How to Recognize a Bullshitter, pt. 2

In a previous post, I explained how arguments against veganism often pit the speaker’s ideal animal agriculture system against veganism, allowing them to argue that the immense suffering of livestock animals on factory farms isn’t the way animal agriculture has to be. In doing so, they are moving the goalpost from a question of what’s right to do today with what may be right in a parallel non-vegan universe in which the horrors of factory farming are somehow nonexistent.

In this post, I will explain an additional nugget of BS that I come across frequently.

Veganism is a really uncomfortable topic for most people, and nobody likes discomfort. This causes people to reflexively invent arguments, and mostly bad ones, though occasionally people bring up some good points. But they’re mostly extremely faulty, but at least for the moment, it works to alleviate the dissonance between their beliefs about themselves — I’m a good person who does not cause unnecessary suffering — and their actions — I consume meat and animal products which are the result of unnecessary suffering.

I suspect this is the reason vegans are almost universally detested — our presence makes people uncomfortable, because our proximity elicits this cognitive dissonance, even if we aren’t saying anything.

One way to identify an argument invented on the spot is to consider whether or not the person really believes what they say. We can do this by testing whether the argument applies universally — often times, arguments confabulated for the sole purpose of dismissing veganism are conveniently meant to apply strictly to the domain in question.

For example, let’s say the person makes the claim that because eating food is required for survival, we cannot make moral judgements based on someone’s dietary habits. Food is amoral.

I’ve seen this argument trotted out convincingly, as a sort of trump card. I suspect many vegans don’t know how to respond to this.

Does the person actually believe food is amoral? We can ask them how they feel about other cultures eating dogs — are they morally outraged by such acts? Seeing the writing on the wall, I’ve noticed people claim that they are not morally outraged by dog meat, but more often than not such a response is self-evidently bullshit.

We can further test their commitment to such a claim by asking how they feel about cannibalism. Do they morally object to humans eating other humans? This is much more difficult to answer in the negative while maintaining some semblance of sanity; people often realize that tacitly accepting cannibalism means justifying murder so long as the carcass is eaten afterwards. That opens a whole can of worms, but more importantly, it reveals the bullshit behind the original claim that “food is amoral.”

In addition to testing whether someone’s stated conviction applies universally or has been crafted specifically for a counterargument, bullshit detecting can also take the form of testing for apathy-trolling. Apathy-trolling is when you’d like others to drop their moral convictions by pointing to other supposed moral outrages, all the while being outraged by nothing yourself.

An example of this is the non-argument against veganism that “plants feel pain.” Despite the ubiquity of this claim, there are precisely zero plants-rights activists. The purpose is to convince you to drop your animal rights campaigning because, by not eating meat and animal products — and by advocating that others follow suit — you’re killing more plants, and plants don’t want to die either. Never mind the fact that a vegan diet kills fewer plants, or that plants don’t have brains and are thus incapable of any experience whatsoever, the point is to get you to stop talking.

So if someone comes to you with an argument not meant to be tested for consistency, or whose purpose is merely to get you to shut up by deflecting to other things, your BS detector should sound off. You should test the universality of their argument, lest others believe it to be reasonable, and you should test their commitment to the supposed moral outrage they just raised. Chances are they’ll fall flat on their face.


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