Why I’m Not a Vegan

Why I’m Not a Vegan

I knew going into it that this video would be controversial. The vegan community on the internet can be quite ferocious. I’ve often been hesitant to share my philosophy on certain topics because some of my views are quite “non-traditional”, and otherwise, there are some things that people are just unwilling to be intellectually honest about (it’s one of the reasons I almost never make videos about religion anymore). In my experience, veganism has been one of those topics. But I decided to make the video anyway to test the waters. To be fair, the discussion has been mostly civil, like most of the discussions on my videos, but this is one of those topics where I find that people are driven by emotional appeals and dogmatic beliefs, rather than reason. Generally I don’t have a problem with this, however we have to understand that emotion is not an argument. Your emotions may convince you of something, but you should not expect that alone to convince everyone else.

Like most controversial videos, I expect to lose many subscribers over this, but I feel that the type of people who will unsubscribe just because they disagree on one thing are not the people I want around. Anyway, feel free to comment if you have any questions or thoughts 🙂

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7 Responses

  1. Lorna says:

    Very weak video. How can anyone urge that unnecessary suffering is anything other than wrong? I’m sure you think your suffering matters and the suffering of your family matters. Just because humans are the dominant species our suffering matters a great deal, but animals doesn’t matter at all? What if another species became dominant and overtook us. Would it be ok for them to enslave and torture us because we taste nice? So what if it isn’t the only way to reduce suffering? Being anti-death penalty – as you are – is not the only way too reduce suffering either. That hardly makes being pro-death penalty a positive thing.

    How can you claim to be Team People when you say you don’t care about keeping the planet healthy for future generations?

    • the1janitor says:

      I didn’t make any arguments about humans being the dominant species, nor did I argue that eating meat is a “positive thing.” If you’re going to dispute an argument, make sure it’s actually the one the person is making.

      • Lorna says:

        I never claimed that you did say that you mentioned humans being the dominant species. That’s why I mentioned that with a question mark. I was asking if that is why you think human suffering matters but billions of animals suffering unimaginable torture because you get pleasure from cooking and eating meat doesn’t because human’s are dominant? Because I see no logic behind that way of thinking at all. If using your enjoyment of eating meat wasn’t an argument of eating meat being positive then what is? If you don’t see eating meat as being positive then why continue to do it despite the huge damage it does to the planet?

        • the1janitor says:

          Give me a reason why animal suffering matters other than “because it does.” Emotions do not count as a reason. If you’re going to tell me that I HAVE to do something, you need to give me a reason other than “because suffering makes us sad.”

          I do it for the same reason that people drive cars and use electricity and use bleach and bag their groceries in paper and plastic bags and use styrofoam and wear denim. The idea that eating meat is some kind of uniquely harmful thing is a disingenuous, completely emotion based notion. Just because something is “not positive” doesn’t mean I’m morally obligated to avoid it.

          I also never said that I “don’t care about keeping the planet healthy.” This has been the major challenge with this video is people putting words into my mouth and not thinking carefully about what I’m trying to say.

  2. Sam Fraser says:

    I agree that it’s not possible to quantify the value of life in any real sense, but I also feel that, with the greatest respect, you’re being a little disingenuous on that point. It’s not possible to quantify the value of human lives either, but most people are against murdering (or abusing, raping, etc.) other humans. However ‘figurative’ or ‘poetic’ the notion is, it’s one we all adhere to on a daily basis, pretty much without question. I think where myself and other vegans take issue is with the incongruence of a worldview that accepts these abstract notions in certain contexts (human murder) but rejects them in others (tasty meat).

    In terms of ‘animal rights’, I completely understand where you’re coming from: rights are typically coupled with an ethical awareness on the part of the individual to whom they are endowed. But what about human beings who lack the capacity for such awareness? Children, babies, disabled people? If we extend our notion of rights to cover those individuals *just because they’re human beings*, then that extrapolation is equally arbitrary.

    Of course, crop farming and harvesting can have a damaging impact on the environment and on animals’ lives, but the reality is we have to eat *something*. The fact that death occurs as a byproduct of growing crops isn’t an argument against the ethical basis of veganism itself – it just means we have that much further to go in order to achieve it. It’s also important to note here that the central ‘principle’ of veganism is to avoid animal suffering *as far as is practicable and possible*. Not eating hamburgers is very feasible for most of us; not eating *anything*, less so.

    I think the problem with calling this issue a ‘matter of opinion’ is that it involves a third party. If I were to imprison a human being in my basement, use him or her for my personal entertainment, and then respond to any criticisms by saying ‘well, hey, in my opinion this is fine,’ then my logic would be flawed because there’s a victim. Likewise, putting up bookshelves and doing cartwheeels in your living room is fine because doing so only really affects you in any meaningful way. The issue of choice becomes a little muddier when making that choice strips another being of theirs (take rape as the most obvious example).

    In fact, I could use many of the arguments you present in this video to defend the above scenario:
    – Emotional responses aren’t a substantial argument against locking people in my basement
    – It’s not enough to tell me that their suffering is bad. *Why* is it bad?
    – The fact that you’re against human suffering (i.e. #teampeople) is arbitrary. It’s an opinion. I disagree.

    I ask you honestly: is this the kind of world you want to live in? Isn’t it good that, in cases like this, our empathy fills the gap where cold logic can’t?

    I really love your videos – your arguments are always well-considered, articulate and balanced – but I have to say that this one surprises me. I hope I haven’t been too confrontational here, I’m very aware of the flawed arguments that people use to advocate for veganism (plant-based diets being the ‘healthiest,’ for example), but I’d be interested to hear your responses nonetheless.

    Keep doing what you do – love your content.

    • the1janitor says:

      I don’t attempt to make the argument that human life has “value” and I don’t think that human life having value suffices as a reason to, for example, not murder people. The reason to not murder people is because we have a rational expectation to not be murdered and this is an expectation that is understood by human beings as a result of the shared empathy that human beings naturally have.

      If you avoid appeals to emotion, I think it’s pretty clear that we have fewer empathetic duties to people who lack the capacity to internalize this empathetic contract. Most people, for example, would agree that it’s not particularly immoral to tell a lie to an infant. I think many of the rights we bestow to this category of people are, in fact, arbitrary. However, the difference is that human beings have the POTENTIAL to gain this awareness, and that potential is in and of itself sufficient to justify granting them these rights. It’s also just strange to make a judgment about the rights of a species, and then select members of that species to be excluded from the list.

      I never made any arguments against the ethics of veganism and I don’t desire or feel the need to. But the fact of the matter is you can not claim a moral imperative to do something which is impossible to do, and then say, “well we’re CLOSER to that thing than you are, so we’re more righteous.” It’s literally silly.

      The comparison between directly imprisoning a human being in your basement and doing something which indirectly through like 5 degrees of separation, results in an unspecified harm to other people in a roundabout way is completely untenable. This is an appeal to emotion to make eating meat sound like it’s actually murder, which of course it isn’t.

      Every single day, most human beings do things that indirectly result in harm to other human beings. We have to choose what we feel is the best way to live our lives. You don’t get to say, “my way of harming human beings is more moral than your way.” Maybe if you are some monk that lives on a mountain that has no impact then you can make an argument, but I don’t think any reasonable person would argue that that’s necessary to be considered a good person.

      The fact that i’m against human suffering IS an opinion. Absolutely. What people are missing here is that, unlike vegans, I’m not claiming moral superiority. I’m just living my life and letting other people live theirs. What I don’t think is an opinion is rational expectations of behavior. There are certain things which empathy and the ability to reason dictates we ought to do or not do, because we understand that people expect them. Being imprisoned against your will is probably one of those things. It just so happens that some of these expectations prevent human suffering as well.

      • Sam Fraser says:

        Thanks for taking the time to reply – much appreciated.

        For the record, I don’t consider veganism the only ethical issue that warrants our attention (not by a long shot), nor do I consider myself intrinsically morally superior to a meat eater because I’m vegan. I don’t believe that eating meat makes you a bad person. Granted, many vegans are like that (and unfortunately that attitude has become the face of vegan activism), but certainly not all. In fact, I feel that most vegans are self-aware enough to accept that, while they’re doing their best to reduce animal suffering, they’re undoubtedly causing harm in other ways in their everyday lives.

        Take me as an example. I own an iPhone. There are ethical and environmental issues arising from the production of that phone, and I can’t really defend those in any honest way, nor would I try to. I guess it’s something that I accept is wrong, but choose to do anyway. It wouldn’t make a great deal of sense for me to advance an argument defending iPhone ownership by saying that we’re all causing daily harm anyway, because that doesn’t address the issue at hand. Likewise, the fact that vegans cause harm in other ways doesn’t justify eating meat – it just means that animal agriculture is bad, and other things are bad too. However, in the context of a discussion about animal agriculture, the other bad stuff is really a red herring: a distraction rather than a defence.

        I think it’s important to draw a distinction between the totality of a person’s actions, and the specific action that is under scrutiny. In other words, vegans aren’t morally superior to non-vegans – but I would argue that vegan*ism* is morally superior to meat eating. Likewise, people who don’t own iPhones aren’t morally superior to those who do – but the decision not to buy an iPhone is surely the more ethical one.

        Now, you may argue that my above argument is invalid because, while many people are proactive about veganism, we generally have a ‘live and let live’ attitude when it comes to iPhone ownership. I suppose the biggest ethical distinction for me here lies in the directness of the action (degrees of separation, as you say). I see very little separation between the murder of an animal and the consumption of that individual’s flesh. A maps to B in a very clear and tangible way. However, the manufacture of iPhones is complicated, and while there are undeniably instances of exploitation along the way, they’re much harder to pinpoint. For example, it’s virtually impossible for me to link my iPhone to a specific individual who suffered (or died) so that I could enjoy using it.

        Of course my distinction here is arbitrary. I suppose ethics will always have an arbitrary basis because it cannot be scientifically established. You say that affording rights to a species and then selectively excluding members of that species is ‘strange’ – but is it really any stranger than including every member of said species *just because*? Both positions are subjectively defined, after all. Furthermore, what is the real difference between an individual who is incapable of ethical awareness (animals) and one who merely had the potential for such an awareness but was unable to realise it (people with certain types of mental disability)? I suppose the issue of arbitrariness is something of a stalemate to ethical discussions in general.

        Anyway, thanks again for your considered reply. I’m always open to criticisms of veganism – to anything that challenges my current way of thinking – and, although I feel we disagree here, it’s been an interesting interaction nonetheless. I’ll certainly take something away from it. 🙂

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