I missed this article by Jeffrey Kluger a few weeks ago. I figure that it's because the writing at Time Magazine has been generally unimpressive over the years and that even if the piece had shown up in my news feed, my eyes may have glazed over a little and I may have moved on to the next item. It caught my attention this morning on the Gary Francione: The Abolitionist Approach to Animal Rights Facebook page, where Prof. Francione had included a link and brief commentary in response to it. The general consensus by all, myself included, was that it's garbage journalism at its worst.
According to the Wikipedia entry on him, Kluger is a senior writer with Time. He's taught journalism at New York University, he's written for magazines like Science Digest and he's written several science-related books, including one eventually used by Ron Howard to form the basis for his Apollo 13 film. A bit more digging, however, brings up that he was lambasted just two years ago when he wrote a piece on the Higgs Boson discovery and several science writers immediately fingered it as being "riddled" with errors.
Knowing this makes the poor quality of "Don't Feel Guilty About Eating Animals" a bit more understandable, if not more acceptable. On his Facebook page, Francione summed it up by saying that Kluger "argues that we are hardwired to justify immoral behavior and, therefore, we should feel free to engage in immoral behavior". Basically, Kluger's piece is about a study showing that if people do things that make them uncomfortable (e.g. things which they feel or know are wrong to do), they will try to justify it. According to Kluger, this fact in turn warrants that they continue to engage in the behaviour they've attempted to justify.
Kluger's opening sentence itself is scientifically wrong. He writes: "Like it or not, you're a carnivore." Ask any nutritionist or dietitian, general practitioner or high school biology teacher and they'll set you straight: Humans are omnivores. This trendy use of "carnivore" as a buzzword in mainstream media articles ranting against veganism or animal rights has really gotten old. Kluger then goes on to say that if a cow wanted to -- and could -- eat you, she would, as if the fact that if a cow suddenly became a carnivore and might eat you is justification right off the bat for the continued human consumption of cows. (It's basically a spin on the whole "Lions eat other animals, therefore we should do what lions do" line of reasoning.)
How many logical fallacies and falsehoods can one man stuff into a single paragraph, you've always wondered? Now you know:
The hard truth is, we eat meat, we love meat, and our bodies are built to digest meat. It would be nice if we could pick the stuff off the trees, but we can’t. So apologies to goats and pigs and cows and chickens and fish and lobster and shrimp and all the other scrumptious stuff that flies and walks and swims, but you’re goin’ down.Just because we do something doesn't justify continuing to do it. "Loving" the taste of something (e.g. cigars, handfuls of sugar, antifreeze, etc.) doesn't justify continuing to consume it. As for picking the stuff on trees? I'm guessing that Kluger has never eaten a fruit or nut in his life.
Kluger basically says that in response to the guilt humans may feel as the result of their consuming animal products that they have two options: He mocks the first, which he says is to go vegan ("try that for a week") and suggests that the second is to morally absolve ourselves of wrongdoing -- to convince ourselves that we're still nice folks even if we continue to engage in behaviour we know is unethical. He brings up animal intelligence as a means to shrug off our exploitation, citing the deadbeat dad of the animal rights movement, Peter Singer, as having told him that "there’s very little likelihood that oysters, mussels and clams have any consciousness, so it’s defensible to eat them.” History has shown, however, that Singer is no advocate for other animals. For Kluger to cite him as a sort of authoritative voice to add weight to his own argument that it's alright to eat some of them? It's sort of laughable. At least it's laughable to anyone who has kept up with reactions in animal rights circles to Singer's blatherings in recent years.
Kluger uses this as a springboard to further discuss animal intelligence (calling the chicken "as sublimely dumb an animal as ever lived") and uses the terms "intelligent", "mindful" and "conscious" interchangeably. He writes that most people agree that "the more mindful an animal is, the less defensible it is to eat it" and that, the more one tends to eat a certain species, the lower one tends to rate that species' "consciousness". Basically, our perceptions alter -- whether consciously or unconsciously -- so that we are able to shrug off what we might otherwise deem wrongful behaviour. This isn't really rocket science, though. It's hardly ground-breaking news. Anyone who's ever interacted with a child who's done something bad and who attempts to make excuses for it gets this. Heck, anyone who works in addiction counseling sure as heck gets it, too. It's cognitive dissonance and compartmentalization at its finest. We try to save face. We try to make ourselves feel better about the things we may say or do which we know we shouldn't say or do. Nobody wants to feel guilty and we scramble to alleviate our guilt.
Kluger ends his article saying that however we feel about what we inflict upon others, that it's ultimately up to us to "make our own peace in our own way with what's on our plates". In response to this, your average abolitionist animal advocate would say: "Y'know what? I have an easy solution for you that will allow you to live with yourself in an authentic and meaningful way without the self-deception and without exploiting others." Kluger, on the other hand, gets it backwards and views this self-deception -- this compartmentalization -- as a "necessary skill for a species with a conscience like ours trying to make its way in a morally ambiguous world". So rather than sit back and suss things out and consider not participating in the exploitation, Kluger opts for the self-deception, calling it "ethical expedience" and attempting to prop it up with relativism. "Pay your own check and the meal is up to you."
This is what Time Magazine calls journalism, just when I thought that popular mainstream media couldn't possibly become more disgraceful.