Skepticism & Values: Vegan vs Living Vegan

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about skepticism and social justice and now how I wondered if people who wanted to focus on skepticism weren’t just bored with skepticism. Most people understood what I was getting at, but a few didn’t. I got into a little comment discussion with one such person, about mixing skepticism and values. At one point I said the following:

…I’m not aware of any double blind test to “prove” the ethics of veganism…

The guy on the other side responded with:

Then I’m sorry but to me you’re engaged in special pleading.
Veganism would have a great affect on the entire agricultural industry…I’m sorry but you’re everything that bothers me about the skeptical movement.

Now, here we have a case where I was surely not asking for special pleading, I was simply saying I was unaware of any way prove whether the ethics of veganism were true. He replied that we could measure the effects of veganism on the agricultural industry. You could take it a step further too, and see the effects on greenhouse gas emissions, health (I’m not implying there is an effect, but you could measure the changes or lack of changes), etc. So it appears to me we each had two different ideas about what constitutes veganism. This got me thinking and I will now attempt to outline a new approach for thinking about veganism. This may or may not apply to other values/ethics.

If you’re a vegan, and you’ve read a lot of literature on veganism, I think you might agree with me that it’s hard to pin down what veganism really is. Large groups of people are vegans for different reasons with different goals. Some goals make it harder to stay vegan, some might make it easier.

So first, let’s state one thing straight up: Living vegan, the act of not consuming or using any product that comes from an animal, is an action that can be measured (I realize I’m simplifying this). It may not be practical to measure the effects of one single vegan, but in aggregate I’m confident it’s possible to make predictions and perform tests to see the effects. We can conduct tests to see if vegans live longer or shorter, have more or less heart attacks, or are more or less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease. Living vegan, though, is not necessarily the same as being vegan. The above commenter, who said I was asking for special pleading, was really only looking at “living vegan”.

So what is “being vegan”? This part gets much more complicated, and I will perhaps dance to close to the line of “No true Scotsman.” To counteract that, I will say up front that I’m not sure what a “true vegan” really is.

Some vegans come to veganism for health reasons. This is perhaps one of the weakest reasons to become a vegan, if your goals are better health. You don’t need to be vegan to eat healthy, and a vegan diet isn’t necessarily healthy. I’m thinking about making a cheeseburger calzone: does that sound healthy?

There are those that become vegan because of a fear of the modern industrialism of food production. They want to eat organic, or some times raw. Their goals are usually a combination of wanting better health and living a more back to nature kind of life. These kind of vegans often perplex me because I’m not sure I understand their goals. They often run smack into the naturalistic fallacy.

Others become vegans out of the rights for animals. Some, like myself, start out as health vegans, and move to be an animal rights vegan. I have looked at the science, I’ve looked into the history of animal subjugation, and I’ve come to the conclusion that animals deserve the same rights and respect we give (or should give) to all humans.

Back to the commenter I was having a discussion, how would you prove this? I still am unaware of anyway to “prove” something like this.

So which of these different kinds of vegans are truly vegan? Eh, I don’t know. I wouldn’t even know where to start. My friend Dave has written a great post on similar ground, and you should read his blog period. I outlined just three kind of vegans, but there are more for sure, as he shows. There are a lot of problems, as Dave shows, with all that the vegan movement tries to encompass, so much so, that it’s almost a certainty that people will fall in and out of veganism as their goals change.

So where does this leave me? Well, I often describe myself as “vegan”, but perhaps a better description would be “living vegan for animal rights” or something along those lines. It outlines my actions and describes why. It illustrates what actions I take that can be measured, and shows my values which are the result of skepticism.

I would love to hear your views so please comment down below! This line of thinking is a work in progress so any and all input is welcome.

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