““the meat paradox”: the mental dissonance caused by our empathy for animals and our desire to eat them.
Australian psychologists Steve Loughnan, Nick Haslam, and Brock Bastian coined the term in 2010, defining it as the “psychological conflict between people’s dietary preference for meat and their moral response to animal suffering.” We empathize with animals — after all, we are animals ourselves — but we’re also hardwired to seek calorie-dense, energy-rich foods. And for most of human history, that meant meat.”
“Almost one in four American adults tells pollsters they’re cutting back on their meat intake — while the country sets new records for per capita meat consumption. We abhor the treatment of animals on factory farms, where 99 percent of meat in the US is produced, yet we dislike vegans. And even those of us who say we’re vegetarian or vegan are often stretching the truth.”
“One of the founding studies of the meat paradox literature, Percival told me, was the one published by the psychologists Loughnan, Haslam, and Bastian in 2010. They gave questionnaires to two groups, and while the subjects filled in answers, one group was given cashews to snack on while the other group was given beef jerky. The surveys asked participants to rate the sentience and intelligence of cows and their moral concern for a variety of animals, such as dogs, chickens, and chimpanzees.
The participants who ate the beef jerky rated cows less sentient and less mindful — and extended their circle of moral concern to fewer animals — than the group that ate the cashews.”
“Even exposure to strict vegetarians or vegans can elicit a “heightened commitment to pro-meat justifications,” Percival says about one study. This might explain why we see per capita meat consumption rise in tandem with rates of veganism and vegetarianism.”
“We make myths to justify our relationship with animals, too. One of the more popular ones is the “ancient contract,” which goes something like this: Animals give us their meat, and in exchange, we give them domestication and thus an opportunity to evolutionarily succeed. This concept was coined by science writer Stephen Budiansky in 1989 and has been touted by food writers Michael Pollan and Barry Estabrook, as well as iconic animal welfare scientist Temple Grandin.”
“We also use language to obscure; one study found that replacing “slaughtering” or “killing” with “harvesting” reduced dissonance, and that replacing “beef” and “pork” on restaurant menus with “cow” and “pig” generated more empathy for animals. Adding a photo of an animal next to the dish further elevated empathy, while also making vegetarian dishes more appealing to study participants.
Percival says the meat paradox can be found across cultures and time periods, and that “there is no culture in which plant foods are problematic in the same way.””
“Some Americans who are reluctant to get vaccinated believe they are living through a very different pandemic — one where the approved Covid-19 vaccines are ineffective and dangerous, and where a long list of “miracle cures,” ivermectin among them, are critical to patients’ health and safety.
From the outside, these positions can seem not just dangerous but incoherent. What would lead a person to say they won’t take a vaccine approved by federal regulators, then take an off-label medication because they read about it online?
Of course, not all Americans who are reluctant to get vaccinated have embraced supposed miracle cures: The reasons that people give for not getting a Covid-19 vaccine are varied and complex. But over the past year, among some refusers, a community of intense vaccine denialism has developed and created a sort of psychological scaffolding to support their views. As a group, the most fervent vaccine deniers construct and perpetuate an alternative narrative of the pandemic. And when inconvenient facts — from a news report to a friend’s or relative’s decision to get vaccinated — challenge that narrative, they give them a place to take refuge.
This phenomenon has its origins in America’s political polarization. One of the best predictors of whether someone is resistant to getting the Covid-19 vaccine is whether they identify as a Republican, and we know those partisan bonds are powerful. But they are not sufficient to explain the intransigence. Most Republicans have gotten the vaccine by now, but about 12 percent of Americans say they will never get vaccinated under any circumstances. (Roughly six in 10 of those people are Republicans, but a small minority of Democrats also say they won’t get the vaccine.)”
““When you really want to believe something — like ‘you can’t trust the vaccines’ — you’ll come up with any number of rationalizations,” Van Bavel said. “It’s like whack-a-mole. You falsify one premise and they just create a new one.”
This is a well-documented social phenomenon. In a new book by Van Bavel and Lehigh psychology professor Dominic Packer, The Power of Us, the authors recount one controversial work of social science in the 1950s. Social psychologists infiltrated a doomsday cult to find out how the members would react when their promised date of salvation — the day that a UFO would come to Earth and take them away — came and went without the prophecy coming true.
The researchers found that when the prophecy failed, most people didn’t quit the cult. They didn’t discard their old beliefs, protest that they had been lied to, and desert the cult’s leader. Instead, the leader offered his followers a brand new narrative, which many of them accepted: Their fervent faith had been so powerful that the apocalypse had been averted.”