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."


  1. When she talks about modern crop harvesting leading to animal deaths, just remember this is compounded 10 times over when the majority of the wheat, corn and soy that we raise is being fed to livestock to fatten them up for slaughter.

  2. Thanks for the comment; however, it doesn't really seem on target. I feel that what you said was included in this post in the following clause: "There's no doubt that within this system [of industrial agriculture] veganism is still the better answer." I mean I didn't explain it thoroughly here, but do you think that I have never read a pro-vegan book? Or dozens of them?

    The point I was making is that Lierre Kieth helps provide some perspective. I talked about this the other day with my partner. For example, like any good abolitionists we have often looked at a package of cookies, to see if there are animal products in them, but at the end of the day a milligram of modified milk ingredients is a smaller problem in all respects than the problems of the grains, high fructose corn syrup, plastic, transport, etc. in that whole deal.

    If the milk ingredients in that particular box of cookies TRULY matter then the other components matter just as much, and actually for suffering and adverse effects they probably matter a whole lot more.

    Have you even read anything else on my blog? I certainly don't mean any hostility, but your comment belittles my earnest exploration of ideas.

    There is a simple fact that matters here: just because there is a worse way of doing things that doesn't automatically make another way of doing them righteous or morally benevolent. If we simplify things too much here then we create fallacious binarization. That is a fallacy of comparison that can lead to unfounded moral self-righteousness.

  3. Eating pastured animals saves the most lives. There is nothing to be compounded.

  4. Somewhere out there a cannibal can make the statement "Eating pastured fed humans saves the most lives" without even attempting to provide any evidence, because it leads to the conclusion they want it to lead to. Similarly here "Eating pastured animals saves the most lives" is given without valid evidence, indeed, without even a mistaken but well meaning attempt to provide evidence - they don't even bother to try.

    Never mind the Cornell Oxford China Study the huge, huge study showing the health benefits of a plant-based diet - and mountains of other, additional scientific studies pointing to vegan diets to help save human lives.

    Even researchers whose attitudes sound very, well you'd have to call it "veganophobic", admit it: "We can't tell people to stop eating all meat and all dairy products. Well, we could tell people to become [vegan] if we were truly basing this on the science we would, but it is a bit extreme" Eric Rimm,Assoicate Professor of Epidemiology and Nutrition, Harvard University (see video "extra-virgin-olive-oil" on nutritionfactsDotOrg)

    Fear (phobia) of sounding "Extreme" given the huge sums of money spent by Meat and Dairy Agribiz to demonize plant-based diets still admits that "if we were truly basing this on the science" then vegan is the way to go. After years of propaganda they have managed to conjure up a negative image of "hippies" for example (no, I was not one myself, I'm a younger generation) so the 1960s folks who were taken as an overall group in general were a group that was on the right side of history about civil rights and about women's rights and about the Vietnam war are not seen that way, instead the image is "some unwashed dirty smelly hippie" is the image that is conjured up. Propaganda works to paint others marginalized from the powerful centers of society (or advocating science based alternatives that would hurt profits of those powerful centers - Meat and Dairy industry in this case, Pharmaceutical and For-Profit Health Insurers in other cases) are painted as "extreme" and lots of false caricatures are built up of those that are attacked. Just like LK seems to love doing.