Hypocrisy

I suppose this post isn’t going to make much sense to someone who is not vegan. Oh, it will make intellectual sense — but emotionally it will probably result in the equivalent of a blank stare. One of those odd consequences of being part of a decidedly minority subculture. But what the heck.

Recently I was having lunch with a friend/colleague. He said that the thing that bothered him about vegans is the hypocrisy. After all, he said, how could you buy a product with the name of “Fakin’” (a product that is more a less a vegan substitute for bacon).

Something told me to stay quiet, and not give a response. It was one of those moments when you realize some process is going on in the back of your brain, and that you are not going to figure out what it is in time to say anything sensible. Besides, I don’t eat “Fakin’”. So I let it go.

But later that day it occurred to me that the ethical situation he’d laid out was more or less the same as arguing that violent video games are bad for you because playing them is hypocritical.

After all, if you really feel like blowing somebody away with a 57 Magnum, isn’t it cheating to buy “Grand Theft Auto” and merely pretend to walk down the street shooting people?

The truly honest thing would be go to your local gun shop, buy a piece, and proceed to wander through your neighborhood, randomly blowing away pedestrians. That would be the honest thing to do.

Now, of course there is something absurd here. The vast majority of people who play action video games would be completely horrified, if not traumatized, to witness real world violence against actual people — let alone to partake in it.

My take-away here is this: Of course I can eat whatever I like, and you can eat whatever you like. Presumably we are all responsible adults and we all know what we’re doing. Nobody is perfect, and we’re all struggling in our own way.

But to call other people to task on some kind of ethical grounds for the way they eat plants? That’s just — pardon the harsh language here — ridiculous.

29 Responses to “Hypocrisy”

  1. davidmaas says:

    Um, Ken… should we be taking away your gun license? You’re not thinking of doing something impulsive now, are you?

  2. admin says:

    Oh my. I thought it was only a video game…. ;-)

  3. Dagmar says:

    Of course, and as you might have guessed, I understand what is going on here. It is this, if you don’t want to eat meat, then why do you eat – or not eat :-) stuff that isn’t meat, but pretends to taste and look and perhaps smell like meat.

    Maybe it would have been some fun to discuss all the substitutes we have in our “normal” food and then discuss “Fakin’” again. :-)

  4. Michael says:

    Hm, the problem with the video game analogy seems to be that you expect somebody to play a game as the substitute for the real thing (GTA vs. going on a rampage) – which is something I seriously doubt (and could also be extended to every kind of reality fleeing exercise… such as reading a novel ;) ).

    But then there’s two kinds of vegans… the moral ones and people that just don’t like meat (or other animal products) – the later kind being more rare though (they tend to be plain vegetarians in my experience).

    The thing that gets me the most on this subject (and that goes into the cries for hypocrisy a little) is that those “fake” products require certain technical processing in most cases – turning the more “natural” choice of veganism into a farce.
    One example being fake cheese made out of vegetable fats (because it’s cheaper to do so) and sold to the consumer masses as the real thing.

    But that depends heavily on your moral codes I suppose – and turns into a discussion of vegan with substitutes vs. organic foods.

  5. admin says:

    Michael, that was my point exactly, and that is precisely why the video game analogy works. Finding pleasure from video games, or from novels, does not mean one is “substituting” for going on a rampage or other violent activity.

    Similarly, if a vegan wants to enjoy some taste remembered from childhood, that does not mean he or she would enjoy killing and then eating a fellow sentient creature.

    In my experience, the vegans I know find the idea of eating the actual flesh of a fellow sentient creature repulsive. It’s not the taste that is at issue, but the act of violence that preceded it. To call someone a “hypocrite” for eating something like “Fakin’” is to completely miss that point (I believe the “eating naturally” idea is something else entirely. I know a number of meat-eating people who believe strongly in “eating naturally”).

    Like I said at the top of my post, it’s hard to convey these ideas to people who are not vegan. Perhaps I shouldn’t have tried.

  6. Michael says:

    As for the childhood analogy: But that’s precisely a substitution though, isn’t it? You want something you had but need to substitute because of personal choices made in the meantime.
    A more extreme example would be a smoker who’s on nicotine patches because of his health. That still makes them a smoker (in the sense of being addicted to nicotine) – but it’s healthier (for them and others). They’ve got the “morals” covered but still have the substitute (flavour).
    However, that analogy doesn’t hold true for gamers.

    To expand a little further: Comparing vegan food tastes to non-vegan food (or trying to reach that flavour) would be like meat eaters trying to approach the taste of human flesh (If I remember correctly that’s something you brought up in a discussion). So here’s back at’cha :D
    Which is kind of sad… as there are so many other flavours to explore – why revert to flavours that symbolize a moral perversion (from a vegan perspective) that one is trying to get away from?
    That’s almost like Catholic priests (I wonder if there’s any more controversial issues I can bring up here ;) ) reading the Kama Sutra only to chastise themselves afterwards for their moral wrongdoings ;)

    The vegan debate reminds me a lot of the discussion about abortion (on a very high level that is) – in the end it’s a question of where a personal boundary is drawn (surprisingly both apparently based on the concept of “sentient”).

    I come from a very pro-organic background though – which has a completely different moral background – but also probably also has a wider scope that “plain” moral veganism (i.e. the key concept of sustainability – again, depending on the flavour of reasoning behind the choice).

    *hugs* & *grins*

  7. Dagmar says:

    O.k. Ken I am a natural born killer, I love meat. Is that what you are saying? What do you do? Do you despise people like me?

    It sounds like that.
    “Like I said at the top of my post, it’s hard to convey these ideas to people who are not vegan. Perhaps I shouldn’t have tried.”

    Reading that in context to Mikes post it seems to be in some way offending. It sounds like a: ” you don’t get it anyway”.

    “Eating a fellow sentient creature” or “killing” it, means to me nothing else than eating or killing a human.

    I at least never killed anyone, I butchered (livestock) animals without any hesitation.

    If you don’t eat or want to use livestock, I am fine with that. If you tell me based on scientific research that not eating or using livestock will solve the problem of hunger in the world, I am fine with that, too.

    But using words like “killing” or “eating a fellow sentient creature” has a moral connotation I, well, let’s say, I don’t like in this context.

    And then, “pro life” people use exactly this vocabulary. It is exactly the vocabulary that leaves insecurity, guilt and angst with the people you talk to and closes any kind of open conversation.

    After all this I am sending a big hug to you my dear friend. :-)

  8. admin says:

    Wow, I had no idea this was going to turn ugly.

    Michael: I guess I just don’t understand. What’s wrong with eating something that tastes like human flesh? I don’t see any moral issue there. It’s not like you’d actually be eating human flesh. Kids eat candies on Holloween shaped like fingers and other gross things. I’d be willing to try something made from vegetables that tastes like human flesh. Although I conjecture I might not like it, as there are likely some deep instincts at work here that would work against my liking such a flavor.

    You’re completely focused here on some concept (which you are defining) of “symbolism”, and I’m talking about an actual flesh-and-blood reality I experience (which I completely appreciate you don’t share — this is not a question of right and wrong). Your concept of symbolism might be important to you, but I can’t see why I need to put it side by side with my perception of actual lived reality. I find myself wondering whether you really believe that symbolism==reality. That kind of reasoning is not consistent with conversations you and I have had in the past.

    Dagmar: I certainly don’t think you have anything to feel insecurity or guilt or angst about — that hadn’t even occurred to me. I am just trying to explain my world-view — certainly not to tell you what your world view should be. Remember, the discussion is not about what you do, it’s about somebody having implicitly criticized me for having a world view that the other person doesn’t share.

    Of course dogs and cats and pigs are sentient. And of course dogs and cats and pigs are not human. These are not “moral” statements — they are merely definitional statements.

    Similarly, of course a fetus is a potential human, which in most cases would likely be born, grow up, enjoy life, etc., were it not aborted. Just about all people, including people who are in favor of women’s right to an abortion, would agree with that factual statement.

    You don’t have to feel pressured because I don’t want to eat a sentient non-human creature. I just don’t want to feel pressured because you do. Perhaps I shouldn’t have used the word “fellow” — consider that word withdrawn. It’s not a question of right and wrong — but rather of different views of the universe around us. I can respect your opinion, and still disagree with it. I don’t think either of us needs to feel defensive about that disagreement.

    I don’t know how to discuss eating dogs or pigs without bringing up that they are sentient. What would you have me do — knowingly say false things? But that doesn’t mean I’m telling you what you are supposed to do. I don’t “despise” you for your different world view any more than I would “despise” someone who had a religious belief that was different from mine (I suspect you already know that). Remember, this entire discussion started because somebody was trying to make me defensive about my world view.

  9. Michael says:

    The questions isn’t whether they are sentient or not, but what conclusions you draw from that – that’s where it gets moral.

    Plants are sentient as well – though not self-aware. Then again, not all animals are either. Which again means drawing an arbitrary boundary line.

    As for the interplay with abortion – one reason I brought it up is said arbitrary line. Another reason (which which slightly more obvious) is a vegans aversion to eggs. On pure moral grounds that’s very similar to “every sperm is sacred”. So much for the non-symbolism.

    The symbolism comes into play on a different level… you crave something you don’t allow yourself(!) to have and substitute it. Of course it doesn’t change the world – but it puts a dent in the perceived(!) honesty (from an “outsiders” point of view). See my examples for that.

    I don’t see it as turning “ugly” – but like many moral issues it ends up like a discussion of religion (us being the non-believers). Your sentence about “maybe not discussing that with non-vegans” really reminded my of that.

    But maybe that’s why I’m not getting it on a “rational” level (which is quite different from my organic background which to me makes a lot of sense, in many ways beyond nutrition choices)…

    *shrugs*

  10. admin says:

    Michael, your entire last comment is just dripping with hostility — not in its tone but in its substance. I was not expecting something like that.

    First off, plants are sentient??? I was hoping we could avoid pseudo-science entirely in this discussion.

    And do you really think vegans don’t eat eggs because they are worried about hurting eggs? Are you just trying to be provocative here? I hope you do not think I would embrace such a stupid point of view.

    Also, I don’t crave things that taste like meat, and I never said that I did. Could you please please please stop saying that I do? I’m asking very nicely.

    I too could have said to you that “it ends up like a discussion of religion (us being the non-believers)”, and it would have been exactly as valid. But that’s a very hostile thing to say, which is why I didn’t say it to you.

    The reason I wondered whether I should have begun this discussion had nothing to do with thinking you wouldn’t be able to follow what I was saying. I have no doubt at all that you understand what I’m talking about — I have great respect for your intelligence, as you know. The reason I was regretting raising the topic was that I wanted to avoid exactly the kind of hostile discussion that I’m starting to see from you. The tone sounds reasonable, but the substance is one step removed from name calling.

    The last paragraph of your comment seems particularly judgmental. Essentially, you seem to be saying that you don’t get the things I say because I am not rational. Michael, it might not be a good idea to go that route during an intellectual debate.

  11. [...] learned a lesson from the discussion after my post of two days ago. When reasonable people disagree — generally because of a disagreement about first principles [...]

  12. Michael says:

    sentient: To a degree yes – and no pseudo science needed either. There are ways for plants to express pain.
    Which is what I mean though, it’s an arbitrary line that one draws – where to the bio-chemical processes that take place turn into a feeling of fellowship or kin that warrant an emphatic reaction?
    Even if you replace the processes with observed actions – the line is still arbitrary (and personal).

    As for the last part… I am not getting it on a rational level because it doesn’t make sense to _me_. Me only. Probably because (like any other personal and moral choice in life) it does require a dose of the irrational – and we’re all prone to that, we rely on that, it defines us.
    It wasn’t meant as an insult, but as a (maybe too harsh) way to explain an “outsiders” view. _I_ don’t get it on a rational level just like I don’t get religion on a rational level – even though I may (assume to) understand peoples needs in that direction. It’s quite likely that I don’t though.

    To get back on the original topic of hypocrisy, thinking about it a little further, I think you can’t avoid it (and it’s quite human to be a hypocrite in one way or another – almost necessary).
    I don’t think it would even be a topic if it wasn’t for the moral side of it.

    I.e. if a vegan said: I just don’t like the stuff – no problem. If it’s only about what one (I’m being careful here, because this is not meant to be personal) likes, one is free to do anything without anybody questioning ones motives.
    Once you couple it with a moral position that changes though. A moral position is expected to be absolute. But the cry of hypocrisy from the outside is bound to come – because there’s loopholes in just about any moral stance.

    Mind you, in this context I see morals as a personal ethical alignment based on experience, feelings and thought. Bound to be irrational at certain extents (we’re human after all).

    As for the eggs… there’s many schools of thought here. Based on the pure “Animals are sentinent, therefore I won’t kill them” – it doesn’t make sense. If one extends the definition (i.e. farming and keeping animals) then one has got that base covered as well. But that’s the rational part of it (which explains why laws are as complex as they are ;) ).
    If you extrapolate from that it can be quite hard to thoroughly explain all cases covering all loopholes that could evoke a cry of hypocrisy from the outside.
    Maybe it’s just easier to sometimes say: “Because I want to, now go away and mind your own business.” ;)

  13. admin says:

    OK, Michael, that’s better. :-)

    The problem in bringing in plants to the discussion is that it flattens all “theories”, so that one can no longer make useful distinctions between them. It’s not possible to have a useful discussion once you start saying “all theories are equivalent”.

    For example, it has been argued historically that the assertion “slaves are entitled to rights” is just a theory, as is the assertion that women have souls and should therefore not merely be the property of men. In historical situations where slaves or women have objected to the status quo, it was pointed out that they are not really human in the sense that citizens are, and so their objections were dismissed. Theory flattening like this happens all the time, but you and I don’t need to contribute to it.

    This pertains to the question of plants, since both the brain and the behavior of a dog are far more similar to those of a human than they are different, and to lump dogs together with plants rather than with humans on that phenomenological level runs counter to the scientific evidence — and is a prime example of theory flattening.

    One can still choose to kill and eat dogs, certainly — or to kill and eat people from a different tribe, if you live in a society where that’s considered ok. Those are indeed choices that involve a metaphysical stance. But merely pointing out that the neurological process and behavior of a dog and a human are strikingly similar, with similarities vastly outweighing differences — as opposed to, say, whatever corresponding process might on some relatively abstract level exist in very different functional systems such as a plant, or a mountain, or a river — is not a point of faith but rather one of elementary scientific observation.

    As to your assertion about “moral positions”. I think the word “moral” has something to do with religion, so I suspect I’m out of my depth on that one. As for me, I decide what is ethical for me to do, not what is ethical for you to do. You appeared at some points in this discussion to suggest I might want to decide what you should do, whereas in fact I do not.

    I don’t eat eggs because egg production involves killing of individual living chickens (specifically, the half of all individuals that are male). I do not care at all about the egg itself.

    I like your line “now go away and mind your own business.” That’s cool. :-)

  14. Dagmar says:

    @Ken I actually only wanted to discuss the wording, nothing else.

    And I never would call the vegan idea hypocritical, because of this “Fakin” stuff, since I am actually very aware of the fakes (not only) in food in general.

    To be vegan to me is just another idea of living, one can go for it or not.

    And as in every idea that big, you will find contradictions. And that is what your friend tried to do.
    It is like, you believe in free market, oh I can tell you how free your market really is. If I would go with the wording of your friend, I would call this idea hypocritical, too.

    But there is no reason to call the idea hypocritical.

    But I try to think about the formal aspects. Being a vegan, means abdication at times, right? Abdication is seen as noble and hard, right? So what your friend said, might be that: “Dear Ken, you are that noble, but you can’t do it without the taste of bacon.” (Just as an example.) Right?”

    And as a vegan the only thing I would say is: “Nobody said, that being vegan has to go together with less (variety of) taste (in every direction:-)) and if our food industry is able to produce something like “Fakin”, it is great.”

    I just love stuff like this for the sake of the argument. :-)

    We both know, that me, I will never become a vegan and I will never live as a vegetarian again. Not only because I don’t want to miss the taste and the luxury of meat.
    And you, you will never try a piece of meat again. :-)

  15. admin says:

    Thanks Dagmar. Not sure what I will do in the future. Bob Dylan became a born-again Christian, and I don’t know that anybody saw that coming. As the great Yoda once said: “Difficult to see. Always in motion is the future.”

    On the Fakin’ question — which really is an interesting question, because it gets to the heart of some interesting differences in perception that are difficult to express — I think there is a fundamental reason that this discussion is difficult, which somehow we didn’t manage to get to, partly because of poor word choices on my part.

    At this point in my life a pig is simply not food — a pig is an individual with emotions and desires and an independent subjective experience of the world. And that’s why I said it’s difficult for a vegan to convey the meaning of something like Fakin’ to a non-vegan — precisely because (as you pointed out earlier) the ideas in first sentence of this paragraph are quite alien to your way of thinking. Understanding these ideas intellectually (which I know you do) is not the same as being able to work with them as concepts that motivate other perceptions and action.

    So I was not trying to belittle or insult non-vegans when I said the conversation might be a dead-end, I was trying to get at that very practical difference in operational semantics.

    When Manooh and I look at a pig, we don’t see food, any more than we see food when we look at a house or a person. It’s just not food.

    So the meaning of something like Fakin’ is completely different, in a way that’s very hard to convey across the vegan/non-vegan divide. There is no comparison being made, because there is no other food involved. I realize this is completely foreign to the way of thinking of somebody who eats pigs — not intellectually, but rather on the level of “how do I feel about this thing”.

    You might not be able to reproduce in your own mind the way a vegan sees something like Fakin’, not because you lack intellectual understanding, but because you see bacon as food — and therefore you associate Fakin’ with bacon, which is something you find pleasurable — and which a vegan doesn’t even look at as food.

    I don’t know that there is any way to bridge that gulf, but perhaps you can see a bit better why a non-vegan’s statement that “eating Fakin’ is hypocritical” sounds very different to a vegan than it would to a non-vegan.

  16. Michael says:

    Hi Ken,

    well, at least the vegan sites that I’ve researched on certainly take up the topic of plants. Now you might say that’s ridiculous (and I’d agree) – but that’s somebody elses line – which is why I mean that it’s variable ;)
    Apparently there’s also a big discussion on how to treat insects in parts of the vegan community. But hey, you can construct a case out of pretty much anything until it does get ridiculous (I personally like the ethical implications of insects potentially getting killed by farming – and this is from veganoutreach.org ).

    I meant morals in the basic sense of the word – personal or cultural (in this case personal) values. I don’t see morals as being necessarily connected to religion, so this may just be a misunderstanding. You may freely replace moral with personal values in my comments. I don’t think it changes the basic idea though (for a stronger reference, change personal values to personal convictions).

    As for eggs … it doesn’t necessarily mean that male species are killed – it only does that in an industrialized food manufacturing environment (which is incidentally something I do oppose, but for other reasons).
    Again, another line, another reason, but also a soft one with ifs and buts and becauses.
    I.e. if a vegan had pet chicken (As I understand it’s o.k. for vegans to have pets as long as they have a suitable environment) – would it be o.k. to eat their eggs?

    …sorry for being the avocado(!) diaboli here ;)

  17. Michael says:

    Just to sum my thoughts up:
    Basically I don’t see anything wrong with cries of “hypocrisy” by somebody who doesn’t have all the information – as that’s based on what they directly hear (coupled with personal experiences). And by the time one explains all the intricacies as to why it isn’t a hypocrisy …
    It seems to be a two-sided thing though – and both sides, the “hypocrite” and the critic are basing their assumptions on incomplete data (data of each other when it gets personal).

    How’s that for relativism? ;)

  18. Dagmar says:

    @ Mike be aware of your wording… to call something “hypocrite” is quite emotional and doesn’t lead in any way to a good argument… there would be only one point that would possibly and only possibly allow you to use it, if Ken – and to be clear here – Ken absolutely did not!!! – would have told you that he is a better person than one of us because he is vegan. :-)

  19. Michael says:

    @Dagmar: Precisely… the wording is an issue. But it’s also the title and is the topic of the blog post.

  20. troy says:

    Ken, I haven’t visited in quite awhile, but, it looks like the discussions are certainly lively and fun…

    I don’t really have anything to add other than the fact that the entire thread made me smile…

    As for the egg question… My chickens love me. They follow me around the vineyard, eating grape trimmings and bugs… Their lives are fulfilled knowing that they produce eggs for me every morning. We don’t kill them, but, have lost some to owls/hawks/coyotes… Such is the plight of nature.

    Please don’t take this as negatively as it may sound, but, being a voracious omnivore… I am not critical of people for making the choice to not eat meat, or just not red meat, or only free-range meat, or, only meat that died of natural causes… Everyone has their reasons, and I respect that…

    But, I do feel sorry for them. That’s not meant to be as arrogant, accusatory, or holier-than-thou as it sounds, it’s simply a truthful statement. I know that they (vegetarians/vegans/pescaterians/lactose intollerant) don’t need or want to be felt sorry for, but, I truly do. Going through life tasting everything, including the forbidden fruit, makes me a richer person. I don’t care what it is, if there’s a culture on the planet that treats it as food, I’ll eat it.

    As for the hipocrisy… I don’t see that… I’ve had Harry Potter vomit and booger flavored jelly bellies but really have no interest in eating any of Potter’s actual flotsam or jetsam…

  21. admin says:

    Troy, it’s wonderful to hear from you! I missed your spirited voice here.

    Yes, I understand that you feel sorry for me, and that’s completely ok. I feel sorry for you too, and the limitations that some of your choices have placed on your ability to fully enjoy the world and the people around you.

    But that’s ok. May we all happily go through life liking each other and feeling sorry for each other. Otherwise the world would be a boring place. :-)

  22. Troy says:

    I like where this is heading…

    Of course I have limitations based on some of my choices… we all do… which ones make you feel sorry? probably the topic of another thread, but, I can’t help but be curious… You won’t offend me.

  23. admin says:

    Yes, that is most definitely a subject for a separate thread. :-)

  24. Dagmar says:

    @ Troy
    I was about to quote you, while writing here. I am completely aware that the whole thread leads to questions we were discussing here long time ago. ;-)

  25. troy says:

    @Dagmar
    I actually wrote something worth quoting? I was under the impression that it was all reactionary drivvel… :)

  26. admin says:

    You’re a reactionary!?!? Ohmygosh, I had no idea. Troy, why have you been holding out on us all this time? :-)

  27. troy says:

    I didn’t say I “was” a reactionary… just that I had the impression that I was…

    It’s all fun… you seem to squirm when things get hot… I enjoy the heat… :) Have you ever argued a point that you didn’t believe in just to see how heated the debat could get?

    It’s all fun and games until someone loses an eye…

  28. admin says:

    Relax Troy, no need to get defensive. It’s all fun. Just relax and enjoy the hot debat.

    Of course I might not really believe that point…. ;-)

  29. Troy says:

    that wasn’t defensive. Just silliness. I have plenty of fun making fun of myself, believe me, it doesn’t bother me when someone else joins in…

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