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Why live in deliberate darkness?

Last week I talked about a syndrome called denialism in which people deny whatever does not fit in with their indulgences, or makes them feel uncomfortable. Paramount among the things that people deny is that meat is made from raising and brutally killing animals. Because this is morally indefensible from any point of view or religion, we resort to moral relativism or changing the rules to suit our purpose.  So while we would not kill or cook our dog, we yet brutalize and cook other animals. Pigs are smarter than dogs, but we confine them in a pen where they gnaw the cage and weep and scream like babies as they’re skinned and scalded alive during slaughter. Many of us have deep love, and sympathy for companion animals and wildlife, but we cut off that sympathy for farm animals. How? Through denial.

Turning vegan has been shown to be the most effective way an average person can reduce their impact on climate change but the future seems irrelevant compared to the combined rush of fat, salt, and sugar that meat delivers. Even Al Gore , the climate crusader eats meat. When questioned, he simply smiles.

Why is it so hard to make a simple dietary change? Why are people in denial about meat ? Short answer: emotion is more powerful than logic. And food is deeply embedded in our emotional core.  All cultures surreptitiously promote eating meat by using it as well as other terms (pork, bacon, veal) as a pseudonym for animal carcasses. This enables denial – a peculiar  state in which people simultaneously know and not know the truth.

In a study  on the psychology of meateaters,  Carol Norton of  LSE’s  Social Psychology Institute found " Denial is always partial; people  register enough information to trigger their denial strategies. These include avoiding or rejecting the truth, attacking the source of information, blaming others, seeking alternative information or forgetting. When confronted with the truth, their denial strategies rush to restore the illusion and their faces physically contort as if they need to spit out something unpalatable.

It is easy to be a denialist today because there is little room left for uncertainty and lack of knowledge. The information is there , you either accept or deny it. Martin McKee of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine  has identified six common denialist tactics:

* 1. Allege that there’s a conspiracy. Claim that scientific consensus has arisen through collusion rather than the accumulation of evidence.

* 2. Use fake experts to support your story. Denial always starts with pseudo-experts with some credentials that create a facade of credibility .

* 3. Trumpet whatever appears to support your case and ignore or rubbish the rest. Carry on trotting out supportive evidence even after it has been discredited.

* 4. Create impossible standards for your opponents. Claim that the existing evidence is not good enough and demand more. If your opponent comes up with evidence you have demanded, move the goalposts.

* 5. Use logical fallacies. Hitler opposed smoking, so anti-smoking measures are Nazi. Deliberately misrepresent the scientific consensus and then knock down your straw man.

* 6. Manufacture doubt. Falsely portray scientists as so divided that basing policy on their advice would be premature. Insist "both sides" must be heard and cry censorship when "dissenting" arguments or experts are rejected.

What role does denial play in your eating of meat? See if any of these sound familiar:

Disassociation: " When I go into the butcher’s shop, I can’t see the lamb or ham  as something living. It’s like another vegetable only  tastier". Most people who buy meat do not connect eating meat with killing animals. Bengalis actually refer to fish as Jal Turai—or sea vegetables!  The denial of animal suffering rests upon keeping the slaughterhouse distant, and hidden. No meat company allows filming of what goes on.  People are happy to go to fruit orchards and vegetable gardens but no consumers ever visit a slaughterhouse. Children cannot associate McNuggets with the "cute" little chick they see on TV.

Distortion using emotion and bad logic:  "Hitler was a vegetarian"  (Not true) So ? This is commonly used as a weapon to beat down people who speak against the torture of animals. Gandhiji was also vegetarian. Does that make the two similar?  

Diversion: "Over population is the real issue. I’d prefer to work toward human rights in the developing world. So many girls have disappeared , we should look at violence against women first. ".

Defence through  Offence:  "Plant based agriculture is also bad for the environment. Besides plants also have life.  Why do you use computers made from metal which has to be mined and plastic? You contribute to the downfall of the environment just as much as anyone eating a kabab. If you want to save the  environmental go and live in the desert or the forests with nothing but the natural surroundings. Bet you’ll be longing for that kabab ".

Complicate the Issue: "I’m always wary of viewing climate change as a matter of individual consumer choices. Ultimately, these are political, societal problems, We’re doomed if we view climate change as a one problem to be focused on to the neglect of the other economic and environmental and security problems."

  Dishonest language: "It’s a meat animal". Referring to an animal as it and labelling animals as products (pork/beef)  obviates the need to think of meat as an animal  that was terrified before death, struggled during its butchering, was skinned, bled , and chopped up. .  

 Window Dressing: "Organic meat/ free range meat is fine so I won’t cut out meat but I’ll buy from a local butcher that gets their meat and eggs from local farms. In any case I eat only chicken as their production harms the environment less.  Changes, no matter how small, eventually will impact the environment for the good if enough people make them. Just be happy that people are trying."

Do-Gooding:  " Farmed animals are bred to be eaten and therefore eating meat is good for them as otherwise they would die out" . So you’re killing animals in order to keep them alive so you can continue to kill them.  Truly twisted!

Willed ignorance: "I’ve never thought about it." Most people who eat meat are so terrified of the reality  that they refuse to hear what happens to animals before they show up on our plate.  They will not listen, they will not read or look at labels.  Like parents who ignore their son’s drug habit or a man his wife’s affairs. To live in deliberate darkness is of moral cowardice and laziness.

Character assassination : " Those who oppose meat are terrorists.  They are smug self –righteous intolerable bores.  They are arrogant and elitist. It’s their ultra rigidity that blocks any progress. "  

Habit: "Why should I inconvenience myself? I want my life to roll along just the way it is.". Many meateaters genuinely love animals more than eating meat but fear making any change.  It’s not the taste they fear losing , it’s the habit.  Most of our moral judgements merely justify automatic judgements made without conscious awareness. Such shortcuts ease our mental workload but mean that our decisions are less well considered than we imagine.  The judgement is made through a backward process : I eat meat , I must like meat more than animals."  Meat  has not been around forever.  90% of the hunter-gatherers’ diet was roots and berries gathered by the women, with the remaining 10% being the occasional meat scored by the men. Till recently, meat was hardly a staple of our diet.

What’s the Use: By eating less meat and driving less, aren’t we just making those activities cheaper for the glutton with  a limo and a beef-n-ham-heavy diet?

How many more denials have you heard ? If it’s not on this list , let me know and I’ll add it to the many ways people fool themselves in order to continue killing animals.

To join the animal welfare movement contact gandhim@nic.in

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