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  • The Limits of Reason – pt. 1

    “Figures never lie, but liars always figure…”

    I finally watched the ‘documentary’ Cowspiracy.  What a shame as it had such potential to expose how destructive modern agriculture is today.  At first I thought it not worth even critiquing as any high school student could point out its numerous flaws and heavy-handed techniques.  It should not surprise me how something so unprofessional can have such an impact, but I could hardly believe how many claims were made without rigorous fact-checking.  I thought it bad enough when Kip Anderson came up with random statistics (popping up on screen over his thinking head) where he calculated you needed 10 acres per grass-fed cow.  Almost laughed when his ‘back-yard farmer’ was some suburbanite duck hobbyist who wasn’t all too comfortable at killing his flock.  But when he began showing images of animal suffering whenever he talked to or about someone he disagreed with, I got downright pissed.  He wasn’t just using vilification techniques when interviewing someone who defended factory farming, but Alan Savory was dismissed as an elephant killer so that the ‘documentary’ could go on its merry way without addressing significant issues of animal-driven answers to climate change.

    Like I said, hardly worth giving the film enough credit to even engage with it.  But it got me thinking about why so often the baby gets thrown out with the bathwater, and why people who care about important issues can have such myopic vision.  How we approach issues depends on our worldview, and our worldview often is based on a few non-negotiables.  It became quite clear early in the film that a non-negotiable for Kip was the killing of animals.  The poor guy was torn up after watching two ducks get slaughtered with a hatchet.  Can’t imagine how he would feel if he ever watched a pride of lions take down a large animal that puts up a fight for hours before succumbing to its wounds.  And I find this non-negotiable the case for far too many vegans.  Damage to the environment typically feels like a convenient argument to bolster their claim that we should not kill animals.

    The interesting thing about non-negotiables is that we cannot be reasoned out of them.  Check out any discussion of a polarized issue and you will quickly see how impotent reason truly is.  Despite all the arguments made, I think many people subconsciously realize how ineffective reasoning is when engaging their adversary, and consequently most discussions dissolve into name-calling.  Any chink in the armor is quickly patched up by going back to your respective camp and getting affirmation at how right your own worldview is.  This is true whether your non-negotiable is about not killing or if you believe animals are essential to sustainable agriculture.  True whether you believe we have a right to fly any flag, or that the confederate flag is inescapably racist.  True whether you believe abortion is murder or that women’s reproductive rights are essential.  Whether government is solely for infrastructure and military purposes or whether part of its responsibility is caring for the poor.  You get my point.  Not only is our ability to see the world through the eyes of others typically abysmal, but our interaction discussing any of these dynamite issues tends to polarize camps even further.

    This is not to say we shouldn’t strive to make our positions as reasonable as possible and back our claims up with scientific stats etc…  Every one of Kip Andersen’s claims and stats have been refuted and properly nuanced by people much more knowledgeable than me, and it is important to hear those arguments, but such reasoning will not convince many Vegans; certainly not a single soul who holds fast to the creed that we should never kill animals. They will cling to their stats and we will cling to ours.

    So how do we approach someone on the other side of a chasm?  Philosophy has a few things to say about this. To be continued…