When Fallacies and Fantasies Replace Reality
Why vegans were well-prepared for the promotion of nonsense about COVID
While it may seem like we’ve had a collective leave of our senses with the increasingly far-fetched and downright unhinged notions COVID deniers, truthers and down-players have been spouting for months, the fact is that denying what is plain as day and asking people to instead believe in implausibilities didn’t just pop up out of thin air. In the U.S. at least, there is a historic precedence for abandoning observable reality in favor of embracing make-believe: the American dream itself, a core conceit of this country, is the stuff of pure fantasy. If you dare to try to insert some reality into that feel-good reverie, though, you are labeled a killjoy and that in itself is a social pressure because our culture loves the impression of optimism, truth be damned.
It’s not just the U.S. that promotes a belief in false notions, though: many cultures and belief systems encourage people to accept fiction over fact, whether it’s about one’s innate superiority based on race, accepting tales of miracles in religious faiths or indulging in superstitions. We are not always the rational beings we imagine ourselves to be. That’s actually okay, perhaps part of the nature of the human animal, as long as we’re honest about it. We should just not be deluded about our abilities to critically evaluate the positions we hold. The strong tendency towards confirmation bias and the Dunning-Kruger Effect means that we are poor arbiters of the quality of the positions we hold. Our brains easily default to motivated reasoning, which means that our best interests can easily override our ability to be objectively discerning. Again, this may be baked into the human brain; the best we can do is try to balance against it by understanding that we are far from impartial or fair appraisers of our beliefs.
As a vegan, I would say that it’s not a huge shock to me that a sizable percentage of the public promotes ideas that are steeped in presumptions, prejudices, self-interests and biases, not rationality or objective reality. For years, I have listened to people — smart people, lucid people, logical people — try to undermine veganism with easily dismantled, barely-there arguments. It is eerily familiar to me when I hear today’s COVID deniers insist that conspiracy theories and conjecture deserve to be heard aside coherent, research-based arguments, because for 25 years, I have been expected to accept wildly overestimated assertions about tooth-size justifying the eating other animals and wholly detached-from-reality notions about “the natural order” with a straight face. (This is not to say that vegans don’t promote fantasies themselves, sadly.)
If we want to stop this dangerous and deadly amplification of outlandish theories around the coronavirus —misinformation that contributes to the spread and has gotten people killed — we need to start with ourselves with the spurious, half-baked notions we ourselves repeat and promote.
From the idea that if we didn’t eat meat, animals would take over the world (even a cursory understanding of supply-and-demand would dismantle that)
to the baseless claim that plants — lacking a central nervous system and the ability to flee predators — feel pain, vegans are expected to accept blatant fallacies and disinformation as valid counterpoints to the robust arguments in favor of veganism for the animals and the planet. If those attempts fail, and they do, we can be expected to accept sentimental notions about ancestry or ethnicity as a justification. These arguments are meant to go tit-for-tat against logical, nuanced, easily corroborated information from people who have been researching animal agribusiness for years.
Have you encountered someone who expected you to believe that masks do not reduce the spread of the coronavirus with the aid of some poorly constructed meme or janky video against the research of scientists and the guidance of epidemiologists? I sure have and it lights up the circuitboard of memories within me of the countless times I was expected to accept that random rubbish deserves a seat at the table alongside facts and careful research simply because someone can spout it out.
We can see the terrifyingly real consequences of mis- and disinformation with regard to a deadly, highly transmissible virus, and I don’t mean to diminish that, but the repercussion of believing nonsense over what we know about the actual harm of animal agribusiness is just as lethal. Not just to the billions of innocent, sensitive animals killed so people can eat them each year, but for the future generations doomed to a devastated, depleted planet. As with COVID, this will also have the gravest consequences for the least affluent, primarily affecting communities of color.
Don’t like fallacies and nonsense about serious, life-or-death matters? It’s time to excise all the delusional claptrap that stands between us and clarity. It’s time to examine how you justify eating animals.