To Meat or Not to Meat? The Consummate Hypocrisy of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

AP Photo/Paul Sancya

To meat or not to meat, that is the question. As for me? I’ll keep eating meat. Delicious, nutritious meat.

I’ve been beating up PETA and their ilk online for about twenty-five years now, since the halcyon days of Usenet (remember Usenet? I miss Usenet). I even wrote a book on the subject, although it was published in 2001 and is rather outdated now. But PETA just keeps on keeping on:

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Oh, for Pete’s sake. PETA, as they are prone to doing, have glommed on to the buzzword du jour and have done a neat little lateral arabesque to frame it around their own pet issue — pushing veganism. When challenged, PETA was quick to reply:

Note their use of the word “ethical.” PETA’s claims aren’t even on speaking terms with ethical principles. Here’s why.

This topic has been beaten to death over about the last quarter-century, at least. If you examine PETA’s arguments (and I use the term “argument” in the broadest possible sense), not to mention their histrionics, you can make a pretty good argument that a vegan diet isn’t really good for the brain. But the best argument against PETA’s ethical vegan agenda lies not in the actions of meat eaters, but in the actions of PETA members themselves, in pursuit of their claim to “ethical veganism.” Why?  Because ethical veganism is an ethical trainwreck of enormous scope.  It’s a sham, a pose; a cheap and easy way to adopt a pose of moral superiority without really doing anything. There is no ethical principle involved; not in the slightest.

Let me clarify one thing before we go on: When I use the term “ethical vegan,” I am not talking about dietary vegans, people who eat a vegan diet simply for health reasons or because they just prefer it. I know plenty of these folks; they eat what suits them, I eat what suits me, and we don’t bother each other. When I say “ethical vegan,” I am referring to PETA and their ilk — activists who claim an ethical principle in their diets and who wag their fingers at the rest of us, insisting that we buy into their fallacious arguments.

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And fallacious is precisely what they are; in fact, the claims of ethical vegans form the worst sort of hypocrisy. Ethical veganism has at its heart a logical fallacy, Denying the Antecedent. Their version of this fallacy takes the following form:

Eating meat causes animals to die.

I do not eat meat.

Therefore I do not cause animals to die.

Why is this a fallacious argument? Because animals are killed in untold millions in the course of plant agriculture. Some are killed accidentally in the course of mechanized farming; some are killed deliberately in the course of pest control. But animals are killed every day. Every potato, every stick of celery, every carrot has a blood trail leading from field to plate. The numbers of these collateral deaths in plant agriculture are unclear, but that they happen is not, and the fact that they do happen at all is a problem for ethical vegans.

A lot of ethical vegans, when confronted with this fact, quickly change to the claim that they do “less harm.” That scraping sound you hear is the sound of goalposts moving, but that doesn’t help the vegan activists any, and that issue of collateral deaths still shoots them down. When an ethical vegan claims their diet causes “less harm” than yours, simply ask two things:

  1. Define “harm” and tell me how you can quantify it.  Are we talking deaths? Injuries? Displacement?
  2. How much harm does my diet cause, and how much harm does your diet cause? If your claim is that A<B, then you must provide values for A and B.
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If I kill a deer, each third-pound serving of venison costs, more or less, one-eightieth of an animal life. How many animal deaths are caused by a third-pound serving of rice? Potatoes? Lettuce? Nobody knows exactly, but it may be dozens, it may be hundreds. Animals are killed at every step in the process, from planting to cultivating to harvesting to rodents killed by traps and poison in storage and transport. But those deaths don’t matter to PETA and their followers, as they do not follow any ethical principles. They follow a silly, no-effort-involved, virtue-signaling rule: “Don’t put animal parts in your mouth.”

Meat. (Credit: Ward Clark)

And the worst of it is this: Any ethical vegan could come pretty close to meeting their goal of not causing animals to die. Simply move off-grid, grow all your own food, tightly control how you do it — no traps, no pesticides, no mechanized equipment. Move back to Middle Ages agriculture, grow only veggies, and you’ll come pretty close to the zero-deaths goal. But when you suggest this to an ethical vegan, the answer you invariably get is some variation of “It’s too hard.” And that’s another nail in the coffin of their claim to be following an ethical principle; principles are not dependent on whether or not an action is “too hard.” If a thing is wrong, it is always wrong, or so it scans to me. That’s what principles are. And that is the hypocrisy.

When I kill an animal, be it a snowshoe hare, a grouse, or a moose, I know the cost involved. I accept that cost. Most people do, as it’s an inescapable fact of life, regardless of where they get their food. There is no ethical issue involved, as this is an inescapable fact of life. PETA, no matter how many times they are confronted with the cost of their diets, just continue to spout the same old fallacies. They continue lecturing the rest of us, claiming an ethical high ground to which they are not entitled, all the while shoveling forkfuls of blood-soaked, industrial-agriculture-sourced veggies into their pie-holes. The only proper reply to these people is ridicule.

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