Why So Anti-Vegan? A Tale of Cognitive Dissonance

Why So Anti-Vegan? A Tale of Cognitive Dissonance January 18, 2019

I have been a piscitarian (I’ve seen this spelled in every conceivable way!) vegan (I still eat fish for a decent source of omega-3 etc.) for health reasons, due to my progressive multiple sclerosis. I have long wanted to be a vegetarian for ethical reasons, and the natural extension of this is veganism. My approach, for many years, is to have looked at the arguments for and against eating meat and to conclude that it is clearly morally better to be a vegetarian than to be a meat-eater. It’s what I do with this knowledge that I find interesting.

Cognitive Dissonance

Let me remind you of cognitive dissonance: In layman’s terms, it is holding a core belief and, when being provided with evidence against that belief, having a dissonance in your mind between your core belief and the evidence. How your brain reacts to this in trying to harmonise the opposite conclusions is as a result of this cognitive dissonance. More often than not, your brain does funky stuff.

I have spoken to and read so many people who are meat-eaters who clearly like being so (such as myself – like, because it tastes nice and is enjoyable, morality aside) but who have sadly clouded their thinking with cognitive dissonance and, as a result, have come up with a lot of post hoc rationalisation to explain away their preference for eating meat. This saddens me, because it is often from people whom I would otherwise respect.

I am morally imperfect

My approach was different. I became a flexitarian; that is to say, I tried to be morally better by being a vegetarian several days a week. Effectively, I was cutting down on my meat consumption. Most of my objections to eating meat are environmental, so it is rather similar to driving less, but not cutting 0ut driving altogether. However, one friend likened it to a mass murderer claiming, “It’s okay, because I don’t murder people on Tuesdays and Thursdays!” Heh. The main aspect to my approach was to fully admit that I was morally imperfect. So, in order to deal with the evidence that eating meat was morally bad, I wouldn’t try to turn eating meat into being morally good or neutral but I would simply accept my moral shortcomings. This was how I would solve my cognitive dissonance, and it seems like a more honest harmonisation – I was just too lazy (or whatever) to be as morally good as I would like. (I had to get PPMS to give me a kick up the arse).

Most other people that I have spoken to about this appear to have solved such cognitive dissonance by dismissing the notion that vegetarianism is morally better.

People’s rejection of veganism

There is a massive movement, fueled by media and media dismissal (see Piers Morgan’s idiocy over Gregg’s the bakers producing a vegan sausage roll – if you can bear to read The Express) of anti-veganism.  So many people have a really dismissive and harsh view of veganism.  Let’s assume, for sake of argument, that veganism is a more extreme version of vegetarianism.

Evangelicalism

Firstly, it is certainly the case that many especially new-to-the-field vegans are evangelical. This is hardly surprising since people who adopt new worldviews with moral dimensions so often become evangelical. Someone new to a particular political persuasion, religion (or non-religion) or even hobby can so often become almost militant. It’s common for people once enthralled in evangelical Christianity to deconvert with a swift 180 and become militant atheists in a reactionary sort of way. It’s another sort, perhaps, of cognitive dissonance.

Regular people, for want of a better term, generally don’t like these evangelical people. Evangelicals generally unnerve others. People have a tendency to make hasty generalisations: Christianity is represented by evangelicals; feminism by radical feminists; socialism by antifa or Russian Communists; and so on. Vegans, seen as radical vegetarians, and who are often evangelical themselves, evoke strong reactions from others.

Moral superiority

The main thing I think that is going on, though, is cognitive dissonance, again. Let’s simplify it to a cocktail party. A vegan is in conversation with a non-vegan, and he mentions he is a vegan (in, let’s assume, a non-threatening, neutral way).  The non-vegan is met with an implicit moral declaration that, simplified, says, “I am morally better than you.” The non-vegan, like most other humans, thinks he is morally perfect, or at least morally good. Not many people lead their daily lives genuinely thinking they are moral degenerates because they think their decisions are generally morally benign. By the way, what I am explaining here also explains climate science denial, to some extent.

The non-vegan has to deal with the claim that the other person is morally superior and, by extension, he is himself morally inferior. There are two options for him: accept this idea (as I did) and admit that you are morally inferior, thus changing your core belief that you are morally upstanding (correct). The other option is to disbelieve the evidence. To bury it. Sometimes, people do this by ignoring it; other times by spending all sorts of energies trying to rebut it using any sources they can find and confirmation biases to evaluate their new evidence above the contrary claims; and other times by poisoning the well  – ridiculing or attacking the source of the new information (the vegan). Or a combination of all of these. (Occasionally, they can successfully disprove the contrary evidence).

In short, anti-veganism is a way that non-vegans have of dealing with the idea that they are morally inferior and it allows them to keep that core idea that they aren’t that. They are good people.

I am now morally superior, of course. Though not because I chose to be. Hmm, interesting quandary about moral evaluation, there.


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