How to Recognize a Bullshitter, pt. 1

I like to think I have a pretty good bullshit detector, but sometimes I notice something new. This causes me to remember that my BS detection skills aren’t perfect. I recently took note of something that happens in conversations about veganism that I had not picked up on previously.

If you’ve engaged in conversations about animal agriculture, you’ve probably found others weaving idyllic narratives of cows, pigs, and chickens roaming free on expansive pastures, living out their natural lives up to the very moment of death. This sort of fantasy typically includes phrases like “small farm” and “humane slaughter.”

We know this is nonsense. There are livestock animals that one could arguably describe as living such a life, but the chance that a given hunk of meat was once part of a happy creature is virtually nil. Moreover, raising any sizable portion of the animal agriculture industry in such conditions is resource-prohibitive: there is not enough land.

But some sneakier anti-vegan commenters take it one step further than pretending that livestock animals are living out wonderful lives. Rather than stake the shaky claim that the animals are happy, they point out that our current animal agriculture system is not the only possible one — we could have more pasture-raised meat, we could have bigger cages for hens, we could increase the size of gestation crates, or do away with them altogether. In short, we could have the idyllic system others pretend we already have. Because we don’t have to go vegan in order to treat animals well, these people seem to believe, veganism has no merit.

Let’s take a step back.

Veganism is about the ethical ramifications of what we consume. When we’re thinking about what to have for dinner, our choices range from more ethical to less ethical. Any given food might be in a grey area, with its position on the spectrum yet to be determined. But it remains a fact that it falls somewhere between these two poles.

When we’re thinking of the ethical ramifications of our choices, we’re necessarily discussing what we should do given the options that are actually available. So when people start rejecting veganism on the basis that this dichotomy between contributing to animal suffering or abstaining from meat and animal products altogether might be different in an alternate universe, they’re just trying to avoid the problem.

It makes about as little sense as paying $20 for a parking spot when there’s another one equidistant from your destination for half the price, but you chose the more expensive option because you’re waxing philosophical about how wonderful free parking would be.

Notice when people are “refuting” your arguments by reverting to a discussion of an ideal world — and pull them back to reality.


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