Saturday, June 19, 2010


Carnism or Speciesism

On a LinkedIn discussion recently, I posted news about Melanie Joy's interview with ABC about her new book, Why do we love dogs and eat pigs and wear cows? in which she develops the concept of carnism.

One longstanding and highly-esteemed listmember asked whether this is carnism or speciesism?  The logician in both of us might ponder, is that question a disjunction or a conjuction?  In other words, asking "Is the problem EITHER speciesism or carnism?" is a question about a conjunction; the answer would be "yes" (the problem is either the first OR the second OR both).

Asking the question, should the problem be TERMED "carnism" or "speciesism" is different, and it's that question I address here.

If you're interviewing Melanie Joy on ABC, she's going to tell you it's 'carnism' (which is a belief that eating meat is 'natural' 'normal' and 'necessary' - as she outlines in her book).

If you're an older vegan of the Peter Singer variety, you'll probably term it speciesism because you think of how some folks artificially consider other types of life unworthy of moral consideration (or sufficient moral consideration, some say 'equal moral consideration').

I think the standard of 'equal moral consideration' is problematic in two ways:
it makes our moral consideration of animals the arbiter of whether or not we ought to be eating them, when ample social science work over the past TWO decades (and longer) PLUS our own 'naive' (often unsystematic and nonrigorous) observations (as laypersons) have shown that the majority of vegetarians AND vegans go vegetarian or vegan for health reasons (not what we ideologues would wish, for animal rights or philosophical reasons.

A stat I used to quote throughout the late 80s and 90s was that social science has consistently shown that the primary reasons claimed by vegetarianism for being vegetarian is health, with ONLY about one of six (1/6) citing overtly philosophical reasons (contrasted with emotional "I couldn't eat them" or medical or health "I felt better" or "the medical evidence is on the side of my being vegetarian" reasons).  The category 'philosophical reasons' included overtly religious reasons (which may have been ideologically nonspecific (e.g. "I was taught as an Adventist that vegetarianism is God's way for us to be" or "Jainism teaches respect for all life, so we are vegetarian from birth" or "my religion teaches vegetarianism").

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