söndag 16 mars 2014

Critique of NIck Cooneys methodology and conclusions

Comments from this thread:

"Carolyn, for the purposes of animal advocacy, I disagree. I'm not familiar with Nick Cooney's research (will look at it, thank you) but how can it ever be right to persuade people to do something that's wrong? In fact, it's speciesist. In relation to a human moral issue, we would never do this. When we know that something is wrong, we are clear about that. For example, we say that rape is wrong. We don't say that people should continue to rape but to cut out the beatings with the rape, in the hope that they'll eventually stop raping. Even that analogy is not a good one, because that does at least involve inflicting less harm. Vegetarianism inflicts as much or more harm than meat-eating, given that dairy cows live longer than beef cows and therefore suffer more prior to being slaughtered; vegetarians often compensate by eating more eggs and dairy; and that more chickens die in the process of producing eggs than cows, pigs etc. die in producing an equivalent amount of meat. There is a very good reason for vegans to "be very uncomfortable" about this, and that's because they know it's morally wrong to explicitly promote something that's morally wrong. I think vegans ought to listen to these feelings of discomfort and not dismiss their pangs of conscience.

I think if we make it clear to people that, although veganism is the goal, there is no expectation that they will necessarily transition to veganism immediately, but that there is a way to do this whereby they can choose the pace of change (as described above), then there is no reason to promote vegetarianism as a "step" to veganism. That doesn't mean that cutting out meat first, then eggs, then dairy can't be one valid way of making the transition, so that the person is effectively "vegetarian" for a period, but that doesn't mean that we ought to explicitly promote vegetarianism as a morally coherent position and engage in the meaningless and contradictory exercise of persuading people to go vegetarian. We should always be clear that veganism is the goal, regardless of how someone chooses to get there, or how long they take.

The reason I, for example, remained vegetarian for so long before becoming vegan was because I had been wrongly led to believe that I was doing all that was necessary for animals by being vegetarian. If we don't give people a clear message and a clear goal regarding veganism, then they can remain stuck at consuming happy meat or eggs and dairy for years. Many of us have been in this position and seen it happen with others.

Why are some of us so afraid to use the word, "vegan"? The more we use it, the more it gets into the lexicon, the more normalised the concept of veganism will become. This has already happened, to an extent, with more and more frequent use of the word, "vegan" in films and other mainstream media. There's no need for us to be timid about it."


Carolyn, I will have a look at Nick Cooney's work, but I can safely say that I will never try to persuade anyone that the goal is to exploit animals by using dairy and eggs as a vegetarian. As a vegan, that makes absolutely no sense to me for all the reasons I've already explained. My conscience simply wouldn't allow me to do that, and I see it as not only immoral but completely unnecessary. This is what resonates with me:

<<Don’t fall into the welfarist trap of promoting vegetarianism. There is no difference between flesh and other animal products. Animals used for dairy are usually kept alive longer, treated as badly, if not worse, than “meat” animals, and they all end up in the same slaughterhouse anyway. Don’t promote “happy” cage-free eggs or “happy” meat or “happy” dairy. All of that involves animal exploitation. Don’t let anyone tell you that the public is too stupid or too uncaring to take veganism seriously. That’s elitist propaganda that allows large animal welfare groups to sell indulgences to the public by making people feel better about animal exploitation.

We can recognize that people will “get there at their own pace” but we should not ever concede that the “there” is anything less than veganism. Those who are not ready to go vegan will take whatever interim step they choose but at least the message that veganism is the moral baseline should be crystal clear.>> Gary L. Francione


In Veganomics, Cooney suggests that we should urge people to go "meat-free" and not suggest they go vegetarian or vegan.

The idea is that people will make incremental steps towards veganism - but there's the implication at least that the dread "V" should not be used (both of them, in this case). So the puzzle remains, people have to be "let in" at some stage of the process to the "end game" of veganism, so its got to be mentioned and promoted at some point.

Don't scare people with the "V" word AT FIRST but mention it later seems to be the plan in mind. However, ~that~ later is someone else's first exposure to the arguments. How are we supposed to not scare some individuals away (accepting these premises of course) while we are letting the first group in on the vegan news?

We can cut through all the politics of persuasion and deception by promoting veganism at the start with an open acknowledgement that people "get there" incrementally, a notion most animal advocates accept already.


Indeed, as a matter of common sense, it seems really absurd to say that if you want a person to do X, you should encourage them to do Y. We wouldn't think that this would make sense in any other social justice movement or sphere of life, unless we were perhaps dealing with a contrarian teenager! Not only is it deceptive, but if the aim of talking to someone about Y is to get them to do X, then as Roger Yates has pointed out, at some point *someone* has to talk to them about X. Otherwise, how will they even know about the existence of X? If so-called advocates of X think it's taboo and "counterproductive" to talk about X, then who will tell them about X? This is really a very convolutedly silly way of thinking.


Apart from the illogic and ineffectiveness of the above as a strategy, we are still left with the fact that if we are going to advocate vegetarianism as a supposed "step" to veganism, without letting our interlocutor in on the the fact that the ultimate goal is veganism, because we are too wary of using the word, "vegan", we're choosing a utilitarian approach which is based on believing that the ends justifies the means. I reject that as an ethical position. As a vegan, I regard it as unethical to promote something that's unethical, i.e. the exploitation of animals for dairy and eggs, *no matter* what we think the outcome of that will be. There is no right way to do something that's wrong; there is no right way to promote something that's wrong.

I'm not disputing that many of us were vegetarian prior to becoming vegan. But that's no reason to think that our path must be the path for others. Many of us, like me, were vegetarian because we knew no better. I had to wait almost 30 years as a vegetarian before someone explained to me why I needed to be vegan if I cared about animals. I truly wish I had known 30 years sooner, as I really think I would have become vegan if given the right information and ethical reasoning. I believe there are many other people like me who sincerely *want* to do the right thing by animals and will do it--i.e. go vegan--if they understand clearly what that entails. This group may the the minority at this point in time, but they do exist and these are the people we need to reach. We wont reach them by, as Roger Yates has rightly described, behaving more like calculating, deceptive politicians rather than educators. Why infantilise and patronise people, thinking that they are too stupid or too morally backward to want to do the right thing? Why assume that everyone is a moral pygmy who only wants to take the soft option, the easy, most convenient way? If someone *genuinely* cares about animals, they will want nothing to do with supporting the horror of their exploitation, and they will *want* to go vegan. We seem to be forgetting that motivation is everything. Our job as vegan advocates is to make sure people understand *why* it's not morally justifiable to exploit animals. When you talk about research that claims that people are more likely to go vegan, eventually, if we talk to them about vegetarianism, and don't mention the word, "vegan", that leaves out completely the context in which discussions about veganism take place and what these discussions actually consist of. If we "ask people to go vegan" without adequately explaining *why* veganism, and not vegetarianism, or happy meat, is the moral baseline, the minimum standard of decency towards animals, given that it's completely unnecessary to our health for us to use them as food, then is it any wonder that they don't go vegan? Not everyone who's vegan is a good advocate for veganism, usually because they haven't taken the time to learn how to be one. In addition to explaining *why* someone should be vegan, a good vegan educator will explain *how* to go vegan in increments if that's what the person concerned wants to do. Those vegetarians eventually go vegan when they are fortunate enough to come across someone who does explain adequately why it's necessary to be vegan and how to go about it. Why not be that person? Why not be a vegan educator? Why make them wait years or decades, or forever, before they get that understanding? The research you cite, based on what you're saying, gives absolutely no indication of the quality of vegan education that people are getting when they are being "asked" to go vegan. If a new idea is presented without adequate education, of course people are going to gravitate to something more familiar and convenient, like vegetarianism, and most likely remain vegetarian until such a time as they get that education.

This is not to imply that I think everyone will go vegan instantly. The time frame, and the strategy for transition they adopt, is their business, not ours. Our business is to make sure they are crystal clear about why it's necessary to go *vegan* if they wish to end their exploitation of animals. That may even involve being vegetarian for a period, but again, that is not a reason for us to promote or condone vegetarianism as a morally sound practice. If it forms part of someone's transition, of course, we shouldn't criticise them for that and we can encourage them, but that's different to actually endorsing vegetarianism as a morally justifiable practice. We should never do that.


Even if those people who genuinely care about animals enough to want to stop all forms of exploitation by going vegan are a small minority at this time, these are the ones who will form the critical mass that changes everything. These are the ones we need to reach. It doesn't matter how many people we talk to who are indifferent. Our response to that should not be to compromise, or rather, sell out, by talking to them about vegetarianism or happy meat. We need to just keep talking to as many people as we can so that we find those, who, like us, want to make a difference and are dedicated to ending animal slavery and exploitation. These are the people who will be immensely grateful that you talked to them about veganism. Their only regret will be that they didn't meet you sooner.

Minority rules: Scientists discover tipping point for the spread of ideas


<<Scientists at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute have found that when just 10 percent of the population holds an unshakable belief, their belief will always be adopted by the majority of the society. The scientists, who are members of the Social Cognitive Networks Academic Research Center (SCNARC) at Rensselaer, used computational and analytical methods to discover the tipping point where a minority belief becomes the majority opinion. The finding has implications for the study and influence of societal interactions ranging from the spread of innovations to the movement of political ideals.

“When the number of committed opinion holders is below 10 percent, there is no visible progress in the spread of ideas. It would literally take the amount of time comparable to the age of the universe for this size group to reach the majority,” said SCNARC Director Boleslaw Szymanski, the Claire and Roland Schmitt Distinguished Professor at Rensselaer. “Once that number grows above 10 percent, the idea spreads like flame.”>>

So why would we not work to get to that 10% of the population as vegans rather than promoting vegetarianism? (Or, though not relevant to this group, welfare reform or "happy" exploitation).

So let's once and for all do away with the straw man objection that "the world wont go vegan overnight". We don't need to get the world to go vegan overnight. We just need to build the vegan movement to the critical mass, or tipping point level of 10% and the majority of rest of society will follow as night follows day. 10% is a very achievable figure, when one considers that, according to a Harris Interactive study commissioned by Vegetarian Resource Group in 2008, the number of vegans in the US doubled from 2007 to 2009 to become 2.5% of the population http://www.vrg.org/.../how-many-adults-are-vegan-in-the-u-s/ "This means that 7.5 million people in the U.S. now eat diets that do not include any animal products". It was predicted that if this rate continued, "vegans will be 10% of the U.S. population in 2015, 40% in 2019, and in 80 % in 2050!" http://www.occupyforanimals.org/us-vegan-population...

I don't know what percentage of the US population is vegan right now. But we will never get to 10% if we keep persuading, or asking people to "go veg", "go vegetarian", consume "happy" meat or anything else other than to go vegan.

Once again, I would like to stress that while I think there is only *one thing* we should advocate--veganism--I have never said that there is only *one way* to go vegan, whether "overnight" or otherwise.


However, let's imagine that the "real" tipping point is 20% or 30% rather than 10%. Whenever I talk to people about vegan advocacy and the prospect of there being more vegans in society I ask if they believe that there are more vegans "out there" than at present. Most answer that they do believe that there are more people who can be convinced to become vegans. Obviously we have no idea of the numbers but most people agree that there are more to be "found."

Given the benefits of bringing about this increase in vegans in society, then it is hard to imagine anything other than growing the number of vegans in society will help other animals more. 

I read David Sztybel's criticism of the 10% idea, thanks. I guess we have to ask what the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute scientists mean by "unshakeable belief". Even though, say, 10% of a population may be
lifelong conservatives, that doesn't necessarily mean that they have the kind of passionate commitment to conservative ideas that would qualify as "unshakeable belief". My mother, at age 80, has voted for the same conservative political party for her entire life, yet she has almost no interest in their policies or in politics at all. So longevity of affiliation doesn't equate with unshakeable belief. I guess we'll only know what the tipping point is when we reach it! But whatever it is, we need to promote veganism to reach it.

<<The best way to respond to people who do not "care about animals" is to think that they are not ready yet, that they are thoroughly socialised speciesists, and that they are part of that percentage of the population who will need to be forced to go vegan by the weight of numbers of people already living vegan.>>

Yes, according to moral psychology, only a minority of people think independently about morality and make moral choices based on individual conscience. The majority tend to conform to moral standards based on need for social acceptance. Our task is to find those who are the moral standard-setters. It can be disappointing to find that our friends and relatives are not those.


I've already said that I would never, ever, promote vegetarianism under any circumstances because that would be endorsing animal exploitation which is clearly unethical; just as unethical as endorsing rape, torture and murder for humans, as all of these are involved in vegetarianism. Any other stance would be speciesist.

I will not *ever* endorse and promote animal exploitation and the notion that a) there is any moral difference between vegetarianism and meat-eating is absurd and b) I think it's ridiculous to say that persuading people to go vegetarian is more likely to result in them going vegan than educating them to go vegan. Frankly, I don't believe that there is any sound empirical evidence that supports that.

Is that clear enough for you?

In Change of Heart, Nick Cooney suggests that animal advocates should portray "vegetarian men" as "very masculine" in order to undermine existing stereotypes.

This is a "key recommendation" that results from Cooney's review of general psychological research data.

He also suggests that advocates should associate "vegetarian eating" with the existing values of society as much as possible. This is a version of what social movement scholars call "frame alignment" which essentially suggests that it is far easier to sell a message to others if it is framed within already existing and widely-supported norms and values.

Apart from the fact that this throws dirt in the face of Donald Watson's idea of ripening up people to new ideas, there are several problems with this whole notion. For example, major prevailing societal values are sexist and racist. Should we endorse those and act accordingly?

Therefore, Spencer, in respect to the masculinity point, what if the empirical evidence suggested that one way to get men to listen to us is for animal advocates to be disrespectful or even violent to women? To appeal to patriarchs, we act like patriarchs?

Would we say, well, we bow to the empirical data, or do we, like Linda, stick to what we know is right?


  • Pauline Wooding I think the realities are different partly because of social convention (although also because we perceive the world differently, which is not to say one way is superior to the other… just different). Nonhuman animals are objectified and considered to be of a lower order (sometimes I think we’ve barely shifted since the time of Descartes), so aren’t given equal consideration. They aren’t perceived to have equal interest in their lives, so little worth is given to them. They tend to be generalised (and perceived in groups), rather than individualised. The key is to get the public consciousness to change. It’s going to be a long road in doing this, but all we can do is try. And I still wouldn’t encourage people to eat them – in whatever quantity they would. If they are going to reduce the amount they eat, my saying it is better not to eat any isn’t going to suddenly make them eat more.
  • Usama Zubair “We can no more justify using nonhumans as human resources than we can justify human slavery. Animal use and slavery have at least one important point in common: both institutions treat sentient beings exclusively as resources of others. That cannot be justified with respect to humans; it cannot be justified with respect to nonhumans—however “humanely” we treat them.”
    Gary L. Francione: The Abolitionist Approach to Animal Rights

  • I think we should first note that there are more vegetarians than vegans. I say let the vegans advocate for veganism and leave it to the vegetarians to push vegetarianism.

    Having taught social science methodology to postgraduate level, I’m not convinced about the reliability and validity of the research Spencer relies on to ask his word-choice hypothetical. Was the research international in nature? Was it longtitudinal in nature? Was it qualitative or quantitative? What are the overall sample numbers?

    However, in a way, those are side issues for me because it seems there is no possibility for control over this notion of encouraging vegetarianism over veganism. What are these “certain circumstances” repeatedly talked about? What are we supposed to imagine – a conference about animal use where all the audience are totally new to the issue? A street stall visited by and only by people who have no idea about existing claims-making about human-nonhuman relations? Where is this “presentation” supposed to be held? What is supposed to be said about veganism by the presenter and organisers at the vegetarian presentation?

    I see nothing wrong with vegan advocates in their own vegan advocacy reporting that the majority of existing vegans were vegetarians first – but they should also note that many modern day vegans are critical of the “vegetarianism is a gateway” argument. Therefore, they favour a “be as vegan as possible” encouragement. Vegan advocates can thus acknowledge history and the fact that most people may approach veganism incrementally. A “be as vegan as possible” is superior to “go vegetarian/go vegetarian first” because it avoids animal advocates having to suggest a lifestyle that is based on animal use. Vegetarianism is a form of animal use, so vegans will try to avoid appearing to endorse it.

    Spencer wants us to consider a hypothetical about advocate B who suggests a “go vegetarian” rather than a “go vegan” message (I prefer “live vegan” myself.) We have to suppose that “certain circumstances” results in vegetarian advocacy producing more vegans (in the end) than straightforward vegan advocacy. IF research data suggests that vegetarian advocacy in “certain circumstances” really can be shown to produce this effect, vegans are still not going to be attracted to it for the reasons discussed on this thread. I would suggest putting this hypothetical against the “be as vegan as possible” move which seems to totally avoid the problem. I think the problem with Spencer’s hypothetical is that it is presented as an isolated issue not in social context with everything else that is/will be going on.

    We already know that many vegan advocates resist PeTA’s sexist campaigning, and yet many people say that was their first influence in their trip to veganism. One implication of Cooney’s key recommendation is that we appeal to prevailing patriarchal values in society. Many vegans will be resistant to this too. There is talk in the movement that we don’t question the “human politics” of animal advocates. Therefore, people with fascist attitudes may be welcomed into (or not called out once in) the animal advocacy community. What if we considered another isolated hypothetical, that research showed for sure that an adherence to ultra-right politics in some way “made the most vegans.” Would we be attracted to that?

    Because the hypothetical ignores its inevitable context, it seems to say nothing about process – it just assumes that there is one that “moves” vegetarians or “meat reducers” to veganism (in the end). What is this process? The provision of information and educational resources are bound to play a role. However, as I said before, we cannot prevent those still in their alleged “veganism scares me” frame from seeing this material – it is all over the internet. All it takes is for media and countermovement forces to alert people to the fact that vegetarian advocacy is sympathetic to veganism, and the idea is to ultimately advocate for veganism and, boom!, vegetarianism is a scare word too.

  • ------

  • Linda McKenzie Spencer Lo <<Linda McKenzie wrote: "The means should be consistent with the ends."

    Can you explain how the means of (i) using different word choices (e.g.,"vegetarian" instead of "vegan") and/or (ii) encouraging reductionist measures are *inconsistent* with the ends of (a) reducing animal consumption as much as possible in the short term and (b) creating as many vegans as possible in the long-term? I fail to see any "inconsistency."

    Spencer, regarding this question, as well as your other posts, I feel that I've already stated my position as clearly as I can and that any further posts in response to yours will just be repeating myself. Again, I find the notion that substituting the word, "vegetarian" for "vegan" as the best way to either reduce animal suffering or to lead more people to veganism to be patently absurd and so don't want to waste any more time on that.

    I assume that by "reductionist measures" you mean anything less than veganism such as happy meat, vegetarianism and welfare reform, which is aimed at supposedly reducing suffering. My response to that is quite simple: If you're not vegan, you're supporting animal exploitation. Period. What we, as animal advocates, are trying to achieve (or should be) is the abolition of animal exploitation. Therefore, recommending anything that involves animal exploitation, such vegetarianism or happy meat, as a way to end animal exploitation is clearly inconsistent.

  • Linda McKenzie
  •  Spencer Lo <<Always and in every circumstance, Barbara, even when a difference in word-choice can mean the difference between saving the lives and other animals and not saving them?>> No-one has presented any evidence supporting the idea that using the word, "vegetarian" instead of "vegan" will make a difference in saving the lives of other animals, so I'm not sure why you are dwelling on this hypothetical. It's not "word choice" that is the critical issue, as if swapping one word for another will make all the difference to someone supporting speciesism and rejecting it. What's critical is whether we've properly educated someone to understand that animals are not property but are moral persons and that there is no justification for exploiting them; secondly, it's plainly unethical to ever recommend that anyone go vegetarian since this involves direct support for animal exploitation. Thirdly, and most pertinently to this question, veganism is not just one way among many others, including vegetarianism or consuming happy meat, of reducing suffering.

    <<One important difference is between those who maintain that veganism is merely a way of reducing suffering, and those who maintain that it is a fundamental commitment to justice, nonviolence, and a recognition of the moral personhood of nonhuman animals.

    The difference between these two groups is not merely a matter of abstract theory—it has profound practical consequences.>>

    <<The abolitionist approach sees veganism as the application of the principle of abolition to the life of the individual. It is our personal expression that we embrace the moral personhood of all sentient beings and we reject the status of nonhumans as chattel property. Veganism is an essential part of our commitment to nonviolence.

    Veganism is not just a way of reducing suffering; it is what justice for nonhumans requires at the very least. It is not the last step in our journey to reject the moral schizophrenia that characterizes the human/nonhuman relationship; it is the first step. If animals have any moral significance, then we cannot eat, wear, or use them.>> Gary L. Francione


    What abolitionists are trying to do is not just reduce suffering but to abolish the property status of animals and establish the moral personhood of animals, by advocating veganism. This is the only way that we will put an end to suffering for animals caused by human exploitation. Clearly, Spencer, you and I are not in the same group in terms of how we view the role of veganism.
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