The 10 Most Common Arguments against Vegetarianism or Veganism and My Response to Them: Part Five
This is the final part of a short series of articles I'm writing about the most common arguments meat eaters will level against veggies (I'll use the term 'veggie' from here on to describe vegetarians and vegans). Part One can be found here, part two here, and part three here, and part four here.
In short I hope to debunk some common myths and concerns about going veggie, and disprove some of the most common (and perhaps some of the less common) arguments against vegetarianism and veganism.
9. The Humans vs. Animals Argument
Some people seem to think that we are in some constant battle of survival with animals. They will say, 'well if it was a choice between a cat and a human which would you choose?' as though this kind of dilemma occurs daily. Of course this kind of thing hardly ever happens but I suppose it is an interesting question, especially as it is related to the subject of animal experimentation.
I would argue that we should choose the human. Personally I would argue that the human has much more to contribute intellectually and morally, many more hopes and aspirations, and much more to lose than a cat.
For some people this isn't enough. They say that we should choose the human, no matter what, and I can see the thinking behind that. What if we had to choose between a severely mentally disabled human and a healthy chimpanzee for example? We would still want to say the human. I do not have a good solution to this, and it does trouble me. All I can say is this kind of dilemma rarely happens.
I suppose the case where it might be said to happen fairly often is with animal experimentation, or vivisection as it is otherwise referred to. Personally I think most animal experimentation is certainly unnecessary - sometimes it is for cosmetic purposes and I think most people should be unhappy about cosmetic testing on animals. And sometimes it is carried out for no reason other than the researcher wanted to prove they were doing something useful. Watch 'Behind the Mask' if you want a more detailed explanation than I can give here.
However there may be the odd case where animal experimentation was necessary to save a human life. I'm told that is has been helpful for diabetes sufferers. Is this acceptable? Animal rights philosophers tend to fall into two camps here. Some take the utilitarian view that it is a greater good to save the human and therefore animal experimentation can sometimes be acceptable. Some however take the anti-discrimination view - it is wrong to experiment on humans even if it saves another human, so to be consistent we should also say that it is wrong to experiment on animals or else be a speciesist (kind of like a racist against non-human species). Personally I'm undecided, but I definitely think that animal experimentation should be greatly reduced and should be more transparent, open, and more strictly regulated. If eveyone could see exactly what was going on then I feel we could make a better judgement over what we should allow to continue.
At the end of the day all this is fairly inconsequential for the wider debate on vegetarianism/veganism. On the whole, it is not an 'us against them' battle for survival - we can get by perfectly well and healthily without resorting to killing or torturing animals.
10. The Hitler/Peta Argument
Apparently Hitler was a vegetarian. Never mind that Gandhi, Einstein, Da Vinci, and many other great men and women were vegetarian, let's focus on Hitler. Atheists will probably be familiar with this argument. 'Hitler was an atheist, therefore atheism is wrong!' And guess what, 'Hitler was a vegetarian too, so vegetarianism is wrong!' Sometimes I despair. It should be obvious why this is an awful argument, a complete lack of sound reasoning, but this and variations of this argument come up often enough that it doesn't hurt to have a readymade response.
Some people just like to bring up Hitler to poke fun at vegetarians, or to try to dirty the vegetarian's image. Others may bring up the animal rights organisation PETA and point out all the bad things they have done as though that is a dagger in the heart of vegetarianism/veganism. (Seriously if you think I'm kidding, check out this video in which Penn and Teller spend half an hour having a go at PETA and then conclude that vegetarianism/veganism is wrong). Newsflash! Most vegetarians and vegans don't agree with everything PETA does!
Honestly, every group in history has had crazy fringe elements, I shouldn't have to point that out. The civil rights movement in the US had the Black Supremacists. The women's rights movement had the Suffragettes (we look back on the Suffragettes fondly but at the time they were considered radical and militant). So to say that some animal rights groups take things too far or are hypocritical, and then conclude that therefore all animal rights groups are wrong is just a horrendous logical mistake.
This is what's known as an ad hominem attack, an attack against the person, and these sorts of attacks are generally frowned upon in philosophical circles as they don't really get to the heart of the issues. You should try to argue against the arguments, not against the people.
Still, I guess there is a more genuine fear, a suggestion that by raising the status of animals you are somehow reducing the status of humans. On a very serious note, one of the main characterisitcs of genocide is a gradual dehumanisation of the victims, and this is something we must do everything to guard against.
But this is definitely not the goal for most veggies. We don't want to lower the status of humans, we merely want to raise the status of animals up to that of humans or at least a similar level. Is that such a terrible aim?
Penn and Teller missing the point.
So there you go, 10 arguments that you will come across as a vegetarian or vegan, and my response to them. This was really an itch that I needed to scratch! It's so frustrating when you hear the same arguments day after day, and you have to continue repeating yourself again and again. And with some of these responses there isn't a simple answer, which makes the job even harder.
Some may have noted that I haven't really given a detailed argument in favour of vegetarianism or veganism here, and perhaps that is something I will do at a later date, but I imagine you can get a fairly good idea of how such an argument might go. So, if you've got this far, then please, leave a comment, whether you agree or not! You never know, maybe one day someone will convince me of the error of my ways.