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What the ‘meat paradox’ reveals about moral decision-making

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Do you think animal torture is evil? And do you also eat factory-farmed meat? Many people who would strongly disagree, in principle, with animal cruelty also eat meat that has been raised in terrible conditions.

JULIA SHAW: ‘Do you think animal torture is evil? And do you also eat factory-farmed meat? Many people who would strongly disagree, in principle, with animal cruelty also eat meat that has been raised in terrible conditions… By reframing the same issue and adding a price tag we make some acts seem far less offensive. We can’t see them first hand, so they feel like they are unrelated to us. All we can see is the price. Why? When we understand why we eat meat that we know has been raised in poor conditions, we can begin to understand many other forms of behaviour that conflict with deeply held moral principles…

According to psychologists Brock Bastian and Steve Loughnan, who do research on the topic in Australia, the “meat paradox” is the “psychological conflict between people’s dietary preference for meat and their moral response to animal suffering”. They argue that “bringing harm to others is inconsistent with a view of oneself as a moral person. As such, meat consumption leads to negative effects for meat-eaters because they are confronted with a view of themselves that is unfavourable: how can I be a good person and also eat meat?”… This moral conflict doesn’t just threaten our enjoyment of eating meat, it threatens our identity. In order to protect our identities we establish habits and social structures that make us feel better. Meat-eating is tied to social customs, so that holidays are defined as a time to feast on flesh with friends and family.

Some people may also use it as a signal of masculinity, claiming that it helps define someone as a real man, or that we humans evolved as super-predators who were meant to eat meat. And despite animal products being linked to all kinds of poor health outcomes, some people tsk when we say that we want to go vegan (“How will you get enough protein?”), and friends start “forgetting” to invite us to dinner parties. With many decisions, including the choice to eat meat, the excuses we make are largely post hoc – after we have chosen to indulge we need to justify why the behaviour was OK, and why it is OK to do it again. And we need the excuses, or else we feel like bad people’. SOURCE…

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