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The Vegan Paradox
Why supporting animals ethics is not always an obvious decision.
Sometimes, I have political arguments with my sister, and because we have disagreements on core beliefs, things can escalate quickly. Despite the intensity our conversations can get, I always enjoy the process of challenging her ideas and mine as I constantly learn something. Among the opinions she holds that resonated with me, one of my favorites is a flaw in veganism's ethical reasoning, as she quotes:
“They would probably find it unethical to kill a bee, but at the same time support human abortion”
The first time I heard this claim, I thought that it was far-fetched but eventually, became familiar with the logic it implies. I'm always eager to test that argument on different people,
especially leftists, and see how they react to it, and surprisingly, most of the time, it makes them either confused, irritated, or skeptical. And since no one ever found a convincing argument against this statement, I found it more and more compelling, which eventually led me to investigate the validity of it more thoroughly, immersing myself in a journey to try to demystify this claim on the basis of two objections:
Does a significant number of vegans hold those two beliefs?
Can it make sense to support both of them?
For the first objection, we need to understand why people initially choose to be vegan? Since there are a plethora of arguments to support veganism, however, I believe we can fairly narrow it down to three main reasons:
The type of vegans that might be involved in my first objection are those who have stopped eating meat to fight against animal cruelty, and how many actually represent the vegan movement?
I haven't found official statistics grouping vegans by cause but rather multiple independent ones that all identified animal suffering as the main factor responsible for being vegan, with numbers ranging from 68% to 71%.
These numbers are a good indicator that vegans are probably mainly motivated by the animal cause, but they do not tell us whether they also support abortion. Obviously, it's highly unlikely to expect to find any serious statistics covering both topics at the same time, however, we can roughly estimate the proportion of vegans that are against abortion by dividing them by political orientation and subtracting from each group the percentage of people who support abortion according to their relative ratio of opinion on abortion by political party identification.
After searching for serious evidence discussing vegans' political orientations, I found a scientific study talking about veganism's moral foundation and other articles mentioning that vegans are predominantly represented by people on the left, as one of the articles states, “liberals are 2.5 times more likely to be vegan than are conservatives”, which reinforces my existing belief that veganism is largely a left-wing movement.
Once we can split vegans by political orientation, we are left to determine the relationship between political parties regarding views on abortion. According to the Pew Research Center, “80% of Democrats and those who lean toward the Democratic Party say abortion should be legal in all or most cases.” On the other side of the spectrum, we get 35% for Conservatives.
Assuming that 70% of vegans are represented by those who support the cause of animal suffering, we can then, dissociate left and right-wing vegans from this bracket by applying the probability factor of being vegan when identifying as Democrat, say 2, so 66% out of 70% which gives us 46% of left-wing vegans and leaves 24% of right-wing vegans. Finally, we can isolate vegans that also support abortion by applying the relative political ratio of people who support abortion to each group, 80% for Democrats and 35% for Conservatives.
We get 37% of left-wing vegans in favor of abortion and 8% of right-wing vegans in favor of abortion, adding these numbers together gives us a very approximate estimate that 45% of vegans are motivated by animal suffering while supporting human abortion in most cases.
Holding conflicting beliefs isn't wrong or uncommon, it doesn't mean it makes sense either. When it comes to conflicts, it is usually a matter of clashes, incompatibilities of opinions, or even principles. Ideas shaped by personal experiences are different from those based on principle. For example, loving animals and eating meat are two conflicting ideas, but they are not necessarily based on moral values but rather subjective impressions and, therefore, are by definition, beyond the reach of objective criticism, which is not the case with those based on principles. Any ethical decision must be based on principles: supporting animal rights or abortion, may be driven by compassion, but it is hard to believe that sympathy can sustain long-term practices, and therefore, it is more plausible to assume that these ideas are intrinsically linked to ethical principles.
Adopting a strategy based on utilitarianism would mean maximizing human or/and animal happiness, the latter being defined by the sum of the harm caused not exceeding the sum of the pleasure produced. This could be phrased as: “would you allow a man to be tortured if he knew the secret deactivation digits of a nuclear bomb that could kill 100,000 people?” One of the main objections to utilitarianism is that any kind of pleasure can be appreciated at different levels and that all the suffering induced by the crafting of animal products could be considered to be no more than the total happiness they bring to humans. Another objection is that utilitarianism cannot be realistically applied because it is based on future consequences. In addition, it would be really difficult, if not impossible to maximize the happiness of different species that compete for shared resources and rely on one another for survival.
On the other hand, deontological ethics involves acting according to predefined rules, regardless of any future consequences. This could literally be translated as: “I shall not cause animals to suffer under any circumstances.” Pursuing this logic for animals right is usually incompatible with endorsing other opposite principles, such as human abortion unless one considers animals to be superior to humans, or uses exceptions such as “only if this person is not yet born”, which is absurd.
Another scenario would be to rely on utilitarianism to support human abortion and deontological principles to avoid harming animals (or the opposite). But this would mean that one decision was made with future consequences in mind and the other independently of them, which seems a bit of a contradiction.
After all, it is quite common that when a person contradicts themselves or acts inconsistently, they tend to pretend or ignore what happened and gloss over it. In psychology, cognitive dissonance is the perception of contradictory information that, in most cases, induces stress and feelings of discomfort. This explains why humans are not good at dealing with internal conflicts and why all of this can sound unpopular.
Unfortunately, there is no easy answer to assert the validity of this claim, at least not without tangible data covering the entire chain of decisions used by vegans. It is however interesting to note that by digging into this question, we are increasingly finding new conflicts rather than any solid justifications, but it is clear that being opposed to abortion and animal suffering at the same time seems to be easier to defend than any possible combination.