is an objective argument coming from an observation of our hard wiring.

Anyway, I am getting off track.  The main point is that observations about behaviour, combined with other inductive pillars make sentience in another being the best answer in determining the most basic aspect of another living being's inner life.  The case for plant sentience seems to be heavy on behaviour evidence and not much else.  But the inductive case for plant sentience, as it has been presented in this book and elsewhere can be summed up as: plants interact with the world (and react to it) in a way that we can observe; therefore, they are sentient.  This strikes me as terribly arrogant that one can assume that plants are sentient because we have a little bit of knowledge about them.  Finally, the argument for plant sentience, as it stands does not suggest that their sentience is the easiest explanation for their type of existence.

And no, it does not seem like a problem to be sentience-centric, or a sentietist.  That is discrimination that actually makes sense. I could write on that further at some other point, but it's too tangential to tackle here.

3. She resorts to ad hominems at times.  Now, this does not totally destory the points that her ad hominem arguments are meant to support; however, Kieth often wastes the chance to add meaningful support, also diminishing the political power of the book by creating offense and mind closing polarization through unnecessary cognitive dissonance.  Ad hominems like those about the woman with poor memory or the digs about John Robbins (and vegans retreating to John Robbins for comfort towards the end) appear to be added for a malicious rhetorical purpose (which is more adverse than benign), but they add up to create inductive weight against her position.  Talk about being emotionally imbalanced ... I kid! - That joke won't make any sense if you have not read the book and/or seen her speak.

Anyway, she is genuinely offensive at times, and I have no reason to believe that she could have intended otherwise.  At the end of the day it's slightly less rudimentary than name calling.

4. She uses plenty of anecdotal arguments.  The most relevant and inconsistent one, in my mind, is her appeal to your experience: the 'listen to your body' appeal.  Now this 'argument' was actually very persuasive to me at the time.  It just so happened that my stomach hurt while I was reading the book.  I think it was because I was eating like 8 tomatoes per day, because we had purchased a half crate that had fallen on the floor at the grocery store (which they were going to throw out).  Anyway, needless to say that my stomach pains resided ... either way, the listen to your body appeal is not logically persuasive.  In the end though this may have been her way of hedging her bets.  She does seem earnest, and I don't think she should be met with hostitility.

5. She constructs a metaphysical system that closes off the potential for meaningful criticism of her position.  We all do this at some point in our lives; we're likely doing it right now.  It is how beliefs are formed, but this practice is problematic when we start to explain everything based on a few important although partial observations.

Some examples of this are individuals explaining everything in the world in terms of gender, race, speciesism, or sexuality.  Some people are that one-minded, and they obviously miss the fact that there are many factors that contribute to any one problem.  This may seem like a strength for a theory, but as Karl Popper helps us understand, this all encompassing nature of a position, if it cannot be unverified, is a weakness not a strength.

Keith creates many generalizations from this founding principle.  For example, she said in an interview, after she was pied at the Anarchist bookfair, that it happened because the people were vegan and unstable.  Not only is such a claim pretentious; it is fallacious as well.  I do want to say at this point though, that the vegans who did this are an embarrassment to everyone, not just to vegans.  Lierre Keith is not any enemy.  She has fundamental points where she disagrees with vegans, but she is for revolution.  It is important to note the fact that this was the opposite of an act of compassion ...

I think it is of the utmost importance that we approach this book openly.  I've seen videos for example, that are predominantly ad hominems.  We have to take on the actual points, go back to the sources, and debunk them if there is any debunking that is worth doing.  We can never actually debunk anything in the Vegetarian Myth by attacking Lierre Keith.  And, we should not be doing this in the first place.

I promise this next point is the last one before a break.  This is a long damn post.  I applaud you if you have stuck with it this long.

6. The way she talks about evolution. This point is embarrassing to bring up in relation to anyone besides Michael Pollan.   I don't know if she just doesn't understand it fully, or if she got a little too drunk no Michael Pollan or what ... A simple knockdown point is that species don't evolve purposively.  Even humans don't evolve in a purposive manner as a collective, and our nervous system is the most evolved for this potential function.  Humans have artificially selected some species for continued reproduction; however, the proposition which both Pollan, and Lierre Keith through Pollan, make is that these species adapted us to their needs.

This is an embarrassing case of the historian's fallacy. Essentially their deal striking hypothesis of evolution argues that cows, chickens, and other domesticated animals AND plants projected into the future using us for their own adaptive ends. The claim that cows and plants can project decades into the future is profound indeed, and such a claim REQUIRES profound and persuasive evidence.  All that we receive in the stead of evidence in this misrepresentation of evolution is poetic fancy.  There is no logic or evidence for their case, only misread causes for effects that we can see.  Simply stating that an idea can possibly make sense tells us nothing about its real truth value.  They are different issues of epistemology.

Don't worry there are plenty more things to dive into about this book.  I'll save that for tomorrow though, or two months from now :P.  For any non-vegans out there, please do read this ... so as not to make an ass out of both of us: I do have some points to make on the other side.  As I mentioned earlier there are some tremendously important points she brings up.  I'll get to those later (and yes I already have them drafted).

All the best to anyone who read through all of this.  I hope it made your brain feel good.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Almost done the Vegetarian Myth

I have been reading The Vegetarian Myth in small spurts, for the past week and a half or so, but it is due at the library today; so, of course I am finishing it off.  Before I am finished I would like to add a few comments.

First, I would like to recommend this book.  It provides the only challenging questions and insights that I have seen proposed by someone who is not vegan.  AND that is a GREAT thing!  I don't about you, or anyone else, but I am not in this so I can just call myself "vegan" or anything.  At the end of the day it is about the animals.  So,thoughts that challenge and cause me to refocus are more than welcome.

A lot of her points are highly anecdotal, which leads to a large number of informal fallacies (as opposed to formal fallacies), as her premises do not always support her conclusions. For example she started talking about how vegans always crave sugar, or all vegans tend to do this.  She used this as an example (and argument) to support some of her claims about nutrition.  Well ... obviously this is not true!  All it takes is one anecdote to destroy an anecdotal argument; hence why anecdote is not a very useful logical (or scientific) tactic. 

I mean I have smoothies more often than most people, but I have been known to go for weeks or a month without having any smoothies or desserts ... I mean, it is just such a silly mistake that she makes here.  I've never really craved animal fat/products in years of being vegan either.  She needs to watch her examples next time she writes (which I earnestly hope happens).  She is a good writer, and tackles worthwhile issues. 

I would like to retract any negative comments I made about this woman, and her character I mean.  She's a person, just like any of us, and she is on an earnest quest.  And since when has disagreement been a good reason to speak poorly of someone?

There are some important considerations in this book.  Her viewpoint makes it hard to not employ the genetic fallacy in combating her arguments, as that's an easy logical pitfall for anyone who is encountering cognitive dissonance, but that does not change that the challenging questions and thoughts are worth the read.

I'll write again on The Vegetarian Myth if there is anything more to say after I am finished.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Etiquette for dining in a vegan restaurant

Now I am not a huge proponent of etiquette.  It's just that most of the time it seems rather arbitrary and put on.  At the same it can serve the important social function of manifesting empathy in one's behaviour.  That's simple enough right?

There are times and places where certain words and behaviours are inappropriate.  For example, I am an atheist, but I would never talk about atheism in a church (unless addressed to do so).  It's not out of respect for any religion.  I don't really respect religiousity.  This is a blog about logic after all.  Spirituality is a different matter.  But, the other people who are there have created or at least the place has created a space where my discourse is clearly not welcome.  Other ways of putting this are: I wouldn't shit in someone else's living room.  I wouldn't talk about factory farming while someone eats a chicken that lived in its own excrement for its entire life.  I wouldn't talk about eating dogs at a regular restaurant.

I am all for transgressing taboo.  But disregarding the need for respect of others within context is something I try to avoid.

Anyway, you are likely wondering: what is this all about?

My partner and I went out to a vegan restaurant in Victoria the other day.  It's called Lotus Garden or something like that.  They call it a vegetarian restaurant, but everything is vegan.  It would be nice if they called it a vegan restaurant, but hey ... that's tangential and not the issue here.

As we were finishing our meal, we noticed that there were two people talking rather loudly about eating animals, and not only that but skinning them, and how nice they tasted.  The female involved commented on how this one animal (a small animal, because they are lower down on the food chain she commented) tasted gamy at first, but after a day of marination it was irresistible ... WHAT THE FUCK!?

Hey, I am all for freedom of speech and expression, but I'm not for using a crucifix as a dildo.  Come on, this was in a vegan restaurant!  You might expect that they were fat slobbering truckers with hunting gear on, by the sound of what they were saying, but they just looked like cute young people.  Sure, I shouldn't stereotype, as they evidence, but FUCK!  This blew me away.

A vegan restaurant is no more the right place to talk about cooking, preparing, and eating animals than a regular restaurant would be the right place to talk about eating dogs and cats (in North America at least).  As I am sure you can understand etiquette is somewhat arbitrary, and that is why I don't generally care about it.  At the same time, there are times and places where certain topics are disrespectful.

I wish I had manned up and told them they were being ass holes talking about that stuff in this place.  Seriously, what the fuck were they thinking?

Friday, November 26, 2010

The Vegetarian Myth - Interesting but Often Illogical

I do have to say that Lierre Keith has caused me to think about my veganism in some respects.  That is not to say that I am really considering not being vegan anymore.  There are a lot of fallacious errors that she makes, which make it impossible for me to side with her.

Mainly, she makes insane hasty generalizations ... it's kind of embarrassing.  She brings up one or two examples of vegans doing stupid things with agriculture or food and all of a sudden that is meant to prove her case. I had hoped for more evidential support for her points myself.  But hey, maybe that's just me ... or maybe it's called science ... or maybe it's called being logically consistent and not an ASS!

I just read a passage that throws Keith's integrity out the window, as well.  Keep in mind that this is by her own doing.  She claims that this book, and her journey (or whatever it is) has been about actually, truthfully, earnestly (you get the point) reducing suffering and her adverse impacts on the world.

Then she explains, after going to a vegan permaculture farm, where the people don't seem to understand what they are doing, "[m]y carpool begged to stop for pizza and ice cream, and we soaked up animal protein and fat like parched ground in the rain."  I take it she thinks that she is being poetic, but the hypocrisy is so glaring that it's disappointing.

In the next paragraph she goes on to talking about how everything ... yes EVERYTHING is alive.  Honestly, that makes it hard to take her seriously.  A rock is NOT alive.  It isn't organic ... it exists, but that is categorically different from life.  Existence is its own brilliance, but that does not make it congruent with life. 

It is important to be cautious and remember that these points about integrity and the rock thing to not discredit the whole book or most of her points.  That would be to slip into a fallacious loop (employing the genetic fallacy).

I once read that this is a very logical book.  The person who wrote that clearly has very little understanding of logic.  Anyway, the main reason that I want to post today, is not to pick on Lierre Keith. This book has made an impression on me.

I am not so proud now, bitter, and angry.  This is great, as I always felt ashamed of the pain that everyone else ignored.  I felt ashamed for them, and angry that they do not care. 

The point is that my hands aren't clean.  This isn't news to me, but I am hearing it now with a readiness that I didn't have before.  The agriculture I support is destroying habitats, the earth, and many animals.  It is not something that I am proud of, but it cannot be swept under the rug.  There's no doubt that within this system veganism is still the better answer.  I am confident that without this system, veganism is still the better answer ...  The larger point however, is that my hands are not clean, and they never will be.  If I am ashamed for everyone else, then I have to be ashamed for myself (for parallel reasons).  That would be a foolish way to live.  The shame for everyone else was foolish enough to begin with.

Besides, a noble heart does not make the world better, until it has changed it.  I am more concerned with the interest and the sentience of my fellow creatures than most people ever will be, but that does not make me pure.  More importantly, it never will.

Lierre Keith doesn't explain or provide enough knowledge to make a strong case against veganism.  More to the point, that is not even really what she is arguing against, so far.  I am only about a third through the book at the moment.  She is arguing against mainstream agriculture (especially since the Green Revolution), and expressing her bitterness to her own past, which she sums up as a failed attempt at veganism. She really just seems like a bitter ex vegan who wants to proselytize her new faith to the rest of the world.  Then she tells us about how now she is an adult, imlpying wisdom.  Of all the words that come to mind to describe this book, wisdom is not one of the first that comes to mind.

Her main criterion for determining the wisdom of a person is whether that person tries to make the world (the land especially for Lierre) conform to what one desires it to be, rather than accepting the reality of what is.  This is an ad hominem in disguise, and it blinds her to the hypocrisy of her own position.  For example, she looks at plants and how they interact with the world and calls that sentience.  Sentience is something we understand from our way of being in this universe.  And she is assuming it into other organisms who interact with the world.  The fact that we can create some resemblance and some understanding of how they function does not mean that we know the whole story.  The fact that a plant interacts with the world does not then create a necessary assertion of its sentience.  The fact that a bacterium has biological functions and is organic, does not make it sentient.  What arrogance, to assume that we know the whole story from details of plants emitting chemicals and having responses to their environment!  It may seem poetic to get inside the 'mind' of a plant, but it is more arrogance and pride than anything else.  I am not sure if her's is an argument from incredulity or from ignorance.  But, nevertheless, by her own standards this is not wise, nor is it "adult."

Friday, November 19, 2010

A Vegan Reading The Vegetarian Myth

A Vegan Reading The Vegetarian Myth by Lierre Keith


I picked a book from the library just the other day, called The Vegetarian Myth by Lierre Keith.  By the title she means vegetarian and vegan myth.  It's been lumped together in for the sake of style I presume.

Anyway, I might as well get to the point.  I read the book and am completely persuaded by her arguments.  There isn't really a reason for this blog anymore, because I have been converted.  I'm not a vegan anymore.

Okay, so I can hardly keep a straight face over here.  I am not actually finished the book, and I haven't even begun to be persuaded by her terrible arguments.  I had hoped that there would be more value in this book.  It does get tiring hearing garbage arguments from non-vegans basically so they can pretend to justify their behaviour.

In The Vegetarian Myth Lierre Keith hasn't really distinguished herself from that crowd, the ones who make embarrassingly illogical arguments.  Although she definitely appears to have reflected on her arguments; I have no doubt that she is deeply convicted ... she has made plenty of logical errors, and cited Michael Pollan, of ALL people, as an expert on evolution.  I am not one for ad homina, but COME ON!

I would sooner consider the pope an expert on evolution than Michael Pollan.  Michael Pollan talks about domesticated animals and plants (and genes in the end) as taking purposive steps to evolve successfully with humans; its as if those genes had foresight to know that humans were going to dominate the earth ... LMAO!  The point here is that anyone who takes his thoughts on evolution seriously clearly does not understand evolution themselves.  It's cute what Michael Pollan does with evolution, like a bed time story you might want to tell your children, if you want them to get it dead wrong when they are in grade 8 science.  "It's cute", like what Michael Pollan said when he read the desk jacket of The Selfish Gene (By Richard Dawkins).  It seems that he stopped there, thinking wow, 'this guy is onto something' ...

But let's get back to The Vegetarian Myth by Lierre Keith. Here are the arguments she has presented so far:

1. I got really sick off of veganism so it's not healthy. - hasty generalization - 'Here's a bit on tryptophan and calcium BAM! Veganism is unhealthy.  And I know some other vegans who are unhealthy. BAM! Oh, and it's not like I need to say anymore but we have to kill in order to live.  That's a law of nature or something. BAM!'  Past the bold and the link, this is a charicature of her argument, but it's also the bare bones of her first argument.

2. So far she has created a straw man of the vegan position, as if vegans are vegan out of a reverence for life.  To be fair, she starts with fruitatarians.  BUT WTF!?!  Why would you start with fruitatarians?  I guess she is using that age old rhetorical technique of presenting her weakest arguments first.  That way you get lured into a sense of 'man this woman is on crack and mentally weakened from so much crack' and then BAM she blows you away with a knock down argument.

She goes on about the lives of plants, and seeds, and nemotoads ... and hey I understand that we have to kill in order to survive (i.e. at least plants and insects die from gardening and eating), but there is a relevant categorical difference between a cow and a seed (or a plant for that matter). 

3. She seems awfully hocus pocus at this point, and all about the circle of life kind of spiritual mumbo jumbo.  The vegan issue is sentience, and it's telling that she didn't address that first.


The most worthwhile nugget I have gotten out of this so far, is that she burries the remains of the animals she eats in the garden.  If an animal I take care of perishes this does seem like an honorable way to treat it and return it to the earth.

Anyway, I am sure there is another argument in the pages I have read thus far, but I am just ranting at this point, so it's a good idea to stop myself.  I am pretty worked up about how stupid Lierre Keith's position is so far.  With The Vegetarian Myth I just wanted some fruitful discourse on veganism ... that's the honest truth. 

I'll read the whole book, but I hope there are some arguments within it that actually give me reason to reflect!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Factory Farming Quote

I read a haunting but powerful factory farming quote last night, in Mathew Scully's book Dominion.  I have been ultra busy with work, so I haven't finished reading it in ... a bit too long; however, I have to say that I am constantly impressed with Scully's style and insight.  This is one of the best vegan books that I have read, and I have read my share!  Anyway here is the vegan quote:

"Now, one might say, there is no more element of of surprise [in being sent to slaughter] because there is no more kindness.  The treacheries begin on the day they are born.  From the start they must feel they are in the hands of an enemy.  No creature of the factory farm goes to its death feeling betrayed by friends." p. 286.

How could an animal possibly feel betrayed when it has known almost nothing besides misery? This is a powerful quote.  One doesn't have to read fifty books on veganism or factory farming to get the point.  The world of Earthlings is just the way that things are.  Can you believe that there are people who try to write it off?  That blows me away.  Even the acts of individuals in that film are systemic.  The devaluation occurs in a mindset, not solely within an individual.  Despite how often I return to logic in my posts and on my pages, I understand that there is a basic compassion missing from the lives of most people in the developed world and the industries they support (or patronize). 

How can someone who supports factory farming be a good person?

How can any of us be good?

I lived in New Zealand for a year, and there were people who actually believed that factory farming does not exist there.  That is simply factually inaccurate (that is to say it is documented); just to give an anecdote as well: one could tell by the smell left on one's face by those chicken trucks that drive by every day, headed to slaughter, that they lived in their own excrement. The biggest problem with their delusion, however is that they point to factory farming and say that is not how we do it here.  All of a sudden they think that serves as a justification for doing what they want with an animal.  It's hilarious logic, if one can even call it that. 

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Vegan forum posting

Here is a post I just made on the vegan forums:

[QUOTE=Stuart;661837]it is precisely this type of linguistic pedantary I am making an appeal to (yes! it is a linguistic concern!) Words have meanings do they not? And this term is servicable only for the purpose of grouping. [/QUOTE]

I completely agree that we need linguistic clarity on this.  Semantics are important.  Especially here.

While I hear what other people are saying about vegan being difficult (understanding the mindset), I completely disagree, and I don't think that we should ever portray it as such.  Aside from a little bit of self-pity over not being able to eat at quite so many restaurants, being vegan is not difficult at all.  Vegetarianism is not a logical stepping stone into veganism, and philosophically they are VERY different. Veganism is a logical stepping stone into veganism. :P If anything we should have a word for cutting out eggs and dairy FIRST!  Vegetarianism focuses on phenomena, rather than noumena.  I know that may sound zealous, but it is simply semantic accuracy and logical coherence.

It is also relevant to consider that vegetarianism is not logically consistent.  It doesn't make any coherent sense when you break it down.  Also, I don't tend to find vegetarians all that receptive to veganism myself (and yes that is anecdotal).  Regardless of how I bring it up, I am usually faced with a resistance (for my being strange and for my addressing an issue that creates cognitive dissonance) as if they are already doing enough.  Please keep in mind that this is anecdotal, so it is not meant to apply to all and every, but only my experience.  Hey, I think that any of us would feel more comfortable around vegetarians than omnis (all else being equal), but that's hardly the point.  What do the animals gain from this ambiguity?  That comfort seems more a sign of this ambiguity than a real similarity in philosophy. 

At the end of the day we all have much more in common than we do in difference: from our DNA to the way we react to love, but that can never bridge the gap between vegan and vegetarian.  Vegan has never been just about diet; simply put it is about treating nonhuman animals as if they matter at all, as if they have any interests that could trump the most trivial of ours.  Vegetarianism can't make a coherent claim in approaching animals in general.  It merely provides the illusion that it does.

I love omnivores and vegetarians alike, but I don't see any benefit to calling a boulder a stepping stone (when no one can see around the other side of it).  Veganism is only hard when you are raised to believe it is, and you buy into the lie - I acknowledge that there are circumstances where veganism is not so possible, whether that be for a man in northern Nunavut to a family eating 'bush meat' in Tanzania to an adolescent girl in Saudi Arabia.

Calling vegetarianism a stepping stone may create some bridges, but it also seems to concretize the cognitive dissonance created by this label (of "vegan").  Cognitive dissonance is our nemesis in helping these exquisite creatures.  We can all speculate about how many vegetarians will become vegan and how many omnis would become vegetarian vs. vegan; however, one thing that does not require anecdotal speculation is the fact that veganism makes more sense than vegetarianism.  Why would we ever want to dilute that?  At the end of the day veganism needs to be more normal than vegetarianism.  I don't know if that is possible, but it is necessary.
***note on my blog.  I am tired ... I can't sleep, but I do not doubt that I will agree with what I wrote when I am fully in control of my capacities.