Research has found that only drug addicts face the same amount of stigma that vegans do. Vegans are more hated than vegetarians, and male vegans more hated than females. It also found that ethical and environmental vegans are more irritating to meat eaters than the ones who are vegan for health reasons.
Some people really hate vegans and love to moan about how annoying they are, but the reasons behind is not always entirely rational. Even though most of us probably would like to see less suffering in the world, vegans that cite animal cruelty as their reason for being vegan are the ones receiving the most hate. When someone freely makes the decision to not eat meat because they don´t want to support a system that exploit and slaughter animals for food, it makes people aggravated.
Vegan arguments that avoids morality entirely are much less provoking, because saying that you’re vegan because you don’t like the taste of meat let’s meat eaters of the hook, because it’s not their fault if they do.
Why is there such resentment towards people that choose a lifestyle that avoids animal suffering? People will always disagree, but the rage some people have towards vegans are often defying rational sense. Some psychologists say that anti-vegan explanations aren’t really the reasons why people hate vegans. The wide resentment people have towards vegans are seated in deep psychological biases, way past factors of our conscious awareness.
Firstly, how do we rationalise exploitation and cruelty toward animals?
There’s a lot of mental factors that makes us continue to eat meat. We have two types of systems in our brains, system one is quick, intuitive and emotional, the so-called fast thinking system. System two is rational, explicit and takes effort to use, the slow thinking system. Which system we use will define our actions and behaviour. Our two systems are in battle every time we’re confronted with a moral question. The prize for the winner? Merely getting to answer the question.
Acknowledging that the suffering of animals should outweigh the temporary pleasure of taste from eating a steak is system 2 thinking, and because eating meat is something that is considered “normal” to most people we don´t ask ourselves this moral question when purchasing and eating meat because we are using system 1, the automatic thinking system.
But how can we eat meat and still think we are a good person? Because of a phenomenon that has been called the meat paradox or moral schizophrenia. Our brains are unbelievably good at using psychological tricks to protect us from the parts of reality we don’t want to face. When asking someone if they think torturing animals is cruel, and then if they eat animals, the odds are there will be a conflict between the two answers.
We tend to separate our values from our actions, most people don’t want to inflict unnecessary suffering on animals, but still eat meat every day. People that say they love animals while eating their flesh, are encountering something called cognitive dissonance. Meaning we have two ambivalent and incompatible views and only act on one of them. People’s affection towards animals are clashing with the idea that killing and eating them is ok.
This paradox can make us feel sad and stressed, but we have a whole range of biases that allow us to avoid facing our feelings towards eating meat. Instead of resolving the tension by making changes in our behaviour, it´s very common that our brains blame these feelings on something else entirely. We don’t even realise we are doing it, but by reducing the moral guilt associated with eating meat, it makes us believe that we are making a good decision while achieving the exact opposite.
This can be wilful ignorance about how meat is produced or pretending that animals have no link to meat, which is supported by the marketing in the meat industry itself. From we are young children we are exposed to pictures of happy farm animals and songs about how we have to drink milk to grow big and strong.
We also tell ourselves that we only eat local animals that are “humanely” farmed and killed, or that we eat less meat than we actually do. All this makes us feel better about or choices and lets us continue to enjoy our steaks, guilt free. Not making the connection that the nicely cut and plastic wrapped steaks in our supermarkets actually are the decaying flesh of a dead animals, tortured and slaughtered to pleasure our tastebuds.
So why do people hate vegans so much?
Most of the ideas we have about our meat consumption are wrecked by the presence of vegans. The worldwide dominance and widespread acceptance of eating meat is helping meat eaters avoid the fact that eating meat is a choice, by thinking that it is just what everyone else is doing. But in an encounter with a vegan suddenly we’re forced out of the comfortable idea of a “normal diet” and into the unsettling “meat-eating” category. It makes people angry because the mere existence of vegans is reminding them of the discomforting feelings and forcing them to face their cognitive dissonance.
When confronted with our cognitive dissonance, we try to resolve it by reasoning a way out of it. Psychology has shown that in decision making processes we tend to allow ourselves to reach the conclusion we prefer by inventing “rational sounding” justifications. Motivated reasoning is constructed by explanations that seems to support our belief and desired conclusion that eating meat is the correct decision. And in most cases, these are totally irrational. For example “vegans are extreme”, “lions eat meat” or “plants feel pain too”. (No, plants don´t have a nervous system).
There is proof that we are particularly threatened by other groups or individuals that have the same or similar morals and values to us but are willing to go further in order to stick to these values. The most popular words to describe vegans are tied to social characteristics such as weird, preachy, militant, arrogant, stupid and uptight. Research has found that vegetarians’ rate other vegetarians higher than meat-eaters, so they do actually think they are better than them. When that is said, the truth is most of us do agree with vegans/vegetarians, and this is a major source of hostility.
Our fear of being judged exceeds any respect we have for vegan’s superior integrity. The do-gooder derogation explains that the more people think about being judged, the more negative worlds they will tend to associate vegans/vegetarians with. This fear of disapproval also makes vegetarians more likely to feel threatened by vegans than meat eaters because they already agree that it’s wrong to kill and eat animals, and now they are facing someone that is putting in more effort in sticking to their beliefs, by going the extra mile.
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