The title of this post is taken from a short piece that written by Michael Ruhlman at his blog back in May. In that post, Ruhlman tried to make the point that vegan arrogance was rooted in an act of denial relating to a fundamental aspect of human biology. He implied that because humans are fundamentally omnivorous, choosing not to eat animal products is tantamount to refusing to acknowledge who we really are and therefore guilty of a "colossal arrogance." When I first read that piece and the collateral comments from his readers I thought the thesis was pretty shaky. And I still do -with qualification, of course.
I don't see anything particularly arrogant about an individual who chooses to not eat meat or use products derived from animals despite the fact that he can eat almost anything. After all the fact that I'm able to eat and digest most forms of life allows me to eat people, but no one would accuse me of arrogance for refusing to eat Ruhlman. Right?
I'm not even sure it is arrogant for an individual to refuse meat knowing that there are billions of people who don't have that choice. Neither do I believe that vegans as a whole are any more arrogant than any other religious group. But, and this really should be a BIG BUT with really loud sound effects. There is a very vocal subset of people in the religion of veganism who like many "my way or the highway" movements could benefit from a good dose of self-doubt.
Let me attempt to identify the sub-type of vegan so that I don't end up offending everyone who refuses to consume products derived from animals.
The vegans who I believe are colossally arrogant are not simply content to refuse to consume animal products. There is no arrogance in quietly going about the business of eating vegetables and wearing cotton instead of leather. The arrogant vegans are the ones who think they have the right to stop other people from consuming animal products too. Moreover, they act on their beliefs; they take it to the street.
I'm not sure I'd judge them the same way if I was sure that they were correct. (Maybe I would) But since so many of the basic assumptions of veganisim are based on untestable assertions, their attempts to dictate what we can eat strikes me as extremely arrogant.
One of the assumptions of veganism is that animals suffer when they are killed so therefore they should not be killed. Well, lets assume that it's true that animals suffer when they are killed (it's likely that most do) is this a reason not to kill them?
I really don't know. I don't have any information that would help me answer that question.
If I were a Buddhist I suppose I could answer this. A Buddhist might say that because The Buddha taught that enlightenment (extinction of the self) can only be achieved through the elimination of suffering (of self and others) and that suffering can only be vanquished through inaction. So because killing is an action it's not smart to do because it diverts you from the path towards enlightenment. But I'm not a Buddhist.
Another assumption of veganism is that animals are unique and distinct from other forms of life. They assume that only complex, multicellular organisms with nervous systems should not be consumed. But it's okay to consume plants, bacteria and in sum: anything outside of the Kingdom Animalia. Well, while it is highly unlikely that something like a yeast cell experiences pain when it is killed, how can anyone be sure that it doesn't suffer? I realize this sounds absurd but what I'm really trying to get at here is the notion that any belief that is not based on demonstrable fact needs to be seasoned with doubt. And since most beliefs about what things other than the self experience must always be based on assumptions, doubt should attend everything we think or say about anyone or anything other than ourselves.
I don't see much doubt apparent in the behavior of radical vegans who picket restaurants that serve foie gras or destroy mink farms. My sense of many of them is that they have been brainwashed by years of watching talking ducks and dogs on television and have developed an extremely anthropomorphic view of animal life. They are so sure that animals are people that they want to give them the same rights as we give to ourselves.
And I bet they win.
I have absolutely no faith that a significant voting majority of Americans in the regions where vegan activists are the most active have what it takes to fight these people back into private lives of self-reflection. Foie gras is already slated to be banned in one of the two states where it is produced (Ca) by 2012 and I predict that the second state (NY) bans it within the next 10 years. (It looks like Michael Ginor of Hudson Valley Farms has already given up.) Once the foie gras industry is out of the way the next traget might be the fledging caviar industry. Luxury products always make good targets for radical vegans because a) it's easy for them to get worked up about because many of them are 20 somethings pissed off because they associated the consumption of luxury goods with status they have not or cannot achieve b) most people don't eat the stuff and find it distasteful and often resent the people who do eat it as snobs.
Now getting back to the question of arrogance. I wonder how a vegan who attempts to promote the elimination of animal products from the human sector of the food web looks to someone in Haiti existing on 500 calories a day. Or what about a kid in Nepal who loses his father while he was out hunting a goat for meat. Just a tad bit arrogant perhaps?