Rationalized Normality and Pollan’s Natural Fallacy

The selective skepticism of some progressives leads them to criticism those devoted to animal and environmental protection, yet those same progressives ignore or even support the exceedingly unethical conduct and injustices of crony capitalism and corporatocracy—what Michael Pollan describes as “the tendency of the economic impulse to erode the moral underpinnings of society”[1]Michael Pollan, “An Animal’s Place,” New York Times Magazine (November 10, 2002), http://www.nytimes.com/2002/11/10/magazine/an-animal-s-place.html.—in other words, the very things animal and environmental advocates often find themselves fighting against. How is it that selective rationalists can direct a lot of sneering energy at animal and environmental advocates while remaining oblivious to unethical, polluting, and irresponsible big businesses?

Perhaps the key is that nonhuman animal advocates ask for change and moral consistency, whereas, rather than personal change or moral introspection, big business simply asks for complicity. Apparently, it just won’t do to question the dominant cultural norms that have supplied your thinking its structure or provided you with career success.

With the religious, actual facts about the big questions in life are not checked for evidence and are taken as self-evident. But facts do matter for all the smaller questions in life—such as income and taxation, medicine and health, economics and politics. Many skeptics are the same when it comes to nonhuman animal issues: facts either do not seem to matter or it is suddenly quite acceptable to assert beliefs unhindered by any attention to facts. These skeptics rely on the lies business interests feed them, submitting without a fight to a corporate-based status quo. Sometimes they are the ones telling the lies and willfully supporting the excesses of neoliberalism.

Look no further than Penn Teller, for example, who is a member of the CATO Institute, a public policy think tank dedicated, as it says in its mission statement, to “individual liberty, limited government, free markets and peace.” That is to say, funded by corporations and dedicated to libertarianism, deregulation, Republican propaganda, scientific disinformation, and corporatism. Penn and Teller’s episode on animal-advocacy in their Bullshit! series was full of information supplied by disreputable shills. But that was not the only time they relied on corporate lobbyists for information. In their criticism of organic foods, they typically failed to mention that their far-from-objective source was a spokesperson from the Hudson Institute, a think tank funded, for one, by Monsanto.

Many skeptics are taken in by deceptions and sly right-wing spin of such people in the media, without critically thinking about what it means for others—human and nonhuman—not pampered by laissez-faire capitalism.

Manipulating Nature and Protecting Privilege

How do secularists who could claim to be the inheritors of Enlightenment values become masters of protecting privilege, undermining democracy, and disregarding the natural world? In a broad sense, it seems to go back to two streams or leanings in Enlightenment thought. The first stream inherited the biblical mandate to dominate nature, seeing the scientific revolution and advances in industry as finally the tools with which to dominate nature on a grander scale, indefinitely and without limit.

The whole world centers on man without which all other things have no purpose, wrote Francis Bacon, the touted father of the scientific method, when discussing the Prometheus myth in The Wisdom of the Ancients (1609), “for all things are made subservient to man, and he receives use and benefit from them… everything in nature seems not made for itself, but for man.” Science, Bacon contended in Novum Organum (1620) could extend the greatness of man and rightfully restore his prelapserian dominance over nature. Only by penetrating nature, deeper and deeper, could her secrets be uncovered and lost dominion recovered.

The sexual imagery here is entirely in keeping with Bacon’s own favored way of conveying nature’s conquest in terms of conquering a woman—you must “bind her to your service and make her your slave.”[2]Quoted in Carolyn Merchant, The Death of Nature: Women, Ecology and the Scientific Revolution (New York: Harper & Row, 1983), 170. As Carolyn Merchant has pointed out in The Death of Nature, Bacon’s ideas on nature and science were compatible with the tendencies and progress of early capitalism, and when science was becoming more significant as a “methodology for manipulating nature” later in the 1700s, followers of Bacon keenly understood and reinforced the connections and compatibilities among mechanics, commercial capitalism, and the domination of nature.[3]Carolyn Merchant, The Death of Nature: Women, Ecology and the Scientific Revolution (New York: Harper & Row, 1983), 185-188. Scientists were aggressive toward nature as something to be mastered, for instance, on the vivisection table, where their goal of forcing nature to betray her secrets took the form of literally dissecting animals alive and torturing them to death.

Mastering nature for human commercial interests manifested itself on the streets in Bacon’s day, where it was a “hell for horses,” as Robert Burton famously remarked in his epic The Anatomy of Melancholy (1621). A century and a half later it was as bad if not worse and on an industrialized scale, when a vicar named James Granger (1723–1776) cited Burton’s phrase in the course of a sermon he published on the abuse of animals (1772). In In Apology for the Brute Creation, or Abuse of Animals Censured, Granger notes in particular how he saw horses “whipped, spurred, battered and starved to death,” through “wantoness, ignorance, stupidity, and cruelty,” how it was piteous to see a horse’s “lean, hide-bound, scarred and maimed carcase, thus miserably disfigured by man, before he is dismembered and devoured by dogs,” and chastised an England “totally sunk in barbarism.”[4]James Granger, In Apology for the Brute Creation, or Abuse of Animals Censured: In a Sermon on Proverbs XII. 10 (London: T. Davies, 1774), 15-16. Granger is an example of the other stream of thought from the Enlightenment, a man with heightened awareness and sensitivity. Influenced by the period’s emphasis on reason and empiricism, he was among many who honestly assessed the cruelty before their eyes and found it to be uncivilized.

This other stream of Enlightenment is one critical of the tyrannies of a mechanistic worldview, industrialization, and commercial profiteering. Vegetarianism was a response aligned with this stream, though it was often not practiced by those who endorsed it. Such was the case with Rousseau, Voltaire, and Alexander Pope, who bemoaned humankind’s tyrannical and cruel use of animals but for whom there is no evidence of genuine vegetarianism.[5]See Rod Preece, Sins of the Flesh: a History of Ethical Vegetarian Thought (UBC Press, 2008), 199-202, 212-216, 218-225. Philosopher David Hume, in Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals (1751) expressed the notion that “we should be bound by the laws of humanity to give gentle usage,” though held back on justice. Indeed, far too many held back on far too much for far too long, or voiced objections primarily based on false religious assumptions. If there was an increase in compassion, its primary expression was on the page in black and white, not in worldly practice. While secular philosophies did influenced laws against cruelty, their proponents then, as now, were a fringe minority against the engines of industry and mainstream indifference.

Victory went to perceiving and understanding the world in terms of industrialization, materialism, and machinery. The Industrial Revolution produced new large scale ways to manipulate and grand machinery, and efficiency and profits required all components to work in concert, be they mechanical parts, human workers, or animal slaves. Living things by necessity had to conform to machines. Today sees the culmination of this so-called progress, in what approximates a veritable science-fiction nightmare, as Matthew Scully describes:

Genetically designed by machines, inseminated by machines, fed by machines, monitored, herded, electrocuted, stabbed, cleaned, cut, and packaged by machines—themselves treated like machines “from birth to bacon”—these creatures, when eaten, have hardly ever been touched by human hands.[6]Matthew Scully, Dominion: the Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy (New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2002), 29.

And we might also add, creatures who never known human kindness. Industrialize animal food production is as Scully elsewhere remarks, a “negation, a complete denial of the animal as a living being with his or her own needs and nature.”[7]Matthew Scully, Dominion: the Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy (New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2002), 289. The negation of an animal as anything other than a unit requires a very deliberate and convenient indifference to suffering.

The cliche—that idea of treating of nonhumans and often humans as if they were cogs in a giant machine—would be trite were it not so deadly, immoral, and cruel, and so real. The deliberate indifference of vivisectors during the Enlightenment is still with us today, practiced with equal enthusiasm wherever profits and careers can be made, in science labs, on factory farms and breeding mills, and in the name of fashion and entertainment.

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Behind it all is an economically driven oppression of nonhuman animals that is similar to oppression over humans—the two are in fact inextricably linked. Yet everyone is kept from noticing, partly because the oppression of the former is framed in the language of normality—the infrastructural relationships, the institutional connections, the state support structures, the ideologies and the distractions of popular culture all reinforce the normality of animal exploitation as an entitlement. This is the view taken by, among others, sociologist David Nibert, who argues in Animal Rights/Human Rights: Entanglements of Oppression and Liberation that modern society is highly stratified and controlled dominant social groups, where economic systems are the driving forces behind exploitations and attending oppressions that are institutionally and culturally legitimized and normalized, ensuring wide acceptance. For Nibert, the traditional exploitation of animals is in “entanglement” with the traditional exploitation and oppression of marginalized human groups, such as women and people of color.

It is nothing new of course to identify speciesism as related to sexism and racism, but Nibert identifies the excesses of capitalism as a perpetuating force behind these, reinforcing the entanglements of violence and mistreatment against animals, humans, and our environment. Western economic practices, material interests, and cultural conditioning legitimate and “blunt awareness of and sensitivity to such oppression.”[8]David Nibert, Animal Rights/Human Rights: Entanglements of Oppression and Liberation (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2002), 3. This way of examining the exploitation of nonhumans, in conjunction with the exploitation of humans, is becoming increasing important in animal advocacy circles. When we truly start delving the kind of world the least privileged and least protected are exposed to, we begin to see that they live as if under a totalitarian dictatorship, even though they exist within so-called civilized societies. But the privileged—everyday humans—are not privy.

Institutional arrangements and ideological inheritances keep the privileged in a cocooned world of normalization, a comfy realm unaffected by major social and political turnarounds. Not to skeptically question this world only keeps others—humans and animals—in conditions of servitude where life is hostile and nightmarish. As Nibert notes, “privilege and its corollary, oppression, are embedded in and largely protected by the state and by the laws and practice it produces,” and consequently “challenges to oppression are frequently political ones.”[9]David Nibert, Animal Rights/Human Rights: Entanglements of Oppression and Liberation (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2002), 5. Many vegan skeptics, who see their position as essentially a political one, are highly sensitive to this, while secularists in general tend to conform a main-stream world of the privilege by simply “going along.”

Most people participate in what Nibert identifies as the three factors for perpetuating oppression; namely, a self-interested pursuit of material wealth, a use of power and politics to exploit out-groups, and a “ideological conditioning” through legitimizing and rationalizing.

Ideological Conditioning

While Nibert’s ideas are indeed prescient, it is nothing new for animal advocates to point out that the normalizing and legitimizing factors behind cruelties to nonhuman animals are embedded in everyday society as something “natural.” Author Jon Wynne-Tyson stresses how this “natural” or “normal” was anything but, as something a perverse culture of greed and violence inculcates into people birth. The skeptical questioning of established mores was for Wynne-Tyson an intellectual necessity,

because it is arrogance born of long habit and entrenched prejudice that seeks to defend behavioral patterns that have long been a matter of comfortable acceptance for a privileged minority at the expense of the rest of the world.”[10]Jon Wynne-Tyson, The Extended Circle: A Commonplace Book of Animal Rights (New York: Paragon House, 1989), 427.

And behind those behavior patterns we find a motivating economic interest that is singularly responsible for almost all animal cruelties.

Marjorie Spiegel recognized this in The Dreaded Comparison in relation to the “institutionalization of oppression” of both humans and animals, quoting a observation from the 1950s that is as true now as it ever was:

cruelties practiced on animals in civilized countries arise out of commercial exploitation, and the fear of losing profits is the chief obstacle to reform.[11]Marjorie Spiegel, The Dreaded Comparison: Human and Animal Slavery (Mirror Books/I.D.E.A., 1997), 83; also quoted in David Nibert, Animal Rights/Human Rights: Entanglements of Oppression and Liberation (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2002), 11.

But many skeptics see nothing wrong with this, looking upon it as appropriate and normal for deserving humans on top of a food chain. They think that fretting over animal exploitation is for the unworldly and weak minded who cannot cope with reality. Not only do they fail to apply critical thinking to comprehend the larger picture—recognizing that there is a problem that affects us all and that they are part of it—they also have no desire to give up their privileges built on cruelty, such as a daily meat habit.

This self-interested behavior of the uncritical individual often reflects the economics of the society they belong to and support. As Upton Sinclair put it, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.” As for the individual, so to for social institutions. It is in the interest of the state and corporations to not directly recognize or acknowledge certain kinds of violence and oppression in case it means requiring to legislate against them or cease them and thus lose profits.

Denial keeps the machine oiled. Jeremy Rifkin’s Beyond Beef: The Rise and Fall of the Cattle Culture is devoted to examining the background of the “modern cattle complex,” just one form of animal exploitation that has become an institutionalized normality across most of the planet and that continues to have hugely detrimental global repercussions. The modern cattle complex is for Rifkin a kind of “malevolent force” that is being allowed to continue unhindered, despite its evil being “apparent, visible, direct, and amenable to judgment.” Few want to know and even fewer want to worry that this

institutional evil born of rational detachment and pursued with cold calculating methods of technological expropriation has yet to be assigned an appropriate run on the moral ladder.”[12]Jeremy Rifkin, Beyond Beef: The Rise and Fall of the Cattle Culture (New York: Plume, 1993), 283.

Which would describe all socially sanctioned enterprises aimed at exploiting living things to their death for profit. Critics have certainly offered moral judgments. However, on a societal level, such things continue to be part of a common, unquestioned backdrop to everyday life. Society, says Rifkin, has “failed to incorporate into its moral framework a sense of righteous indignation and moral repulsion against institutionally certified violence.”[13]Jeremy Rifkin, Beyond Beef: The Rise and Fall of the Cattle Culture (New York: Plume, 1993), 283. In many ways, it has cynically and intentionally failed on the back of selective skepticism, willful ignorance, and desire for profit.

Such is the end result of those noble calls to reason and rationality, those proud advances in mechanics and science, those guiding industrial principles of the Enlightenment. It is the positive “assumptions of mechanization and market efficiency,” Rifkin points out, that regrettably produced a negative, “stripped nature of its aliveness and robbed other creatures of their essential nature and intrinsics worth.”[14]Jeremy Rifkin, Beyond Beef: The Rise and Fall of the Cattle Culture (New York: Plume, 1993), 285. What Rifkin calls a “cold evil” is the pursuit and worship of cold and calculating market forces at the expense of human and nonhuman sufferings and destruction—this, “perpetuated by institutions and individuals bound by rational organizing principles.”[15]Jeremy Rifkin, Beyond Beef: The Rise and Fall of the Cattle Culture (New York: Plume, 1993), 285. Perpetuated by progressives and secularists, let’s not forget, as much as anyone else. On the one hand, the noble goals of the Enlightenment, but on the other, the ignoble lack of ethics and consistent critical thinking in order to attain them.

To fulfill these goals at the expense of nature and other living creatures before your eyes, yet still presume to have moral, skeptical, and rational credibility, something was needed to follow through and smooth things over, something to properly quash the dissonance of ethical consistency: denial, individual and collective.

In his survey of denial, States of Denial: Knowing About Atrocities and Suffering, Stanley Cohen explicates the see-no-evil mentality of modern societies and citizens, noting some prominent forms of distancing and compartmentalizing.

Our societies encourage and reward the successful practice of splitting,” Cohen explains, “dissociation and numbing are integral parts of late-modern cultures of denial.[16]Stanley Cohen, States of Denial: Knowing About Atrocities and Suffering (Malden: Polity Press, 2001), 93.

In examining the tactics and apologetics of denial in relation to atrocities of totalitarian states, Cohen points out that cultures of denial leave “horrors unexamined or normalized” as part of everyday life. Populations might be led to acknowledge a wrong but will nonetheless retain denial.[17]Stanley Cohen, States of Denial: Knowing About Atrocities and Suffering (Malden: Polity Press, 2001), 101. A simple example of this is the way modern society hides industrial meat processing, in denial of its evils, and yet when it is exposed consumers will seek to stay comfortably numb.

Cohen himself provides testimony of this by testing himself and examining his own reactions to environmental and animal issues, discovering that he is unmoved.

I am particularly oblivious -in total denial – about animal issues. I know that the treatment of animals in cruel experiments and factory farming is difficult to defend. I can even see the case for becoming a vegetarian. But in the end, much like people throwing away an Amnesty leaflet, my filters go into automatic drive: this not my responsibility; there are worse problems; there are plenty of other people looking after this. What do you mean, I’m in denial every time I eat a hamburger?[18]Stanley Cohen, States of Denial: Knowing About Atrocities and Suffering (Malden: Polity Press, 2001), 289.

At least he honestly acknowledges what he usually has little trouble ignoring. It is easy to get away with such hypocrisy, Cohen points out, through using justifications already aligned social conventions, using “shared cultural vocabularies,” and being part of the collusion of an entire group.[19]Stanley Cohen, States of Denial: Knowing About Atrocities and Suffering (Malden: Polity Press, 2001), 64.

Examples abound of selective skeptics, but who will judge them their free pass skepticism, other selective skeptics? As Cohen states a number of times, the apathy that allows abuses to continue arises from the lack of “inquiring mind” in society.[20]Stanley Cohen, States of Denial: Knowing About Atrocities and Suffering (Malden: Polity Press, 2001), 128. There’s a zombie-like dullness, sometimes an inconceivable inability to grasp, a retaining of “the facade of pseudo-stupidity,”[21]Stanley Cohen, States of Denial: Knowing About Atrocities and Suffering (Malden: Polity Press, 2001), 100. that is manufactured unconsciously or consciously to blunt clear perception and allow apathy to continue. Visit an atheist or secular forum online and mention animal rights and you will encounter endless examples of this.

Very little is required to permit apathy to have its way. As much as a bumper sticker saying is enough for some people to delimit their entire world view for decades. Cohen is astonished at the “utter shallowness of the accounts that even sophisticated people exchange with themselves.”[22]Stanley Cohen, States of Denial: Knowing About Atrocities and Suffering (Malden: Polity Press, 2001), 73. He should know, by his own admission. We have all seen and heard simple examples that create what feminist theorist Carol J. Adams calls the “absent referent,” those sanitizing words and propaganda that turn real living things—human or nonhuman—into a consumer objects. The real animals and the reality of their lives are made invisible by what is a entrenched pretend game of denying language, concepts and an immorality that everyone participates in.

Rationalizing Away Dissonance

Other common standards are found, for example, in the preponderances of Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, whose weak and unsophisticated excuses are enough to satisfy even an author with a thorough knowledge of industrial farming and its hellish practices—but then, he is a foodie. What can you expect? Let’s get one thing straight off the bat: Pollan understands the worst of factory farming but no ethical concerns can trump the indulgence of his own sensual delights. This is why B.R. Myers, who has written a number of articles for The Atlantic on the moral vacuity of foodies, describes The Omnivore’s Dilemma as a record of “the gourmet’s ongoing failure to think in moral terms.”[23]B.R. Myers, “Hard to Swallow,” The Atlantic (September, 2007), http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2007/09/hard-to-swallow/6123/. In aid of pushing down the queue of moral priorities, Pollan posits a range of lame rationalized defenses for the palette and for maintaining the status quo, not unlike what you usually get from the average skeptic.

This practice has been noted by other writers, such as Jonathon Foer, who remarks, “Even among writers who deserve great praise for bringing factory farming into public view, there is often an insipid disavowal of the real horror we inflict.”[24]Jonathan Safran Foer, Eating Animals (New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2009), 224. In explaining this “accepted intellectual fashion,” Foer cites Myers’s take on this common ploy:

The technique goes like this: One debates the other side in a rational manner until pushed into a corner. Then one simply drops the argument and slips away, pretending that one has not fallen short of reason but instead transcended it. The irreconcilability of one’s belief with reason is then held up as a great mystery, the humble readiness to live with which puts one above lesser minds and their cheap certainties.[25]B.R. Myers, “Hard to Swallow,” The Atlantic (September, 2007), http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2007/09/hard-to-swallow/6123/.

Let not reason stand in the way of bacon! “There is one other rule to this game,” says Foer, “never, absolutely never, emphasize that virtually all of the time one’s choice is between cruelty and ecological destruction, and ceasing to eat animals.” Pollan attempts to dodge that by insisting he only chows down on “nonindustrial animals,” which is to say, animals that are nonetheless treated as units and bought and sold and cut down in their prime. It’s the same kind of nonsense you get from skeptics defending their meat addiction.

In an article for the New York Times Magazine called “An Animal’s Place”—whose very title uncomfortably recalls the hierarchical assignations of animals in religious and conservative circles—Pollan does recognize that “industrial animal agriculture depends on a suspension of disbelief on the part of the people who operate it and a willingness to avert your eyes on the part of everyone else.”[26]Michael Pollan, “An Animal’s Place,” New York Times Magazine (November 10, 2002), http://www.nytimes.com/2002/11/10/magazine/an-animal-s-place.html. He says the same thing in The Omnivore’s Dilemma: “Eating industrial meat takes an almost heroic act of not knowing, or, now, forgetting.”[27]Michael Pollan, The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals (New York: The Penguin Press, 2006), 84. The forgetting refers to Pollan himself, standing amid the stench of a cattle feedlot, because he is certain nothing will ever keep him from eating beef.

Aware of his own willful denial and that of the general public, Pollan nonetheless erects barriers to maintain it, downplaying animal suffering and extending excuses based on the naturalistic fallacy or what he thinks makes sense according to “the workings of nature.” In “An Animal’s Place,” he runs through a series of ineffective defensive omnivore cliches before championing meat eating with the idea of humane meat production or the assertion that meat eating is inextricably part of human identity—“eating animals is part of our own animality.”[28]Michael Pollan, “An Animal’s Place,” New York Times Magazine (November 10, 2002), http://www.nytimes.com/2002/11/10/magazine/an-animal-s-place.html.

On another tact, after decrying the “deep ignorance” of animal rightists about how nature works, he applauds the exploitation of animals as “mutualism or symbiosis between species.”[29]Michael Pollan, The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals (New York: The Penguin Press, 2006), 320. From the “animals’ point of view,” Pollan contends, a successful “bargain with humanity” was struck for the survival of their species. Hilarious. The “triumph of industrial thinking over the logic of evolution” and the thwarting of evolutionary instincts on nightmarish factory farms, which he describes elsewhere, hardly sounds like a bargain.[30]Michael Pollan, The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals (New York: The Penguin Press, 2006), 68, 320.

Jonathan Safran Foer nicely calls out Pollan’s fallacy—the notion of domestication as coevolution—as “the post-Darwinian version of the ancient myth of animal consent.”[31]Jonathan Safran Foer, Eating Animals (New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2009), 99. Strange Pollan should not have noticed this himself because he refers to the myth of consent when discussing ancient rituals surrounding animal slaughter, such as ancient Greek priests getting a nod (or shake) of consent from an animal by sprinkling its head with water.[32]Michael Pollan, The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals (New York: The Penguin Press, 2006), 331; “An Animal’s Place,” New York Times Magazine (November 10, 2002), http://www.nytimes.com/2002/11/10/magazine/an-animal-s-place.html. “Religion and especially ritual has played a crucial part in helping us reckon the moral costs,” Pollan says—that is, they have long served to rationalize exploiting and killing, just as fanciful notions such as symbiosis by people like him attempt to do today.

Pollan admits to envying “the moral clarity of the vegetarian,” but then dismisses it as “Dreams of innocence” and a denial of reality—the very thing he admits to and claims all omnivores practice, you know, that “heroic act of not knowing” on purpose.[33]Michael Pollan, The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals (New York: The Penguin Press, 2006), 362. And who denies reality more, the person who looks at it with a critical mind and resolves not to be a part of unethical practices, or the person with a critical mind who prefers to look away in “heroic” denial and thus support those practices?

Pollan also admits that if more people were aware of the evils of industrial farming, they would eat less meat, and even if they did eat meat it would be, perhaps, “with the consciousness, ceremony and respect they deserve.”[34]Michael Pollan, The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals (New York: The Penguin Press, 2006), 333. Here again is one of those pathetic rationalizing rituals to make you feel better but mean nothing to doomed animals. These quaint arguments are the best Pollan can do, after all is said and done. He just loves that meat. “I’ve discovered that if you’re willing to make the effort,” he says, “it’s entirely possible to limit the meat you eat to nonindustrial animals.” Not for the vast majority of people it’s not. The kind of agriculture advocated is impossible on a large scale. If there are any dreams of innocence, it is Pollan’s reporting on the evils of industrial farming, then tip-toeing away from doing anything about them. He is truly the one in fairy land to think that if everyone makes an effort, they will create a world where animal welfare and profit margins are not in conflict by continuing to eat meat.

When not ritualizing and doing all that respecting, Pollan is in accord with animal advocates in recognizing that capitalism is the root cause of the evils of industrial farming and thrives on general ignorance and moral blindness of the public. As animal science professor Peter Cheeke is often quoted as saying in his textbook, Contemporary Issues in Animal Agriculture,

One of the best things modern animal agriculture has going for it is that most people… haven’t a clue how animals are raised… For modern animal agriculture, the less the consumer knows about what’s happening before the meat hits the plate, the better.[35]Peter Cheeke, Contemporary Issues in Animal Agriculture, 2nd ed. (Interstate Publishers, Danville, IL, 1999), 248.

Pollan echos precisely this point:

Cheapness and ignorance are mutually reinforcing. And it’s a short way from not knowing who’s at the other end of your food chain to not caring—to the carelessness of both producers and consumers. Of course, the global economy couldn’t very well function without this wall of ignorance and the indifference it breeds.[36]Michael Pollan, The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals (New York: The Penguin Press, 2006), 245.

An awareness of how capitalism exploits the defenseless is highly instructive for understanding why critical thinking towards it is so necessary. “The industrial animal factory,” Pollan cites as an example, “offers a nightmarish glimpse of what capitalism is capable of in the absence of any moral or regulatory constraint whatsoever.”[37]Michael Pollan, The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals (New York: The Penguin Press, 2006), 318. But knowing all this does not stop his foodie inclination or from doing any significant about poor animal welfare.

Pollan takes a skeptical stance in one instance only to negate it with naturalistic fallacies and other nonsense in another. He demonstrates how a skeptic can so easily accept the flimsiest of excuses and slip into denial when it comes to the stomach. Normal for some looks nothing like normal to those who do not look away once their eyes have been opened to morally reprehensible practices through honest skeptical inquiry. Were there more skeptics like this among us and fewer flexitarians like Pollan, you would have less willful seeing but not seeing.

Notes   [ + ]

1. Michael Pollan, “An Animal’s Place,” New York Times Magazine (November 10, 2002), http://www.nytimes.com/2002/11/10/magazine/an-animal-s-place.html.
2. Quoted in Carolyn Merchant, The Death of Nature: Women, Ecology and the Scientific Revolution (New York: Harper & Row, 1983), 170.
3. Carolyn Merchant, The Death of Nature: Women, Ecology and the Scientific Revolution (New York: Harper & Row, 1983), 185-188.
4. James Granger, In Apology for the Brute Creation, or Abuse of Animals Censured: In a Sermon on Proverbs XII. 10 (London: T. Davies, 1774), 15-16.
5. See Rod Preece, Sins of the Flesh: a History of Ethical Vegetarian Thought (UBC Press, 2008), 199-202, 212-216, 218-225.
6. Matthew Scully, Dominion: the Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy (New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2002), 29.
7. Matthew Scully, Dominion: the Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy (New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2002), 289.
8. David Nibert, Animal Rights/Human Rights: Entanglements of Oppression and Liberation (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2002), 3.
9. David Nibert, Animal Rights/Human Rights: Entanglements of Oppression and Liberation (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2002), 5.
10. Jon Wynne-Tyson, The Extended Circle: A Commonplace Book of Animal Rights (New York: Paragon House, 1989), 427.
11. Marjorie Spiegel, The Dreaded Comparison: Human and Animal Slavery (Mirror Books/I.D.E.A., 1997), 83; also quoted in David Nibert, Animal Rights/Human Rights: Entanglements of Oppression and Liberation (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2002), 11.
12. Jeremy Rifkin, Beyond Beef: The Rise and Fall of the Cattle Culture (New York: Plume, 1993), 283.
13. Jeremy Rifkin, Beyond Beef: The Rise and Fall of the Cattle Culture (New York: Plume, 1993), 283.
14. Jeremy Rifkin, Beyond Beef: The Rise and Fall of the Cattle Culture (New York: Plume, 1993), 285.
15. Jeremy Rifkin, Beyond Beef: The Rise and Fall of the Cattle Culture (New York: Plume, 1993), 285.
16. Stanley Cohen, States of Denial: Knowing About Atrocities and Suffering (Malden: Polity Press, 2001), 93.
17. Stanley Cohen, States of Denial: Knowing About Atrocities and Suffering (Malden: Polity Press, 2001), 101.
18. Stanley Cohen, States of Denial: Knowing About Atrocities and Suffering (Malden: Polity Press, 2001), 289.
19. Stanley Cohen, States of Denial: Knowing About Atrocities and Suffering (Malden: Polity Press, 2001), 64.
20. Stanley Cohen, States of Denial: Knowing About Atrocities and Suffering (Malden: Polity Press, 2001), 128.
21. Stanley Cohen, States of Denial: Knowing About Atrocities and Suffering (Malden: Polity Press, 2001), 100.
22. Stanley Cohen, States of Denial: Knowing About Atrocities and Suffering (Malden: Polity Press, 2001), 73.
23. B.R. Myers, “Hard to Swallow,” The Atlantic (September, 2007), http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2007/09/hard-to-swallow/6123/.
24. Jonathan Safran Foer, Eating Animals (New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2009), 224.
25. B.R. Myers, “Hard to Swallow,” The Atlantic (September, 2007), http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2007/09/hard-to-swallow/6123/.
26. Michael Pollan, “An Animal’s Place,” New York Times Magazine (November 10, 2002), http://www.nytimes.com/2002/11/10/magazine/an-animal-s-place.html.
27. Michael Pollan, The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals (New York: The Penguin Press, 2006), 84.
28. Michael Pollan, “An Animal’s Place,” New York Times Magazine (November 10, 2002), http://www.nytimes.com/2002/11/10/magazine/an-animal-s-place.html.
29. Michael Pollan, The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals (New York: The Penguin Press, 2006), 320.
30. Michael Pollan, The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals (New York: The Penguin Press, 2006), 68, 320.
31. Jonathan Safran Foer, Eating Animals (New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2009), 99.
32. Michael Pollan, The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals (New York: The Penguin Press, 2006), 331; “An Animal’s Place,” New York Times Magazine (November 10, 2002), http://www.nytimes.com/2002/11/10/magazine/an-animal-s-place.html.
33. Michael Pollan, The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals (New York: The Penguin Press, 2006), 362.
34. Michael Pollan, The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals (New York: The Penguin Press, 2006), 333.
35. Peter Cheeke, Contemporary Issues in Animal Agriculture, 2nd ed. (Interstate Publishers, Danville, IL, 1999), 248.
36. Michael Pollan, The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals (New York: The Penguin Press, 2006), 245.
37. Michael Pollan, The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals (New York: The Penguin Press, 2006), 318.

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