The “all or nothing” argument is strange and ridiculous, but one that seems to be cropping up everywhere lately.
I've heard various versions of this stance over the years, but the latest one was that vegans exploit the hard work of bees because bees pollinate fruits and vegetables. So by eating fruits and vegetables, we are taking advantage of the bees and their hard work, and in some way causing suffering to their lives.
Another argument that was put to me in a comment recently was that vegans are hypocritical because they use smart phones and wear clothing made by cheap/child labour in foreign countries.
The basic premise of the “all or nothing” argument is this: if exploitation, violence or suffering exists somewhere in the world, and you are directly or indirectly involved, then screw it, you might as well just accept it all and enjoy its spoils. The fact that it exists justifies causing suffering and harm to others, because no matter what you do in life, you will hurt something, somewhere, either emotionally or physically.
What I find really strange about the varying forms of this argument is that people seemingly don't think before they speak.
One thing I am very passionate about is the failure of the education system to teach our children critical thinking skills. This “all or nothing” argument, in opposition to veganism — that we hear from adults — demonstrates that the education system is failing very badly.
I am not exempt from this. I had a terrible education. I struggle with this as an excuse though, as we all have the ability to self-educate and expand our minds.
While I find the stupidity somewhat amusing, I also find it quite sad that we live in a society where so many people can assert this argument and actually believe that it stands as credible opposition to wanting to reduce unnecessary suffering in the world.
It really makes me wonder whether people actually think much at all. When a person comes up with a counter-argument like this, do they not think through the potential pitfalls in their argument before they enter a debate?
But you step on bugs on the pavement all the time, so you're just a hypocrite!
Putting Vegans on a Pedestal
Is it that people are just misinformed about veganism?
Perhaps people make these silly arguments in the belief that vegans are self-defining as perfect human beings.
Perhaps they think that the goal of being vegan is to be morally flawless, and because of that, if a vegan steps on a insect, or inadvertently causes suffering in any way to a living organism, they are automatically a hypocrite and their mission in life is void.
At this point, the vegan might as well just go back to eating meat and wearing animal products. There is absolutely no point in trying to be a vegan – because you will cause harm in one way or another.
If this is the case, people are misunderstanding the point of veganism, and misappropriating the intention.
So, for the record, let's quickly cover the definition of veganism:
Veganism is a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.
Essentially, the idea is to, as far as is possible and practical, reduce unnecessary suffering and exploitation to animals. For me personally, this extends to all sentient beings, which means humans too.
It's hardly an extreme position, is it?
Where possible, you are simply avoiding causing harm. Simple.
The notion that killing a mosquito to protect your baby from getting bitten in a country with rampant malaria invalidates your veganism, and if you do you should instantly order a steak and renounce your position, is just plain ridiculous.
If we lived our lives by this ‘all or nothing' notion, which seemingly some people do (hugely worrying) we would be living in a world of abject violence.
I think some people are misinformed, and most likely obtain all their information about veganism from Internet memes. But undoubtedly there are those who deliberately put vegans on a pedestal so that they can flippantly knock them down with lame rebuttals.
Vegans Are Killers Too!
I grow my own vegetables, and last week I accidentally crushed a small snail while weeding.
Anyone who does a spot of gardening knows this can happen.
So, because I killed this snail, should I give up my life of choosing not to unnecessarily initiate violence on other beings?
Should I just go and lop off my neighbour's dog's head and cook it for dinner?
Should I go and beat the crap out of that 17-year-old boy I saw drop litter outside the shop yesterday?
Should I go fox hunting tonight?
Or perhaps I should fly to Canada and club some baby seals to death just for the sake of it, or maybe trap a coyote and then shoot it in the head to make a Canada Goose jacket?
All because I accidentally crushed a baby snail!
It kind of makes sense to me though.
Living by the ‘all or nothing' reasoning makes it easy to rationalise the fact that 800 million people are starving, that 1-2 acres of rainforest are being chopped down every minute to make grazing land for cattle, that coral reefs are dying and ocean dead zones appearing, that the atmosphere is suffocated by greenhouse emissions…
“Oh well, we can't do anything about it, so “f***i*, let's just destroy it all”. With the caveat, “As long as I'm alright”, of course.
And that caveat makes sense too, because the one time I see people get interested in the veganism/a plant-based diet is when they realise that it can help them with a specific health issue.
What sort of destructive approach to life is this?
Maybe I should just accept it all too. As one friend said to me; “Humans are inherently selfish, you're fighting a losing battle”.
Why Hate on Something so Positive?
I have never heard a credible argument against veganism, but still, the hardest thing I find to wrap my head around is the fact that instead of looking at veganism as a positive thing, people will go out of their way to mock, insult and find flaws.
Instead of doing some research themselves into the abhorrent crimes committed against millions of animals on a daily basis, they instead choose to spend their time trolling on social media and getting so very happy when they think they have got one over on a vegan.
Instead of seeing someone who is making a stand against cruelty, exploitation and suffering as a potentially good person, as someone who wants to change the world and make it a better place to live, with less suffering and violence, they would rather create animosity and find fault with that person and their actions.
Instead of seeing someone's courage for not accepting the status quo and going against the grain, by standing up and saying; “No, this is unnecessary and unacceptable, and we need to make a change”, they just see a threat to their “right” to eat bacon.
This is a person who is trying to create a better world for you and your children.
This is a person who is looking at what the science says about the animal agriculture industry and its treatment of animals and destruction to the environment, and doing their best to wake people up.
This is a person who is saying; “I'm going to proactively do something about this. I am going to change the way I live to benefit the non-human sentient beings that we share this planet with, and reduce the destruction that animal agriculture is causing to our planet”.
Moreover, in many cases, vegans (those who eat a whole foods, plant-based diet) are promoting a healthier diet for our children, many of whom are suffering from diseases and conditions scientifically-proven to be linked to poor nutrition and the consumption of animal proteins.
And, get this: a plant-based diet is the only diet capable of reversing the most likely cause of early death in the people you love most!
That's heart disease.
So why the hell would you not be all for that?
It is absolutely baffling as to why people would pull out any old ridiculous, flawed rebuttal to try and discredit or facetiously oppose something that is inherently trying to do something positive, and would ultimately benefit us all.
This is not a religious ideology, or a cult. This is real. It is not fairy-tale. This is really happening, now.
This is about improving our reality: our health, the welfare of animals, the air we breathe, the very planet that supports our existence.
A species should want to preserve its environment and do everything it can to thrive and survive.
Some argue that if we educate the next generation in a more a more compassionate way (a more “vegan way”), educating them to think critically about the decisions they make and how they affect the environment, other humans, and non-human sentient beings (animals), there would be less war, famine and unnecessary violence and suffering in the world.
Not all vegans would agree that this would necessarily be the case, but this nonsensical ‘all or nothing' argument, which seems to have become a standard rebuttal for veganism, leads me to believe that this theory is quite feasible.
We are programmed to believe that certain animals must be treated in this way to provide a food source. In the same way, we are programmed to believe that war/foreign interventions are an inevitable part of life, that democracy is the result of a two-party election, that burning fossil fuels is necessary, etc.
From a young age, we are fed a narrative for a number of important issues. This narrative becomes so engrained in our psyche that when presented with contradictory information that may prove our beliefs to be wrong we become anxious and defensive.
People react differently: Some people shy away, others lash out, and a few will be positively triggered to investigate the information in a quest for truth. The latter are generally those who change the world for the better, but not before they are ridiculed and vehemently opposed.
This is why it takes substantial change so long to occur, because people resist any information, no matter how credible, if it contradicts the narrative they were raised upon.
I mean, come on, we're still driving around in petrol and diesel cars, despite the damage science shows us it's doing. Meanwhile, the ‘climate change hoax' movement is getting bigger!
This is why people come up with such ridiculous opposition to veganism; because they are automatically triggered to defend a belief they have held since a very young age.
Most people don't know why they hold this belief, but it's what they have always followed. Anything outside of this belief feels uncomfortable and they resist it.
Moreover, the majority hold this belief, so they take comfort in social approval and defend it on that basis.
Perhaps it is the case that you only see these excuses/counter-arguments as ridiculous once you have freed your mind from the narrative. I'm quite sure I have been guilty of making ridiculous opposing statements for the same reasons. Perhaps at one time I said the same in relation to veganism.
This is something psychologist Melanie Joy discusses in the book Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows.
She notes that:
Violence against certain species of animals is normalised in childhood. We are raised in an invisible belief system that shapes our perception of the meat, eggs, and dairy we eat, so that we love some animals and eat others without really knowing or acknowledging why. This “Carnism” is sustained by complex psychological and social mechanisms that cause us to unknowingly act against our core values, our own interests and the interests of others.
The information put forth by vegans causes cognitive dissonance. It creates a mental conflict as a person's beliefs or assumptions are contradicted by new information.
When someone is unravelling the truth about your biology and nutritional requirements and it contradicts everything you are conditioned to believe, it becomes uncomfortable and you start grabbing at straws.
The unease or tension that the conflict arouses in people is relieved by one of several defensive maneuvers: they reject, explain away, or avoid the new information; persuade themselves that no conflict really exists; reconcile the differences; or resort to any other defensive means of preserving stability or order in their conceptions of the world and of themselves.
Suffering Is Inevitable – But That's No Excuse
The reality is that suffering in life is inevitable.
Sometimes we do have to choose the lesser of two evils, and suffering must occur, either way.
From the day we are born we are dying. So inevitably, the majority of us will experience illness, old age, cognitive decline, and unfortunately some form of debilitating disease as we age.
Animals are not exempt from this.
And yes, we will all accidentally kill animals.
We will all kill a slug, a snail, a mosquito. Some of us might run over a fox, cat or dog.
And yes, in the event that I was stuck on a desert island, with no food source except chickens and wild pigs, I would be the first to kill one and feed myself and anyone else stuck on the island.
This is the case in point, and what the ‘all or nothing' counter-argument just doesn't consider: Suffering is inevitable, but that doesn't justify initiating violence and suffering on another being.
And we are not talking about a one-off, or even momentary and necessary act of violence: the animal agriculture industry perpetually exploits animals by selectively breeding them to the detriment of their health; imprisons them in an unnatural environment; feeds them an unnatural diet; and either enslaves them for their secretions, or transports them against their will to a slaughterhouse to murder them in an undignified and evil way.
And people support this. Why?
I get the cognitive dissonance. I get the knee-jerk scrambling for a counter-argument. I know how uncomfortable it is to look in the mirror and realise that you have been part of something so evil for so long – I've been there.
But as an adult, you know right from wrong. We raise our kids to defend themselves, sure, but not to bully, hit, kick, maim and kill unnecessarily.
If you have to kill in self-defence, or to eat to survive, fair enough.
We know that we can live perfectly healthy lives on a plant-based diet, while reducing this unnecessary suffering to animals. This is also a much better choice for the planet that our children will inherit and live and breathe on.
Just because suffering exists, doesn't mean we should create more of it. We should work to reduce it, in the same way we do our best to reduce the suffering people experience in old age.
If you don't give a crap about animals and the pain they suffer and you just want more meat in your gob, well, you have that choice.
But please, before you open your mouth and form an opposition to veganism, please think for a moment about the credibility of your argument: whether it brings value to the debate, what the scientific consensus is, whether it actually makes any sense. Explore the opinion in your mind before you write it down and comment on Facebook, or say it to someone’s face-to-face; or worse, teach your children such stupidity.