Hard-wired justifications for eating meat

A recent article in Times Magazine by editor-at-large Jeffrey Kluger, argues that: Like it or not, you’re a carnivore. You can eat meat or you can pass it up, but either way, spare yourself any moral agony — a new study confirms our brains are hardwired to justify such decisions to ourselves.

This article is problematic for a number of reasons, not because people don’t have the right to argue in favour of eating meat, but because of the poor quality of its arguments. The first sentence sets the tone in its depiction of humans as carnivores; humans are, in fact, omnivores.  I have noticed a trend in the use of “carnivore” in articles that dismiss vegetarianism and veganism, as if to say that abstaining from consuming animal products is somehow unnatural or even potentially harmful.

Kluger states The hard truth is, we eat meat, we love meat, and our bodies are built to digest meat. It would be nice if we could pick the stuff off the trees, but we can’t. So apologies to goats and pigs and cows and chickens and fish and lobster and shrimp and all the other scrumptious stuff that flies and walks and swims, but you’re goin’ down.  Oh dear.  We can, in fact, pick the stuff off the trees, so that statement makes no sense at all.  How many of the nuts and fruit that we consume come from trees?

Kluger: The only way to reconcile our minds, to say nothing of our menus, is either to go vegan—try that for a week—or to convince ourselves that despite the critter murder we effectively endorse every time we tuck into a pork chop or a chicken salad, we are still somehow decent, somehow good. Actually, Mr. Kluger, many vegans have been so for many years; in my case, since the age of 23.  There is no question that humans are very good at justifying their actions, but saying that we should not feel guilt over our choices because we are hardwired to justify them makes absolutely no sense.  If you take this argument to its logical extension, does this mean that we can be morally absolved of any number of questionable acts, such as theft, murder, and so forth, simply because we have a genetic ability to justify our actions?

Kluger: If a cow could eat you, it would. It wouldn’t give a hoot about your feelings. It wouldn’t kill you quickly or humanely and it certainly wouldn’t worry about whether it was right to make a meal of you in the first place. It would ask itself one question: Am I hungry? If the answer was yes, you’d be lunch. This is surely a case of reductio ad absurdum.  Humans are not, in fact, cows.  While I do believe that animals are sentient beings and capable of different levels of intelligence, I don’t equate them with humans.  I would like to think that humans can make reasoned decisions, not react purely on instinct.  So, to extend this argument yet again, does this mean that because you have something that I want and do not have, I am justified in taking it from you and not “give a hoot about your feelings?”

Time Magazine has jumped the shark (pun intended) on this one.

 

 

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