The skeptic community and the vegan community ought to have substantial overlap. Skeptics are usually humanists, utilitarians and inclined to question tradition. They have a scientific mindset and recognize evolution, which places human and non-human animals on the same family tree. What is disappointing is that those same people that hold themselves up as paragons of reason demonstrate the same reflexive unwillingness to engage with veganism as the rest of the populace. Such is the case with Matt Dillahunty, radio host of “The Atheist Experience,” debater and public speaker.
In a way, this development is a positive sign. It means that veganism is relevant enough to be reviled. It is encouraging to be hated rather than ignored (though please don’t take that to mean “any PR is good PR” as some vegan groups do). It’s also worth pointing out that Matt Dillahunty’s brush with veganism was prompted by CosmicSkeptic’s thoughtful take on veganism and their subsequent conversation about it.
Dillahunty stumbles through their extended conversation on the topic, admitting of many contradictions without seeming to acknowledge them, changing topics frequently, and pontificating about the social contract. The central point that CosmicSkeptic keeps pressing him is that he supports factory farmed meat with some consistency through his food purchases, yet this is against his values. He stated strongly that he is “on the record” as not supporting factory farming. The core of this argument is quite simple. The rest is just distraction.
He says that not all farms are factory farms, but is pressed to admit that the vast majority of meat is factory farmed. He says that Singer exaggerates the degree to which all pain is worthy of equal moral consideration. CosmicSkeptic does not point out that even if a cow’s pain is worth 1/16th that of a human’s we are still committing an enormous wrongdoing, but he perhaps should have. He prevaricates over what his diet is and whether consuming crab is cruel or harmful to the environment. He evades the question of whether he is in the habit of consuming factory farmed meat. He repeats the tired canard that a vegan world would be terrible for all of the cows, chickens and pigs of the world. And that combine harvesters for vegetables are a deathblow to the argument for veganism. This is a summary of just a small juncture of the conversation. Needless to say, it’s a frustrated conversation for anyone close to the dialogue on veganism.
Matt Dillahunty would like to be classified in the same breath as the other so called four horseman of the new atheism (Sam Harris, Dan Dennett, Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins), but his only real claim to fame is debating religious zealots on a radio show. He did not earn fans for careful reasoning and open dialogue. It’s for presenting the kind of insult comedy show that allows his fellow atheists to cheer him on as he takes down the Christian fundamentalists. People watch him for the same reason they might watch a Ben Shapiro clip titled “Ben Shapiro DESTROYS triggered libs.” Dillahunty fit in with the culture wars of the Bush years when Christian fundamentalism felt like the great bad guy of culture. He is an also-ran in that movement that has largely left him behind.