On the Morality of Veganism

Is veganism, or vegetarianism raised to the level of an ideology, if you will, good or evil?  The vegans themselves would certainly insist on the latter.  For example, from the website of one vegan organization we learn,

Veganism, the natural extension of vegetarianism, is an integral component of a cruelty-free lifestyle. Living vegan provides numerous benefits to animals’ lives, to the environment, and to our own health–through a healthy diet and lifestyle.

Another informs us of an interesting variation on the human predisposition to apply different moral rules to ingroups and outgroups; speciesism.

There are different ways of looking at speciesism. It can be viewed as an individually held prejudice, an individual action (discrimination) or a system of oppression. It can also be seen as an ideology that works on a much more fundamental level to create what we see as reality. Sociologist David Nibert describes speciesism as a system of shared beliefs that give rise to and reinforce prejudice and discrimination against nonhuman animals. A central part of his argument is that “humans tend to disperse, eliminate, or exploit a group they perceive to be unlike themselves when it is in their economic interests to do so.” Unequal power leads to oppression, and ideologies such as speciesism help condition all members of society, including members of the oppressed, to see this as normal and legitimate.

Presumably we are not to view lions and tigers and bears as oppressors because, unlike us, they have not tasted the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  Of course, as I have pointed out in numerous previous posts, there are no such things as objective good and evil.  We only perceive them as objects because Mother Nature rightly concluded that these categories would be quite useless to creatures of our limited intelligence unless we did preceive them in that way.  In reality they are subjective mental constructs, so it is quite impossible for me or anyone else to say that veganism is “really good,” or “really evil.”  We can, however, consider veganism in the context of the reasons morality exists to begin with.

Morality is a human behavioral trait.  Unless one accepts the mathematically impossible conclusion that its existence is a mere coincidence, it is an evolved trait, and it evolved because it promoted our survival.  If so, it would seem reasonable to consider things that promote our survival “good,” and somewhat counterintuitive to consider things that promote the opposite as other than evil.  Does veganism promote our survival?  Of course not!

It doesn’t even promote our survival in the here and now.  Consider, for example, the recent case of a baby that had the poor judgment to be born to vegan parents who fed it soy milk and apple juice for its own “good.”  Unfortunately, this diet led to the child’s early demise.  What, then, of the human “ground state,” which has been one of semi-starvation throughout our history?  Will it promote our survival to avoid certain especially calorie-rich types of food if we happen to have the misfortune of being around during one of these all-to-prevalent “ground states?”  I think not.  In other words, while it is certainly natural enough to consider veganism good for a species as intellectually limited as our own, it really stands morality on its head.  Instead of promoting our survival, it achieves the opposite.

Heaven forefend that I should ever attempt to concoct some new objective good.  However, I have an aversion to “moralities” that tend to accomplish the very opposite of what morality evolved to promote in the first place.  To the extent that they promote our destruction rather than our survival, they are a sickness, and the thought that my species is sick does not please me.  Call it a whim, but, in that sense, veganism is certainly not “good,” as far as I am concerned.  As for you, dear reader, the implication seems to be that you can still enjoy an occasional steak and continue to sleep the sleep of the just.

Author: Helian

I am Doug Drake, and I live in Maryland, not far from Washington, DC. I am a graduate of West Point, and I hold a Ph.D. in nuclear engineering from the University of Wisconsin. My blog reflects my enduring fascination with human nature and human morality.

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