Why We Love Dogs Eat Pigs and Wear Cows | Reflections & Notes

Melanie Joy. Why We Love Dogs Eat Pigs and Wear Cows: An Introduction to Carnism, The Belief System That Enables Us to Eat Some Animals and Not Others. Conari Press, 2010. (204 pages)


Never have I disagreed so much with an author’s argument while at the same time agreeing so much with the bulk of the arguments.

I concur with the analysis of the philosophical category of carnism, the deplorable treatment of animals in our factory farming, and the tremendous damage that mass production reaps upon our environment, health, and the potential future of our ecology. I concur, that how we see animals is a reflection (indictment?) of our moral frameworks, and that these constructs are both cultured and enculturated. It is both appropriate and logical to name the ideology “carnism,” and that labeling is both helpful and enlightening, reducing the ability for us to “look away.”

All of this, however, does not support the moral conclusion that eating meat is “bad,” “immoral,” or “unnatural”; that we shouldn’t do it. Many of the book’s arguments felt like an exercise in the non sequitur. Simply identifying a perception or belief system does not in and of itself charge that belief system with moral depravity. Additionally, identifying parallels or analogs to Nazism is detracting, an exemplification of Godwin’s law. The appeals to dietary science are extremely dubious, as dietary science is fraught with tremendous uncertainties. And suggesting that normalizing, naturalizing, or necessitating meat-eating is equal to atrocity is nonsense. We normalize, naturalize, and necessitate everything. It is how humans make sense of our world. Merely describing how cultures and societies work does not a moral argument make. Stating an ontological argument is not the same as arguing a deontological principle.

Consider, too, the populations in this world where animal products such as milk and eggs in addition to meat, are the very sustenance of the improvement of life. Is their meat consumption equally immoral? Given that many of the arguments in this book are specific to wealthy, industrialized, and highly educated cultures, perhaps the moral framework simply doesn’t map well to indigenous cultures, and thus, nullifies the moral argument. Ironically, improvement in life outcomes offers an additional irony. Over a long period of evolutionary history it could even be argued that the concentrated caloric value of animal protein has provided the cognitive pathway from which we could even make such privileged arguments in philosophy and moral epistemology. Without animals, we couldn’t even articulate that eating animals is bad.

Because this is a work of moral philosophy, I suppose I should offer “my” take. All ethical philosophies, (utilitarianism, deontology, relativism, etc.) are all grounded in one reality that is not frequently articulated, which is that we make our moral intuitions intersubjectively; that is, our moral frameworks emerge between subjects, particularly people in groups, tribes, and/or communities. Our morality then adjust as the scope of our communities broadens or narrows. Should Joy—and others—begin to convince wide populations that meat-eating is fundamentally immoral, and this book—regardless of the fallacious arguments—begins to convince wide swaths of the population thusly, then meat-eating becomes immoral. But there is nothing intrinsically immoral about meat-eating. At least, nothing that we can state without asserting our own cultural stipulations.

Let me say again, that I agree with Joy’s analyses of the meat industry and the general evaluation of suffering. I would offer one simple solution. Appeal to our compassionate impulse, extend that impulse to an ever-expanding circle, leverage good philosophy to support the moral stipulation, and then price our consumption commensurate with the cost for both humans and animals. This brings me full circle to my agreement with Joy’s arguments, and my commendation of what she has put together. For this book offers an appeal to our human compassion and provokes us to the thoughtful integration of our behaviors and our values.


1 To Love or to Eat?

We don’t see things as they are; we see them as we are. – Anais Nin

Why is it that certain foods cause such emotional reactions? How can a food, given one label, be considered highly palatable and that same food, given another, become virtually inedible? … Why is it that we have such radically different reactions to beef and dog meat? (12)

| The answer to these questions can be summed up by a single word: perception. We react differently to different types of meat not because there is a physical difference between them, but because our perception of them is different. (12)

The Problem with Eating Dogs

The reason we can have such a powerful response to a shift in perception (12) is because our perceptions determine, in large part, our reality; how we perceive a situation—the meaning we make of it—determines what we think and how we feel about it. In turn, our thoughts and feelings often determine how we will act. (13)

We love dogs and eat cows not because dogs and cows are fundamentally different—cows, like dogs, have feelings, preferences, and consciousness—but because our perception of them is different. (13)

These variations in our perceptions are due to our schema. A schema is a psychological framework that shapes—and is shaped by—our beliefs, ideas, perceptions, and experiences, and it automatically organizes and interprets incoming information. … Generalizations are the result of schemas doing what they’re supposed to: sorting through and interpreting the vast amount of stimuli we’re constantly exposed to and then putting it into general categories. Schemas act as mental classification systems. (14)

[via: There is an entire category of terms that are all interrelated in what we might call “perceptions” and “filters: “schemas,” “rubrics,” and “heuristics,” to which we may also add conditioning, such as “bias,” “presuppositions,” and “stereotypes.”]

And something interesting happens when we are confronted with the meat from an animal we’ve classified as inedible: we automatically picture the living animal from which it came, and we tend to feel disgusted at the notion of eating it. (15)

…rarely is our meat served with the head or other body parts intact. …Danish researchers found that people were uncomfortable eating meat that resembled its animal source, preferring to eat minced meat rather than whole cuts of meat. (16)

Acquired Taste

Food, particularly animal food, is highly symbolic, and it is this symbolism, coupled with and reinforced by tradition, that is largely responsible for our food preferences. (16)

The Missing Link

What is most striking about our selection of edible and inedible animals is not the presence of disgust, but the absence of it. Why are we not averse to eating the very small selection of animals we have deemed edible? (17)

| The evidence strongly suggests that our lack of disgust is largely, if not entirely, learned. We aren’t born with our schemas; they are constructed. (17) … The system teaches us how to not feel. The most obvious feeling we lose is disgust, yet beneath our disgust lies an emotion much more integral to our sense of self: our empathy. (18)

[via: Another word for this is “enculturation.”]

From Empathy to Apathy

Why all the psychological acrobatics? The answer is simple: because we care about animals, and we don’t want them to suffer. And because we eat them. Our values and behaviors are incongruent, and this incongruence causes us a certain degree of moral discomfort. In order to alleviate this discomfort, we have three choices: we can change our values to match our behaviors, we can change our behaviors to match our values, or we can change our perception of our behaviors so that they appear to match our values. (18)

[via: This feels a bit parsed. What is the difference between changing our “perception” of our behaviors, and actually changing our “values?”]

The primary tool of the system is psychic numbing. (18)

Numbing Across Cultures and History: Variations on a Theme

Yet even in instances where eating meat has been a necessity, and the animals have been killed without the gratuitous violence that marks today’s slaughterhouses, people have always avoided eating certain types of animals and have consistently striven to reconcile the killing and consumption of those they do no consume. …rites, rituals, and belief systems that assuage the meat consumer’s conscience: the butcher and/or meat eater may perform purification ceremonies after the taking of a life; or an animal may be viewed as “sacrificed” for human consumption, a perspective that imbues the act with spiritual meaning and implies some choice on the part of the prey. (20)

The primary defense of the system is invisibility; invisibility reflects the defenses avoidance and denial and is the foundation on which all other mechanisms stand. (21)

2 Carnism: “It’s Just the Way Things Are”

The invisible and the nonexistent look very much alike. – Delos B. McKown

The limits of my language mean the limits of my world. – Ludwig Wittgenstein

When our attitudes and behaviors toward animals are so inconsistent, and this inconsistency is so unex-(27)amined, we can safely say we have been fed absurdities. … What could cause an entire society of people to check their thinking caps at the door—and to not even realize they’re doing so? Though this question is quite complex, the answer is quite simple: carnism. (28)

[via: Well, perhaps we can call it “carnism,” but doesn’t the very nature of our navigation of a complex world require that we use heuristics/schemas. Does this mean that everyone has “checked our thinking caps at the door?”]

We eat animals without thinking about what we are doing and why because the belief system that underlies this behavior is invisible. This invisible belief system is what I call carnism. (29)

Carnism is the belief system in which eating certain animals is considered ethical and appropriate. Carnists—people who eat meat—are not the same as carnivores. Carnivores are animals that are dependent on meant to survive. Carnists are also not merely omnivores. An omnivore is an animal—human or nonhuman—that has the physiological ability to ingest both plants and meat. But, like “carnivore,” “omnivore” is a term that describes one’s biological constitution, not one’s philosophical choice. Carnists eat meat not because they need to, but because they choose to, and choices always stem from beliefs. (30)

[via: I concur with the definitions of “carnivore” and “omnivore.” But the conclusion that eating meat is a “philosophical choice” that “stem[s] from beliefs” needs further explanation. Would this same evaluation be made of Chimpanzees, for instance, that are also omnivores, that regularly eat meat, including other mammals (including after brutally murdering monkeys)? Is their behavior a “philosophical choice?”]

Carnism, Ideology, and the Status Quo

We tend to view the mainstream way of life as a reflection of universal values. Yet what we consider normal is, in fact, nothing more than the beliefs and behaviors of the majority. (31)

Whatever is unnamed, undepicted in images…whatever is misnamed as something else, made difficult-to-come-by, whatever is buried in the memory by the collapse of meaning under an inadequate or lying language—this will become, not merely unspoken, but unspeakable. – Adrienne Rich

Carnism, Ideology, and Violence

Contemporary carnism is organized around extensive violence. (33)

…the vast majority of combatants throughout history, at the moment of truth when they could and should kill the enemy, have found themselves to be ‘conscientious objectors.’ – [Grossman, On Killing; Martha Stout, The Sociopath Next Door]

3 The Way Things Really Are

Make the lie big, make it simple, keep saying it, and eventually they will believe it. – Adolf Hitler

[via: This is slightly inappropriate and very much dislocating. While we’re not quite at Godwin’s law yet, is carnism being conflated with Hitler?]

…”confined animal feeding operations,” (CAFOs)

See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil

The most effective way to distort reality is to deny it;… (40)

Symbolic invisibility is enabled by the defense mechanism avoidance, which is a form of denial. (40)

We don’t see them because we’re not supposed to. As with any violent ideology, the populace must be shielded from direct exposure to the victims of the system, lest they begin questioning the system or their participation in it. This truth speaks for itself: why else would the meat industry go to such lengths to keep its practices invisible? (40)

Access Denied

cf. Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act of 2006 …makes it illegal to engage in behavior that results in the economic disruption of an animal enterprise. (41)

This Little Piggy Went to Market…

…porcine stress syndrome (PSS), a condition that is remarkably similar to what we call in humans post-traumatic stress (42) disorder (PTSD). …the animals are literally driven insane. [The technical term for repetitive behaviors is stereotypies. Stereotypies are a symptom of stress seen in a number of animal species (e.g., large cats pacing in a cage at the zoo), but they are not classified as a symptom of PSS.] (43)

“Whoever Defines the Issue Controls the Debate”

Where’s the Beef?

They Die Piece by Piece

Bird Brains? Chickens and Turkeys

Can They Suffer?

The question is not, ‘Can they reason?’ nor, ‘Can they talk?’ but rather, ‘Can they suffer?'” The question of sentience—the ability to feel pleasure and pain—has been at the center of arguments surrounding both human and animal welfare. (56)

Historically, members of vulnerable groups have been believed to have a higher tolerance for pain, an assumption often invoked to justify suffering. For instance, fifteenth-century scientists would nail dogs to boards by their paws in order to cut them open and experiment on them while fully conscious, and they dismissed the dogs’ howling as simply a mechanical response—as little different from the noise of a clock whose springs have been struck. Similarly, until the early 1980s, American doctors performed major surgery on infants without using painkillers or any anesthetic; the babies’ cries were explained as mere instinctive reactions. And because African slaves were thought to feel less pain than whites, it was easier to justify the brutal experience of slavery. (56)

| Because the experience of pain is subjective, it is easy to argue against the suffering of another. (57)

Egged On and On: Layer Hens

Death by Wood Chipper: Humane, or Insane?

Got Milk? Dairy Cows

Out of the Mouths of Babes: Veal

Sea Food, or Sea Life?
Fish and Other Sea Animals

On Death’s Door: Downed Animals

“This Obscene…Torture Has Got To Stop, and Only People Like Us Can Help.”

If Slaughterhouses Had Glass Walls

Sir Paul McCartney once claimed that if slaughter houses had glass walls, everyone would be vegetarian. He believed that if we knew the truth about meat production, we’d be unable to continue eating animals. (71)

| Yet on some level we do know the truth. (71)

Inherent in violent ideologies is an implicit contract between producer and consumer to see no evil, hear no evil, and speak no evil. (71)

But at the same time, we also want and deserve the freedom to make informed decisions, to be free thinkers and active consumers. (71)

Naming carnism and demystifying the practices of meat production can help us begin to see through the façade of the system. (72)

[via: I can’t help but wonder whether the way in which we slaughter animals can be decoupled from that we eat animals. Can I be horrified by our discompassion and still eat meat?]

4 Collateral Damage: The Other Casualties of Carnism

Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored. – Aldous Huxley

These other casualties of carnism are rarely the focus of attention when discussing meat production. … They are the human animals. They are the factory workers, the residents who live near polluting CAFOs, the meat consumers, the tax-payers. They are you and I. We are the collateral damage of carnism; (73) we pay for it with our health, our environment, and our taxes—$7.64 billion a year, to be exact. (74)

In his best-selling Fast Food Nation, Eric Scholler captures the essence of the collateral damage of carnism: “There’s shit in the meat.” (74) Yet while Scholsser was referring specifically to fecal matter, the subject of this chapter includes far more than just feces. It’s everything that contaminates the meat we eat, from corruption to disease. It is the refuse of a sick system. (75)

How Safe Are We?

In 1906, Upton Sinclair published The Jungle, his famous exposé on the meatpacking industry. (75)

Infections, Inspections, and the USDA

…the Meat Inspection Act of 1906,… However, in the 1980s, new legislation shifted the burden of quality control from the government to the plants themselves. (76)

And in 2007, the Chicago Tribune ran an article exposing how the USDA deemed it acceptable for animal agribusinesses to sell meat that’s been contaminated with E. coli, as long as the meat was labeled “cook only.” Cook-only meat is supposedly safe to eat as long as it’s been thoroughly cooked, and—unbeknownst to consumers—it’s been sold as precooked meat products and has ended up in school lunches. (77)

| Unhygienic conditions of the buildings and machinery may also pose a threat to human health. (77)

The Human Slaughterhouse Animal

Meat has long stood for the freedom to exploit freely. – Nick Fiddes, Meat: A Natural Symbol

…meatpacking is the single most dangerous factory job in the United States, and it is also the most violent. (80)

Conditioned Killers

…while psychological disturbance and even sadism may result from prolonged exposure to violence, they do not necessarily cause individuals to seek out a career in killing. … Such acclimation reflects the defense mechanism routinization—routinely performing an action until one becomes desensitized, or numbed, to it. (82)

And the more desensitized workers become—the more they “can’t care”—the greater the buildup of their psychological distress. (82)

Traumatized workers that, in turn, traumatize others are yet another casualty of the violent ideology that is carnism. Violence does indeed beget violence. (84)

The Untouchables

Our Planet, Our Selves

The Environmental Costs of Meat

Democracy or Meatocracy?

…violent ideologies are inherently undemocratic, as they rely on deception, secrecy, concentrated power, and coercion—all practices that are incompatible with a free society. While the larger system, or nation, may appear democratic, the violent system within it is not. This is one reason we don’t recognize violent ideologies that exist within seemingly democratic systems; we simply aren’t thinking to look for them. (88)

…when power is sufficiently concentrated within an industry, democracy becomes corrupted. (88)

cf. 1996 Oprah Winfrey v. Texas Cattlemen, and the “food libel laws.”

Surgeon General’s Warning: Eating Animal Products May Be Hazardous to Your Health

…the most notable characteristic of all violent ideologies is invisibility, both symbolic (by not being named) and literal (by keeping the violence out of sight). I have, therefore, attempted to illuminate the hidden aspects of carnism, so that you might understand the truth about the production of animal foods and why the system works so diligently to remain unseen. (93)

| Yet invisibility can only protect us so much. … So when invisibility inevitably falters, we need a backup, something to protect us from the truth and to help us quickly recover should we suddenly begin to catch on to the disturbing reality of carnism. We must replace the reality of meat with the mythology of meat. (93)

5 The Mythology of Meat: Justifying Carnism

If we believe in absurdities, we shall commit atrocities. – Voltaire

Unthinking respect for authority is the greatest enemy of truth. – Albert Einstein

The Three Ns of Justification

There is a vast mythology surrounding meat, but all the myths are in one way or another related to what I refer to as the Three Ns of Justification: eating meat is normalnatural, and necessary. (96)

Meet the Mythmakers

Despite the falsehoods that weave our psychological and emotional safety net, it takes energy to suppress the truth. … So, though we have become adept at ignoring the part of us that knows the truth, we must be continually coached to maintain the disconnection between our awareness and our empathy. (97)

Indeed, professionals play a key role in sustaining violent ideologies. … Consider, too that many veterinarians eat and wear animals. (98)

The National Dairy Council is one of the ADA’s leading “corporate sponsors.” (99)

However, though the mythmakers distort the truth, their primary role lies not in creating myths, but in making sure the existing ones continue to thrive. So they function largely as emissaries of the myths. Many of our myths of meat have been inherited, passed down through the generations: because systems are greater than the sum of their parts, they don’t die a natural death, but live on indefinitely. (100)

[via: But this is old, and, ergo, “natural.” Yes?]

Questioning Authority

Stanley Milgram’s now-classic study on obedience to authority… (100)

He concluded that obedience to authority overrides one’s conscience. (101)

Milgram did, however, find that there are two mitigating factors in one’s obedience to authority: the ability to question the legitimacy of the authority figure and the distance one has (101) from the figure. (102)

Milgram believes that we act against our conscience because when a command comes from someone we perceive to be a legitimate authority, we don’t see ourselves as fully responsible for our actions. (102)

The Official Seal of Approval: Legitimation

The practical goal of the myths is to legitimize the system. (103)

One way the media maintain carnistic invisibility is through omission. (104)

The media also maintain the invisibility of the system through prohibition, through actively preventing anticarnist information from reaching consumers. (104)

Eating Meat Is Normal

Custom will reconcile people to any atrocity. – George Bernard Shaw

[via: This is a good explanation of how norms work, but not an argument why carnism is “abnormal.”]

Eating Meat is Natural

…it is true that we have been eating meat as part of an omnivorous diet for at least two million years (though for the majority of this time our diet was still primarily vegetarian). But to be fair, we must acknowledge that infanticide, murder, rape, and cannibalism are at least as old as meat eating, and are therefore arguably as “natural”—and yet we don’t invoke the history of these acts as a justification for them. (107)

Like norms, many naturalized behaviors are constructed,… (108)

[via: This is a good, strong, and compelling argument. However, the use—or misuse—of the term “natural” does not necessitate the argument with the term’s definition.]

The importance of religion and science in naturalizing an ideology helps to explain why spirituality and intelligence have been popular criteria by which a group defines itself as naturally superior. (108)

Eating Meat Is Necessary

A related myth is that meat is necessary for our health. … If anything, research suggests that eating meat is detrimental to health, as meat consumption has been connected with the development of some of the major diseases of the modern industrialized world. (110)

The Protein Myth

Meat has long been a symbol of masculinity, as it represents power, might, and virility; conversely, plant-based foods have been feminized, often representing passivity and weakness (consider the meaning of the phrases “couch potato” and “veg out”). (110)

[via: Of the sciences, dietary science has an incredibly sketchy history and it continues to be challenging. For example, the food pyramid is bunk, and “The China Study” is fraught with all sorts of problems; cf. The China Study: Fact or Fallacy? and Campbell’s response.; also The Protein Debate, and many others.]

The Myth of Free Will

Chances are, the pattern by which you have related to meat started before you were old enough to talk and has continued uninterrupted throughout your life. … And if something should interrupt our habitual way of relating to meat—if, for instance, we catch a glimpse of the slaughter process—the elaborate network that makes up the defensive structure of carnism pulls us swiftly back in. Carnism blocks interruptions in consciousness. (113)

| It is impossible to exercise free will as long as we are operating from within the system. Free will requires consciousness, and our pervasive and deep-seated patterns of thought are unconscious;… (113)

6 Through the Carnistic Looking Glass: Internalized Carnism

The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance; it is the illusion of knowledge. – Stephen Hawking

When our minds are imprisoned by carnism, we see the world—and ourselves—through the eyes of the system. As a result, we behave not as we actually re, but as the system would like us to be: we are passive consumers rather than active citizens. The mechanisms of the system have become ingrained into our consciousness. We have internalized carnism. (116)

The Cognitive Trio

The Cognitive Trio is comprised of objectificationindividualization, and dichotomization. (117)

Objectification: Viewing Animals as Things

Objectification is the process of viewing a living being as an inanimate object, a thing. Animals are objectified in a variety of ways, perhaps most notably through language. (117)

Deindividualization: Viewing Animals as Abstractions

Deindividualization is the process of viewing individuals only in terms of their group identity and as having the same characteristics as everyone else in the group. (119)

Numbers and Numbing

Psychologist Paul Slovic…argues that numbers and numbing go hand in hand. What this means is that individual victims, human or non-human, are much more likely to arouse our compassion than are groups of victims. (121)

If I look at the mass, I will never act. – Mother Teresa

Dichotomization: Viewing Animals in Categories

Dichotomization is the process of mentally putting others into two, often opposing, categories based on our beliefs about them. (122)

When it comes to meat, the two main categories we have for animals are edible and inedible. And within the edible-inedible dichotomy, we have a number of other category pairs. For example, we eat domesticated rather than wild animals, and herbivores rather than omnivores or carnivores. Most people won’t eat animals that they deem intelligent (dolphins), but regularly consume those they believe are not very smart (cows and chickens). Many Americans avoid eating animals that they perceive as cute (rabbits) and instead eat animals that they consider less attractive (turkeys). (122)

Technology, Distortions, and Distancing

Technology reinforces the trio by enabling us to treat certain animals as objects and abstractions—objects, because they literally become units of production on a disassembly line, and abstractions, because the sheer volume of animals killed for meat inevitably deindividualizes them. (124)

Distortions and Disgust

By distorting our perceptions of animals, the Cognitive Trio prevents us from identifying with them. To identify with others is to see something of yourself in them and to see something of them in yourself… …the less we identify with others, the less we empathize with them. This is what’s known in psychology as the similarity principle: we feel more empathy toward those whom we perceive to be more like us. (125)

Just as the degree to which we identify with another determines how much we empathize with him or her, the degree of our empathy determines, in large part, how disgusted we feel at the notion of eating him or her. [While disgust may be an innate response intended to protect us from ingesting harmful substances, such as feces and rotten vegetation, there is no doubt that it is also a reaction to purely ideational, or psychological, stimuli. Ideational disgust is the focus of this book.] (126)

…empathy is the foundation of our sense of morality, and disgust is a moral emotion. Typically, the more empathy we feel for an animal, the more immoral—and thus disgusted—we feel eating him or her. (127)

Disgusted by Injustice

Psychological Damage Control: Disgust and Rationalization

Rationalization is the defense mechanism y which we provide a rational explanation for something that is not rational. (128)

…this paradox makes sense when understood within the context of carnism: because its modus operandi is to distort rather than report reality, the system is inherently irrational. And because we are looking at the system from within—from within a schema that mirrors it—we have adopted its logic as our own. (129)

Emotional Eating

When it comes to deciding which species of animals to eat, it seems that emotion trumps reason. (130)

Picking Out the Dog Meat:
Disgust and Contamination

Disgust has what psychologists call contamination properties. In other words, something disgusting can render anything it comes in contact with disgusting as well. (130)

…unlike distaste—disliking the flavor of a product—disgust is often ideational: it can be triggered by an idea or belief about a food rather than what that food actually is. The contaminating effect o disgust explains why many vegetarians feel unable to eat food that has been cooked with, or near, meat. (131)

The Matrix Within the Matrix:
The Carnistic Schema

Carnism is a social system, a social matrix. But it is also a psychological system, a system of thought, an internal matrix. It is a matrix within a Matrix. … This psychological matrix is what I call the carnisitic schema. (131)

Tolstoy Syndrome

The phenomenon psychologists refer to as “confirmation bias” has also been called Tolstoy syndrome, after the RUssian author who wrote of our tendency to be blinded by our beliefs. As Tolstoy said:

I know that most men, including those at ease with problems of the greatest complexity, can seldom accept the simplest and most obvious truth if it…would oblige them to admit the falsity of conclusions which they have…woven, thread by thread, into the fabrics of their life. (132)

This Way Out:
The Crack in the Carnistic Matrix

…to believe without questioning, to know without thinking, and to act without feeling. … Why all the acrobatics? Why must the system go to such lengths to keep itself intact? (133)

| The answer is simple. Because we care about animals, and we care about the truth. And because the system depends on our not caring, and the system is built on deception. (133)

And like the cinematic Matrix, the matrix of carnism can only imprison our minds and hearts as long as we guard our own cells, as long as we are willing participants. It can only block the truth as long as we can tolerate living a lie. As Morpheus explained to Neo:

I see it in your eyes. You have the look of a man who accepts what he sees because he is expecting to wake up. … Let me tell you why you’re here. You’re here because you know something. What you know you can’t explain, but you feel it. You’ve felt it your entire life, that there’s something wrong with the world. You don’t know what it is, but it’s there, like a splinter in your mind. … I’m trying to free your mind, Neo. But I can only show you the door. You’re the one who has to walk through it

Like Neo, you’re here, reading this book, because you’ve known something is wrong with the world. You are ready to step outside of the carnistic matrix and reclaim the empathy the system has worked so hard to protect you from, the very empathy that leads to the door of carnism—the empathy that will help you walk through that door to create a more humane society. (134)

[via: But is it really this simple? Also, this is a little jarring, because on the very next page she names a cow “Emily.” Is not that also a “distortion of reality?” As I have sensed through this whole book, the conclusion may be correct, but the philosophy behind her argument holds no water.]

7 Bearing Witness: From Carnism to Compassion

Our grandchildren will ask us one day: Where were you during the Holocaust of the animals? What did you do against these horrifying crimes? We won’t be able to offer the same excuse for the second time, that we didn’t know. – Helmut Kaplan

[via: I predict our grandchildren will ask us, “Can you please pass the steak?”]

Seeing with the Heart:
The Power of Witnessing

Wired to Care?

The implications of these findings are significant. If empathy is hardwired in our brains, an automatic response, then our natural state is one of feeling for others. It may be that when we fail to empathize, we are infact overriding a natural impulse. Carnistic defenses, then, may actually go against our nature. (140)

From Apathy to Empathy

All violent systems are threatened by mass witnessing because their survival depends on its opposite: mass dissociation. … Dissociation is psychologically and emotionally disconnecting from the truth of our experience; it is the feeling of not being fully “present” or conscious. (140)

Most of us, however, don’t dissociate to the degree necessary to kill others; we simply dissociate enough to support the killing that is carried out by others. When it comes to eating meat, dissociation prevents us from connecting the dots between what we’re doing and how we might actually be feeling. Dissociation essentially renders us powerless to make choices that reflect what we truly feel. (141)

Virtually all psychological and spiritual traditions consider self-connection, or integration, the goal of human development. Integration is the synthesis of different aspects of ourselves into a harmonious whole: body, mind, and spirit; id, ego, and superego; values, beliefs, and behaviors; and so on. (141)

This is why witnessing is the Achilles’ heel of carnism: it dispels dissociation and leads to a more integrated society. An integrated society cannot consist of people who care about animals and still support widespread animal cruelty. (142)

Witnessing Our Resistance

The most obvious reason for our resistance is that the system is set up to fortify it. (142)

Another reason we resist bearing witness to the truth of carnism is that witnessing hurts. (142)

A related reason we resist witnessing the truth of carnism is that we feel powerless to change suffering of such magnitude. (143)

There’s a final, perhaps more fundamental, reason we resist witnessing the truth of carnism: if we no longer feel entitled to kill and consume animals, our identity as human beings comes into question. (143)

This is the great truth that lies buried beneath the elaborate, labyrinthine mechanisms of the system. Because we care, we want to turn away. And because we care, we feel compelled to bear witness. The way to overcome this paradox is to integrate our witnessing: we must witness the truth of carnism while witnessing ourselves. We must extend to ourselves the same compassion we allow ourselves to feel for the animals. When we compassionately witness ourselves, we witness our feelings, but without judgment. We recognize ourselves as victims in a system that has led us down the path of least resistance. But we also recognize that we have the power to choose a different path: we have the opportunity to make our choices freely, without the psychological constraints o a covert and coercive system. (144)

Witnessing the Zeitgeist

Witnessing in Action: What You Can Do

There are there important steps you can take to get started: eliminate or reduce your consumption of animal products, support an advocacy organization, and continue to inform yourself and others. (147)

Beyond Carnism

The Courage to Witness

Ultimately, bearing witness requires the courage to take sides. (150)

About VIA


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