If you’ve engaged in arguments online with non-vegans, you know how they go. If you’re replying to a comment dismissing veganism because “protein,” and you thoughtfully respond to their apparent concerns, you can expect the next reply to be entirely irrelevant to their first. Anti-vegans have a set of arguments they like to employ — protein, plants have feelings, too much land, cows will go extinct, etc. — and they love to quickly cycle to each one in turn once the previous one is sufficiently challenged, until one sticks.
This is because the claims that supposedly provide the foundation for their anti-veganism is a house of cards. Even if each and every card they pull is weak, and is exposed as such, it has all of the other cards to support it. Together, they form a structure that passes psychologically as a set of legitimate arguments against veganism.
I don’t say this lightly. There are few things more tempting than painting your opponents as simply wrong, their arguments as simply flawed, and their reasoning as simply impoverished. In fact, I’ve written previously about how, as vegans, we must listen to anti-vegan arguments so that we are prepared to rebut them. If we don’t listen to the other side, not only will we not be aware of the shortcomings of our own arguments — and thus unable to respond to challenges to them — but we also won’t even be aware of how good our arguments actually are.
He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that. – John Stuart Mill
But it’s precisely because of this due diligence that I feel confident in stating there are very few, if any, arguments against veganism that hold water. We can therefore afford to be bullish. (But always remain kind!)
When engaged in a discussion about veganism — particularly online — take seriously each and every point your interlocutor makes. If they bring up protein, for example, tell them how plants have plenty of protein, that there’s a significant misconception around how much protein people actually need, and so on. Should they move along to a different argument without addressing any of your points, bring it back: “Do you see why the idea that vegans can’t get enough protein is flawed?”
You will force them to either say no — in which case they will have to justify their continued skepticism around protein and veganism — or they will say yes. If they say yes, something magical happens: they lose that card. Given that they have become aware of their misconceptions on this topic, they can no longer deploy that argument. The house of cards weakens. (Of course, we should do the same: if someone provides a thoughtful reply to a point we make, we should honestly engage with it and not simply move along to a different pro-vegan argument.)
Ideally, this process would repeat until there are no cards left. This sort of discussion, however, can be absolutely exhausting. Your interlocutor may be resistant to your willingness to carry on arguing each of their points. They may in some ways be aware of what you are doing, and dip out at the first available opportunity.
Nevertheless, this tactic is worthwhile: if you do manage to revoke a card or two, you can sleep soundly knowing that in future discussions that person will be unable to (honestly) attempt to use it. Perhaps in those future discussions, more cards will be lost. Eventually, there may be nothing left for them to do except admit defeat and go vegan. You may never know it, but you’ll have done your part to make that happen.
Such is the process of making the world a better place for humans, for animals, and for the environment.
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