I realize this is a rather long post, but I would love to get your thoughts on it. I admit my use of the word “religion” in the title for this post may be misleading. I am referring to a belief system in our culture that in many ways parallels the psychology of theists.
According to Melanie Joy, Ph.D, Ed.M, a social psychologist and professor of psychology at the University of Massachusetts, meat eating is an ideology, or a belief system.
She says, “Most of us who have grown up eating meat don’t realize that every time we sit down to our food, we are acting in accordance with an invisible belief system that has shaped our thoughts, preferences, feelings and behaviors. We aren’t aware of how we have been conditioned to eat animals without considering the implications of our choices on ourselves or on others - or to even realize we are making choices at all.”
“Meat production and consumption, the most far-reaching and widely supported form of nonhuman animal exploitation, remains an unnamed ideology.”
“This invisible belief system, carnism, has created the illusion that when we eat meat we are making our choices freely. But carnism is structured to enable humane people to participate in inhumane practices without realizing what they’re doing, to block our awareness so that we unknowingly act against our own interests and the interests of others.”
“We have, however, recognized that the opposing dietary standpoint—vegetarianism—is, indeed, an ideology. For this reason, we do not call vegetarians "plant-eaters" or "non-meat-eaters" because we understand that vegetarianism, though its principles are manifested in the act of abstaining from the consumption of flesh, is actually a philosophy in which the subjugation of other animals is considered unnecessary and unjust.
This inequality of ideological identification demonstrates our collective meat bias. It is, in fact, quite common to label only those beliefs which run counter to the dominant culture. We assume that it is not necessary to assign a term to ourselves when we adhere to the mainstream way of thinking, as though its prevalence makes it an intrinsic part of life rather than a widely held opinion. Meat eating, though culturally dominant, reflects a choice that is not espoused by everybody.
Some people refer to meat-eaters as carnivores; yet, human meat-eaters are actually omnivores, as they consume both flesh and plants. Moreover, the terms carnivore and omnivore suggest a biological predisposition toward flesh, while contemporary, wide-scale meat eating is not a physiological necessity but an ideological choice; the millions of healthy vegetarians who have persisted throughout the centuries are testament to this. Neither carnivore nor omnivore expresses the beliefs beneath the behavior.
For the reasons listed above, I have chosen to employ the terms carnism and carnist to the ideology of meat production/consumption and its proponents. Carnism stems from the Latin carn, meaning flesh or body, and is the root in carnage. Fleshist might have been appropriate, but flesh has fewer connotations suggestive of slaughter and this label may be too disconcerting and removed from the socially accepted carnivore for carnists to be willing to apply to themselves. And the term meatist reinforces the social construction of meat in which "meat" is perceived as synonymous with "food."
By naming the belief system which underlies the acts of meat production and consumption we are better able to acknowledge that slaughtering nonhuman animals for human consumption is not a given but a choice; a choice that is based upon an ideology in which the domination and exploitation of other animals is considered a natural human privilege. To say "I eat meat" or "I am a meat-eater" denotes an action devoid of a philosophical viewpoint, whereas to say "I am a carnist," describes a choice, an identification with a particular belief system. Using the verb, eat, in the labels meat-eater or even flesh-eater places the focus of the consumption of other animals on what one does, rather than what one is.”
In her book, “Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows”, Dr. Joy explains the process through which carnists use psychic numbing to cope with the moral disconnect between the common belief that it is wrong to cause needless suffering and the act of causing animals to suffer needlessly so that we can eat them.
Psychic numbing: “we disconnect, mentally and emotionally,from our experience; we ‘numb’ ourselves. [...] Psychic numbing is adaptive, or beneficial, when it helps us to cope with violence. But it becomes maladaptive, or destructive, when it is used to enable violence.”
On both an individual and institutional level, we engage in a number of defense mechanisms that help us to achieve psychic numbing:
- Denial: Also called “practical invisibility,” denial is the process by which the horrific realities of “meat” (and egg and dairy) production are literally kept invisible to us. For example, we “grow” billions of chickens, turkeys, pigs, cows, lambs, etc. for food every year; but where are they!? Few of us rarely, if ever, witness these animals grazing the land, rearing their offspring, sunning themselves in the grass or preening in the dirt. But they’re out there: crammed by the tens of thousands into massive, windowless buildings, located in large complexes on the outskirts of town. These animals are trucked to and from slaughter in unmarked vans; their only exposure to the outdoors comes when they await sale or death, on the auction block or at the slaughterhouse. Practically speaking, they remain invisible to us, as does their suffering. Because many of us enjoy eating “meat,” eggs and milk, this is how we like it.
- Avoidance: The counterpart to denial, avoidance involves “symbolic invisibility”; it is “knowing without knowing.” The animal agriculture industry – with no small amount of help from the other major social institutions, such as the government and news media – feed us ridiculous, transparent lies about “meat” production, and we eagerly gobble them up. "Humane meat" is an oxymoron: labels such as “organic,” “free range,” “grass fed,” etc. are rendered meaningless through industry lobbying and self-policing, and besides, no unnecessary death can ever be called “humane.” While the government has ostensibly established myriad rules regarding food safety, animal welfare, and environmental responsibility, again, these rules remain full of loopholes and usually go unenforced. For example, chickens aren’t considered “animals” under either the Animal Welfare Act or the Laboratory Animal Welfare Act.
- Justification: We use a series of myths in order to convince ourselves of the “justness” of carnism. These myths typically involve the 3 Ns, as Joy refers to them:
Normal – Carnism has become normalized, such that its tenets are social norms. Social norms are both descriptive (telling us how things are now) and prescriptive (dictating to us how things ought to be). But just like religious belief, just because something is normal, or common, doesn’t make it right.
Natural – If something is “natural,” it’s assumed to be “justifiable”: “The way ‘natural’ translates to ‘justifiable’ is through the process of naturalization. [...] When an ideology is naturalized, its tenets are believed to be in accordance with the laws of nature.” “Natural” = “the way things are meant to be.” But I think many of us can easily point out the“naturalistic fallacy: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naturalistic_fallacy
Necessary – Closely tied to the supposed “naturalness” of carnism, “meat’s” perceived “necessity” makes it seem inevitable; not a choice. But clearly “meat” consumption is a choice – in industrialized nations, anyhow – as any vegan or vegetarian can attest.
- Objectification: Via objectification, we reduce living, sentient beings to nothing more than objects; we objectify them. Clearly, a cow is nothing like a television set – but both are considered pieces of property in our “modern,” “civilized” society. Objectification is even apparent in our language when we refer to animals as “it” instead of as “he” or “she” as if they are inanimate objects.
- Deindividualization: Through deindividualization, we strip animals of their individual identities, viewing them as pieces of a group and nothing more. One individual in the group is thought of as indistinguishable from all the rest; thus, the singular sentient beings become unfamiliar abstractions. (This is why Americans recoil at the thought of eating dog meat; most of us have either lived with or known at least one dog on a personal level. Dogs are individuals, familiars, whereas cows, pigs, fishes and chickens are not.)
- Dichotomization: Dichotomization involves grouping animals into two distinct, often diametrically opposed, categories: food/not food, cute/ugly, dirty/clean. These categories are usually arbitrary and based on our own prejudices and stereotypes rather than any semblance of reality. Along with objectification and deindividualization, dichotomization allows us to “distance” ourselves from“food” animals at will.
Here is nice video promo for the book that makes this point pretty well:
- Rationalization: To rationalize a behavior is to attempt to provide a rational explanation for a behavior that is, at its core, irrational. Animal agriculture is wasteful, unsustainable, harmful to human health and the environment, and – above all else – inherently cruel to the billions of nonhuman animals who are enslaved and killed for nothing more than human “taste” and “convenience” and corporate profits. Yet, our culture is replete with rationalizations for this most irrational of business and ethical models. Even otherwise rational people come up with crazy rationalizations when presented with even the idea of veganism –“don’t plants feel pain too” or “humans have eaten meat for thousands of years.” Yeah, so? Humans have raped and murdered for thousands of years too. Does that make it okay?
- Dissociation: Described by Joy as “the heart of psychic numbing,” dissociation “is psychologically and emotionally disconnecting from the truth of our experience; it is the feeling of not being fully ‘present’ or conscious.” Often times, dissociation is triggered by a traumatic experience, for example, experiencing or witnessing a physical assault. Given that “meat” production involves the assault and murder of tens of billions of sentient beings per year – and “meat”- eating is, literally, the consumption of a once-living, once-feeling individual – it makes sense that the same psychological defense mechanism that protects us from reliving our own distressful experience also shields us from the uncomfortable truth that, with every animal-based meal, we are directly participating in another being’s living (and dying) hell.
Anyway, that’s it. Sorry for the long post. If you read the whole thing, I would love to hear your thoughts. Thanks.
"To qualify as a science the discipline must draw rigid, testable, falsifiable conclusions within the framework of coherent theories that must also be subject to falsification based on empirical evidence. Some branches of psychology are getting there, especially in areas dealing with neurology."
How does Social Psychology fail this definition of a scientific discipline? I am not a social psychologist, and I admit there is probably some quackery in the field, but it does still seem prejudicial to label the entire discipline unscientific.
I know it isn't the greatest source, but Wikipedia defines Social Psychology as a science: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_psychology_%28psychology%29
And it appears to me that at least Dr. Joy's work "draws rigid, testable, falsifiable conclusions within the framework of coherent theories that must also be subject to falsification based on empirical evidence."
Nearly all psychologists call their field a science and I am not saying that the entire discipline is "unscientific" in the sense that many experiments do follow the scientific method. I am not intimately familiar with Dr. Joy's work and perhaps she is on the leading edge of the push to make social psychology a science. When I have time I will likely read some of her work. My statement is based on the state of social psychology as a discipline. I have yet to see any psychological theory stand up to the muster of falsifiability as it applies to the empirical sciences. Nearly all scientists that are not psychologists tend to agree with this assessment as far as I can tell. These theories must not only be coherent and explain the relevant data within the framework of the theory but they must make predictions with the potential to falsify the theory. Compared to empirical scientific disciplines, psychology isn't guided by a coherent, falsifiable system of theories. Thus it is difficult or impossible to falsify a non existant or poorly expressed theory.
Explanations in social psychology are very subjective in nature and do not lend themselves to the rigid standards of the empirical sciences. Repeatability of experiments is another area where most branches of psychology cannot live up to these standards. Most of the relevant data is compiled statistically from case studies. A case study is not a repeatable experiment with variables that can be controlled for. The null hypothesis problem is another big issue. In science, assertions are assumed to be false until there is relevant evidence to support them. This has been shown to be a huge barrier to psychological theories in general because most of them require far too many assumptions when the evidence just isn't there. I am not saying that these things are useless, for some things they can be quite useful but to call them a science is very misleading. I suppose the biggest difference can be drawn between the ability to describe something and explain it. A scientific theory is an explanation of data. Theories in social psychology are descriptions of data. An explanation of data has the virtue of being bold and asserting something that can clearly and quantifiably be falsified by new data. Psychological theories aren't capable of doing this for the most part.
Anyway, I appreciate your time and I'm sorry if I have distracted from the focus of your topic at all. I actually enjoy psychology a great deal but it goes on my bookshelf with religion and philosophy, never with science. I do plan to read up on Dr. Joy. Thank you.
Toby, I didn't use an example of cannibalism in my argument. I asked if cannibalism is common in animal species. I didn't think it was. But it is irrelevant to the larger conversation.
What I said was "Why is the picture of a slaughtered dog shocking? I would expect most true carnivores and omnivores would find it appealing. They might even salivate."
The response was "By that logic, human cadavers should make me hungry too."
But that is a non sequitur. If one is a carnivore or omnivore of a species where cannibalism is common than one might expect to salivate at the sight of a same species corpse. But we live in a culture where cannibalism is frowned upon and considered disgusting.
We live in a society in which eating certain animals is considered normal, yet it is considered gross to eat other animals. Why? That is the question. Cannibalism is irrelevant to that question.
I accept that it has little relevance. My overall point didn't deal with cannibalism. In context it seemed that you were suggesting that it was uncommon and so were using this to somehow support your position. If this was not the case then the prevalence of cannibalism is moot and my response dealing specifically with cannibalism can be ignored. Everything else stands.
I got the impression that you were arguing that eating meat should be universally reconsidered among modern humans. The fact that revulsion to cannibalism is not a human universal even in modern times speaks clearly to it being a purely social construct. If you are only suggesting that people in first world countries or in countries that feel a revulsion to cannibalism should reconsider eating meat then we are dealing with changing cultural mores and I have no opinion about that because it is far too subjective. As to your question "why?" I would say because the revulsion we feel at eating some animals and not others is a cultural and social invention and should be seen as such instead of interpreting it as some indication of absolute moral truth. I am not suggesting that you take this position, only that it seems implied by the position you do take. Please correct me if I'm wrong.
Vegetarianism rules! We're the new spartans of the food-order. The evil big-macs and beef patty alliances are crumbling. People are rebelling against the gross over-meaty bodybuilding figures in magazines and opting for leaner, faster, stronger muscles- all which is perfectly attainable under a vegetarian diet.
Usain bolt broke historical world records with yam. Yes, BORING, UGLY YAM!- the kind of which is sometimes sold as delicious fries at ethnic-themed restaurants places in your city-center (if you live in a well urbanized place).
Being vegetarian is IN. It's the new black. It's the new cool-shit. It's hip. It's trendy and it's cool. It saves animals and doesn't make us look like flaming hypocrites when we chow down on a chicken breast while drowning our sorrows over Fifi- your furry friend's, death.
It also makes sure you're saving the precious water and the precious corn and grain that's fed to cattle-farms(grainst could've been exported to countries desperately in need for actual food- instead of being wasted as a nice Sunday post-church-lunch). Helps with global warming- the more these cows shit and the more manure you have to deal with the less CH4 (methane) that goes off into the atmosphere.
Take the next step people. Hedonism is cool- within moral limits. A trip to a Cargill slaughterhouse will do wonders to your moral dilemmas about whether or not it is to kill animals.
....and i still haven't found the brave soul who would rather eat his "meat" raw rather than barbecue it and eat it as a commodity.
So annoying when people state easily verifiable falsities about celebrities..
[...] So at approx. 14-stone, Bolt needs to consume 196 grams of muscle-building protein every day. He alleges to achieve this by eating a lot of chicken fillets, pork and fish. On the day that he beat the world 100m record, he described his preparation as:
“I woke around 11am and decided to watch some TV and had some nuggets.” – Usain Bolt
Oh my goodness. People eat raw meat all the time. What do you think a seared steak is!?
All you have to do is sear the outside of the cut of meat to kill any harmful bacteria ... the inside 90% of the meat can still be raw and uncooked ... sometimes it isn't even warm.
People eat raw hamburger all the time.
Also , sushi is raw!
doone, nobody is asserting that plants aren't alive. What is your point?
I am saying that plants are incapable of self awareness (different than self recognition) and suffering (different from pain). But even if plants are capable of suffering and self awareness, as humans we still need to consume them in order to be healthy. Therefore, eating plants is necessary. Behaviors of necessity are divorced from moral choice.
The point of this post is that most people agree that knowingly causing needless suffering is wrong. Therefore, choosing to eat animals when viable alternatives exist should be considered wrong. But it isn't considered wrong in our society. Why? Dr. Joy is suggesting it is due to our dominant belief system. Dominant belief system allow people to live with obvious contradictions and she outlines some of the mechanisms by which dominant belief systems allow us to do so.
Hopefully that will help keep you more on point.
Hey Allen, we shared thoughts on the PETA Jesus ad. I still am not a fan of PETA simply because I don't like their tactics. I don't think it's necessary to use personal attacks or to disuade from adult behavior and discussion to make a point. I'm not talking about the videos showing actual abuse of animals, I think this is a good way to show people what IS happening at some farms. I also personally don't see eye to eye with you on the issue of comparing slavery to eating meat. I value the life of humans more than the life of an animal. Basically if my dog that I love and care for was drowning next to a man that I knew was a murderer, my dog would drown. You may not feel that way, you may save your dog and that's okay with me because I know and respect that other's don't share my beliefs.
In any event, I needed to vent a little before I said this. I've thought about what you've posted and have decided to go back to being a vegetarian. I struggled in the past, specifically with time and finding vegetarian foods that did not contain casein...it can be difficult. I live in a conservative area where have limited choices, we do have a small whole foods coop, I love it there but they don't have everything I need and I inevitebly decided to not give up dairy or eggs because I didn't have the time or energy to make food from scratch. I'll give it a go again, because I do care about and hate to see any creature suffer. Thanks for making me think about my choices.
Thanks for your comment Janelle. I'm glad I could get you thinking about the issue. Feel free to message me if you want to talk more about it or anything.
To be clear, I think it is perfectly reasonable for people to value the lives of their own kin over non-kin. And I think it is reasonable to value the lives of our own species over the lives of other species. I am not equating animals to non-human animals. When I compare slavery to animal agriculture I am usually trying to show people a specific flaw in their logic. Sometimes it helps to point out an example of something similar they already agree with to help them see that flaw. Its risky because some people become unreasonably angry when they think they are being compared to "inferior" animals. But I find the comparison between the ways that humans treat other humans and the ways we treat other animals to be useful in some cases.