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Re: Sorry Vegans.. I have seen this belaboured argument made (usually by desperates) in internet forum threads on a few too many occasions.. I really can't believe this is published as serious journalism. is it just because the author has a reputation and has almost (but not really) stopped eating animals?

There is lots of cellular machinery built in to almost every life-form. A cellular response to environmental cues does not in any way require any sort of sentience which would warrant "ethical consideration" by scientific standards. The author's logic could easily be extended to include consideration of bacteria. they respond to a range of environmental cues perfectly well..

It doesn't take hundreds of pages to demonstrate that there is a rough minimum level of nervous-system complexity that is required for the circuitry to interact and create any sort of sentience. without such an apparent sentience there is little reason to consider their well-being any more than we would a robot who responds to its environment. While I am not ambitious or generous enough to engage in a comprehensive debate about the science behind why our widely-accepted concept of sentience is important, I would dare to say that this is ignorant and dismissive of the whole of modern neuroscience.

To me personally, this article sounds a lot more like a "rationalization" than it does an "examination".

I realize my commentary is not incredibly substantive, science-wise.. But I just can't honestly feel that it's a serious argument the author makes..

I totally agree.

Here's the email I wrote two days ago to the author (Natalie Angier: angier58(at)

Dear Ms. Angier,

Not surprisingly, when you dangle the vegan bait in the headline of an article, you get 760 comments.

I wonder if you've read them. Many are the standard "I am a product of evolution, so I eat meat, ooga ooga" absurdity.

(see Maura's comment #280 for a great rebuttal of this absurdity)

By and large, though, (and as usual) there is a lot of sound and fury in comments on this subject, and the reasoned voices are mainly drowned out.

Thus, I am left with a question:

What was your motivation for the "Sorry vegans" tack here? Am I missing your point? Was it just an attempt to be cutesy, or did you really think that this 'new finding' about plant complexity would really collapse the vegan ethic like some house of cards?

If the latter, that's really very disrespectful of a lifestyle choice that generally involves true caring for the other (whether that be suffering animals, a planet under threat from humans, etc.).

Ultimately, I find myself in agreeement with kimberlymj's comment #93:

"In a word: bizarre, non-commonsensical articles like this one reveal more about the author than they do about the subject. Clearly, an unease with one's own position leads to a pseudo-philosophical hairsplitting that changes the ground of the argument to something too absurd to engage with."

It doesn't take much reading between the lines of your article to see that you, Ms. Angier, are indeed ambivalent about your dietary choices. The most obvious conclusion, then, is that your lack of comfort with your own choices caused you to try to reduce cognitive dissidence and bait the vegans.

I say to you: it's OK to be ambivalent. It's also OK not to always act totally ethically. But engage with your ambivalence, don't try to deflect it onto others.

..and here is the entirety of her (lame & defensive) response I just got today:

Look, i would have no problem becoming a vegetarian. I'm simply trying to show my respect for a branch of the "tree of life", if you will, that have been co evolving with animals for hundreds of millions of years.

I'm not a logical fallacy buff, but this argument always strikes me as an enormous slippery slope. Seriously, Norm? You really think you could watch a cow being bound and dismembered and pretend it's ethically equivalent to picking brussels sprouts? I think others have said enough about the lack of science here, so I might as well cover the sheer repulsion aspect.

Anyway, I know you fancy yourself a realist and non-bullshitter, so why do you ignore the CO2 output of factory farms? Forget the moral argument for a second (even though I believe it's quite sound). How about the pollution? Or the hormones and waste added to the food line? Health aspects? And why on earth are you picking on vegetarians, of all targets? I think you could reevaluate your brush a little.

Seriously, Norm? You really think you could watch a cow being bound and dismembered and pretend it's ethically equivalent to picking brussels sprouts?

Did I make that argument? Did I make any argument at all? I sometimes post links to articles to see what kind of response they get. You seem a little overly sensitive to me, and yet seemly unconcerned with my favorite vegetable's "feelings."

I find it funny that people defend food animals that are cute, or warrant an emotional attachment, but don't care about living creatures that are ugly or without nervous systems.

Recently I've taken to looking at humans from afar perhaps as if looking down from space, and frankly folks, we are just one jumpsuit and a few gizmos from any other animal. Every animal eats whatever it can, often in brutal and cruel ways. It is the way the world IS. Spiders eat mates. Insects inject larvae into other insects larvae. The world is cruel. The fact that you evolved an intense need to care is wonderful and probably an extension of 'protect small things with big eyes' (that is usually just extended to cute animals like harp seals, but not icky animals like spiders). Seriously ask yourself WHY animals should not be eaten. Is it a sense of fairness? That any creature that can think deserves to live life peacefully, or until another animal (not you) eats it? Most animals come to a grizzly end and get eaten alive. Most. Some get a lovely dose of neurotoxins and sit helpless as eggs are injected into them... then they get eaten alive from the inside.. slowly.

So, although I, myself live capture black widows and strive to live respecting nature and this world that gives me water and air and joy, I haven't the slightest moral issue when eating a cow.

Why? Because you can walk out into a field and 'hunt' a cow with a hammer.

or, I'd love to see a vegan that needs a porcine heart valve (from a pig) to live turn the option down and accept death instead, or refuse to drive a car because it hits hundreds of insects an hour, or the truck that delivered their vegan food, that hit insects.

I truly like vegans, but if you look closely enough, the morality is a thin veneer made possible by our high tech world, rich with food, which is in itself driven by lots and lots of death. Being Vegan is a luxury and the only winning argument is 'it is healthier and you will live longer'.

I think that as a vegetarian, I've found a somewhat sensible middle ground regarding diet and the various philosophical and moral arguments surrounding omnivorism. I don't eat any meat served or farmed for human conception by anyone but myself. If I kill something, I will eat it, which means that I eat meat very very infrequently. I actually started eating meat at one point over the summer, but then an ironically timed bout of food poisoning drove me back to my vegetarian ways.

I have no problem with killing animals. You're right, the only real difference between an animal and any other cellular life form, or even any biotic or abiotic system in general, is based on a measure of complexity. To look at it from the most nihilistic stand point, who gives a fuck about killing an animal as long as it doesn't harm the homeostasis of the system at large? Well there's where I see the problem, because the meat produced in this country is unsustainable. Eating fish or chicken or beef nowadays amounts to an incredibly selfish act that harms the well being of immigrant workers, the environment and destroys biodiversity. Hence why I don't eat farmed animals. But i'm not about to label meat eaters barbaric. I just think it's destroying the world. But of course United Fruit Company destroyed lives and the environment too, so I guess we're all hypocrites.

Excellent reply! and great arguments!

This quote gets to the meat of it all:

"who gives a fuck about killing an animal as long as it doesn't harm the homeostasis of the system at large"

And you are exactly right about the unsustainable nature of this, either farming or fishing and it's negative impact on our planet (and thus continued existence on same).

I think hypocrisy is inevitable, in any case. All you can do is 'try' and make the best choices you can.

The only point I would argue is re: migrant workers, but that is another conversation.

I haven't the slightest moral issue when eating a cow.
And you are exactly right about the unsustainable nature of this

Can you explain to me how you can reconcile these two statements?

Is sustainability not a moral issue, did you change your mind in the 24 hours between these two comments, or are you just totally full of shit?

morality and logic are different things.

would you like links?

I also acknowledge strong arguments, and he has one.

So far, although I do like a few of your points, you seem to be 'religious' on the subject, and not open to conversation or reason about it. You also like to paint your opponents as unthoughtful villains instead of passengers on the same journey.

my take.. could be wrong. shrug

nah, I don't believe in villains, just provocateurs...or perhaps in those that are human all too human in the way that they jump "logical" circles to not have to question core beliefs.

religious...taking things on faith...uhh...whatever. Perhaps what you meant was zealot?

Maybe. But it's a bit hard to have a reasoned discussion with you when you liberally pepper your statements with straw men statements (who exactly are these fuzzy mammal adoring vegans who don't give a shit about ugly & brainless creatures and have never spent a second on a farm?), specious arguments (e.g. pig valve) and absurdities (e.g. the hammer definition of what should and shouldn't be killed).

Links are grand. Step out from behind your provocative argumentation style, admit your ambivalences and contradictions, and we can talk.

Oh, and incidentally, I feel bad when I kill cockroaches but I do it. But I don't kill house flies. There are ambivalences and contradictions in there too, but I have used logic to construct what I think is a defensible ethical framework for approaching food.

And while I have given up one of my favorite foods (pizza) for the most part, I always have a slice of "Not Rays" on my yearly visits to Brooklyn.


You ask:

"who exactly are these fuzzy mammal adoring vegans who don't give a shit about ugly & brainless creatures"

and I point to YOU, who said:

"We used to have 2 cats and fed them mostly Tilapia (fish). They are obligate carnivores, so there is not much hand wringing there."

You saved two cute, cuddly kittens at the side of the road. Kittens who would die a natural (if inhumane) death without you, and choose to feed them how many hundreds of less cuddly fish.

If you want vegan cat food, go here:

I’ve saved several cats in my life, so I feel ya, but you like cuddly cats more than fish. Fact.

And as for Vegans on or off the farm, in Kansas I've had as best friends who were Vegans and grew up on farms or cattle ranches and they never once used the 'farms are inhumane' argument. Now living in LA I hear it quite a bit from Vegan friends who get food from grocery stores. So, not a strawman argument, but a summation of my personal experience. Though I agree that new factory farms are a much different kind of farm and one I disagree with.

But yeah, zealot is probably a better term to describe you. So... you win there smile

For my money, Max and Tbunson have better arguments/positions on vegetarianism and are more apt to change the hearts and minds of our suicidal culture.

And... If you want to know what I REALLY think, I think being mostly vegetarian is a very wise, but difficult thing. Wise not because of cruelty, but long-term survival of our species. We eat too much meat for bad reasons. Someday it will catch up to us just like our dependence on oil. In my life, we have gone from fairly healthy family farms to factory farms. From milk that tastes good to milk that tastes like chemicals. Even fruits and vegetables have become tasteless shadows of their former glory for the sake of supermarket shelf life. From sustainable agriculture to raping the land of nutrients.

And we haven’t even seen half of the problems we are causing yet. From hormones in the water, to pesticides and other pollutants in the rivers (talking about crops specifically for cattle), to bovine gas emissions and waste in the food chain... we don’t know the long term impact of our current actions. Meat is less wise.

But, frankly, I have my hands full with other issues in my life that are more serious than figuring out which food is more moral/ethical for my adopted cat.

We feed my 2 year old daughter whatever she will eat in an effort to get her to 32 lbs for her third heart surgery. We use french fries from McDonalds (inside the children’s hospital) as bait to get her to eat more nourishing food. And between her 8 therapy sessions and 5 My Gym / Music classes every week (yes, 52 appointments a month, plus various doctors), her feeding, her naps and our work, there isn’t a lot of time so I eat whatever is convenient and cheap, even effing McDonalds. If Vegan was easiest, I would do it instead.

I disagree with so much of this it's hard to know where to start.

But let me just make a few points:

1) Because killing animals for food is natural, that doesn't make it ethically correct. It's also natural for men to want to sleep with the maximum number of women possible, whether or not those women consent.

2) Subsistence hunting is not ethically equivalent to eating animals raised in captivity.

3) I might be able to walk up and kill you with a hammer too. What exactly does this prove?

4) The most absurd argument of all is implying that unless you are 100% pure, then there is no point in applying any ethics at all. Using one pig heart valve in an emergency is not ethically equivalent to choosing to eat countless pigs in a lifetime.

5) The morality is not a "thin veneer made possible by our high tech world," it is a response, at least in my case to (in this approximate order):

a) the absolute unsustainability of omnivory (massive global warming impact, pollution, overfishing, etc);

b) the cruel ways in which most food animals are raised, depriving them of their instinctual behaviors (e.g. rooting in pigs; massive overcrowding in chicken coops with no or essentially no outdoor access; mother cows that have babies taken from them before natural weaning-causing mom to produce alarm calls; etc);

c) the fact that I would have a problem killing them myself, so I don't feel right asking someone to do it for me;

d) the fact that I don't need to eat meat or dairy to be healthy;

e) an experiment in trying to cook tasty things without resorting to butter, cheese, cream, meat, etc.

By the way, I am not 100% vegan. For example, I will eat non-vegan food prepared for me if I am a guest - and the host was unaware of my dietary preference. I wanted my grandma to get her pig heart valve so that she could live longer.

Does that make me a hypocrite? If you think so, then that is very freaking weird logic.

I would probably have to write something too long about Robinson's post as well, so I'll just comment on #1 on yours, which I agree with. That something is "natural" doesn't mean anything about it being ethical. People make that mistake too often (even people on both "sides" of the gay rights issue).

Also, this

I find it funny that people defend food animals that are cute, or warrant an emotional attachment, but don't care about living creatures that are ugly or without nervous systems.

I was with you right up to the word "ugly". You think hacking a sentient being with an axe is the same as hacking up a sponge? Then the obvious question follows, do you think it's the same to do it to humans too?

Did I make that argument?

Did the article make that argument? The "brussels sprouts have feelings" thing struck me as a tongue-in-cheek hook for the article's real (and more subtle) point regarding plant life.

Still, now that I think about it, the article was probably intended to elicit a knee-jerk response from zealous vegetarians; I guess that kind of thing is how journalists make a buck these days.

Still, now that I think about it, the article was probably intended to elicit a knee-jerk response from zealous vegetarians

...and don't forget the attendant proclamations of righteous meat eating as variously ones god given or evolutionarily endowed natural right and responsibility.

god given or evolutionarily endowed natural right and responsibility.

oooh, oooh, are we conflating? this is my favorite part. this, in particular, is one of my favorite conflations.


I do think that both represent retreating behind a powerful-sounding argument in order to avoid true self-reflection.

The evolutionary argument for omnivory is kind of silly. Since when did we start assuming that things are correct (and even ethically beyond question) because Nenaderthals did it?

The religious one is not that different. God gave us the earth for us to do what we want. The logic of this is also absurd, and not even really consistent with judeo-christian scripture.

That I'm a fan of evolution not of religion is really irrelevant here, since I think both are misapplied.


So the evolutionary argument to eat meat because it is "natural" is silly, but the same argument when applied to "depriving [feed animals]of their instinctual behaviors" is not silly?

Lemme just see if I'm understanding you correctly:

Because I say (and in fact society as a whole says) it's OK to deprive humans of some of their instincts, then, by logical extension, it must be OK to deprive any organism on the planet of any of its instincts?

Or perhaps I'm misinterpreting you, because the logical fallacy there is pretty freaking obvious.


I was implying that one cannot (or should not) consistently use nature as justification for one's argument, whether it be in favor or against meat eating. I think the problem with arguing from the side of nature is twofold: 1-It is difficult to define what is natural and 2-That people assume an implicit "good" in anything that is natural.

I couldn't agree more!

Humans get tremendous amounts of pleasure from things that are not 'natural' under most definitions (this box, for instance). My objection is that when it comes to justifying one's diet, all of the sudden modern, city-dwelling people seem to revert to Neanderthal status. Such 'it's our nature' justifications are all over the comment section in Angier's article (and even a bit in this thread here as well).

Now, when it comes to thinking about ethics regarding treatment of non-human animals, you obviously have to make some kind of leap. For me, it makes sense (for example) that mammals have deeply ingrained senses of child protection (due to the huge maternal investment), so messing with that unnecessarily can be interpreted as cruel.

Yes, this involves a big judgment call.

On the other hand, one can explain to humans why they are being prevented from acting on all of their instincts. We cannot explain these things to non-human animals, so the ethical landscape seems to me to be fundamentally different.

You don't need to be around rabid vegetarians/vegans much to enjoy poking a little fun.

Cute, Norm, but it's a bit beyond that. I was reading Barbara Kingsolver's excellent "Animal Vegetable Miracle" book not long ago, which is a paean to the local & organic food movement. And, suddenly and inexplicably, mid-way through the book, there is this 5-page diatribe against vegans. Sure, there are organizations that go way over the top, but this section of the book makes no such distinction, proceeding into a spirited defense of meat eating, with all of its tired argumentation (it's natural, how we evolved, etc...) and no admitting of the inherent contradictions (see e.g. tbunson's comment above).

I was literally mouth agape when I read this nonsense coming from such a thoughtful thinker & writer.

Then, even worse, is Nina Planck's crusade against vegans in her books and a totally misleading New York Times editorial called "Death by Veganism."

Then you read readers comments (like ones accompanying Angier's recent piece that titillated Norm), and you see this great desire to caricature vegans into some crazed group of zealots, thus making ones own position seem eminently reasonable. Classic displacement behavior.

I've come to expect less broad-brush thinking from you, Norm. But you're in good company, that's for certain.

It seems to me that you are the one painting with the broad-brush here. I get it, you have strong feelings on the topic. But please read more carefully, I didn't say all vegans and vegetarians I used the adjective rabid to describe a subset of the group.

I don't buy it.

"Rabid" vegans strikes me as being a lot like "stinking" hippies, "spaced out" pot smokers, "nerdy" scientists, "extremist" muslims, "amoral" atheists...

When confronted with one's broad-brush characterizations in this way, one often retreats behind the argument that one doesn't have a problem with all members of that group, just the extremists.

one of my best friends fits every one of those descriptions, and wears them proudly.

...which is a valid way to confront peoples' prejudices. Doesn't at all justify the prejudice itself.

good point. oh, i also missed "muslim" in there-he isn't a muslim.

You acknowledge that there are vegans who are over the top, like over the top atheists, over the top muslims etc. I told you exactly what I meant by the statement. You choose not to accept that explanation. You choose to imply that I have some other agenda. You impugn my character. You try to put your words in my mouth and I don't like it. My take is that you are one of those over-the-top vegans. And frankly I don't give a fuck if you buy or not.

whoa...for not giving a fuck, you sure seem pretty upset.

OK, I see how you felt that my words impugned your character; that wasn't my intention.

This conversation often makes people (maybe not you Norm just 'people') very defensive. And I think that defensiveness often comes in the form of attacking rather than questioning ones own actions.

As for me being an "over the top vegan", you can think what you want, but if you read my words from above (in my email to Angier), maybe that doesn't quite jibe:

it's OK to be ambivalent. It's also OK not to always act totally ethically. But engage with your ambivalence, don't try to deflect it onto others.

So..if by rabid you mean that I try to impose my ideas on others, I do call bullshit when I think I smell it. And I smell a lot of bullshit in these discussions in particular.

You are convinced that I smelled wrong in your cace, and I have no reason in particular to doubt you.

But this conversation is about what you and I are not isn't very interesting. Why don't we leave that behind...what DID you think of the piece? Did you really only post it to see if you could piss off some so rabid veg/vegans? And what ARE your views on the ethics of eating? I might recommend this recent article as an 'op-ed' to post in your next set of coffee links.

I posted the Angier article first because I thought the plant science was fascinating.

My other side just wanted to see the reaction of the v crowd.

I've come to expect more from those who regularly comment than straw man arguments.

You really think you could watch a cow being bound and dismembered and pretend it's ethically equivalent to picking brussels sprouts?

I do have a question for the vegetarians and vegans. Do you have pets? I'm thinking specifically of dogs and cats. Do you feed them meat products? Does that bother you.

We used to have 2 cats and fed them mostly Tilapia. They are obligate carnivores, so there is not much hand wringing there.

The key ethical question is, I think, whether we should be reproducing them at all.

With respect to the latter, we fixed our cats (which we adopted after they were abandoned near a highway as kittens).

If you want a pet, there are plenty of abandoned ones needing homes. The breeding of varieties, I think, is a bit less defensible in the modern world.

I'm sorry but I have to laugh at this.

Your heart told you to save the cute animals by the side of the road, even though you knew you would have to kill endless OTHER animals to keep them alive.


so-- you think the consistent thing to do would have been to mercy kill them? ...or to let someone else raise them with less sustainable diet choices than we did?


And by the way, if I ever had a human baby, I would let that child make his or her dietary choices as well. So- should I whack the kid too if he chooses to eat meat?

please forgive the non-sequiter, but some of my co-religionists are discussing atheism as it relates to american law and society over at a blog i discovered thru norm's blogroll. i used some things i picked up here to stick in my two cents and thought someone here might be interested.

if this is a breach of netiquette i apologize, just let me know. i am a child in these matters. and i claim copyright on the term "netiquette" if no one already has. :)

btw norm, about your chess article here- did you notice that an israeli just won the chess "world cup" or whatever it's called just a couple weeks ago? nya nya nya etc. :)

Boris Gelfand's victory qualifies him for the Candidates match in 2011. The winner of that match will be the challenger for the world championship.

Kudos to Boris, winning the world cup is a great accomplishment.

I agree with T-Cash, I was gonna mention bacteria as well, and you can even say the same thing about viruses. Seems obvious, but I guess it isn't. I also don't see how this is new. It's known since evolution is known. It's pretty much what drives it! Any self-respecting life form HAS TO WANT TO GO ON LIVING!

I also eat poultry and fish, and try not to eat mammal meat, just like the author, but it seems her "reasons" are that mammals are just cuddlier. To me, I just think their nervous systems are wired for a higher capacity for suffering. I agree with much of what Peter Singer has to say about it.

It is at least a virtue of vegetables that they are incapable of writing something as stupid as Natalie Angier's article.

I'd heard Angier's name before, but nothing that made me remember in detail, so I googled a bit and found mostly positive things even from sharks like PZ.

Interestingly, I found this 2007 post where he mentions some of you OGM damn concern trolls:

One annoyance: several of the commenters at onegoodmove seem to be of the concern troll variety. Here's this smart, fluent, talented writer who is also a world-class science geek and atheist, and they start picking over her appearance and body language — it's rather dismaying, in particular since her gestures are no more flamboyant than those of her (male) interviewer.

Interestingly, Phil Plait stops here to comment as well.

I saw that video from 2007 and now I have changed my mind and like Angier.

I think the article might have been a little misguided. It probably spends too much talking about how plants "want" to keep on living, and too little on how they actually do it, which is much more interesting, and I think the actual point of the article (the bit about the plants "calling" predators to keep other insects off from them, for example).'s misleading though.

parasitic flatworms get into ants making their asses turn red which then attracts birds who think the ants are berries. Now the worm can complete its life cycle, drop out in bird shit, and get gathered by foraging ants.

So...does this mean that on the order of complexity that the birds are the least complex, the ants are more complex, and the flatworms are the pinnacle of complexity?

Hmm? Was I talking about complexity? I also might have missed where "pinnacle of complexity" or something like that was mentioned in the article (too lazy to read it again).

I'm just saying that the actual point of the article might have been to tell us (the readers) how plants react for their own survival, in ways that we don't normally think about. Again, probably too much was said about them about veganism and food, which I think is mostly irrelevant anyway.

i wasn't saying you did. I was just saying that these stories talk only about exploitation of survival/reproduction mechanisms by any means necessary, which every living thing does. It has nothing (necessarily) to do with awareness, sentience, etc.

(I should have used one of those words rather than complexity above)

I eat meat. It tastes good, its a good source of protein.

In moderation, its healthy.

We have to kill something in order to live. It's a human projection that measures the value of life by intelligence alone.

Vegan does imply a certain rabidness in the rejection of eggs and dairy. Neither of which require the killing of an animal.

I know vegans, I like them. But, They seem to respond to criticism like they have low blood sugar some times.

I don't think the arugment is about intelligence as much as capacity for suffering. Morality is pretty much a happiness/suffering argument anyway.

As for vegans, I would much prefer rabid veggie eaters than rabid meat eaters. Rabid veggie eaters don't affect you much (unless they're ranting at you, but meh), while a rabid meat eater nation on the scale of, for instance, the US, can have serious effects on the environment and even health policy, since people will tend to be sicker.

Vegan does imply a certain rabidness in the rejection of eggs and dairy. Neither of which require the killing of an animal. you think your momma chickens and cows are freed to wander the vast open prarie for the rest of their days after filling up your egg carton and milk jug? And what do you suppose happens to those unfortunate 50% (damn mendelian genetics!) of babies that turn out to be (like you) male?

I take that back...maybe it's just your icon that's XY :)

Ah, the open prairie... Were all animals are immortal?'s where all animals go in our imagination rather than in reality's where all farm animals go in our imagination rather than in reality

A place where cows turkeys and chickens exist in nature.

Being in Kansas now, with a foot of snow on the ground, I can drive a mile and see a dairy cow that is in a warm barn, fed good food, protected by several fences and a farmer with guns to kill any predators. It leads a very good life (compared to nearly any life form), and eventually it dies.

Usually folks that talk smack about farms or farm animals haven't spent a single hour on one.

PS: I really dig R7's comment (above). 100% spot on.

Worth of life is a human projection (and it is one I irrationally enjoy).

Btw: most here would argue that 'god' is also a human projection.

Again, the winning vegan argument is "it gives me a bigger hard on, better sex life and I will live longer"

Worth of life is a human projection (and it is one I irrationally enjoy).
I don't think that's what he meant (correct me if I'm wrong Reed). He said that measuring the value of life by intelligence alone is a human projection. Y'know, cause we're the intelligentest of them all.

Worth of life is what evolution is about. If there's any purpose in life, is its own continuation. It's not a human projection.

Oh I know, but I shortened it cuz I'm lazy. ;)

I'm also glad that you pointed out that we like intelligent creatures because WE are 'intelligent'. I think some deep part of our brain says 'don't kill things that look like you (unless they mess with your woman)' and that gets exaggerated by our modern mind to include dang near everything that can blink. Not a bad thing really, as protecting our environment may be the only thing that can save us, long term. protecting our environment may be the only thing that can save us, long term.

Yeh, and the only "winning vegan argument" is that it gives you a bigger hard on?


The Alan Moore interview was wonderful BTW.

The vast majority of animals we wind up eating do not live "happy" lives on idyllic farms. They live lives like this. And this. And this. (These are merely pictures depicting their lives, not the ghastly, terrifying end they typically come to.)

It's no argument in response to say we need to eat animals for optimal health. Even if that's so (and I'm a meat-eater who happens to agree that we do), we obviously don't need to treat animals this way.

The observation that nature is cruel is trivial. We engage in all kinds of interventions to ameliorate natural cruelty, and there's no reason why sentient animals shouldn't to some degree figure into our efforts on that score.

The only issue actually raised by Angier's article vis-a-vis veganism is whether in respect of pain and suffering Brussels sprouts and are comparable to cows, pigs or chickens. It's good to see that so far, even in a thread as thick with inane vegan-baiting as this one, no one's been quite willing to go there.

agreed. with the caveat that, as far as the suffering of vegetables, we just don't know. as far as we know suffering involves the nervous system, something that plants don't seem to have, but it's just possible there's more to it than that. if suffering is the issue, the jury is still out as far as i'm concerned. but i agree that not causing it is a good reason to alter our behaviour, based on the "golden rule"- which of course has no scientific basis whatsoever and is, in fact, anti-scientific. (we all gotta eat, though we don't want to be eaten.)

based on the "golden rule"- which of course has no scientific basis whatsoever and is, in fact, anti-scientific.

An interesting claim, are you trying to make the argument that reciprocal altruism has no biological basis?

as usual. :) no, not in general but specifically with regard to inter-species eating habits.

So exactly how is the golden rule anti-scientific vis-a-vis inter-species eating habits? Is the golden-rule a hypothesis, a theory, as to how the species relate? Science is a process. I see your comment as nothing more than science bashing.

Nah, he was just trying to bait you into saying something interesting. What the heck happened to this blog?

the golden rule is a moral imperitive, nothing to do with science. if you're charitable enough to extend it to inter-species relationships, as i'm doing here, you'll see what i'm talking about.

nothing to do with science

Really, nothing? So something that you think has nothing to do with science is anti-science.

you're right, poor choice of words on my part. it's "anti-science" in the sense that if we exersized it between species, including plants, we'd starve to death before reproducing.

I think this was a really interesting article on nature that was given an idiotic (and, yes, insulting) slant to make it more provocative - which doesn't speak well to the editor's respect for our intelligence.

And, I don't understand animosity toward vegans or vegetarians.

provocative=lack of respect for intelligence? i agree with syngas above- i long for the days when the blog was more "provocative". it used to be really anti-israel, for instance, and then i guess norm figured out there were actual jews reading it and toned it down. now he's finding out there are actual vegetarians/vegans reading who are prepared to fight. oh, what will he do? i love liberals, it's my heritage, but their biggest problem is that they're pussies. look at obama. :)

-trolls inc.

provocative=lack of respect for intelligence?

Using an idiotic premise to be provocative? Yep - lack of respect for intelligence. Like anything that's sensationalized. Because, when you get there, there's nothing there. So 1) the editor doesn't feel we'll read a science article just because it's interesting. But, let's say he's reaching out to a broader expanse of readers - fine, then, 2) Are you really supposed to equate the ethics of eating plants to eating animals? It doesn't come close to making sense.

On the other hand, I did think a discussion of the golden rule in terms of science would be interesting. What scientific research would you use to support it...Something close to a previous article here (I think)that said our species had to understand it was necessary to share in order to succeed (not quite biology but interesting). So - that would make it liberals who are responsible for the ascent of man. But, man has over-populated the world so maybe that's why there are so many conservatives now active....evolution needs you to bring down mankind.

btw, norm, i don't bash science which, like logic or reason, is un-bashable. i bash PEOPLE, who use these things to push their political agendas, just as i bash PEOPLE who use religion to push their political agendas. and i allow myself, from time to time, to do both of these things myself, but only because i think i'm smarter than everyone else. you should feel the same way. (about yourself, i mean, not about me.)

i don't bash science which, like logic or reason, is un-bashable. i bash PEOPLE, who use these things to push their political agendas, just as i bash PEOPLE who use religion to push their political agendas.

The difference is that people using science for political means can be called out by people who know the science. There's this thing called evidence, you see.

With religion, how can any religious person possibly call out any other one?

Just the other day I was talking with a family member from my country, about some religious sects. He's catholic, and he asked me kind of mockingly, "there's one whose belief is that god's an ET, right?" I just said also mockingly, yeah, and there's another one whose belief is that some guy died and resurrected 2000 years ago.

I just stated the obvious of course. Everybody thinks their religion is special, but they don't realize theirs may sound as ridiculous as the others' sound to them.

With religion, how can any religious person possibly call out any other one?

not on the basis of one religion being better than another one, you're right of course. but a student (or scholar) of religion can call out a religious person based on that person's misunderstanding of his/her own religion- something a scientist can't do.

religious leaders often, if not always play on the ignorance of their own followers. i happen to think this happens less in judaism than any other religion, based on the literacy/questioning authority requirements of the jewish religion itself, but it's still a problem. i wouldn't call out a christian based on my perceptions of judaism's "superiority", but rather based on their own (mis)understanding of their own religiion. which i happen to know something about because their "god" was actually a practitioner of MY religion.

of course for a scientist this is all arguing about the nature of unicorns and faeries, and that's fair enough. but a scientist also has little of value to add to the discussion, and no way of influencing the behaviour of religious people other than trying to convince them not to be religious- a losing battle as i see it, although impressive gains have been made in the last 10-15 years.

The so-called golden rule is a perfectly reasonable and likely outcome of evolution, once a species has developed some level of sentience. It is well known that empathy is not only unique to humans. Evolution is science. Science doesn't dictate how we should behave, but it does provide very satisfactory explanations.

the golden rule is not about empathy, which as you say may well be ingrained in "sentient beings". rather it is an attempt to legislate or command empathic BEHAVIOUR. the reason for this is obviously that, no matter how deeply evolution-based empathy may be ingrained in humans, the fact is it's fairly rare when it comes to behaviour. i would say that both cruelty and empathy are natural to humans but which one comes out behaviourally is determined by nurture, not nature. the golden rule is an attempt to influence the equation from OUTSIDE evolutions paramiters. an example of cultural/spiritual evolution, if you will. it's certainly not one of those aspects of religion that an atheist would take issue with. or is it? film at 11.

I think there may be an emphasis - in human rules of behavior - to instill the conscious idea of something that may work weakly on a longer time scale. In other words, behavior might tend towards

...the golden rule, but only weakly. It seems plausible that early humans may have codified the rule to make it act more effectively and efficiently, by bringing it into the conscious mind of members of society.

I'm trying to think, for example, if Goodall identified aspects of golden rule in chimps.

I'm trying to think, for example, if Goodall identified aspects of golden rule in chimps.

i tend to doubt it, partially because i'm not sure if i'm willing to call goodall a "scientist". but as a curious and intelligent person who was willing to get her hands dirty, in some ways i respect her more than most "scientists".

and as far as empathic behaviour in chimps or other animals, proven or unproven, nothing would surprise me, or change my position on on the matter. which is :humans better learn to BEHAVE empathically or we're doomed. and if that means starting out by having empathy for "lesser" life forms, so be it. although i am very against the hypocritical "vegetarian cannibals" (tm) who have empathy for animals, but not for their fellow humans. they need to make the jump.

Evolution made us and most of 'us' have religions, thus the various variations of the golden rule are the result of evolution.


...just having fun. I dig your reply jb. Nicely put.

Once you have empathy and given certain level of intelligence and social behavior, it's not hard to come up with a "golden rule". Of course the "golden rule" is about empathy.

All this "attempt to legislate" business does not contradict that. May be true, but so what? Social beings need to learn to follow some basic rules anyway. Religion has nothing to do with this. It's likely behavior of any social, intelligent-enough species.

Cruel rules have also been tried, of course. Humans have come up with all these rules, but it's due to the enlightenment that we value now only the "good" ones and left behind the cruel ones. And guess what has been and still is largely responsible for preventing that progress? Not science, not reason and not logic.

all good points, andyo. i just wish i could bring up the possibility that some aspects of human behaviour are unconnected to science without getting jumped on for defending religion. as far as this, tho:

we value now only the "good" ones and left behind the cruel ones.

you sure you don't wanna think about that a bit more?

I'm not a vegetarian & certainly not a vegan. I think biologically humans are omnivores, but Americans eat way too much meat, and most of that meat is manufactured in ways that harm our health & the environment and constitute cruelty to animals. Watch Food, Inc. and see if you don't agree.

I was going to say that I've been fairly content about being an omnivore, and I even shared some of Reed's sentiments about the fate of animals in "nature" in on farms or ranches. But I agree with you: Food Inc. is an outstanding wake-up-call/reminder that finally resonates with a omnivore such as myself. I really can't see any justification for how our society has let agriculture and animal husbandry become "industrial food production". It is disgusting, dangerous, and sadly unnecessary.

" "nature" in on farms or ranches." should have read " "nature" as compared with farms or ranches."

I should add, I really wonder whether those who continually serve as apologists for corporatations will finally decide that corporate power needs to be reined in.

The more likely scenario is that behavior is a product of evolution. Either directly or indirectly (something can be a product of sentience, or a byproduct of intelligence, for instance, but not be adaptive, directly an evolutionary advantage). If you wanna make the claim that there's something else outside the natural world that dictates our behavior go ahead, but there's no evidence whatsoever that even suggests that. It's the more extraordinary claim (by far) of the two.

About cruel rules, of course we haven't totally left them behind, but the people that have, are mostly also the ones that have left their asshole gods (including other humans seen as such). Where are the cruel rules that are not based on some kind of faith-based ideology?

oops this was supposed to be a reply to JB just above.

sigh. you really are a hopeless religious fanatic aren't you? a happy goyische new year, you heretic. :)


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