Before I thought seriously about animal interests I can honestly say that I was an offensive and inconsiderate omnivore. I ate bloody meat, made jokes about eating every animal I saw and loudly proclaimed about the deliciousness of the carcass I was eating in front of my vegetarian friends. My war-hero grandfather, to whom I was very close, was a dairy farmer in the fifties and his family were horse traders. Also, I was an incredibly picky eater and barely ate vegetables or fruit.
That’s part of why I feel like I have such a window into the psyche of those who are most dismissive of veganism and really understand where defensiveness both about the sentience of nonhuman animals and drastic changes in diet comes from. And yes, I’m aware my name roughly translates into “huntress meatman”.
For about a year I became a “humaneitarian” endeavoring to eat animals who had at least led wild or reasonably good lives before being killed for my consumption. In practice this meant I ate only fish, venison, eggs and dairy. I tried to eat “Happy Meat” and I used this phrase on my own without irony.
In May of 2008 I read Animal Liberation and went vegan the next day without even knowing anyone vegan, just lots of carnivorous Buddhists and evolutionary scientists using the naturalistic fallacy (i.e. we evolved eating meat therefore eating meat is right) to justify their derogation of animal interests. A tremendous amount of support came from podcasts like Vegan Freak and Vegetarian Food for Thought which is part of why I think producing podcasts is so important.
In my day job I am a lecturer and do research in comparative and evolutionary psychology. This means that I see the human mind as evolved to solve the problems our ancestors have recurrently faced through deep time. I see humans as endowed with natural moral and altruistic limitations – such as overestimating the importance of the death of one’s fellow countryman compared to a foreigner and minimizing their impression of the suffering of animals compared to humans.
I’m an abolitionist in practice because I belive it’s foolish to think that people are going to show equitable regard for other sentient beings full stop and especially within a system where self interest and the interests of nonhuman animals are pitted against one another. Scratch the surface of the production of any animal product and one will inevitably find human moral limitations and impotent halfhearted enforcement where it exists at all.
I come down on the pragmatic end of the vegan scale always asking “what difference does this make to animals?” including being critical of vegans like Ian for being purist, sentimental and unrealistic.
Through this podcast we will learn more about human psychology towards nonhuman animals. How can we help influence people towards evaluating their moral blind spots and working towards making their lives more consistently ethical? How can this offer the support to others that internet radio gave me as a new vegan? What can science tell us about this world of minds which is far more interesting than a world of things?
And can I get Ian to laugh at my jokes?
Diana blogs at Sentientist.org.