Vegetarianism, Skeptics and Cognitive Dissonance

We all have blind spots in our thinking, and sometimes they can be pretty interesting. Other times, not so much. I’ve noticed that when I post an article about vegetarianism on facebook, a number of people can’t help themselves but make ignorant comments, people who I’ve had fairly informed conversations with on other topics. I’m going to use this space to call out that behaviour, and I’ll be blocking out the identities of the people involved (because it’s not about them, but the nonsense they were spouting).

The purpose of this post is to draw attention to the derailing strategies employed by people who really don’t want to talk about the issue at hand. They could simply not respond at all, of course, but dismissing a topic with snark (and then focusing on the response to the snark) is psychologically comforting way to deal with an uncomfortable topic.

I had posted (to my own timeline, no-one was tagged) what I thought was a somewhat interesting report on a scientific article on how people rationalise two competing beliefs/feelings: 1) meat is tasty and 2) hurting animals is bad. The report was titled “The 4 Ways People Rationalize Eating Meat“. Now I’m fairly (if not completely) committed to vegetarianism, and have been for quite some time as I read a fantastic philosophy paper (“Puppies, Pigs and People (PDF)” by Alastair Norcross) that forced me to confront that conflict head on.

What I find ironic is that people who might otherwise post thoughtful comments instead posted dross like the following (I’ve colour-coded them):

Orange 1

So Orange kicked off the discussion by not reading the article, which clearly states

“For their study, Piazza and his team added a fourth N — one that’s a bit obvious in retrospect. Eating meat is “nice.” That is — and pardon the complicated academic jargon — hamburgers taste good.”

Orange 2

Orange, super skeptic that they are, decided to pretend that they were unfamiliar with the concept of “suffering” in order to avoid taking a position. This is a pretty standard move by people in this community: it’s far easier to put the other person on the spot with an irrelevant derail than it is to authentically engage in a conversation. At this point, given their preference for trolling over conversation, I blocked them. But Orange wasn’t finished.

Orange 3

While Orange appears to give lip service to the concept of ‘boundaries’, their need to get one last dig in, of course, overrides this. Orange switched to alternate account in order to bypass the block. Notice that “the same level I hold myself” seems to mean 1) trolling, and 2) derailing a topic in order to avoid having an authentic conversation. It should go without saying that I’m pretty happy not being at “that same level”.


Meanwhile, Green also seems to have commented without either reading the article, or without any understanding of the nature of ‘a moral quandary’. (But points for using jargon, I guess?)

Green 2In the hopes of actually having a conversation, I asked Green the same question that I asked Orange. Green, like Orange, decided to avoid the question. Perhaps if people want to involve themselves in a conversation, they should actually focus on the topic at hand? In the interest of bringing Orange back on topic:

Green 2, Blue


Green’s response was basically “I have no real knowledge of biology, nor am I going to even bother to google this”. This would seem to be a poor way to approach a conversation

Blue jumps in here, declaring out loud “Magnets! How do they work?”. Again, some simple googling would quickly show the idea that “cucumbers (…) have a nervous system to rival our own” to be simply false.

Pink RedBlackCyan

And finally the peanut gallery. While the fourth commenter may be correct about the history (I don’t know enough to comment), it’s irrelevant: we are no longer in that situation. We can now easily maintain a nutritionally sufficient plant-based diet. This is part of the original article.

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One response to “Vegetarianism, Skeptics and Cognitive Dissonance”

  1. Sorry I’m late to the party, my RSS reader (feedly) wasn’t tracking your blog for some reason. I just got the last three months worth of posts tonight.

    I’m in the rare position of being raised vegetarian – rare for a North American, at least – so right now I’m vegetarian more out of habit than anything else. I tried meat for a few years, didn’t really care for it, never learned to cook it.

    I do think that there are at least two groups that can still justify eating meat as a necessity: northerners and the allergic. When a loaf of bread costs $15 in Iqaluit, I can’t complain about them hunting for sustenance. And I know a few people with severe allergies, sometimes to multiple staple foods, like Wheat and Soy.

    With that said, there’s no need for meat for the rest of us, and anyone who claims otherwise has somehow overlooked the entire Indian subcontinent.

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