There’s A Reason More People Aren’t Vegan
I’m not much of a symbolic thinker. I’ve never been diagnosed but I think I have a mild case of Asperger’s, so maybe that’s why. I get mildly irritated when other people muck up different ideas and concepts with symbolic affiliations that don’t need to be there.
For most people affiliating one thing with another allows them to create the psychological constructs they need to go in new directions. Social support, moral righteousness, status, etc.
I suppose that’s fine if it gets you doing things that are objectively better for yourself and for others, but it doesn’t make the peripheral affiliations necessary to make a particular change. It just makes them necessary for you.
You see this type of dynamic all the time when it comes to veganism and other “clean” diets.
To jog your memory, think of a statement that goes like this:
“I am vegan not just because I think it’s good for my body and for my mind, but because it links together my soul, spirit, and the environment around me. I seek to be ethical and honest in everything that I do and being vegan is merely a way to symbolize that mission. “
Oh, come on!
Going vegan is a good idea, but get a grip. All by itself it doesn’t really mean any of those things.
Don’t get me wrong, being nice to animals is good, having a positive image of yourself is good, and spirituality has very nice benefits for the human mind. All good. Go get yourself some if you think you’re lacking. But the biggest benefits of going vegan don’t really have to with any of those things.
The best reason for someone to go vegan is that it’s an easy, highly effective way to feel vibrant. All worldviews and political philosophies are welcome.
Two Cognitive Fallacies
Clinical psychologists love to create experiments that expose the innate programming of the human mind. When the innate programming leads to good outcomes it’s called common sense. When they lead to bad outcomes it’s called a cognitive bias.
There are two common fallacies of human reasoning that permeate human reason all the time but hardly get talked about:
1). The fallacy of mood affiliation. Described aptly by Tyler Cowen, the fallacy of mood affiliation is when you make an unconscious decision to feel a certain way about something and then rearrange outside information to justify your mood. People’s political opinions are a good example of this at work. Mood affiliations also transfer to other people or objects by association. Mood affiliations are mostly harmless, but they can create powerful framing effects that let judgment run amok under the wrong circumstances.
2). The Unity of Goodness Fallacy. This is the silly idea that all good things in life are complimentary. Brotherhood, opportunity, equality, personal happiness and public-do-goodery all go hand in hand. Of course in the real world getting more of one often means making a deal with the devil to have less of the other.
These two types of reasoning are often deployed within vegan (and many other) circles.
Being a vegan all too often comes attached with some sort of inference that you ought to be these other things as well.
Well, I’m here to tell you that that’s baloney.
And what are these other things in particular?
Allow me to elaborate on the things you don’t have to believe in order to eat vegan.
- You Don’t Have to Be Against Industrial Agriculture. I know this is a very popular meme amongst health foodies, but their treatment of the modern food system is naive. Every industry has a mix of business models with some favoring scale and efficiency, while others favor higher quality and prices. That’s good. And lest we forget that it was the advent of industrial agriculture in the beginning of the 20th century that took us off the farms and gave use the free time that laid the foundation for the modern world.
- You Don’t Have to Be A Pastoralist or Suspicious of Technology. Bucolic notions of the family growing their own food and eating everything fresh from the garden strike a sentimental chord in all of us, but there’s a dark underbelly to self-sufficiency. Depending on yourself for your own food is risky, labor intensive, and contrary to popular opinion, bad for the environment.
- You Don’t Have to Be Against GMO’s. Despite the paranoia surrounding genetically modified organisms, there’s little evidence to suggest they cause any harm. They also have large benefits like improving crop yields, lowering prices, and reducing risk to the food supply. Many GMO’s even allow farmers to use less fertilizers and pesticides, helping the environment.
- You Don’t Have to be Democrat, Progressive, or on the Left. Instinctiely I think political leanings and diet have nothing to do with one another, but it can’t be an accident that the majority of vegans seem to veer to the left. I think it’s because of the latter’s opinions of the first three that lead to the overrepresentation of people with left leaning political views and veganism. But alas, healthy fresh food is blind to your preferences in the voting box. Good health is bi-partisan.
- You Don’t Have To Be An Animal Rights Activist. I know for at least 25-50% of people who identify as vegan this is the reason they do it….but it’s not necessary. I like animals, but you probably won’t find me crusading on their behalf. The cold hard truth is that I have more pressing uses of my time. You probably do too…..but you should still be eating your vegetables. So go vegan anyway.
Of course, you can be these things if you want, but none of these attitudes are distinctly vegan. They’re just the projections of others onto what they eat.
I know I’m lumping some people together, but when I read Mark Bittman, Mother Jones or Grist I always get the implied message that all 5 of these things go together.
The Silent Majority
Anytime people get riled up and start to get on their soapbox for a particular cause or movement they naturally attract more people who feel the same way, which causes everybody to get more excited about what they’re doing and confident that they can find more people who’ll join the fray. And if they persist hard enough then eventually everyone will feel the same way they do and they’ll conquer the world.
However, there’s always a reaction that gets less talked about. The more visible your opinion is the more people will decide to stay away from you because your opinions ruffle their worldview. You never notice them, but on your path to build a coalition you’ve also created people who won’t follow you because you don’t represent their values. The greater the number of worldviews and group causes under your penumbra the more likely it is this group of number will increase. They’re the silent majority.
It’s like when droplets of oil are placed in water and they naturally coalesce together and repel their outside environment. The same principle applies to people.
For this reason public displays like the one below do just as much harm as good. You get to put some plus signs in the ledger, but you’re also creating invisible debits.
If you have a particular idea, lifestyle, or habit that you want others to adopt then your goal should be to reduce the members of the silent majority as much as possible.
It means you should be helpful and not bombastic. It means your message should stick to where it’s relevant.
And most of all, you should have a ruthless focus on being constructive and not tearing other ideologies, organizations, beliefs down.
2 thoughts on “Being Vegan Doesn’t Make You a Democrat, Socialist, or Technophobe”
finally! an original thought! “Being a vegan all too often comes attached with some sort of inference that you ought to be these other things as well.” became vegan within the last year, for health reasons, tired of feeling like crap. life’s hard enough. have to say, every website I’ve gone to for guidance, or any vegan I have met, has done nothing but shove animal rights and the environment down my throat. these people wonder why veganism is loathed by many. I don’t think guilting people to change has ever been effective. EVER. just wanted to say thank you. finally someone who says im “allowed” to eat healthy, feel amazing, and still be myself! thoroughly enjoyed your perspective sir!
Thanks Jessica. Yes, I think certain aspects of healthy eating are too heavily framed with certain mood affiliations that attach moral dimensions to food choices beyond what’s simply good for us.
I eat well because I want to LIVE well, nothing more, nothing less.