Monday, February 22, 2010

A Conversation with Chris Rouse on Veganism

“I must offer the advice that perhaps you should stay silent a little longer, read a little more, take a writing class or two, follow those up with a course on critical thinking, maybe a little analysis  and subsequent synthesis of the Socratic method, and then maybe consider wading back into the adult pool.”

-Chris Rouse, age 27

We’ve figured out why Chris is still at Saddleback Community College: he’s only taken one semester’s worth of courses! Judging by his writing it's obvious he pleasures himself practicing everything he’s ever learned in his English 1B class—but Fighting Words is no place to do his homework.

This blog in its short history has been slammed for many things. In response to our polemic against veganism Chris Rouse accuses us of stroking our egos. This may be true, but it’s certain that Chris is only stroking himself.

Our original piece demonstrated that given how food is produced, going vegan does not lessen the number of animals slaughtered.  Chris Rouse’s critique is aimed at our emphasis on the introductory premises of “why go vegan?” (namely, that going vegetarian/vegan will end world hunger and save animals). His charge is that we have “summarized an intellectually robust movement as a bumper sticker. He continues, the fact is that what a movement offers as publicly directed propaganda is vastly different than the literature that informs those already within the movement.” 

But when is legitimate propaganda false? The IWW slogan has been “the working class and the employing class have nothing in common.” Of course there is gray area between wage earning supervisors (given the authority to delegate work) and capitalists (who own production and usurp surplus value). Essentially the slogan is true: classes are irreconcilably antagonistic. Hence, there is both nuance and truth to legitimate propaganda, but is there truth to the propaganda of political veganism? He implicitly agrees that there is none by discounting it as not serious.

So what exactly is the literature that informs the “movement”, the internal edification? Chris Rouse points to Plutarch. And what does a Roman citizen have to comment on agribusiness?

“Our conduct in slaying animals and then preparing them for food is wholly against nature. Animal food is injurious: it clogs and confuses the mind and renders it stupid.”

-Plutarch, 2nd century

Chris Rouse also agrees with a set of facts we provided: that over time, both meat production and the number of vegetarians/vegans have increased. “[I]t is a reliable speculation that statistically meat consumption has increased internationally.” Yet, in response to our statement that “Deciding to go vegan will not save a single animal”, he responds “still throwing out unproven statements that were born of your bias, not your knowledge. At least, that is how it would seem since this is a rather large and widely contested claim that you have not backed up with any studies. (FW emphasis)” Despite the presence of a sizable and growing non-meat-eating population, Chris Rouse concedes that meat production and consumption is on the rise, yet he does not renounce the claim that going vegan saves animals.

Chris is either confused, or being intentionally misleading.

What Chris could be confused about: Math

Statistics claiming that going vegan saves x number of animals is based on a simple arithmetical premise: Take the total number of animals consumed in a given time frame and subtract that by the number of people that stop eating meat. This sounds logical, but only if the premise is correct. As we've established, meat subsidies and systemic overproduction makes this a lousy hypothetical. The error is forgivable. He just hasn't gotten around to taking that course yet. 

Why Chris is probably misleading you

Under scrutiny, Chris Rouse is forced to acknowledge that the broader propaganda is not "credible," but refuses to distance himself from it. There is a part of him that knows it is the wonderful-sounding claim that individuals can do something about world hunger and save the lives of animals by changing their diet. Stripped of this, Chris Rouse fears losing his base to disillusionment and boredom (one can't sustain themselves on Plutarch for long). To knowingly offer up a lie in order to convert is an elitist conception of the way propaganda works.

Either way, nowhere does Chris Rouse differentiate between the propaganda of AR activists and what they really believe. And it’s not like he didn’t have the space to do it. Instead he goes off on exhausting tirades appealing quite fallaciously, to authority. He bellows:

rather than quote sources from antiquity like plutarch, from prestigious intellectual epochs such as percy bysshe shelley, george bernard shaw, ralph waldo emerson or thoreau, or quote from modern relevant sources like the ones i mentioned earlier, you have quoted websites which (again, as i addressed earlier) have more propagandistic aims.

Take our word that not a single sentence which follows substantiates any of the aforementioned figures as authorities on the topic. But let’s investigate. In A Vindication of a Natural Diet, Percy Bysshe Shelly tries his hand at evolutionary theory:

Comparative anatomy teaches us that man resembles frugivorous animals in everything, and carnivorous in nothing; he had neither claws wherewith to seize his prey, nor distinct and pointed teeth to tear the living fibre…

…Let the advocate of animal food force himself to a decisive experiment on its fitness, and, as Plutarch recommends, tear a living lamb with his teeth, and plunging his head into its vitals, slake his thirst with the steaming blood; when fresh from the deed of horror, let him revert to the irresistible instinct of nature that would rise in judgment against it, and say, Nature formed me for such work as this. Then, and only, would he be consistent.

Rather than being evolutionarily sound, Shelley is much closer to an authority on Intelligent Design! Humans are not perfectly adapted to consume all types of meat. It was of course the lack of claws and vicious teeth that characterized our initial existence as scavengers for bone marrow. This argument has not evolved much among the vegan propagandists. Chapters in John Robbins’ Diet for a New America (a modern source) explain how our intestinal tract is not suitable for digesting meat.

These are design arguments: “It does not work perfectly, therefore…” The fact is we do consume meat and it was integral to our evolution. That other animals might not consume another species’ dairy is inconsequential, there’s nothing “natural” about making soy hot dogs either.

The issue of animal liberation is similar. We argued that “liberation” is a concept and process only applicable to humans. Chris Rouse objects:

Neither animal nor human liberation is an abstract as both relate to individual beings with individual concepts of self that form social units and possess acute abilities to feel, both physically and emotionally, and form conscious objections to captivity.

Conscientious objection requires two things: 1) awareness of the consequences and 2) choice. Animals will instinctually resist what it perceives as a threat. But just as an animal may demonstrate will against captivity as it’s loaded onto a slaughterhouse truck or confined in a cage, that same animal will struggle against those who must capture them and load them onto to a truck in order to set them “free.” During this struggle, the liberators have no issue with ignoring their “will.” Humans decide the fate of these creatures because other animals do not have agency of their own.

To believe that animal “liberation” exists on the same terrain as ours is to have a paternalistic conception of liberation. The fact that the only example Chris Rouse could offer equating the two was freeing an orphaned child from sexual slavery, only proves our point.

Why are humans the only species capable of agency and liberation? Chris Rouse is fond of flaunting authors who have both a greater understand (sic) of Marx” than we demonstrate. Well if that’s what his argument is hinged on, Rouse has demonstrated he doesn’t understand Marx at all:

Men can be distinguished from animals by consciousness by religion or anything else you like. They themselves begin to distinguish themselves from animals as soon as they begin to produce, their means of subsistence, a step which is conditioned by their physical organization. By producing their means of subsistence, they are indirectly producing their actual material life.

-The German Ideology

While animals have evolved distinct adaptations to their environments, the fundamental human adaptation is the ability to bend the environment to our needs. It is the same process that has allowed humans to understand nature to survive and explore in any climate, to learn to combat diseases, and to produce an abundance of food. Human liberation is not passive or dependent on another species to grant, it is a conscious act. This does not impress Chris Rouse:

the fact that primates have sustained characteristics and societies this long in what you call a "static" patterns is what a biologist will tell you is indicative of evolutionary stability. by contrast, many scientists… point to the likelihood of our intellect being indicative of a poorly evolved and likely evolutionarily unstable creature that is incapable of finding equilibrium with our infrastructure.

in other words, our productive and adaptive abilities have evolved faster than other crucial parts of our intellect and are leading us with breakneck speed toward potential extinction.

First, 99.9% of all species that have existed on Earth have gone extinct without productive abilities, or even an intellect. Second, it is true that currently our productive and social relations are unsustainable, but it is not the fault of some sort of hard-wired evolutionary defect. It is the failure of harnessing and democratizing our vast abilities to rational and sustainable work. In short, it has been our failure to achieve human liberation. But it is still possible.


We did not center our critique based on capitalist relations because we believed that animal consumption was either, “responsible for the rise of capitalism, (or) inextricably wedded to the dominance of capitalism (or) solved by dissolution of capitalism,” as Chris Rouse conveniently misunderstands. No, the point was to illustrate that your diet is incapable of affecting any of the aims that attracted you to the cause, precisely because of capitalist production. We want to convince anyone serious about combating hunger and ecological crises that it will take a collective and revolutionary solution, not a consumer one. But the hardened Animal Liberator who sees humans and society as a cancer offers only reactionary ideas in the way of a better world.