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 me, an atheist is sort of the opposite of a religious fundamentalist. Fundamentalists are of an us-and-them mentality and can be pretty mean-spirited. I don't see an atheist lacking compassion for any of "god's" creatures. But it must be possible. There you are as proof, Stephen.
Stephen wrote (snippet): Its a sure sign of how unsuited they are as the social replacement of another human being as a companion.
@ Stephen - It depends on the situation. There are many circumstances where an animal can serve as a perfect human companion. I'm not talking about a life-long committed relationship here. I'm talking an animal can be a fantastic blast to hang out with now and then and even for a certain amount of time every single day.
Stephen wrote (snippett): Maybe if people spent less time with their living teddy bears they could spend more time with humans working out those differences dontcha think? (end)
@ Stephen. I strongly disagree with you there. It has been proven in many studies that pets can help teach children responsibility, caring and compassion, and all kinds of nicey nice virtues.
A human being is better suited in any circumstance you can place an animal. The problem is people have trouble communicating directly what they want and need to others in their lives and are embarrassed to do so. Instead its easier to cling to animals that are incapable of complex emotions. I cant think of a single situation, that an animal would be better suited for then a responsive thinking reasoning emotionally complex and vested human being.
Teaching a child caring, responsibility, and compassion towards an animal is a nice opportunity to learn. Those same chances are afforded to parents over and over even without animals.
A human being is better suited in any circumstance you can place an animal.
@ Stephen - Your way of thinking on this matter seems so narrow it can almost be described as rediculous. I like you Stephen but come on... give me a break.
Pet ownership is not a human right. It should be a privilege and illegal without proper qualifications, just like all other privileges. The situation today is that we have left a number of sentient beings we can communicate with to a capitalist market.
There is a huge difference between pets and animals. Some animals we can communicate directly with and control, such as felines, canines, equines (and to a lesser extent bovines and goat-antelopes) because humans have lived symbiotic with these closely for thousands of years. We have domesticated them to lesser and larger degrees.
Feral animals instinctively run away (rats) or attack us (bears), a number attack us without will (jellyfish), and some ignores us until we provoke them sufficiently (spiders, bees). Feral animals are our natural enemies and can be killed on sight without remorse for self defense purposes only. If edible, we should consume them. Because this will imply taking out most of the predators in our immediate area, humans have to compensate for these and quell the flocks. If not, the population becomes unstably high which usually ends in devastation. This is why some Bambi's must die by human hand.
Those animals we choose to share a home with are the pets and these become part of the household. They are usually also taken out of the food system and buried when dead (a very important ritual to humans). Being a pet is slavery to humans and there are stringent requirements to becoming a worthy slave owner.
Yes. If that is the major aim of dog ownership then a dog is not required. One can have healthy active joyous lives without having a dog. However, if one is unable to acheive this without a dog, a psychiatrist should prescribe one and breeders should choose the optimal dog to suit your needs.
Incarcerating clearly free willed animals in houses because they are cute and friendly is not a good reason to get a pet. And they do not make for good children's toys or weapons either.
@ Arcus - My dogs are never incarcerated. They have people with them 24 hours a day, 7 days a week except for the rare occasion where all the people in the house go out at the same time and the dogs can handle it, trust me.
They have a dog door and go outside to run around in the very large back yard with lots of trees and stuff any time they feel like it (except in the middle of the night because we have coyotes and the dogs sleep all night anyway).
They get walked every day by me. I agree that many people should not be owning pets if the pets are not treated well. That's why I never owned a dog before. I did not have a life style that could accommodate one appropriately. Instead, I did volunteer work at the county animal shelter and at a doggie day care center.
But now that I can accommodate dog ownership, I have dogs. Actually I have never technically owned a dog my whole life, and I am 50 now. The dogs I keep referring to as "my dogs" actually belong to my next-door neighbor but we have a mutual beneficial arrangement in terms of caring for the dogs and looking out for their welfare.
One can have healthy joyous activities without having a child too. So what is your point? I don't get you at all. One can have healthy joyous activities without a lot of things. One can have healthy joyous activities without their nagging mother-in-laws too. Again, what is your point?
In my opinioin, there is absolutely nothing wrong with a human owning a dog when the relationship is mutually gratifying. I have no idea how you come to a different conclustion. I'm not going to hold it against you because I have a couple friends that feel the same way you do. Though I do not understand where they get this attitude, they have good qualities that far outweight this negative quality, and I let it slide.
I make sure my dogs are happy and I know they are happy because they do the waggy tail thing all the time and make the happy doggy noise a lot, and are active and curious and I can look into their eyes and tell when they are happy or not (most of the time). Once, when one of my dogs became very ill, I could discern the sadness in his facial expression and eyes. When he got better, his happy face and eye expression returned.
I'm glad the president of the world is not you Arucs lol.