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Hal Herzog’s “Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat”

Some we love cover photo

Hal Herzog’s “Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat” (Harper 2011), though fascinating, is ultimately depressing for vegans and animal rights activists. Over at Animal Rights and AntiOppression, we’ve been discussing tactics and sharing our thoughts and experiences about what works and doesn’t work when it comes to advocacy. In a manner that’s Malcolm Gladwell meets Freakonomics, which is the fascinating part, Herzog investigates our beliefs and actions regarding nonhuman animals (anthrozoology). He pairs conventional wisdom with actual research on such wisdom and speaks to experts who’ve been pondering the issues from the perspectives of their various disciplines. The research, much of the time, doesn’t support the conventional wisdom (which is not to say the case is closed on any issue). For instance, dolphins don’t actually have the curative powers some claim they have (22); there’s no evidence that pet owners have different personalities than non pet owners (28); having to kill and cut up an animal does not stop one from eating meat (189); the majority of people who abused animals as children do not grow up to be violent (30); and 80% of serial killers do not have a known history of cruelty to animals (31). Herzog states, “The awkward fact is that most wanton animal cruelty is not perpetrated by inherently bad kids but by normal children who will eventually grow up to be good citizens” (34).

 

Most interesting for me was the mental lock most people have that we vegans are always looking to break or find the key to: Why do good people who understand what happens to animals for unnecessary products such as “steak” or eggs, continue to consume such things? The answer, throughout the entire 300 pages, essentially is: Because they do. People believe one thing and do another. All day long. If slaughterhouses had glass walls? Well, as it turns out neither a trip to a slaughterhouse nor killing an animal yourself is powerful enough to make people go vegan. “The bottom line is that there are many reasons why human-animal interactions are so often inconsistent and paradoxical. Thousands of studies have demonstrated that human thinking about nearly everything is surprisingly irrational” (65).

 

Much of the book deals with topics vegans have likely pondered, likely frequently. We understand the importance of being cute for other animals, we’ve realized that the decision who to eat or wear or value is largely based on culture. Many of us have difficulty with the idea of keeping “pets.” On that topic and a few others, Herzog doesn’t include what for lack of a better term is “vegan thinking.” When it comes to pets, the only reasons he considers for keeping pets have to do with the enrichment of the lives of people. He doesn’t seem to have met anyone who considers keeping pets to not be ideal, yet necessary out of a feeling of responsibility or obligation due to our part in their plight. And by the way, he debunks the idea of dogs and unconditional love, as well as the idea that pet owners are less lonely than people who don’t own pets. At least his research on pit bull-types of dogs demonstrates the injustice they face.

 

Herzog, unsurprisingly, uses “it” to refer to animals, eats and wears them, and “[does] not feel particularly guilty about it” (P.S., page 6). He is an unabashed speciesist, putting humans on “a different moral plane from that of other animals” (11) due to various reasons, such as our “vastly greater capacity for symbolic language, culture, and ethical judgment” (11). He watched cockfighting and killed and skinned animals, but won’t eat veal. And this is partly what’s so disappointing about the message of this book: Herzog amasses the research, and sees and does things that involve tremendous suffering and injustice. And yet he’s perfectly content to lump himself in with the vast majority of people who claim to care about animals but act like they don’t. My frustration is evident in the comments I’ve carved across the pages that make it impossible for me to now donate the book to my local library.

 

On page 172, when Herzog writes, “I am conflicted over many moral issues involving animals,” I respond, “No kidding!” When he spends what seems like an eternity discussing cockfighting and the people who participate, mostly to set up the comparison to how the chickens we eat are treated and the lack of outrage over that, I respond, “What is wrong with you? You’re right, it is horrible! So why the hell do you continue to participate in the killing of chickens for food, yet cockfighting is no longer on your list?” But I’m merely making his point. People are irrational and conflicted and make a show of taking a stand but manage to still do whatever they want in the end. When Staci, an ex-vegetarian who now eats raw meat, writes to Herzog that she thinks it takes bravery to kill animals (she says “butcher) and talks about “reverence” and “completing the cycle” and that “taking responsibility is somehow the balm that soothes the horror,” I wonder why Herzog isn’t disgusted by that and doesn’t want to call her out for her ridiculous verbiage that means nothing to the animals she kills. What about their horror?  In response, I can only underline these phrases with seven-page deep gashes.

 

Most informative for a discussion about vegan advocacy is the section about the animal rights movement (and unfortunately he alternately calls it “animal protection” and also refers to welfare, perhaps because of the Humane Research Council’s study that people prefer the word “protection”). “The campaign to moralize meat has largely been a failure. . . . Ironically, the efforts by animal protectionists to improve the well-being of farm animals have made the consumption of flesh more, rather than less, morally palatable” (191).

 

Finally, regarding actual animal rights, Herzog is aware of Singer and Regan and appears to have respect for them despite the fact that he says they “[take] moral consistency too seriously” (259). (Yes, you read that right.) Joan Dunayer is a different story, however, as Herzog thinks she “lives in a moral universe that should cause even hardcore animal activists to shudder” (255). He evidently has no idea that abolitionists exist and thinks Dunayer is an outlier. Of course I was appalled, but out there in the mainstream world, she is an outlier. He merely reminds me of how little I have in common with the average person who claims to care about animals. Meanwhile, throughout the book he does describe people who would likely call themselves abolitionists. They are vegans, and he has the utmost respect for them. They are superheroes for being able to think about all of these issues so thoroughly and have the will power to do something about them. They are extraordinary. But him? He prefers to take the stance that because moral consistency is impossible (i.e., no one is 100% vegan), you “do what you can do.” If that means volunteering at a dog rescue or giving money to PETA, all while eating and using animals, at least you’re doing something. Of course that can be debated. But also, it’s such a low, low bar—such a disappointing expectation. We should demand more.

 

13 Comments Post a comment
  1. Dan #

    Thanks for the review, Mary.

    Herzog’s book’s subtitle (“Why it’s so hard to think straight about animals”), combined with your report on his views, gives him away as a moral imbecile. Plain old ignorance is one thing (the vast majority of vegans have been there); but Herzog’s book is no different than a 19th century slave-owner, after reading a lot of William Lloyd Garrison, writing a book on why it’s so hard to think straight about slavery. It’s not even much different than mathematical imbecile’s book about why it’s so hard to think straight about arithmetic, only in that case one doesn’t have a human culture in which to take psychological comfort in one’s idiocy.

    August 16, 2011
  2. Wow, I'm glad you made it through that book to translate it. Since Herzog's apathy was so pervasive, it's surprising he cared enough to actually complete the project. The good news is that this book seems so full of faulty logic that it will lose most people somewhere along the way.

    Herzog: Well, if you can't do absolute everything vegan (puritanism) what's the point? Talk about extremist views.

    It's really not that hard to think straight about animals. Hang out with some for awhile. Try some vegan cuisine for a few weeks. Take your pulse, you will stay alive and well.

    In terms of the book's title – speak for yourself, Herzog.

    August 16, 2011
  3. CQ #

    I read Mr. Herzog's hardcover book as soon as it came out last September. (I happened to see it in my sister's small-town library under "new releases" while visiting her and am grateful I never paid good money to buy it!) Sadly, I found it every bit as morally idiotic and imbecilic and illogical as did Mary, Dan and Isla.

    Perhaps the author should digest the message of a book that preceded his own (and which his title suspiciously resembles): Melanie Joy's "Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows." From Ms. Joy he could glean a more truthful depiction of the extremist if unstated ideology that is carnism.

    Glad to have you back at the "dissecting" table, Mary. I trust Sky is helping you pull apart books, if in a more literal way! :-)

    August 17, 2011
  4. Patty #

    I saw Hal Herzog talk about the book on CSPAN's Book TV last fall. I was very optimistic when I saw the title of the book. For most of the talk, he went on about man's moral schizophernia (not his term, but the idea) when it came to animals. From time to time he would throw in PETA or HSUS as the leaders of the "animal rights" movement and I wanted to throw something at the television, but it was toward the end when I just sat and stared at the television with disbelief. He basically said that since "doing everything" and being morally consistent was too difficult, well, just do what you want. That's what he does. That was all I needed to know that this book was not for me.

    August 19, 2011
  5. Hi Mary… I'm a bit like CQ with my suspicious nature. When I saw this book after Melanie Joy's book – A hunch was to say that it was written to counter the sense in Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows. No doubt his conclusion "forgives" so much of what people want to be excused for. Even Temple Grandin's review on Amazon took a shine to his message: “Everybody who is interested in the ethics of our relationship between humans and animals should read this book.” (Temple Grandin, author of Animals Make Us Human) – That ought to say enough about Herzog's "ethics".

    Glad you marred the pages Mary, and that you made it unsuitable for donating… Doesn't sound worthy of anything more than the round file. ;)

    August 20, 2011
  6. Thanks for giving this book such a thorough read and review and for being a part of the tour.

    October 9, 2011
  7. From time to time he would throw in PETA or HSUS as the leaders of the "animal rights" movement and I wanted to throw something at the television, but it was toward the end when I just sat and stared at the television with disbelief. He basically said that since "doing everything" and being morally consistent istanbul bayan

    October 15, 2011
  8. From time to time he would throw in PETA or HSUS as the leaders of the "animal rights" movement and I wanted to throw something at the television, but it was toward the end when I just sat and stared at the television with disbelief.medyumlar falcılar

    October 20, 2011
  9. Wow, I'm glad you made it through that book to translate it. Since Herzog's apathy was so pervasive, it's surprising he cared enough to actually complete the project. The good news is that this book seems so full of faulty logic that it will lose most people somewhere along the way. fal fal bakma

    October 20, 2011
  10. Even Temple Grandin's review on Amazon took a shine to his message: “Everybody who is interested in the ethics of our relationship between humans and animals should read this falcı fal bakma

    October 20, 2011
  11. The title of this book caught my interest but I am certainly glad I read your review so I won't waste my money purchasing it. I would rather read information promoting the good qualities of being vegan and compassionate living.

    January 25, 2012

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